Tuesday, June 11, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Bardia Sinaee on Odourless Press

Odourless Press (www.odourless.ca) publishes hand-sewn poetry chapbooks as well as broadsides and pamphlets. This spring it published two chapbooks, Sucks To Be You and Other True Taunts by Suzannah Showler and Cloudpeople by Matthew Walsh and broadsides by Ben Ladouceur and Mat Laporte. Its first three pamphlets were published in fall 2011: Mutt by Ben Ladouceur, Back To My Old Self by Jeff Blackman and Royal Jelly by Bardia Sinaee. Odourless Press acknowledges financial support from the makers of AndroGel.

Bardia Sinaee's poetry has appeared in Arc, CV2, PRISM, The Puritan and The Walrus. He started Odourless Press in 2011. He works at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto.

1 – When did Odourless Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

In spring 2011, I started Odourless Press as a Wordpress page where I’d post other people’s poems that I liked and wanted to share. I started printing poetry (my own along with work by Jeff Blackman and Ben Ladouceur) that fall in the form of small folding pamphlets (50 cents each). After I took over for David O’Meara as one of the hosts of Literary Landscape, I used the Odourless Press blog to host podcasts of the radio shows.

The Odourless hiatus took up all of 2012 during which time I graduated by the skin of my teeth then moved back to Toronto (Etobicoke, with ma and pa, to be specific). When I got here I wanted to publish some of the writers I’d met but I thought I might wait a few years. However after Christmas my hours at work plummeted and I realized I’d probably never again in my life have so much unencumbered (rent-free) time to dedicate to editing, materializing and sharing other people’s poems, which was why I’d started Odourless in the first place.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
In/Words Magazine and Press. That tiny office in Carleton University’s Dunton Tower with its printer, paper cutter, long-arm stapler and outdated Adobe software. The people, events and publications that continue to come out of that collective constitute (beyond a great community) a free, hands-on education in creative writing and publishing for anyone willing to put in the time. I learned to edit work at the writers’ circles. I learned to perform at the readings. I learned to design and publish in the office. I also learned to drink in all those places.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
As long as no one’s getting swindled or hurt, I don’t think small and micropublishing have any responsibilities but to explore their own freedom.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

This early on, I don’t think there’s any one quality that’s exclusive to Odourless. In part because the micropresses I was inspired by, namely Apt. 9 and Ferno House, pay as much attention to design and binding as they do to the quality of writing, so it’s not like I’m picking up anybody’s slack.

If Odourless Press is able to keep publishing consistently beyond this year, I want to see how far I can take the practice of designing the material around the writing. Some poems call for a simple half-letter-sized book, others might be better served in an absurdly-long ten-panel fold-out pamphlet.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Depends on the circumstances. In Toronto I’d say a launch. In Ottawa I’d probably hit up open mics and book fairs. In Iqaluit you might want to be sure you also make PDF copies available.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

I want to be an involved editor, but this spring I was basically re-establishing the press while making the books, so it was all last-minute light touch stuff. I’d like to get an early start on the next two Odourless chapbooks though, which will be from Phoebe Wang and Mat Laporte, so maybe I’ll have more in-depth edits.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Launch. Book fairs. Authors’ own readings. I’m still setting up my Paypal merchant thingy, after I get back from the Ottawa small press fair you’ll be able to buy the chapbooks online.

Initial print runs are 50 copies. As of this writing, I’m about to do reprints of both spring chapbooks--I’m thinking 25 copies this time. After that I’ll make them available for print-on-demand till next spring when they’ll be officially out of print. Broadsides are limited editions of 50 copies. No reprints on those.

I might up the initial print runs for the fall chapbooks to 75 copies.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
I do it all, baby!

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It hasn’t. What has changed is how I look at other books as physical objects. When I see interesting-looking books I try to reverse-engineer their covers, layout and type using functions on InDesign and Illustrator.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

Odourless Press is my baby. I pay for its food and wipe its bum. I was the first author I published, and if I had any new writing of my own I’d probably publish it myself. If Odourless were receiving public funding, self-publishing might constitute a conflict of interest, but it’s not, so for me the question is irrelevant.

11– How do you see Odourless Press evolving?
Again, it depends on my circumstances. If I get a stable job (with dental coverage) I’ll definitely buy a book binder and just start making trade books. For instance if I had the resources right now I’d be giddy to publish Ben Ladouceur’s first trade collection. But if in a few years I’m living precariously on a minimum-wage income where an unexpected dental filling might cost as much as a year’s worth of publishing, I might have to go back to selling word-formatted pamphlets for 50 cents or go on hiatus again.

For all I know, next spring I might abandon chapbooks and just publish six little pamphlets from six different authors. Outside of perfect binding, I want to try different shapes, different papers, different typographic styles. Like I said, this next year or so is probably the only part of my life I’ll be privileged with so much time to scour design blogs, test-print weird prototypes and experiment on Adobe.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
Accomplishment-wise, I’m proud of the quality of poetry Odourless has published. I have a lot of insecurities as a poet, but I trust my instincts as a reader and editor. I honestly think that Odourless is tapping some of Canada's very best young poets, and you gotta tap that. Tapping that is paramount. I’ve encountered work by similarly exciting poets of this generation situated (I think) out west, like Kayla Czaga and Vincent Colistro, whose work I’d love to publish here if I’m ever able to get in touch with them.

Frustration-wise, every now and then I come up against one of these older small press people who've developed a bit of a David vs Goliath complex with the rest of the literary world. They can be a bit antagonistic and sometimes end up insulating themselves from new and exciting work (and people!).

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
I’ve already said Apt. 9. There are tiny presses in Montreal and BC making neat books, but I think Toronto’s Ferno House and Paper Pusher are near the top in terms of interesting design. The Emergency Response Unit folks have a reliable eye for good poetry. I love Junction Books. I’m shamelessly Ontario-centric due to lack of exposure. While I don’t own any of their chapbooks, I’ve admired the old Streetcar Editions and Pink Dog stuff listed on Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe.

14– How does Odourless Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Odourless in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
By publishing. I’ve already listed some presses I admire and try to imitate. Most of my favourite poetry journals/magazines publish online (which helps eliminate geographical distance, but not geographical cliquishness (which I’m guilty of)). I see these dialogues as important, though perhaps not to be taken too seriously. Maybe Matthew Walsh will take copies of his Odourless chapbook out east (where’s he from) and out west (where he’s moving) and some reader will donate their estate to Odourless Press instead of their ingrate kids.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Yes, launches. Important, but not too self-important or else they’re no fun. The best and worst thing about readings is that if you miss one there’ll always be another one. Unless the reader dies. Pre-death readings are highly important.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
If the internet had been invented in the 1950s, Contact Press would’ve been a whole other beast. The internet is how I’ve found out about more distant projects, like the Mellow Pages Library, to whom I hope to send Odourless chapbooks. If Bill Knott's blog was still up I'd find his address and mail him chapbooks. On the receiving end, I hope to eventually use the internet to solicit work from poets I’d never run into at readings here because they’re in Vancouver or St. John’s.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Like Mike Piazza on holiday, Odourless Press is not seeking unsolicited pitches.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Let me tell you about the two Odourless chapbooks from this spring and one upcoming fall chapbook. Suzannah Showler’s Sucks To Be You and Other True Taunts continues the recent tradition (ushered (at least I think) into Toronto by Kevin Connolly’s Asphalt Cigar) of delivering genuine meditation in a dense, surrealist-inflected, disarmingly silly package. Like David McFadden poems but with less loafing around. Zani and I both worship at the altar of Dean Young. She also seems to be on the same wavelength as recent Coach House poets like Helen Guri and Andrew Faulkner. The Sucks To Be You poems and the chapbook itself are both condensed squares. Her poems gain momentum from sometimes elaborate and highly varied sentence structures and in that way resemble some of Karen Solie’s work (think of Solie’s poem “Flashpoint”). Unrelated: the long vowel sound in Showler’s last name is pronounced like bowler and not like scowler.

The core of Matthew Walsh’s Cloudpeople is also meditative, but in a much more meandering way. The influence of PK Page is traceable, but also the mystical bent and expansive scope of someone like Whitman. I feel like the speaker in Matthew’s longpoems is the kind of guy who wanders in the park then stops to smell a clump of dirt for like half an hour. But there’s also this hyperactive side to his shorter poems that build on and accelerate their own linguistic energy. Like “I’m Condoleeza Rice” or “Whippoorwills and George Orwell” which riff off the assonance and syllabic stress patterns of the subject’s names, or “anne, ma azure woman,” which doesn’t use any letters whose parts jut above or below the line (think l’s, y’s, d’s, f’s, etc.).

The third chapbook, which Odourless will publish this fall, and which I’ve read a number of times already, is Mat Laporte’s Life Savings. He printed three simple copies of an early manuscript draft which he sold for $2 each when he read at the Emerging Writers reading series, and as soon as I read it I wanted to publish more copies. I’ve always wanted to publish political poetry, but that’s as hard to come by as it is to define. Mat’s poetry is political in the sense that it’s destructive. It subverts and caricatures the language that paradoxically upholds both consumerism and austerity. His poetry is also a record of its own destruction: the syntax is self-interruptive; images compete then morph; some sentences are just sentence clauses that abruptly end; all thoughts and materials are perpetually flying apart and all consumption seems like a hilariously doomed attempt at containment: “In the operation of post-industrial / smock oblivion, I always seem to be eating / something wrapped inside of something else.” For a sneak peek at Life Savings, check out Mat’s poems in Brooklyn Rail.

[Odourless Press participates in the spring 2013 edition of the ottawa small press book fair on Saturday, June 15, and Sinaee reads as part of the pre-fair reading on Friday, June 14]

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

1 comment:

Bill Knott said...

not sure which blog of mine he's referring to above, but i currently have 3 sites among which is

http://knottcollectedpoems.blogspot.com/