Flying Guillotine Press was formed in NYC in 2008 by Sommer Browning and Tony Mancus. Currently based out of Denver and Arlington VA, they make small runs of hand-bound chapbooks and will be sliding over into production of more perfect bound projects in the not too distant future.
1 – When did Flying Guillotine 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?
We started in 2008. Sommer and I both wound up in NYC a few years after finishing poetry school out in Arizona and a friend of ours, Melissa Koosmann, had a manuscript that we’d both seen and liked and we decided to try and give bookmaking a go. Wound up stabbing the heck out of my fingers doing a linocut for the cover. It was a lot of fun and continues to be.
Originally, we’d set about trying to publish writers who didn’t have full length collections out – and I think we’re still leaning in that direction, but since we’ve begun to have open submissions, that’s changed a bit. We also started off doing pretty small runs. 74 of each book. After the last reading period we decided to bump that up to 200, which has made the construction process a little more daunting. Though numerous people have helped out along the way. We’re looking into a way to make the books live beyond their print runs, too. We love the notion of the book as object, but also want the work to remain accessible if people want to read it. Limiting things to their press run seems like it’s part of collectible culture or something and doesn’t totally leave room for the work to breathe out in the world for long enough.
I think, over the past five years we’ve learned that there are many stellar small books out there that need homes and the winnowing process is challenging as hell. It’s much more fun to say yes to people than it is to say no, but it’s also very easy to overextend things and to turn something that is a labor of love into pure labor.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
That manuscript and the fact that we could make things, actual physical things, that collaborate with the text to build a weird little house for the work that people have trusted us with. There has been an explosion of small presses in the past decade and it’s really been wonderful to see the level of craftsmanship that goes into poetry – both in terms of the writing and its presentation. It’s that as much as a lot of other things – building community, falling deeper in love with the text through the editing process, etc. We’d originally chatted about trying to make books out of things that would be impossible – like a plot of grass or a snapping turtle – and shipping that to people. We’ll still bring that up occasionally when talking about new projects. Maybe someday we will send you a small turtle with grass in its mouth…
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Think it depends on the presses, themselves. I mean, I feel really weird speaking in any capacity and largely so when trying to speak for others’ intentions or what they should feel responsible for. But as for the roles of small publishing, I think little presses have been able to showcase the breadth of what’s happening out there in the writing world and the proliferation of small presses and literary journals speaks volumes about the liveliness of the field. With people consistently proclaiming many “deaths,” the sheer number of locations where someone could potentially find an outlet for their work really spits in the face of that notion.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I think that we’ve kept a focus on the tactile nature of our books. There are many super-gorgeous book arts and micro presses out there, like Small Fires (astounding work Freidrich does), and DoubleCross (MC Hyland is a wizard) and UDP’s small runs (though all of their books are sharp as hell, too), and Dusie and LRL’s textile eds and Immaculate Disciples and Brave Men and Greying Ghost – man, Carl’s designs…and dozens of others. But I think what sets us apart is our attention to touch, to the sensual nature of holding a book. For each of our books, we’ve been able to incorporate a tactile element that works in conjunction with the lived experience of reading the text—or we strive to.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Don’t know if we’re very good at this, to be honest. We currently announce things when they’re available on our web-outlet and on social media outlets and attend some of the small press conferences when we’re able to. Feel like there are good models out there, but we’re remiss in our duties here somewhat. Think the PDF version is a good one – but that’s due in large part to my shift into a desk job. I can go and read a heck of a lot more now since folks are starting to post chaps in online editions. There’s one journal (Epiphany) that was doing chap-kits, that were print at home setups. I thought that was really neat, but don’t know how well pitching the actual assembly to the reader would wind up working in practice.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Depends on the work, really. For some of our books we were fairly smitten with the version of the manuscript we’d originally received. For others we’ve worked back and forth with the author rearranging order of the poems, proposing line edits, and everything in between.
7 – How do your chapbooks get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Started off at 74, now 200. We’re thinking about shifting this some more, short portion of the run as hand-crafted, larger portion perfect-bound. We’ll see what happens with the upcoming project. We sell online and in person at festivals. And a couple of bookshops have carried our titles – Berl’s, Unnameable, and someplace in St. Louis that I can’t remember the name of...
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?
So far, it’s just been Sommer and myself as editors. We have enlisted the help of a couple of artists for cover ideas and have had the text laid out a few times. And that’s a fair amount of labor off our shoulders. And then in assembly we try to get whoever we can. Shannon’s done a ton of sewing and painting and a bunch of our friends and family have been generous with their time.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It’s helped me to see things through a wider lens, if that makes any sense. There’s more happening out there than I’d previously been aware of and I hope that helps in the actual editing process, but that remains to be seen.
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?
I think we were both more focused on this venture as an avenue to promote others, but I don’t see this as an issue, really. I wouldn’t be averse to putting anything out by either one of us. Just haven’t chosen to do that.
11– How do you see Flying Guillotine Press evolving?
Well, I think we both realized, after working through the material that we’d selected in our last open reading period that doubling the number of books we were putting out in a year and nearly tripling the runs was a bit more than we could chew. So we’re paring back our output significantly. Life and things have become more pressing, too. Sommer’s got a little one and I’m no longer adjuncting, so time is more compressed. We also want to create a space where the material can go to live beyond its print run. So hopefully before too long we’ll have an online archive.
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?
I think that Phil Metres’s book – abu ghraib arias – has had the largest impact, and it deserves everything that’s come to it. Such an important project that’s really staring in the face of one of the myriad problems this nation’s swallowed and not digested. That his book has found its way into classrooms across the country speaks to the fact that this is something that people need to comprehend more fully and his work has hopefully helped open some people’s eyes. And being able to work with Morgan Lucas Schuldt’s last chapbook was an honor. He was a meticulous craftsman and that he trusted us enough to handle it is humbling. There’s too much to say there. But, truly, all of the books that we’ve put out I feel this way about. We’re lucky to be able to dress these things up and send them into the world. As for frustrations and things that folks overlook – I wish that poetry was more widely read, but that has little to do with the press stuff, and maybe that we were smarter about financial stuff – or that this wasn’t a worry. I heard something about analytics being done on the poetry business and am interested to hear what comes of that.
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
This is going to sound kind of dumb, but I don’t know that we really had any. We knew of a handful of small presses, but they were almost all doing letterpress work or perfect bound stuff. That’s not true. Wait. I think Horse Less had published Sommer’s Vale Tudo – so it might have sprung from that some, and Cannibal, and Kitchen Press. And Jen Tynes and Matt Henriksen are both still doing fantastic stuff and Justin Marks is now doing Birds, LLC. Feel like we found other models along the way, some. And then we found more likeminded people in the small press community.
14– How does Flying Guillotine Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Flying Guillotine Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I feel like over the last year I’ve been slightly less engaged than I had been in the past – see life events, etc. But we both have been consistently involved in things in our local environments. Sommer used to do the Pete’s Candy store reading series in Brooklyn and is now a major piece in the Bad Shadow Affair in Denver. She is very engaged with the vibrant Denver poetry scene and helps pull people from all over the country there to read. And she runs workshops, both for poetry and on book binding. I’ve been working in DC with a non-profit called Writopia Lab since I moved down here – doing workshops for kids. And I just did a school visit. Tend to go to as many readings as I can muster and am involved in a local group of publishers and journals called DCLit that should hopefully become more visible over the coming months. So I guess, if I’m really looking at it, we’re both tied into the community.
As for journals and presses, there’s a ton that I’ve got big spaces in my heart for (that I’ve not mentioned already)– Projective Industries, BAP, Factory Hollow, Publishing Genius, Forklift, Rope-a-Dope, H_ngm_n, Rose Metal, Horse Less, Plumberries, Mud Luscious, YesYes, Poor Claudia, SpringGun, Better, Caketrain and a bundle of others I’m forgetting. Oh, and the new Fou is delicious!
I feel like they feed us in a way – and that unconsciously we might be lifting aspects from them. Same goes for writing, right? We’re all thieves. And that thieving moves things along.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We have held launches and readings and will continue to do so. More readings than launches and since we’re in two different places it’s a little trickier now to do the launch thing. We never really did a full out blast off launch though and I think that might be fun to do. Just need to have the resources and time to plan for it. Given the shift in focus we’re undertaking, this might be more feasible in the future.
I think that doing stuff in public is pretty important – it gives a face to the work and it helps to establish camaraderie. Wish we were able to attend all of the literary events that are cropping up! We’ve got to miss the CUNY chapbook event this year, and it sounds like the Mission Creek thing and the new festival up in Buffalo were both a lot of fun, if the social media reports are to be believed.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We’ve got a blog where we sell the books and make announcements on Facebook. I think as we move through the next year, this will shift some and we’ll get a more lively presence on the webbings. But for now, it’s sort of minimal.
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We’d had two open readings and we’re considering doing this again in the future. What we’re not looking for is stuff that doesn’t take any kind of risk. I think out of the reading pools there were a small number of manuscripts that we would never consider—folks who never read poetry or don’t know what a chapbook is or were completely unfamiliar with the type of work that we publish. Just kind of flute-jazzy-teen-ish feeling stuff. But these were by far in the minority. A lot of the work was very adept and more work than I’d like to admit was stuff that I was jealous of, that sung full throated and hair-raisingly, which made it hard to limit what we chose.
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
The next thing we’re doing is a chapbook of Stephanie Balzer’s tweets. The name is being sorted out currently and we’re in the layout stages, so it should be out fairly soon. She had stopped writing for about a year after Morgan Lucas Schuldt had died (they were very close friends and literary partners, in a way) and this was a way for her to get back to producing language. I think it’s going to be a very tender and crushing thing and I’m hopeful that people come to it openly.
The last book that we put together was Theresa Sotto’s hinge – she’s doing some very stellar work that’s sort of meditative and domestic, but also very indicative of our current states of being. Very well crafted work and we went with vinyl covers, which gives the book a much different texture than all of the other books we’ve done.
And just before that was Serena Chopra’s Penumbra – which is a larger format than we’re accustomed to working with. The content demanded a different type of layout – she was working through and with some geological textbook language and abutting this with modern relationship content – creating this weird juxtaposition both on the page and with its attention. And Sommer came up with the cover for it – fabric and handmade white paper. It’s really stunning.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;