Sunday, December 14, 2014

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Caryl Pagel on Rescue Press

Mission: Rescue Press is a library of chaotic and investigative work. We are interested in stories, essays, experiments, poetry, art, and anything else that transforms us.

Caryl Pagel is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Twice Told (H_NG M_N Books, 2014) and Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death (Factory Hollow Press, 2012). She is the co-founder and editor of Rescue Press, a poetry editor at jubilat, and the Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. She teaches at CSU and in the NEOMFA Program in Eastern Ohio.

1 – When did Rescue 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?

Rescue Press was born in the winter of 2009. Danny Khalastchi (the co-publisher and co-editor of Rescue) and myself decided that we would like to form an institution—a business!, a mission!, a way of life!—around Marc Rahe’s astonishing first book of poetry, The Smaller Half. That was the start, after which we became a multi-genre, multi-media, whimsical, serious, strange, and curious train of literature. We publish a wide variety of collections: those clearly steeped in traditional forms and influences; those that are elastic and experiential in nature; those that are complex and imaginative, robust and fragile, troublesome, hilarious, and surprising. Our goals haven’t shifted much because our goal was to shift and we’re shifting. We’ve learned that running a press is a lot of work and always worth it with authors as brave and brilliant as ours. We’re a family band.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

Art school, chapbooks, travel, the Dewey Decimal system.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

It’s our responsibility to read well, listen, respond, pay attention, ask questions, and shepherd what we recognize as important literature through the process of editing, design, production, promotion, and ultimately a more expansive cultural conversation. Small presses can offer things that sometimes large publishing houses can’t, or don’t, or won’t, such as a commitment to editing with the author’s priorities and aesthetics in mind, collaboration on design and artwork, and an intimate community of other writers to support and share one’s vision.

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

Our aesthetics are fairly broad and rangy; part of Rescue’s mission is to approach each book on its own terms and join forces with the author to create an exciting piece of writing and stunning art object (for example, check out Hannah Brooks-Motl’s The New Years) as well as market the work in a way that is faithful to the form, content, mood, and strengths of that particular artist. We are also interested in writing that embraces neglected or innovative forms. 

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Sweat, muscle, word of mouth, gossip, libraries, readings, independent bookstores. They all work. A few months ago I walked into a bar and saw a poet drinking a beer and reading Vinnie Wilhelm’s In the Absence of Predators. I have no idea how he came to know and love that book. Last spring Michael Silverblatt interviewed Jonathan Blum—author of the novella Last Word—for the KCRW fund drive (listen here!). What a wonderful way to collaborate in an effort to draw attention to Jonathan’s book, Rescue, and Bookworm (one of our long-time favorite literary institutions).

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

Both. The job of an editor, in my opinion, is to understand exactly that: if a certain work requires line edits, organization, word changes, rearrangement, tonal shifts, or nothing. I try to offer my authors both suggestions for revision and a reading of their work; a reflection on and response to the piece of art that they at that point have spent so much time already considering.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We distribute through our website, independent bookstores, Amazon (sigh), and SPD. Print runs depend on the time of year, budget, genre, and predicted sales.

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?

Our staff is made up of myself, the managing editor (Danny Khalastchi), our creative director (Sevy Perez), two editorial assistants (Zach Isom and Alyssa Perry), and occasional interns. We recently collaborated with Kevin Gonzalez and Lauren Shapiro on our first anthology: The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, and Hilary Plum and Zach Savich are the editors of our Open Prose Series (their first pick was Anne Germanacos’ astonishing novel-in-lines Tribute). They are all smart, generous, essential.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

I read all the time, all day long, everything I can find. I can’t point to a specific way that my writing or thinking has changed, but I know so much reading can’t hurt.

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?

Danny and I haven’t gone this route; we’re mostly sick of ourselves and we enjoy spending time with and learning from other writers’ work.

11– How do you see Rescue Press evolving?

Rescue is always evolving in response to the specific authors we bring on board, our readership, our interest in certain genres, the ideas of our staff, and our desire to read differently. I’d like to continue to publish work that is thoughtfully bizarre.

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’m still feeling especially proud of our anthology, The New Census, because it was such a time-consuming and massive undertaking and so many wonderful people were involved in making it happen. The 40 poets, obviously, for not only trusting us with their work, but also answering a series of informative and at times goofy “new census” questions. We have Sevy Perez to thank for his gorgeous design work and Lauren Haldeman for the amazing drawings. Kevin Gonzalez and Lauren Shapiro for their selections. Alyssa Perry and Zach Isom for editorial assistance. Dara Wier for such a considerate intro. Our frustrations are too boring to tell you about.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

1913, Action, Ahsahta, Canarium, Fence, Flood, Octopus, Omnidawn, Sarabande. To be honest, I’ve found a lot of strength in the examples of such innovative, visionary, and resourceful publishing ladies as Sandra Doller, Joyelle McSweeny, Janet Holmes, Robyn Schiff, Rebecca Wolf, Kathleen Rooney & Abby Beckel, Emily Pettit, Rusty Morrison, and Sarah Gorham, etc. These are just a few of the badass women who have built astounding literary institutions around their love of writing and editorial intelligence.

14– How does Rescue Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Rescue Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

Rescue currently operates out of Iowa City, which is a wonderful home for any writing-related endeavor. People in that town read and then talk about what they’re reading. We are forever indebted to Prairie Lights for supporting our books and hosting events. Outside of IC, I would say we aim to converse with Factory Hollow, Essay Press, Letter Machine, H_NG M_N, McSweeny’s, Featherproof, and the aforementioned presses.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Yup; we try to sponsor or host at least a few readings for the launch of each book.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

The what?

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We read poetry manuscripts in June of every year for our Black Box Poetry Prize and we read prose of all sorts in January as part of our Open Prose Series. We are looking for wit, wonder, humor, formal intrigue, variation, tradition, generosity, research, and intense attention.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

We just released three new collections of poetry: Bridgette Bates’ What Is Not Missing Is Light (which Timothy Donnelly calls a “a muse’s dream-votary”), Lauren Haldeman’s Calenday (check a film for the book other great artwork here), and Andy Stallings’ To The Heart of the World, one of the most mesmerizing and transformative books you’ll encounter.

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