Thursday, February 02, 2017

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Kyle Flemmer on The Blasted Tree Publishing Company

Kyle Flemmer is an author, editor, and publisher from Calgary, Canada. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a double-major in Western Society & Culture and Creative Writing. Kyle is passionate about social satire, philosophy, and science, and enjoys writing poetry, short stories, and critical essays. He has published work with NewPoetry, no press, Soliloquies, BALDHIP, Gadfly, The Bullcalf Review, word and colour, Penteract Press, and Spacecraft Press, among others. His chapbook, ASTRAL PROJECTION, appeared a few days ago with above/ground press.

Kyle founded The Blasted Tree Publishing Company in 2014, a small press and community of emerging and established artists, presenting innovative and experimental content in a variety of mediums. We focus on counter-cultural artistic expression and critical engagement with the world at large, and are always looking for unique perspectives. The Blasted Tree believes in the magic of collaboration, free access to meaningful content, and the long-standing tradition of quality print publication.

1 – When did The Blasted Tree 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?
The Blasted Tree first began as an idea that bounced around between friends during my second year of undergrad. Having grown up around the internet, I never felt lacking in platforms to get my voice out. On the contrary, the immense number of messages beaming around the world nonstop made me understand that, even if I had the best idea in the world, it would take more than a single voice to make people hear it. My original goal for the company was to foster a community of diverse voices that could grow alongside and support each other in a context of new media, and that goal has not changed. During the process, I have come to understand the principle of horizons: they make wonderful targets to aim at, but always recede as you approach them; that in striking out towards a goal, unknown possibilities lie behind every corner. Explore them!

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
In high school, I worked as the Production Manager, then Managing Editor, for our school newspaper. My favorite teacher taught the Journalism class – that, and Social Studies – and he exposed me to independent media I had never heard of before, like politically charged music and films, and most importantly, print media like Adbusters and Democracy Now. I saw pretty quickly the influence that publishers of all kinds can have on the traffic of ideas, the dangers of hegemonic media conglomerates, and how essential independent perspectives are to the maintenance of our freedom of expression.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Healthy ecosystems are made up of organisms of all shapes and sizes, and each species must fit its particular niche in order to maintain balance. The same can be said for the literary community. Small presses are more reactive to changes in the direction of culture, nuances of taste, experimental processes, and quirks of language than are big publishers. It is our responsibility to lead the charge into those risky corners, to act as scout and spy for the main army. We are mobile enough to try new things, and so should. Hopefully this activity brings new voices and practices into the limelight for a wider audience to confront and enjoy.

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

Even though we’ll be three years old this summer, The Blasted Tree still feels like an amoeba on the Canadian literary scene. Other presses seem to move in clear directions, as if they know exactly what they’re doing, but we’re growing many ways in fits and spurts. I have overly ambitious plans, in that I’m laying groundwork for more than I alone can handle, but my interests in art and literature range all over the place, and I’m continually impressed with interdisciplinary practices that respond to both analogue and digital mediums. I know it’s impossible to be all things at all times, but I would like The Blasted Tree to be whatever we can in support of authors and artists with unconventional visions. If we can dream it, I want to try it.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
To be totally frank, the best way to get physical goods into people’s hands is in the real world, and even then, you have to place them there. We’ve sold a bunch of chapbooks online, but that number pales in comparison with how many chapbooks we’ve sold or otherwise distributed in person. On the other hand, The Blasted Tree is committed to free digital distribution wherever we can, and we put as much content as possible up on our website. Our philosophy is that a chapbook (or any other form of print media) is an artifact worth treasuring, especially if you can already appreciate its contents.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends on the project and the author or artist. I’m privileged to have worked with people of all abilities, from amateurs seeking first publications to career authors. Some submissions are beyond my ability to improve, some need careful disentanglement, and still others just a subtle nudge. Those last edits are the most satisfying, like bringing one funny note into tune. Chapbooks usually end up getting the most edits; I’m a stickler for consistency of style (where appropriate, of course), and aim to make collections that come across as a cohesive wholes.

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
All our print media is available via The Blasted Tree’s online store (, which is my primary means of distribution, though I often sell our wares at readings, markets, or fairs. I like to maintain an active trade economy as well, and have exchanged work with authors and publishers from around the world. Most importantly, The Blasted Tree compensates our creative collaborators with copies of any printed material, recently up to half the total print run, so contributors are free to circulate their work however they see fit. We have been printing editions of 50 copies as of late, budget and project permitting.

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 have collaborated with Bea Keeler, a great friend, artist, and musician, on several Blasted Tree projects. She’s been invaluable getting this whole thing off the ground, and has helped bring in, edit, and promote some of the work I’m most proud of, including our popular six-part series of creative nonfiction, “Feminist Perspectives.” Bea holds a position as Contributing Editor because she kicks total butt and may do so with us again, though, in all honesty, The Blasted Tree is pretty much just me and a whole lot of sleepless nights. Suffice to say, I don’t mind working alone but am not at all opposed to collaboration.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Editing and publishing other people has helped me to let go of my own writing more easily, to not take myself so seriously, but also to structure how I go about seeking publication. I founded The Blasted Tree to promote my work and the work of the many talented people around me. Using my own writing as the Guinea pig has pushed me to experiment, both to offer the kind of material I wanted other people to send in, and in order grow alongside the wonderful authors who’ve since come on board. Ultimately, I consider writing more as a practice than I used to, and have come to appreciate the usually unseen aspects of the industry.

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?

Publishing my own writing has been an essential part of the journey. When beginning the press, I felt it necessary to offer my own writing first as a means of getting other authors to trust me with their work, a way to invite their conversation. This has been successful so far, and I’ve even found reaching out to people in the manner I like to be engaged by others helpful in getting my own work published elsewhere. Increasingly I see writing, editing, and publishing as interconnected elements of our literary dialogue, and the more participants I can engage in that conversation, the more sparks we get flying, the better.

11 – How do you see The Blasted Tree evolving?

Over time I hope to explore more digital and interdisciplinary media that remains centered on so-called “literature.” I’m fascinated by the idea of literary projects incorporating multiple mediums into their scope. For example, I’m organizing an album of recordings featuring spoken word poets from across the country, but the project isn’t limited to the collection of audio files. We can bring in video or other visual elements, print lyric books and album covers, offer streaming or downloadable content, or whatever other wonderful things we can dream up, broadcasting our work on all frequencies.

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?
The moments I look back on most fondly are those little “aha!” moments in the editing process when everything seems to click into place, where the author and I sit back with grins feeling like we’re not totally full of it and everything might be ok after all. I think if we’re being overlooked by people it’s because of how easy it is to overlook everything these days, and that’s my biggest frustration. Pretty much everything we do is shared freely on our website, but nothing exists for people if it doesn’t have a corresponding Facebook post, and then it’s easier to like the post than it is to read it.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Guillaume Morissette, an author and editor formerly with Metatron Press, spoke to an Editing and Publishing class I took at Concordia a few years back, and right away I could tell he was someone I wanted to emulate. I mean, The Blasted Tree is not like Metatron at all, but I admired what Guillaume, a young man like myself, was doing for his community, i.e. publishing his peers and supporting the scene however possible. The Blasted Tree is modeled on that philosophy, which has led me to what I would describe as “exploratory” publication.

14 – How does The Blasted Tree work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see The Blasted Tree in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Most of our contributors are emerging authors and artists, so if I want to get new people, it’s essential I get involved with the stuff they’re doing. I’ve been attending a lot of readings, open mics, and poetry slams recently, both to meet fresh faces, but also to put the good word out about my press. The nice thing about emerging talents is they tend to get their friends and family involved. I also believe an exchange economy among artists builds a community of collaborators, and online engagement is a great way to support (and enlist the support) of your tribe. I would say my press operates in dialogue primarily with Spacecraft Press and no press, both of which have a Calgary connection, and filling Station, the experimental literary magazine I volunteer for. However, I’ve definitely been influenced by the Vallum chapbook series, Metatron, Concordia student zines The Void, Soliloquies, and Spectra, and other burgeoning small presses, like Desert Pets and Penteract Press. Dialogue is, of course, a two-way street, and represents the exchange necessary for the generation and appreciation of art. The bulk of what I do in writing and publishing stems from the desire to participate in that dialogue.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We’ve hosted readings/launches on occasion, though not since relocating from Montreal to Calgary in 2016. Many of our contributing authors are students new to the Montreal writing scene, and given their eagerness for experience and exposure, readings were relatively easy to organize. Public readings are, in my view, essential to the livelihood of a healthy arts establishment. Literature is communicative by design, and readings are where we come together in communities which sustain our individual practices. To be fair, it’s usually after the readings that personal connections are made, so be sure to stick around for refreshments after the show!

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
My focus is on the intersection between free access and print culture, and the internet is a powerful tool to this end. The bulk of our content is freely available on our website, which is a critical element of the enterprise for me. I see the website as The Blasted Tree’s anchor; we have contributing authors from all across Canada, and as I’ve moved back and forth for school, it’s been a useful central hub to orchestrate our activities around. Of course, I also use social media to connect with new authors and promote our work, though many hours spent hustling on social media translates into very few actual visits to the webpage.

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

We accept submissions of poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, print, and digital media year round via our email ( I would say the word to avoid is “safe” – instead, we look for work that takes risks or challenges itself. Of course, that mandate is relative to the author, because what is safe for you and what is safe for me are two different things. I like seeing an artist step outside their comfort zone, material generated there possess a dimension of urgency unknown to “safe.”

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
The Blasted Tree has started publishing a variety of print media beyond chapbooks only just this year, including artist prints, longsheets, broadsheets, and leaflets, and I’m really excited about all the different possibilities. The first leaflet we published featured the poem “In Montreal” by Mia Poirier, a poet I attended school with. I’ve been working with Mia in class and out for about four years now, and I always feel privileged to share their work, like I get to break some fantastic secret to the world. “In Montreal,” and Poirier’s verse in general, moves me without effort, puts warm fuzzies into my jaded heart, and that’s worth a barn-full of brash sentimentalism. I am also extremely fortunate to have been able to publish “In Memoriam, Bob Cobbing and Jennifer Pike Cobbing” by experimental visual poet derek beaulieu. derek has been incredibly supportive over the last several months, and he has certainly influenced my writing and publishing practices more than a little, so it is wonderfully fitting that I can share a piece he made in celebration of two ground-breaking concrete and performance artists who have influenced him. The two-part visual poem is printed as small posters and folded into leaflets. I’ve still been working on chapbook projects though, most recently obscuritysquared by neuroscientist, musician, and poet Michael Smilovitch. This poetry collection explores the poetic qualities of a particular science, in this case neuroscience, and I’m totally on board with this practice in my own writing. While it’s rewarding to publish voices of all kinds, everybody has their tastes, and it’s particularly special to edit a collection that makes a lot of the moves I’ve been working on. obscuritysquared will be ready to go in early February!

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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