Penteract Press is a UK-based small press specialising in experimental poetry with an emphasis on structure. This includes formal verse, concrete poetry, and poems composed using constraints of varying complexity. It exists online at penteractpress.com.
Anthony Etherin is a writer of constrained, formal and experimental poetry. He tweets poems @Anthony_Etherin and archives his work online at anthonyetherin.wordpress.com. He runs Penteract Press, with his wife, artist and illustrator Clara Daneri.
1 – When did Penteract 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 began in the latter half of 2016. I’d written a poem called “Wars of the Roses and Thorns”, and I had such a clear idea of how I wanted it presented that, rather than send it off for someone else to make, I decided to design and distribute the leaflet myself. Kind of as a whim, and because I thought it looked good, I added a penteract logo, with the name “Penteract Press” beneath it—but I wasn’t committed to starting a press. That came a few months later, after talking things over with my wife, Clara. We decided it would be a great way to meet interesting people, and to be more involved in the arts, in general.
As it happened, the “penteract” (which is the five-dimensional equivalent of the 2-D square, 3-D cube and 4-D tesseract) conveniently represented our taste in art: We like poetry that places an emphasis on structure, but which also has a radical and innovative edge. That is, we like works that, like the penteract, are an extension of familiar rules and forms into exotic, unfamiliar territory. We decided on this theme early on, and our goal, in this respect, hasn’t changed.
With respect to scale, however, our ambitions have certainly grown. When we began, we weren’t thinking beyond single-sheet leaflets. We’re now producing booklets and looking to produce full-length books. This is partly down to the fun we’ve had learning about book design, materials, typesetting, etc.—and all those other details that were, before we set out, so easily overlooked.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Back at university, Clara and I ran a small record label for local bands, including my own. So, we’ve always enjoyed seeing works of art realised as material objects. Personally (being somewhat obsessed with control) I don’t like not being involved during any stage of the creative process!
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Knowing how hard it can be to relinquish control of a poem, I feel a huge responsibility to present others’ poems appropriately, and in a manner that best highlights their unique qualities. Moreover, Clara and I know that each poem we publish represents the overall theme and aesthetic of our press, and, because of this, we try to be very selective…. So, there’s definitely a great deal of aesthetic responsibility involved.
Social or political responsibilities are less of a focus, given the generally abstract and conceptual nature of the work we publish. We select works that inspire us, and which fit our aesthetic. Politics stay out of it, mostly. If we’re publishing the highest quality work we can, then we feel we’re doing our job properly.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I wouldn’t say no one else is doing it, but it’s quite unusual for such a small press to have published predominantly international poets. Nearly all our poets are based outside the UK, which is likely a result of our very specific theme, and our selectivity—we have to cast a wide net.
In addition to planning for larger-scale works, we have recently begun reading submissions for a series of “nanopamphlets”—miniature (A8) leaflets. That’s not really something I’ve seen elsewhere. I like to think our introduction of nanopamphlets, at a time when we are also thinking of full-length books, says something about our commitment to a DIY aesthetic.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new titles out into the world?
While our publications are purchasable from a small number of bookshops (bookartbookshop in London stocks our complete series: http://www.bookartbookshop.com/), given that most of our poets, and therefore our readers, are based outside the UK, we rely heavily on the internet, and on our online store, https://penteractpress.com/store/. For promotion, we depend on social media, and on the support of friends and collaborators.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I rarely make suggestions on the content of the poems themselves—of course, any typographical and grammatical errors are brought to the author’s attention. Furthermore, I will often engage with the poets throughout the publishing process, relaying PDFs, to make sure they are happy with the design. It’s their poem, after all, so they should have the final say on all aesthetic decisions. I don’t like surrendering too much control over my own poetry, so I shouldn’t expect it of others!
7 – How do your titles get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We currently self-distribute through our site, penteractpress.com, although we intend to look at other options, when we start producing books. For the current, small scale stuff, most of our leaflets are printed at home, and are produced when a sale is made. On the day of publication, we’ll do a short run that includes a number of copies to be sent to the author as “payment”—normally between 15 and 25, depending on material costs.
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?
It’s just Clara and me; though, as I said, our leaflets are produced through close contact with their authors, who are the best judges of their own poetry. I like art with a clear vision, unmuddied by too many interfering voices.
The only drawback I can think of is that there are only two of us to do all the work of printing, folding and mailing the leaflets, on days when significant sales are made—but I can’t complain too much about that!
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Whenever I write a poem, these days, I think of how it should appear in leaflet format—which typeface and font would suit it best, which paper, how much space it should occupy, and so on—in fact, there’s a definite “back and forth” between the poem and its potential presentations. They way it might look ends up affecting the outcome of its content, which is something I find fascinating. Symbiosis between content and form is really important in poetry, anyway, and an area I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with—moving into publishing has given these experiments greater scope.
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 believe in self-publishing, because I believe in overseeing a project from start to finish. Self-publishing is a good way of asserting individuality—and individuals always make better artists than committees.
Of course, it is also nice to see how other publishers interpret one’s work. Personally, I’ll self-publish those poems for which I have a definite vision, and I’ll submit elsewhere those for which I do not…. But, in general, I’m very much a fan of the art of self-publishing, since the few legitimate arguments against it are greatly outweighed by its virtues.
The one thing I’ll say from the contrary perspective, I suppose, is that self-publishing should never dominate a small press that has made a commitment to publishing other poets. To this end, Clara and I will never publish our own works at the expense of someone else: Our selection criteria for submitted works, and their likelihood of acceptance, remain unaffected by our personal projects.
11– How do you see Penteract Press evolving?
We’re now committed to producing lengthier works. This will start with a short book of my micropoems (my own poetry will be serving, here, as a guinea pig—that’s another benefit of self-publishing), and we’ll probably follow that with an anthology, before, all going well, taking submissions for full-length collections.
We’re also interested in pursuing more individualised, niche works: Handmade and handbound, strictly limited editions, and the like. We want to go in both directions: bigger and smaller. We want to reach a larger audience while retaining our idiosyncrasies and independence.
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?
Presses our size are a labour of love, with little chance of making a significant profit—I guess that’s frustrating, to some extent, but we knew it would be the case when we started. I’m proud that we’ve been able to stay afloat, and are now in a position to build upon our work. I’m also proud of the positive attention certain of our publications have received—one, in particular, has reached an audience most poetry leaflets rarely experience. Most of all, however, I’m proud of the compliments we’ve received from fellow poets and publishers—from people we respect, and who really seem to understand what we’re trying to achieve.
As for what people have overlooked (and this is, of course, a frustration too), it never ceases to amaze us how many submissions come from people who have, apparently, never been remotely near our submissions guidelines….
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We have been hugely inspired by Derek Beaulieu’s No Press, and we were fortunate enough to get advice directly from Derek, when starting out. Ken Hunt’s Spacecraft Press and Kyle Flemmer’s The Blasted Tree were early models, too, and I’ve remained in contact with both Ken and Kyle.
14– How does Penteract Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Penteract Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Having published mostly international poets, when I think of our “immediate” literary community, I think of likeminded poets and publishers, before I think of geography. The internet is Penteract Press’s true home. I’m a habitual tweeter, and I’ve met many poets and publishers through my Twitter account.
The presses I’ve had the most contact with are, unsurprisingly, those operating on a similar scale, and exploring similar corners of the avant-garde. I’ve mentioned No Press, Spacecraft Press and The Blasted Tree. Another I’d like to add is Sweden’s Timglaset, run by Joakim Norling.
Dialogues with presses such as these are very useful—we exchange publications, suggest poets to approach, and, occasionally, discuss the more practical aspects of putting a publication together. More importantly, we, either directly or by our actions, provide each other much-needed encouragement.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Given our location, and the international nature of our press, we rarely hold readings and launches. This is unfortunate, and something that will certainly change, when we make the transition to full-length books. We already have several locations in mind.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We rely heavily on our Twitter accounts and website. We are also in the process of setting up a Patreon account, and exploring other internet-based means of promotion and distribution.
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We are currently open to submissions for our leaflet and nanopamphlet series (details here: https://penteractpress.com/).
As a publisher of constrained, concrete and formal poetry, the simple answer to what we don’t want is, “free verse”. In terms of content, we tend to prefer the extrospective over the introspective (in fact, we rather enjoy poems that have no subject at all). Poetry about science, history, and the arts are most welcome. But it’s unlikely we’d publish poems that fixate on identity, or which promote a specific political stance. Poetry overly concerned with feelings isn’t really our sort of thing, either, though we are happy to consider it….
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
I’ve already mentioned our miniature ‘nanopamphlets’, most of which we are likely to give away, rather than sell. I don’t know how many of these we’re going to produce, but it’s a format we love working with—they’re not too costly to produce, present an interesting design challenge, and, as something anyone could make, reflect our love of DIY arts. The most recent nanopamphlet we’ve published is “Neith Cursive”, a small visual poem by Derek Beaulieu.
As a stepping stone towards producing books, we have recently published two booklets, which we had printed by a third party. It’s been an interesting experience, and fun adapting to designing larger formats. The first one was “Broken Light”, by Gary Barwin—a 16-page booklet of visual poetry based on the Hebrew alphabet. The other is the long poem “A Nocturne for Eurydice” by Christian Bök, which appears in a more delicate, A6-size, 8-page edition. We’ve been really pleased with how both have turned out—it augurs well for the future.