Jeff Kirby’s earlier chapbooks include Simple Enough, Cock & Soul, Bob’s boy, The world is fucked and sometimes beautiful, and She’s Having a Doris Day. Recent work appears in Matrix Magazine and bandcamp (jeffkirby.bandcamp.com/releases). Kirby is a Pushcart Nominee for “when the gardens were,” which was first published in The Rusty Toque (13) and is in his upcoming fulllength collection, This Is Where I Get Off. Kirby is the owner/publisher of knife | fork | book (@knifeforkbook).
1 – When did Knife|Fork|Book 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?
KFB first started as a book cart in Kensington Market, Toronto selling used books to raise funds for a community library at my coop, we then moved into a coffee shop on the same street (Augusta Avenue, to this day) where we became a poetryonly bookshop.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Selfpublishing, then working as a librarian, and at a Canadian small press doing their digital media, then opening the bookshop, specializing in small press and chapbooks, seeing what moves and wanting to bring what I could bring to it.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Our primary role, as a poetryonly bookshop and publisher, is to champion poets, poetry, and publishers of poetry. Poetry deserves to be front and center as much as any other new release, and that’s how we treat it and sell it.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I see most everybody working really hard to set and meet their intentions. There’s a lot of creatives producing good work, and, it’s a whole lotta work, pretty much nonstop (we’re new), Our marked difference is we have our own bookshop to sell and move goods, it’s largely how we move product, and sellout. Virtually all of our publications have either sold out (smallest printing, 100 copies, to largest 250) with reprints of two of our titles, She’s Having a Doris Day is going into its fourth printing selling over 350 copies.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Again, it helps to have an actually shop where shoppers can have the book in hand (they move much faster than just online sales). But, nothing is better than readings to sell a book.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I wouldn’t select a work that needed deep digging. I respect a poet’s voice, and we both work to have that voice best represented on the page.
7 – How do your chapbooks get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We don’t use a distributor. We approach shops and place books in stores (we’re working on creating a Partnering Shop network similar to Ugly Duckling Presse). And, our books move.
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 work with other editors, David Bradford has edited two of our titles, Fan Wu is editing our What Queer Reading Imprint and Eric Schmaltz is editing our first magazine publication, Not Your Best. The benefits are working with the likes of Fan Wu and Eric. And, I have no interest/desire/want to do everything. It’s essential (for everyone) to be inclusive, broaden the base, grow.
And working with Norman Nemetallah, our brilliant book designer, and master printer John DeJesus is an absolute dream and joy. Sharing space with artist Audra Simmons is also a pleasure.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I’m a bit more respectful of deadlines.
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?
We published Doris, because I knew it would sell. My next two titles have been picked up by other publishers. But, it’s not really an issue.
11– How do you see Knife|Fork|Book evolving?
We’re in our sophomore year which I see as crucial in not only keeping us on the map, but growing. I’ve mentioned the partnering project, which we’re calling KFB Satellites, We announced a second imprint focused primarily on queer poet of colour, and our magazine. And we still have one of the most robust, weekly reading nights anywhere, KFBFridays featuring hundreds of poets a year.
Now, we’re opening the space for groups, classes, workshops during shop hours, we’re starting a Poetry Lab to hook up poets with editors and publishers, and our 510 year plan is to create a nonprofit housing cooperative for poets to live.
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?
A poetryonly bookshop remains open after it’s first year in Toronto. Our publications are standouts, good poets/poetry in very pretty packaging.
If there’s any frustration, it’s the sometime pettiness of those fighting over what is perceived as the same wedge of the pie. Or people bitchin’ as though that’s accomplishing something. I will always credit the hard work being done by those around me. Like you, rob, fuck 25 years. Well done. We can only aspire.
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
I love Ugly Duckling Presse. And Coach House, Nightboat, The Operating System, Gaspereau, Book*hug, there’s too many to name. Younger, it was probably Grove Press, City Lights.
14– How does Knife|Fork|Book work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Knife|Fork|Book in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I made a deliberate choice at the beginning to work with publishers because I wanted to establish relationships with them directly, not two steps removed, and it’s these vital working relationships that also have placed in immediate connection to poets. I’m in dialogue with both, daily.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
KFBFridays is our weekly signature event. And it’s a draw. KFB has become a destination for poets to meet and read.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Unfortunately, like this morning, it takes up most of my mornings, but it’s essential, we wouldn’t be where we are today at all without it. It is the worldwide face of KFB.
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
I always say if you have something for me to see, I’ll look at it (not in the shop, mind you, ask, I’ll respond, then send it to me. We also have an open call for both What Queer Reading and Not Your Best.
I tend to be viscerally responsive to poetry. But, that’s what a wellwritten line does to me. And, I publish what I like. I’m a suck. I won’t publish anything that’s unmoving. Again, that occurs in good writing.
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
We’ve been very blessed with good poets/poetry. Our three newest launch tomorrow night. Roxanna Bennett’s Unseen Garden is jawdroppingly wellwritten and I’ve yet to get through it unscathed. And, two new poets, Montreal’s Lauren Turner with a fresh take on the Samson/Delilah story, and John Stintzi’s equally disruptive/disarming The Machete Tourist. Norm and I decided to package them as a bundle, to me they’re inseparable.