Sunday, April 29, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Broc Rossell and Jordan Scott on The Elephants

The Elephants are an independent, open-genre press publishing heterodox materials as acts of love and solidarity with the communities in which they’re created, especially those underrepresented in the literary arts. We’re with the underdogs

Broc Rossell is the author of Festival (Cleveland State 2015) and with W. Scott Howard co-editor of the forthcoming anthology 'After' Objectivism (University of Iowa Press). He teaches in the Critical and Cultural Studies Program at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, BC.

Jordan Scott is the author of Silt (2005), and from Coach House Books: blert (2008), Decomp (2013, a collaboration with Stephen Collis and the ecosphere of British Columbia) and Night & Ox (2016). Scott’s chapbooks include Clearance Process (SMALL CAPS 2016), and Lanterns at Guantánamo (Simon Fraser University), which treat his experience after being allowed access to Guantanamo Bay in April 2015. Scott was the 2015/16 Writer-in-Residence at Simon Fraser University .

1 – When did The Elephants 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?

Broc Rossell: We’re a little more than a year old. I was the senior poetry editor at Brooklyn Arts Press for about six years (I owe Joe at BAP a lot what I learned there, esp. about working with writers on their manuscripts; Caryl Pagel at Cleveland State is my editorial role model, she’s the best). I’ve long had the goal of starting my own press and when I got the chance to work with Jordan Scott I took it.

Jordan Scott: Broc first approached me with his idea for The Elephants on a drive to Mount Baker in late 2016. I learn so much from Broc about poetry, poetics and editing that I knew being a part of The Elephants would be a necessary education.

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

BR: I’ve wanted to do something that isn’t about my work for a while, I like working on projects that aren’t my own, and I like the idea of building something over a long period of time. (I’m a new parent, too.) Writers sharing their work with each other is a pretty basic definition of the lyric, and so of literature. And without small presses (at least in North America) literature would be a shit.

JS: I like that idea too. I also like the idea of giving back some of the energy, love and support that I’ve benefited from as a poet over the years. 

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

BR: We’re both poets, and deeply informed by it, but not limited to publishing it. We’re not a poetry press per se so much as a press that uses poetry or the idea of poetry as a way of seeing things, and we publish work that redefines what and how we see. Deviance and heterodoxy are what we want. 

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

BR: Make them beautiful and hope for word of mouth…events…and flogging the internet.

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

BR: It’s always interesting to discover a writer’s expectations. Some writers want or require manuscript development, some have specific, pressing questions they want answered, some people give us work that doesn’t need a thing. Jordan tends to have a light touch, but it’s always on the money. On the rare occasion he offers a line edit, most people take it. 

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

BR: SPD, and directly through our website ( Standard small press print runs, a few hundred copies. Depends on the title.
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?

BR: Jordan Scott’s the consulting editor, he works with me on the books with me, and he’s (I think) one of the best readers + poets working today. He reads everything I write. Anybody that gets a chance to work with him is a winner. I’m a winner!

JS: I find myself reacting often very instinctually / viscerally to work and he’s usually able to ask me the right questions so I can better articulate whatever the fuck is going on. Broc has some serious editing chops (it’s incredible to witness, actually) and we work well together. We trust each other, and that matters a great deal.

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

BR: It’s more like the press reflects ways I want to grow as a writer? I guess one specific thing is that I don't write for Microsoft word anymore, I imagine book forms when I’m revising, how it’s going to look in the trim.

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?

BR: I can see why someone would do it (I like Ben Estes’ book a lot, for instance), but I don’t think I could. I mean I’m always grateful when someone reads something I wrote, but I don’t feel comfortable with being the one who also shares it with people. It’s not like I’m emotionally invested in the means of production and distribution; more like I don’t want to be the particle and the wave. I don’t write a blog either.

11– How do you see The Elephants evolving?

BR & JS: Evolving is kind of the goal. We've published books of theory, fiction, poetry. We did an online magazine, we do books, we’re publishing digital chapbooks this year. We have no idea what comes next, other than the two books a year, which we're committed to.

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?

BR: Too early to say, I reckon, but I really love our books. I don't think I could choose. The magazine and chapbooks were huge projects, no less than the printed stuff. No serious frustrations J

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

BR &; JS: There’s so many presses we’ve stolen from / been inspired by. Omnidawn’s commitment to community, same goes for Talon Books, Krupskaya’s decades-long, almost libidinously swerve-y aesthetic, Song Cave’s instant credibility, Coach House’s decades as a center of publishing the transgressive, just to name contemporaries. I mean, if we were to try to answer this question historically we’d never stop talking. Small press history is practically a history of deviant thought unto itself.  

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

BR & JS: We’re based in Vancouver, a border town. I’m American (now dual), Jordan is Canadian, we’ve published work from luminaries and first publications from new writers, work from folks in Ireland, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, China, Spain... Solidarity is the thing.

We read political and scientific as much or more than literary journals…we probably read the same journals you do! To answer the question directly, though there are some incredible ones out there, we don’t really publish to engage in dialogue with like-minded folks, so much as we use the press to find new directions for reading.

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

BR & JS: Sure, we do local book fairs. And readings too, mostly west coast, we love seeing people. Our new authors, Johanna Drucker and Jocelyn Saidenberg, will be reading up and down the west coast in May and early June (details on our website, We did the Whale Prom at AWP this year, and it was lovely.

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

BR & JS: It’s a big part of what we do. We do online pubs and digital-only pubs, we sell through the website, we IG at @the_elephants__ and we’re on FB.

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

BR: We hold open reading periods every May. I’m happy to say we don't know what we’re looking for! But we aren’t looking for things that confirm what we already know—we want to be turned around and see the thing we were missing.

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

BR: We published our first two books last year, Joanna Ruocco’s The Week and Helen Dimos’s No Realtor Was Compensated for This Sale. I think it’s Joanna’s eighth or ninth book and Helen’s first. Helen wrote hers in Athens, a center of neoliberal geopolitics, and Joanna’s book is unclassifiable prose. We just published Johanna Drucker’s daring and brilliant act of imaginative thinking, The General Theory of Social Relativity, which uses the case study of Trump and quantum physics to make an argument for radically reconfiguring the social sciences. And Jocelyn Saidenberg’s kith & kin, is a book-length durational elegy that floored Jordan and I when it came in. So smart and so deeply felt, what she can do with a line…quiet fireworks on every page.

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