An interview with Angela Carr about Tente, a collapsible, feminist poetry and poetics press, a small, collective intervention.
1 – When did Tente 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?
Although the first book was made in autumn of 2009, Tente began as an idea years before, an unfinished idea of a publishing venture for avant-garde writing, with feminism informing the means of production. Partly because there was no more Tessera or Raddle Moon (though Tente is a chapbook publisher, not a magazine), partly out of admiration for NY-based Belladonna. Partly because when I read articles like Numbers Trouble (published a few years ago in the Chicago Review) I want to act, even in some terribly minor way, towards shifting imbalances, in this case by participating in the means of production. All this contributed to its inception.
Then it came to be called Tente because the structure of it could be folded up, wasn’t rigid. So that it could be fluid in its form. It is, with exception of the final feminine e, a bilingual word: French for the word “tent,” and in French also sounds like “tentation”, temptation. It is also the base of such words as intent, content, malcontent, discontent… A finally, the tent as a temporary home for poetry.
I discussed the project with my friend Alisha Piercy, who is trained as a bookbinder, and has loaned awesome resources (like use of her qwikprint) to the project, so she helped; and Gail Scott, Melissa Weinstein, Erin Moure and Kate Eichhorn also helped in terms of momentum, or by lending resources. Bronwyn Haslam moved to Montréal and said she’d like to collaborate on the press, which was great. It happened that Norma Cole, whose writing I have always loved, was coming to town; Norma Cole generously wrote a gorgeous new poem for a chapbook, which became the first Tente book, More Facts.
We only made 50 copies of that book, which was a mistake. I mean, on the one hand, yes, it took time to hand sew and hot-press 50 books, but then they were all gone in a month! Now we make more.
With the recent book, Akilah Oliver’s A Collection of Objects, I collaborated with Kate Eichhorn and Emily Beall in New York, which was a really wonderful experience. Emily Beall letter–pressed the cover. The colophon shifted, hyphenated with New York.
In the process of making books, a clearer mandate has begun to emerge.
2 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I like the idea of making these small books, outside of the perfect-bound book regulations. If the book needs to be only 34 pages long, that’s fine. If it’s by someone who’s not a Canadian, fine. If it’s working with a language other than our two official languages, fine. If it switches back and forth between languages, great! By this, I don’t mean to criticize the funding that does exist in this country; I am very happy that it is there. Only to point out that its uses are limited, and that it’s important to create venues for works of literature that don’t conform to regulations, as well. Jay MillAr does this with BookThug—making chapbooks as well as perfect-bound books—and I think it is vital.
Also, as I said, Tente’s recent publication, A Collection of Objects, by Akilah Oliver, was a cross-border collaboration, made partly in Montréal and partly in New York. The tent can fold and move.
But Tente is certainly not the only micro press in Canada making limited edition, hand-sewn poetry books (Alisha Piercy and Benny Nemerofsky’s Your Lips to Mine Press and Mark Goldstein’s Beautiful Outlaw Press come to mind)… and many more micro-publishers, who have been doing this sort of thing for a long time.
3 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new publications out into the world?
We send some to online booksellers (Appollinaire’s and Woodland Pattern both carry Tente books, and now Unnameable Books in Brooklyn too) and the rest get out by word of mouth. Because Tente print runs have been so small, it hasn’t been a huge issue. Launches and readings of course are important.
4 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
It’s kind of complicated since Tente’s a collective. But they get out. For the recent title, Oliver’s A Collection of Objects, half are being sent out from NY, half from Montréal. Everything is hand-made, so 100 is currently our maximum print run.
5 – 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?
There many people involved at different stages. This is totally essential and vital, there is momentum and facility in sharing resources, and energy.
6 – 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 don’t have any absolute opinions on the subject. I have never been into authorization and I have nothing to say, ideologically, against self-publishing (in reference to arguments I have heard about the illegitimacy of self-published works).
Yet, there is something to be said for division of labour in a project, the energy and momentum of group work. I like working with other people, so I want someone else to design my book. Especially after having spent years writing something alone, I feel quite ready for, I want, fresh ideas, insights.
7 – How do you see the press evolving?
Originally, I thought it would be sporadic, appearing as an intervention here and there, that it would be concerned with unsettling the status quo rather than becoming it…
It’s starting to pick up some momentum, so maybe it will be more frequent a thing. We will see.
I hope I can get around to making a website or that I find someone with the skills who can help out. Frankly that is the next thing to do.
8 – Tell me about your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Tente’s first title, More Facts by Norma Cole (a Canadian born poet who has been residing in San Francisco since 1977) is a beautiful long poem, captivating, spare, evocative, provocative. It was meant to follow another chapbook of hers called 14000 Facts (a+bend press, Davis, California).
Brownyn Haslam edited and designed a book of visual poetry by an emerging writer from Calgary, Helen Hajnocsky, called Brocade Light.
Tente’s most recent title is by Akilah Oliver, A Collection of Objects. Like the first Tente chapbook, A Collection of Objects is a long poem. A continuous poem in false couplets. It's a sly and joyful poetic investigation of how a person remembers and constructs a language of their life as partial and rooted, if you will, in things, places, people, found memories, photos. Emily Beall’s letter-press work on the cover is stunning. This book will soon be available from Apollinaire’s in Canada or Woodland Pattern in the US, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.