Thursday, May 06, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Jenny Penberthy on The Capilano Review

The Capilano Review is in its 39th year of publishing experimental writing and visual art. Jenny Penberthy is TCR’s 8th editor and has been in the position for five years. She is known for her work on Lorine Niedecker.

1 – When did The Capilano Review 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 Capilano Review published its first issue in 1972 and so far as I can tell the original goals are unchanged. Back then it was an avant-garde mag committed to publishing experimental Canadian writers alongside equally experimental work from elsewhere. Nothing’s changed. There’s been a succession of editors since Pierre Coupey began in 1972.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I’ve published a number of books, and several of them exposed me to the theory of textual criticism with its awareness of production qualities and values. So when The Capilano Review editorship was up for grabs at Capilano University, I was keen to try it out.

3 – How do you approach the idea of taking over, and even altering a publishing mandate that pre-dates your own tenure as editor? Is this intimidating at all, or exciting, or both? How do you approach continuity?

If magazine were in need of an editorial overhaul, I’d be up to the task but, as I’ve said, there was no need for that. The magazine is as relevant as it ever was. I did, however, make physical changes to the magazine so that it now looks quite different to its predecessors. But many past editors of TCR left their mark on the appearance of the magazine.

4 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

To publish new writers and to draw attention to work under-represented in mainstream publishing.

5 – What do you see your journal doing that no one else is?

We provide a shared space for experimental writing and art – a conversation that doesn’t often happen in other magazines.

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

Getting issues out into the world is really difficult. We don’t have the time or budget for much promotion. Our best sales are through the student bookstores when university or college instructors adopt an issue as a class text.

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

I avoid editing a poem or piece of creative prose. Early in my term, I suggested a change to a poem and ended up in far too lengthy a debate with the author. If there’s something that doesn’t quite work in a poem, I simply turn to other work. There’s never a shortage of good things.

8 – How does your journal get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Distribution is a headache. Magazines Canada handles distribution to bookstores across the country – bookstores find it simpler to deal with Mags Canada – but we’re frustrated with the process. Mags Canada doesn’t seek out the bookstores that are likely to sell TCR, so the magazine goes to unlikely outlets and then the unsold copies are trashed because it’s too costly to return them. Our print run is 800 copies so it hurts to know that over a 100 copies in each print run are being destroyed. In the past two weeks we’ve had six inquiries from Montreal about where to buy TCR in the city but Mags Canada doesn’t distribute TCR in Montreal. At a time when the future of the literary magazines is threatened, we really need some serious market research to be done by our primary distributor.

9 – 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?

We work with a few designers -- Jan Westendorp, Andrea Actis, and Judith Steedman – all of them have helped create the stylish issues we’ve produced over the last few years. We’ve also done two recent collaborations – The Poetics of Erasure (3.7) and Moodyville (3.8) where I worked with co-editors and the process and results were very gratifying. Both co-editors taught me a lot and introduced the magazine to wider audiences. TCR also gives issues to guest-editors. We’re about to go to press with Brook Houglum’s guest-edited Poets Theatre issue. Brook has taken TCR into new territory.  

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

Working on all aspects of the magazine has revealed to me the expertise, the cost, the improvisation, the strategizing involved in taking a book/magazine through production. As a writer, I hope I'll be more understanding in future about the pace that publishers work at, about the tiny percentages of author's royalty payments, and so on. The finished product on the shelves and in circulation offers no glimpse of the ardour that goes into its production.
11 – 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’ve published myself twice! Once when we did The Capilano College Issue which featured past and present Capilano faculty and then again in The Sharon Thesen Issue where, as a close friend of Sharon’s, I simply had to be! I have allowed myself to interview a few writers for publication in TCR. I can’t say that any of these appearances has felt particularly charged or complicated.

12 – How do you see The Capilano Review evolving?

Much as I love the printed TCR, I do feel we need to develop a richer web identity. That will be where the magazine evolves. We’re full of ideas but we have so little time and money!

13 – 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?

I think the magazine looks great. We have good designers and we work with a high quality local printer. I also think our interview series is good. During my term, we’ve published 15 interviews most of them with BC writers and artists – Peter Quartermain, Sharon Thesen, Fred Wah, Tom Cone, Christos Dikeakos, Damian Moppett, Ralph Maud, Ellen Tallman, and more. Considering how good TCR is, I’m surprised we don’t sell more copies.

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

I was a board member for Line and then West Coast Line for many years during Roy Miki’s editorship and found a lot to emulate there. TCR today has much in common with current West Coast Line – we share many of the same writers, readers, and many of the same complaints. I also pay attention to W, and in its day, to Raddle Moon. The other magazine I read closely and admire a great deal is Brick. Their content never fails to surprise.

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

At a time when arts budgets are being slashed, it’s been encouraging to exchange info and strategies within the community. We talk with the KSW collective and with West Coast Line. The Canada-wide protest spearheaded by John Barton of Malahat Review against cuts to little magazine funding, while unsuccessful in the end, briefly brought editors into valuable conversation with each other.

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

We hold an average of two launches per year. They’re usually fun occasions because they bring together the artists and the writers who we publish side-by-side. It’s always good to find new audiences for writers.

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

We have a website in need of an upgrade but it gets still gets thousands of visits every month. We sell single copies and subscriptions via the website and we announce our events with email, use Facebook, Twitter. And so on.

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

Yes, we take unsolicited submissions. We aren’t looking for work from writers who don’t know TCR. The majority of contributors have no idea they’re sending their work to a magazine that publishes experimental writing.

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

3.10 [see my review of such here] contained our Olympic feature which was a small dissenting voice during the Olympics – there were so few – including among other things photographs by Christos Dikeakos of the site of the Athlete's Village, an interview with Christos by Colin Browne, and still shots from Project Blue's 2010 public art commission, a video that protests the omission of women ski jumpers from the Olympics. The issue also has Reg Johanson’s interview with a punchy Marie Annharte Baker.

3.9 was our farewell to Vancouver poet, Robin Blaser who TCR has published throughout its 39 year history. The tribute to Robin included the musical score for “Suddenly,” a new interview with British composer Harrison Birtwistle whose opera The Last Supper Robin wrote the libretto for, and a selection of archival photographs of Robin. Then we included interviews with two of his great friends – Ellen Tallman on her role in the Vancouver poetry community and Ralph Maud about his Charles Olson Library and his career as Olson’s “scholar.” Another friend of Robin’s is Peter Quartermain and we included his introduction to the first volume of Robert Duncan’s writings. An irresistible pairing with this was a previously unpublished section of The H.D. Book edited by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman

3.8 [see my review of such here] was “Moodyville,” a special issue prepared in collaboration with Presentation House Gallery reflecting on the history and culture of North Vancouver. The issue is a 220-page full-colour collection of essays, poems, fiction, maps, photographs both contemporary and archival, reproductions of paintings and prints, and video still-shots all focused on the past and present of North Vancouver culture. The issue brought attention to the vibrant culture of the overlooked region that has also been home to The Capilano Review.

No comments: