Monday, January 03, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: derek beaulieu on NO Press

Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing.

In 2007 beaulieu was named the Alberta Magazine Publishers’ Association’s Volunteer of the Year. He has also been nominated as part of The Calgary Herald / Calgary Public Library 10 Calgary Mavericks (2010), Avenue Magazine’s Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40 (2009) and Alberta Magazine Publishers’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2009). beaulieu is the youngest writer in Canada to have his papers collected in extensio by Simon Fraser University’s Contemporary Literature Collection.

Publisher of the acclaimed smallpresses housepress (1997-2004) and no press (2005-present), and editor of several small magazines in Canada, beaulieu has spoken and written on poetics internationally. Toro magazine recently wrote “using techniques drawn from graphic design, fine art and experimental writing, [beaulieu] vigorously tests the restrictions, conventions, and denotations of the letters of the alphabet.” beaulieu’s fractal economies includes a cogent and widely-discussed argument for poetry which works beyond strict meaning making, pushing the boundaries into graphic design, gesture and collaboration. 

His first volume of criticism, Seen of the Crime, is forthcoming from Snare Books. He currently teaches at Mount Royal University.
1 – When did NO 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?
no press started in 2005. I had shut down housepress in the Fall of 2004 after 7 years of publishing and was feeling disenchanted with the direction the press had been taking. Over the seven years, I had begun to feel that the press was no longer needed or desired by a poetic community as sales were extremely low and in many cases the authors themselves were no longer acknowledging the publications. So, I thought that the best way of putting some distance between that dissatisfaction and myself was to shut down the press. In the Fall of 2004 I announced the press’ dissolution and deposited all the materials relating to the press at Simon Fraser University’s Contemporary Literature Collection (which means that sfu has the only complete collection of the almost 300 publications by housepress).

By Spring of 2005 I missed publishing but wanted to continue that distance between the press and my own reputation. I had sworn when I shut down housepress that “no, I will no longer publisher”, and for the first few months (maybe even a year) no press was published anonymously. I’m sure that no one was particularly convinced that the press wasn’t me; but the break gave me a chance to refocus my energies and hone some of my design skills.

no press started with the mandate of no promotions, no sales, no isbns, no worries—and the direction of the press does now include modest bending or breaking of all of those rules (except no isbns), I still give away more copies than I sell.

Like housepress, no press reimburses authors with copies—for each edition the author receives 50% of the copies to give away, sell or keep as she sees fit (and can keep the proceeds) with the other 50% going to the press (I usually keep a few copies for myself out of that allotment). The average print run is between 30 and 75 copies, and sells between $1 and $15 (depending on the format), with prices rarely covering the cost of producing the books.

My mandate has always been to publish work that challenges my own reading practices—these days that means a concentration on concrete poetry and conceptual writing.
Poetry is the last refuge of the unimaginative. Poetry has little to offer outside of poetry itself. Writing—on the other hand—is a much more dynamic space. Poets chose to be poets because they do not have the drive to become something better. Readers are a book’s aphorisms.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
My first publication was a collaboratively written piece entitled William S. Burroughs: Ghost of Chance. I was inspired by small presses I had encountered, most particularly bpNichol’s Ganglia/grOnk, Damian Lopes’s fingerprinting inkoperated, jwcurry’s empire of small editions (1cent, Industrial Sabotage, Spider Plots in Rat Holes, etc.) I had a collector’s mentality after having read and collected comic boosk for years, and the idea of making books was right up my alley. As I delved deeper into the small press community I started to discover more and more including your above/ground press, Jason Dewinetz’s greenboathouse books, Christian Bök’s Cr02 and lots of others (most of whom have fallen by the wayside).

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I see my own responsibility with no press as numerous; but above all should be a focus and a dedication to quality. Bob Cobbing once stated that there is more than enough bad poetry being published; if you are not going to add to the quality, then please do not add to the quantity. Coupling that opinion with Creeley’s dictum that “form must always be an extension of content’, I believe that the small press—in its ideal—must publish the highest quality work in editions which compliment and extend the poetic content of the work.

The small press is a great place for manuscripts-in-progress, for attempts and for event-related ephemeral publications but I think that what is also needed is a culture of reviewing and discussing small press editions—an opportunity for feedback and discussion. Quite a few of my early housepress and no press publications were ephemeral in form and content; brief missives meant to prompt discussion.

The small press is not something to be graduated away from as author’s become more established. It is a place for discussion, but also for mentoring.

The small press culture here in Calgary has shrunk somewhat—there used to be a great deal of ephemeral publications being handed-out and passed around the literary community here. I think that no press should not be the only voice here and I strongly encourage other writers to publish thru their own imprints.

If writing a poem is inherently tragic it is because it is hard to believe that the author had nothing better to do. It is inherently tragic because we still chose an outdated form as a medium for argumentation. If we had something to say would we chose the poem—with its sliver of audience and lack of cultural cache—as the arena to announce that opinion?

4 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
Poets in ostrich-like ignorance of the potential of sharing—as opposed to hoarding—their texts, are ignoring potentially the most important artistic innovation of the 20th century: collage. What’s at stake? Nothing but their own obsolescence. If you don’t share you don’t exist.

5 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I prefer a lighter touch. That said, I rarely solicit from people who I think will need a stauncher editorial stance. I tend to be very particular about who I publish, and shape the direction of the press by focusing on a tight mandate.

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic. Poetry, sadly, knows its poetry, while writing doesn’t always know its writing.

6 – 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?
no press (like housepress before it) is driven by my own (evolving) editorial focus. I would rather not share that responsibility. I have found that the benefits are that I do not have to compromise in my editorial stance (or acceptance/rejection policy) and I can make the books the way I want them to be. The drawbacks, of course, are the same.

Poets are now judged not by the quality of their writing but of the infallibility of their choices. Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publications.

7 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It has taught me that poetry has more to learn from graphic design, engineering, architecture, cartography, automotive design, or any other subject, than it does from poetry itself.

8 – 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 think the entire question is irrelevant. Would an architect only be respected if she did not build her own designs? A doctor if she refused to operate on her own patients? Ridiculous.

9 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events? 
no press had its first launch in December of 2010 and featured Natalie Simpson (launching her chapbook Swish Sizzle Fizz), Paul Zits (launching his first publication Massacre Street) and Oana Avasilichoiaei launching her chapbook Spelles. The night concluded with a screening of Emma Rouleau’s short film 1115 / 2:47: Pages.

I do feel that public readings are important; especially for younger voices to hone heir skills at performance. As a community, the immediacy of reading/performance compliments small press endeavours as they share an ephemeral nature. We look to readings to create immediacy, especially when the text presents challenges for readers. Our audience, when confronted with challenging work, would rather be read to than read for themselves.

10 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
The internet is not something that challenges who we are or how we write it IS who we are and how write. Poets—being poets—are simply the last to realize the fact. At its base, the internet is a Borgesian library of perversions and pornography whose only redeemable feature is the card catalogue itself.

11 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
I rarely take submissions—in fact I probably don’t take them at all. Now if something come up through conversation, sure – but direct unsolicited submissions? No. I’m not looking for poetry that looks and acts like “poetry,” work that doesn’t challenge or surprise me, plot-driven fiction, the unconsidered lyric, and—keeping Cobbing’s quotation in mind—anything that adds to the quantity without adding to the quality. I would much rather read and publish the conceptual, the feminist, the constraint-driven, the concrete and visual; abstract comics, essays on poetics; the collaged, the oulipan and the weird. Please, no more poetry.

We expect plumbers, electricians, engineers and doctors to both have a specific and specialized vocabulary & be on the forefront of new advancements in their field, but scorn poets who do the same. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. The worst thing about poetry is poetry. The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes.

12 – Tell me about some of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Early 2011 brings Echo by Vanessa Place (a theoretical essay exploring the role of voice and gender in conceptual poetry, accompanied by a cd reading of the essay by the author), Lucid Clusters by Claude Gauvreau (a selection of Gauvreau’s statements on poetics, and the Automatiste’s first publication west of Toronto), The fun-house mirror stage by Jake Kennedy (a fictional biography of Madeline Gins, written with her permission), A Home on al Mutanabbi Street by Richard Harrison (a side-by-side English/Arabic edition of a poem intended to raise awareness on the destruction and restoration of the centre of Baghdad’s literary culture), Copys by Craig Dworkin (a re-issue of his rarely seen phrase-based shuffle text) and more …
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. Rules are guidelines for stupid people. In poetry we applaud mediocrity and ignore radicality. Poets should not be told to write what they know. They don’t know anything, that’s why they are poets.

No comments: