Sunday, May 19, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Jess Mynes on Fewer & Further Press

Jess Mynes' poetry has appeared in various journals and magazines including: Bright Pink Mosquito, Vlak, The Nation, and Lungfull. He is the author of several published works, including, How's the Cows (Cannot Exist Press) and Sky Brightly Picked (Skysill Press) His One Anthem will be published by Pressed Wafer Press in 2013. He is the editor of Fewer & Further Press and he co-curates a reading series, All Small Caps, in Western, MA.
“Yet, for me and my company, this is finally what matters: how you’ve come to know what you know, and how you’ve learned it. It matters to tell it, whether or not it’s understood, because it is the clearest way of respecting what has come before and what will follow.”
-- Robert Creeley
1 – When did Fewer & Further 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?
2005 was the official incarnation of F&F. The study of it began much earlier when I was acquiring and reading any/all poetry I could get my hands on. At some point during that process I decided starting a press was the best way to help ensure the work I loved was being read.

I hoped to develop an aesthetic that extended a tradition of publishing and poetry that meant something to me. An aesthetic that connected the dots between poets working in different time periods, locales, etc., making F&F a point of confluence by developing a readership for that work. That, if anything, was my loosely defined goal.

You learn so many things by being a publisher. Let me focus on one thing that has many implications. The poetry world is tiny and at the same time the number of poets is inexhaustible. The relative ease of publishing has made poetry ubiquitous. This ubiquitous-ness makes it even more important that what you do is unique. Decide what matters to you and why, then love it fiercely and don’t worry about where it fits. Assimilation is one of the worst concerns you can have in any artistic endeavor.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Seeing other presses, reading other poets’ work, thinking publishing was a good way to establish my interest and intentions. It is simple and obvious to say but engaging the work of other writers in a design capacity deepens your understanding of their work and your own. It also expresses that your commitment to the poetry is not solely focused on foregrounding your own work.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
small press poetry is contraband. It is a scarce commodity, so its value and mystery increase. If you don’t hear from the people working in the margins how do you know that what is going on at the center has any value? Change rarely comes from someone who is supported by the current status of things. Small presses help provide a measure; without this measure poetry would petrify and become a self affirming cycle.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
There’s a lot of terrific work happening with small press publishing. At one point I had a blog for audio samples of the poets reading their work. I thought that was a great way to provide a sample of the work. The technology collapsed. I appreciate models of economic production, past and present but I hope the quality of the materials helps distinguish F&F. Quality of the materials in terms of the poets’ work and the materials used in production: coverstock, linen guts (for special editions), sewn (for special editions), customized stamps, etc. The quality of the materials expresses the reverence and care I have for the work and hopefully indicates this to the reader. If the materials and design help illuminate the text, then I’m successful.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Not so sure. I use email and the necessary evil, Facebook. I’m not the most proficient in this area. Last summer I participated in a small press publisher talk and one of the questions from the audience was, how did we as small presses compete with publishers like City Lights? It was a fair question, but I don’t see F&F as a commercial or money making venture, so there is no competition for that kind of market space. I have no delusions about becoming an institution, I just want to do what I do well. I have a full time job so not thinking about a bottom line gives me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want. I hope to break even but the poetry world is a tiny place despite our grand gestures and the same people buy my books time and again – much appreciated! - with additional fans unique to the particular poet sprinkled in. I get the work into the hands of the people who will read it and respond to it. F&F doesn’t do a whole lot otherwise, but my comp list, the author’s comp list, and the copies that are purchased are just about what a one person bandwidth can support. Hopefully, it generates enough interest in the work to expand the poet’s readership.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Depends on the project and the poet. I assume the expertise of any poet who sends me a manuscript. F&F reflects my reading through the selections and how the work is presented. It is important to me as an editor to respect the poet and to realize they know better than I do. I’m not here to workshop the poems unless asked. Whenever I read any work I’m always tweaking it in my own head, it is only natural to read actively like this if you also write. I’ve had authors specifically ask for my take, in that scenario I approach the manuscript as if I were writing it and give line-to-line, poem-to-poem feedback. I’ve had projects where I’ve been heavily involved in the selection of poems for the chapbook from a wider sample, giving input on a poem-to-poem basis and manuscript sequencing, etc. So I guess it depends, but I count on the author to solicit my feedback before diving into the work in that way, unless I see something glaring.

7 – How do your chapbooks get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Mail, bookstore, libraries, and most important, word of mouth. Nothing is more important than an enthusiastic readership. Usually publications are in an edition of 200 copies.

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?
F&F is a solo show, but I always enlist the feedback of friends involved in  similar publishing. I have go-to eyes and ears that always help me realize shortcomings and strengths. And for that, I’m grateful. On a few occasions poets have helped me with the sewing, folding, and collating which is very appreciated. I would love to collaborate 0n future projects with other editors.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It’s another close reading of the text that makes me examine some of the particulars with a little bit different lens. Why this font/text? Why this size book? etc. How the presentation informs the reading of the poems. I hope to be as generous to the poets and their work as they are to me as a reader. Also strange relationships develop with the text, you begin to see only first words of poems when you are collating, things like this. So the interaction with the text is both more serious and more playful. The repetition of working with a text makes it more familiar and deepens the relationship. Orson Welles would often make his actors/actresses do many takes of a scene. The first handful of takes would be energetic and begin to establish dynamics, the next handful would be a sort of drudgery. After doing even more takes, the actors/actresses would begin to assimilate and embody the lines and scenes in a different way, a kind of somatic gnosis develops, that, I’m guessing, gives them greater intuitive insight into the dialogue and the scene. This happens with chapbooks I work on and in my own obsessive approach to revising my own poems.

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?
The only publishing of my own writing that I’ve done has been collaborations, if you don’t include the trailers to Sky Brightly Picked and Penny Dreadfuls (only distributed to a handful of folks). The question is relevant but it is also one that can’t be answered definitively. If you publish other poets and your work belongs alongside the poets who you publish, than I say go for it. If you just publish your own work, it may suggest something else, but not necessarily. If you feel it is necessary and warranted, go for it, Whitman did. There’s a rich tradition of self- publishing. In some ways publishing your own work holds you accountable in a way that is even more pressurized. I would relish the idea of designing my own work and may do this at some point. I’ve been fortunate that my publishers have been very attentive to my work and I’m grateful for that.

11 – How do you see Fewer & Further Press evolving?
F&F will likely do smaller press runs in the future. That would ideally lead to more titles published during each year, but realistically I’m not sure that is true given the many attentions in my life.

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?
Many of the poets I published didn’t have a great deal of their work in print when I published it and have since had full length publication or their poetry has received greater attention. If by publishing their work I’ve had a hand in these developments that is what pleases me most.

My biggest frustration is that I can only do so much. The cost, the time expenditure, the energy available often means I can only publish x number of titles each year. Ideally I’d like to publish more work that deserves attention and I wish I had the means to publish full length manuscripts.

I can’t say what folks have most overlooked. Any attention I’ve received for F&F has been appreciated and almost universally enthusiastic. Maybe if pressed, selfishly I’d say the cost of doing business. Cost in terms of dollars and amount of time. Small press work takes time and money to continue to be viable. Many folks in our community either don’t have the means to support it, aren’t aware of the economics of publishing, or are just indifferent to the responsibility of supporting it. I’m not in it for money, as I’ve said, but despite the fact that the support outweighs the indifference, I can have moments of despair where I feel like the hours I spend folding and stapling amounts to pissing in the wind.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Friends. I ripped off any and everyone: Anchorite Press, Katalanche Press (now Editions Louis Wain), Aaron Tieger’s CARVE books (became Petrichord Books), Scott Pierce’s Effing Press, Maureen Thorson’s Big Game Books, Open 24 Hours, Ugly Duckling Presse, Pressed Wafer, Toothpaste Press, Skysill Press, Brooklyn Arts Press, Tuumba, Jargon Society. I bought everything I could and went from there, while soliciting advice at critical junctures from folks who knew what they were doing.

14– How does Fewer & Further Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Fewer & Further Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Where I live has a very active university-driven poetry community. They are extraordinarily supportive of their community through publishing, readings, etc. I appreciate how close knit this community is. Another portion of my more immediate community is other writing communities not identified with the university but mostly consists of writing groups. There’s some overlap with each community but really my poetry community is many of the New York City poets whose aesthetics and interests are more closely aligned with my own and who have become good friends. I’m fortunate to traffic in many communities, and in limited ways, as a result I have what I feel is greater freedom to make choices that prioritize the writing rather than the social implications of my choices.

The dialog is essential. That dialog is not just limited to current presses, but previous ones as well. I think of United Artists, Angel Hair, Toothpaste Press, Tuumba, Jargon Society, Ugly Duckling Presse, Skysill Press, etc. Some of the more established poets that F&F has published are folks who are from this tradition and create an essential bridge between the poets and publishers of the past.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
I co-curate a local reading series, All Small Caps. We are somewhat restricted in that we pay to rent out a pub to hold our readings. These readings are held one Monday a month. We are fortunate to have the space but Monday night isn’t prime time. As much as possible I try to feature readers that have had a book recently published or are looking for a reading venue for whatever reason. But this reading series is not directly linked to the press as official readings for F&F projects. Unfortunately I do not have the space or the time to give proper launches to the books when they come out. The importance of public readings and other events is that these readings remind us that poetry is an animated activity. Poetry readings are the most useful means to combat the notion that poetry is separate from our everyday world.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
I use Facebook and I have a website for the press. These are employed as a means to distribute the work and the appreciation for the work. The internet is a very useful tool to get the word out. Part of the beauty of the publication process of books is that it requires continual effort and attention for fruition so it is less prone to vicissitudes and overestimation as say the more immediate form of web publication. Taking your time to do something well never hurts.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
I haven’t yet placed a, “we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts,” note up on the site, but unfortunately it will be forthcoming. I want to be surprised, unfortunately a lack of a solicit-first policy is construed as an invitation to send me multiple manuscripts without first querying. I’m a one person operation, but I do eventually get to whatever is sent and read it. I had a recent correspondence with an artist/writer who was very impatient with my process, which was unfortunate because I value his work and might have worked with him otherwise. I’m looking to avoid these types of interactions. It takes time to investigate what I want to publish and to do it properly. F&F publishes a wide range of poets and diverse work, but a lot of what I receive is nowhere close to the things I’ve published. There are plenty of publishers out there, there is no reason to chose a publisher randomly. Folks who are involved in publishing the work of other poets, who run their own reading series, who write reviews, who continually purchase small press publications, those are the folks whose work I’ll read with greater interest and consider more intently for publication.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
austerity measures
I’ve been reading Stacy’s work with great interest since I first encountered it.  There is a temptation to excerpt austerity measures to give you a feeling for how generous Stacy’s economy is, but the full impact of this work is achieved by the accumulation of her tonal precision. Basil Bunting said, “It is confusing and destructive to try to explain anything in terms of anything else…” He was speaking about applying psychology to poetry, adding a level of artifice in order to develop a relationship that might help you understand something. This approach creates an understanding that is removed from the thing itself and is not necessarily accurate however comforting it might be. In austerity measures, Stacy develops the reader’s understanding not through the artifice of hyberbole that might give you a sense of relationship to the feelings but rather the details that create the feelings of the experience.

Singles and Fives
Anselm Berrigan introduced a poem of his at a recent reading saying that his mom often asks him to tell her what the streets look like. John Godfrey lets you know what the streets look like. Godfrey’s poems could be put in a time capsule and be used for future dioramas of New York’s people streets and avenues. His work is accurate, musical, every day and inexhaustible. Godfrey writes his poems over and over by hand before he types them up. This kind of meticulous, sensual labor requires a slow-down attention to the infinitesimal. These are the details that illuminate unrecognized situation. I’m lucky to have a couple of his early works that he doesn’t even have copies of anymore: Music of the Curbs and 26 Poems. His early surreal poems remind me that surrealism isn’t a trap door to escape the poem closing in on you, rather it is a means to unlock or articulate those moments when your world defies you and requires a different articulation.

After Aaron Tieger sent me a copy of Crab and Winkle, which I thought was one of the best books of poetry I’d read in a long time, I wrote to Laurie. As our correspondence developed, he generously sent me a bunch of his books, naming them, “further instances of my folly.” In Crab and Winkle Laurie writes, “I have to do battle with Ron Silliman’s notion of ‘music’: that this makes him seem not so unlike the same School of Quietude he denigrates. ‘Music’: shouldn’t it take care of itself? And the American sense of ‘expertise’? We are all inspired amateurs around here.” Poetry that overestimates the poet’s stature in relationship to the reader undermines the reader’s trust that the poet has an accurate sense of self, and by extension the things around him or her. Humility and contentiousness seem like natural conditions for intimately articulating human interactions if we are going to begin to understand what is really taking place. Laurie illuminates unacknowledged depths beyond the surfaces we accept as everyday by locating the particulars that make up these seemingly disparate surfaces and focusing our attention on them.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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