Monday, October 14, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Jeff Alessandrelli and Bret Shepard on Dikembe Press

Dikembe Press makes and sells chapbooks, primarily ones poetic in origin. Dikembe’s first two chapbooks are Emily Pettit’s BECAUSE YOU CAN HAVE THIS IDEA ABOUT BEING AFRAID OF SOMETHING and Matthew Rohrer’s A SHIP LOADED WITH SEQUINS HAS GONE DOWN. Check out for more information.

Dikembe Press editor Jeff Alessandrelli lives in Portland, OR. This Last Time Will Be The First, his first full length collection of poetry, is forthcoming from Burnside Review Press in early 2014. The name of his dog is Beckett Long Snout. 

Bret Shepard, editor of Dikembe Press, is currently in the graduate program at the University of Nebraska, where he also teaches writing and writes poems. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Diagram, FIELD, ILK, Whiskey Island, and elsewhere. 

1 – When did Dikembe 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?
Fall of 2012, we published versions of a chapbook by Graham Foust and Gina Myers for a reading in Lincoln NE. We wanted a trial run to test our ability to actually publish something. The whole process seemed daunting, but we ended up liking the basic layout and design of the books. This summer, 2013, we published our first two for-sale chapbooks, written by Emily Pettit and Matthew Rohrer. Our main goal was to publish work from our favorite contemporary poets. That goal hasn’t shifted. So far we’ve been really lucky to have wonderful poets say “yes” to us.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
We love chapbooks and poems and chapbooks of poems. We would sit around at a bar with friends discussing poems and writers and presses. We were doing this so often that it just made sense to enter the larger conversation in a different capacity as chapbook makers.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
There is a great responsibility to the authors. For example, we’re fans of Emily Pettit and Matthew Rohrer, which are the first two books we’ve published. Publishing their work means a great deal to us, so we want the books to look cool and be available for readers. We’re pretty sure other people want to see new work from these poets, as well.

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

We really like incorporating visual art into the chapbooks. We work with an artist named Ian Huebert who is super-talented. We were really lucky to have Emily Pettit bring Bianca Stone into the mix for Emily’s book. Bianca’s artwork accompanies the poems. That was Emily’s idea and we’re grateful that she had it. Other chapbook presses are doing this type of thing, too. But Matthew Rohrer’s book has a wizard on the cover. That’s pretty awesome. Are there any other books of poems with a wizard on the cover? Possibly. We’re having fun with the visual element.

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

Publishing interesting work by talented writers really helps. Books are like music, movies, etc. in that sometimes you’re really desirous for new work from your favorite writers/musicians/filmmakers/whoever. If you can get someone excited to see a new title released, you touch on that feeling. That makes getting the word out via social media easier to do. The same goes for discovering new writers that then become your favorite writers that you share with others. Chapbooks are great for that.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
We’re still figuring this bit out as we develop as a press. But, generally, we trust the work of the writers. So unless it’s something in the way of a typo, we let the work be, as given by the writer.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We’ve done print runs of 100. We distribute them through our website, People can buy them using paypal. Other promotional aspects aim to direct people to ordering from the website.

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?
We have only two editors, Jeff Alessandrelli and Bret Shepard. I mentioned Ian Huebert earlier; he’s our friend and a great artist. We have other friends that have great ideas, which always helps.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Not quite sure that it has changed. We’re a pretty new press, so changes are bound to happen to us as individuals down the line. Right now we’re just excited and energized to be part of the work-sharing process.

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?
We’ll probably never publish our own work through Dikembe Press. The reasons for this refusal are multifaceted. However, the most direct reason is that we’re just more interested in other poets. Dikembe Press is a way to engage with people that we respect and genuinely want to read. I don’t mean this to sound like a moralistic argument. We write poems and publish them separately. It’s just really nice to get away from our own work, rather than be further mired in it.

11– How do you see Dikembe Press evolving?

We like the Jay-Z model of evolution. That guy seems to really be around for the long haul.

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?

We’re most proud of following through with formation of the press. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of projects. As we’ve moved forward, and because we’re so new, the response has been really great from people. Maybe this is another question that changes over time, but publishing chapbooks should be, and is, really fun.

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

There are some really amazing chapbook presses publishing poems. Presses such as The Catenary Press, Octopus Books and its chapbook imprint Poor Claudia are examples of the “amazing” I mention. So many others publish poets that we read—Horseless Press, Greying Ghost, and other presses that work with the chapbook. I’m leaving too many out to have a fair, representative list. We have stacks of chapbooks that have influenced us.

14– How does Dikembe Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Dikembe Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
The question describes exactly what we hope to do, which definitely includes the presses previously mentioned. It also includes all the journals, online and print, publishing some of our favorite poems. Whether loud or quiet, we want our voice to be involved. It seems equally important keep our ears engaged, as well. That’s really the only way a conversation can happen.

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

We do not. But we love it when other presses do this and haven’t ruled out the possibility.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Social media reflects and expands the interests of people in various communities. For the poetry community, as well, it clearly functions as a great way to connect with people and share projects and other information. We know that much. It can really increase people’s awareness.

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

We’ll be having an open submission period this winter. So, yes, we do accept them within a time frame. This will be our first submission period, so there really isn’t an “aren’t looking for” at this point. We are looking for chapbook manuscripts that are exciting and provoke us as readers in various ways.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Emily Pettit and Matthew Rohrer’s chapbooks are incredibly interesting. If you’ve encountered their work before, these books will stimulate you in new ways. Emily Pettit’s poems contain moments that leave you stunned, reflecting on the world/relationships that are happening at the very moment of reading. Bianca Stone’s artwork is special, as well, in that it compliments the poems without closing them. Whole new readings come from their combinations. Mathew Rohrer’s book is a strange, wonderful journey. Its parts accumulate to turn fragment into an almost-picture. That’s what I love about them: everyone walks away with their own picture after reading both of these books.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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