Shirt Pocket Press is a ragtag kitchen table chapbook press focused on poetry, vispo, asemic writing, fauku, lists, collage work, radical nature writing, anarchic recipes, conceptual and procedural work, erotic writing, and other assorted weirdness.
Michael Sikkema is the editor of Shirt Pocket Press, the author of Futuring (Blazevox), several chapbooks from Horse Less Press, Grey Book Press, HNG MN Books, Lame House Press, Serif of Nottingham, and collaborative chapbooks, two with Jen Tynes (Shirt Pocket Press and Black Warrior Review), and one with a herd of fine writers (Sidebrow).
1 – When did Shirt Pockets 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?
I started Shirt Pocket to keep me busy through a summer of not teaching. It allowed me to focus attention on poetry in a more intense way than I’m usually allowed. My original goal was to keep myself out of trouble and to highlight some types of poetry that I want to see in the world. To that end, my goals are the same now as they were then. I learned that it’s all collaboration all the way down.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I help out with Horse Less Press, designing covers, reading manuscripts and making decisions. I was already doing that when I got a hankering to start up Shirt Pocket. I think championing people’s work is one of the most important elements of being a poet. Having a micro-press let me do that in even more ways than I was before.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
The small press, in all its various modes and designs, keeps poetry readers in touch with what is happening now. Full length books from shiny publishing houses can take years to produce and hype and get into people’s hands. It’s sometimes painful to watch readers perform from their two and three year old books, when they are * so * done with those poems and already onto new ones. Chapbooks, pamphlets, broadsides, etc are really the poetry world’s answer to Rock N Roll Radio. Or, at least what Rock N Roll Radio used to be. It takes a few days of collaboration to produce a fine chapbook that keeps us in touch with what is happening * now *. The small press gets to do what it wants because the profit margin is not the determining factor.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I’m not sure that we’re all that special. We are looking for all the weird. Asemic writing, vispo, anarchic recipes, erotica, minimalist writing, erasures, radical vernacular, procedural stuff, letters, collaborations, ecopoetics, etc. We have little to no interest in classical ideas of beauty.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Social media and the post office.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I am an active editor. I try to shape the project with the writers. I respect each approach to this. I take an active role because it seems like a natural part of collaboration. So far, I haven’t lost any friends.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We are a micro-press. I mail everything myself. Print runs vary but are small. 20? 30? 40? They go up as more people find out about the press.
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?
I do the editing work, but Jen Tynes can sew books like nobody’s business. I cannot. She takes care of book sewing and I do most of the rest of it. However, living with such a smart and talented poet/editor sure is helpful in a whole lot of ways. While her Horse Less Press and my Shirt Pocket are not officially affiliated, I gain a lot from talking to her and the other fine Horse Less folks. They’ve been doing this a while.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don’t think my thinking has changed as much as certain notions that used to be foggy are now clear and underscored. I think the collaborative aspect of writing/reading/publishing is crucial. The feedback loop that can be created from poets, and readers, and book makers is central to my understanding of how poetry works. Working on other people’s projects reminds me to think about readers sometimes, and other times completely ignore them.
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?
I have published a collaboration that I did with Jen Tynes because it was fun. I put together a little chapbook of my own stuff when I was going to attend the Milwaukee Small Press Fest, because I wanted something to trade with friends. This makes perfect sense to me. I attach no serious cultural collateral to chapbooks. That’s the awesome thing. They essentially make it easier and more fun for sexy nerds to read and write with each other. There should be no controversy in this. Chapbooks are essentially the closest thing poets have to jamming with each other. Don’t trust people who try to take away your instrument. Or your means of production. Or your pen. Or whatever.
11– How do you see Shirt Pocket Press evolving?
I see Shirt Pocket growing glacially. I am committed to micro-publishing and collaboration. I would like to develop a solid working and playing relationship with the poets whose work I admire.
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?
The Pocket is too young and dewy to answer these questions. We still have sleep in our eyes.
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
I find myself thinking a lot about the work that Jen Tynes, Stephanie Anderson, MC Hyland, Nathan Hauke, Kirsten Jorgenson, Gina Myers, Gary Barwin, and others do. I find myself thinking a lot about Jonathan Williams.
14– How does Shirt Pocket Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Shirt Pocket in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
It’s all conversation. So. Horse Less Press, Tarpaulin Sky, Coconut, Projective Industries, Ark Press, Strange Cage, Doublecross Press, My Name is Mud, The Cultural Society, Dear Sir, Word for Word, Serif of Nottingham, BookThug, and on and on. Check out the fine curating Jon Henson is doing over at Selby’s List. It’s full of our friends and enemies.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
I co-host a reading series here where I live but thus far we haven’t done any formal launches. We, however, will. We have featured many great writers and most of this year’s schedule is already full. So. I think public performance is the bee’s knees and more poets should work to get beyond the podium.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
I live in a place with no real writing * community * to speak of. So the internet is magic.
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do not want to read you unless you’ve read and enjoyed the work of 3-4 of our authors.
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
We just published BE THE TOAD by Gary Barwin. Moving with the lightness of speed, Barwin’s toads Hi Di Hi Di in multidirectional space showcasing minds in music at work. We had to smuggle this one across the border, to the tunes of croak and cello, yellow blossoms on the sun. Worth the ticket cost and more. I hope this is the beginning of a long cross border relationship. A lot of great poetry is coming out of Canada these days.
We just published Jen Tynes’ NEW PINK NUDIBRANCH. Intelligent, sexy, strong, lyric, anti-lyric poetry as interrogation, as range-finding, as echolocation, and as natural human act. Funnier than you would expect for something as angry and beautiful as the earth seen from the moon at night.
We just published PASTORAL (YEARS LATER) by Nathan Hauke and Kate Kern Mundie. Sparse and expansive, quick sketches with high resonance, charged with the power of attention, these poems and drawings don’t take up that many pages, but they have all the time. All the lines create something bigger on the inside.
You can find all these and more at: http://shirtpocketpress.wordpress.com/catalog/
12 or 20 (small press) questions;