Friday, November 25, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Claudia Coutu Radmore on Tree Press

Tree Press was born of three parents, rod pederson, Rona Shaffran and Claudia Coutu Radmore, the co-ordinators in 2011 of The Tree Reading series.

Claudia Coutu Radmore: I write prose, fiction, non-fiction and poetry―lyric as well as Japanese-form poetry. I manage three small presses, two of my own and Tree Press for The Tree Reading Series in Ottawa.

1 – When did Tree Press first start?
As Co-ordinators of The Tree Reading series in 2010, rod pederson, Rona Shaffran and I realized that we had some surplus funds at our disposal. The idea of a press associated with the reading series had been chasing itself around my mind for a while, and I suggested the idea to rod and Rona who hopped on board immediately. Initially we saw that a press would give us a chance to publish chapbooks for poets we admired, and agreed that a collection of the translations of Murray Citron of the Yiddish poems of Itzik Manger would be a perfect place to start. I jumped at the chance to edit such a series, arrange for publications, and design the covers. Those tasks were, and are, strictly volunteer. I just enjoy the processes, and seeing the results.

How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
One of us three co-ordinators came up with the idea of an annual chapbook contest, and we immediately drew up parameters, holding our first contest in 2011.  It’s my part of volunteering for The Tree Reading Series. Co-ordinators of the series since we three resigned have been pleased that the contests continue. I find judges each year and design, arrange layout and publication. I also act as a sort of pre-editor, suggest poem arrangement at times, and/or further editing that should be done. At times the judge helps by editing, further polishing the winning entries.  I have also acted as final editor for one winning entry.

The current co-ordinators have not suggested further poets they’d like to see published under Tree Press, though there has been one development. After his resignation as director, rod pederson joined the board of Tree, and suggested that as a perk for being on the board, any board member could edit and publish a chapbook they thought deserving of publication. The board agreed and Leaf Editions (not to be confused with Leaf Press) came into being for this purpose. Design, layout and cover design would be up to the board member/editor, though I would be paid to design a cover should that be requested.  The only publication under Leaf Editions so far is Dean Steadman’s Portrait w/tulips: a montage; editor rod pedersen, 2013

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
In 1991 I was living in a rural area north of Sharbot Lake, Ontario. In my journals I saw that I’d been writing some entries in short lines, what to me at that time, looked like poems. I wasn’t sure if they were poems. I knew no one who wrote poems, and wasn’t sure what poetry was. My education featured no poetry and little writing, but something tugged at me, and I cut and pasted a book guided by a friend who knew how to publish a book. I decided to make my book ‘look’ official by pretending I had a press, and named it Bondi Studios after my green-necked rainbow lorikeet, a rescue bird. The cut-and-pasted pages were hand numbered, then photocopied; I designed a simple brushstroke cover image for The Pond, 1992.  Self-publishing, pure and simple. The hundred copies sold, and I followed with Boxes and Moonbeam in 1994.  I used Bondi Studios to self-publish until 2000, when I began to expand into vanity press publishing, helping others who wanted to see their writing as ‘real’ books.

Under Bondi Studios, I edited manuscripts before publishing them, so felt I had some control over quality. One of my writers, Ron Lawruk, has had great success, doing readings lately in Chapters bookstores across Canada, with his mysteries, a biography and his memoirs.

In 2012, I started up catkin press. For this press, I choose writers I want to publish, offer some advantages, such as design and editing, for free, and work to create a reputation for quality publishing.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I’d like to think we can be an in-between step for writers, one that builds the confidence to go on to writing longer manuscripts, but one that works also as an introduction to the world of ‘having been published’, the road to publishing with trade publishers, the mysteries of publicity, and the benefits of personal and social networking.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
The contest for one thing. We have had such well-known and established judges which give an extra edge to winning. The poet who wins knows their manuscript has been chosen by an eminent judge, and they become associated with Tree, an added honour.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
I have been abysmal about this, and confess to leaving that aspect entirely up to the authors. The only publicity I do is on Facebook. I’ve been caught myself with my own books and chapbooks. I’ve even been terrible about publicizing my bpNichol Chapbook winner, Accidentals, or my non-fiction book, Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North.  It’s always been my downfall. I get so interested in process, that after the project is done, I start the next one, ignoring what is one of the most important parts of an author’s ‘writing business’, ignoring that for a small press operator, or a writer, the writing business is a business.

Small Press Fairs are great, readings are great. Energy is the key word, connecting with the world of poetry in any way available works too. Like anything else in the business world, shyness won’t get a poet, or their publications, very far.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends on the manuscript. I always state from the beginning that I will edit. I want the books to be as good as they can be, and only work with authors who are willing to go with my editing. On the other hand, the book does, in the end, belong to the author, so there are compromises within reason. Some manuscripts are ready to go from the start, others require everything from spelling to line endings. 

For the chapbook contests, some have needed little editing. I step in where I think I can be useful and am guided by the judges’ comments.

7 – How do your chapbooks get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Usual runs are between 50 and 150, though lately I have been doing larger runs with my own presses if I think the book will sell well. That way the author can get books from me at lower cost, and come to me later for more if needed. One author has sold nearly 800 books, and another 600, both in the Japanese-form world, both with catkin press. I can’t do that with Tree Press, as I do not ‘own’ that press, and it is non-profit.

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?
For Tree Press, some judges agree to edit their winning choices if asked. It’s wonderful for everyone involved if the judge will edit further. The author feels that their work has been validated, and the networking helps. I will also edit if asked by the author.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It certainly makes me aware of readership.  It also has the ability to confuse me. I know what I like to publish, and what may sell, but is it what I want to write; is it how I want to look at my writing.

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’ve edited Haiku anthologies for years, and been involved in a few chapbook anthologies, always including my own pieces. I see no problem with publishing myself. Of course I would say that, as many of my own poetry books are self-published. If I think it’s good enough to be published, but want to see it out there in months instead of years, I self-publish, though I’ve not done that much lately. I think of all the greats who could afford to self-publish. It’s not respected much in Canada, which contributes to the conundrum: if publishers realize what works in the writings of others, why shouldn’t they realize that their own work is as good.

11– How do you see Tree Press evolving?
I suppose it depends on how long I stay with it, how I evolve, on my energies, and on who, if anyone, takes over the press after me. The board hasn’t approached me with publishing anyone else independently of the contest; the board at present seems to be happy with its current position of just running the contests.

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?
There’s no one Tree Press or Leaf Editions production that I’m more proud of than another. I’m pleased that the contest is still running, I’m proud of the judges who have agreed to be involved, I’m pleased that the authors have liked the covers I designed.  I love Murray’s book There is a Tree: shteyt a boim. Poems of Itzik Manger, and am proud of rod and Rona’s support in getting Tree Press started.

In my own small presses, I’m happy to have published each of my authors, and look forward to publishing books as diverse as a haibun memoir by Guy Simser and a chapbook of lyric poems about Pakistan by Blaine Marchand in the next few months.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
None. I had never met a poet, never met a publisher or another writer when I started back in the woods in 1991.

14– How does Tree Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Tree Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Tree Press introduces poets to the Ottawa literary community and to other local publishers. I am thinking of Tree Chapbook Winner Frances Boyle’s Portal Stones, judged by Bruce Taylor in 2013. That chapbook brought her work to the attention of John Buschek of BuschekBooks, who then published a full-length manuscript of Boyle’s poetry called Light-Carved Passages in 2014.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
The Tree Reading Series holds a well-publicized launch of the winner’s chapbook, which gets the show on the road. If the authors are savvy enough to make connections, arrange their own readings, travel farther than their own usual borders, it can make all the difference.  Staying in the loop with local reading series is a priority. It’s not part of my mandate as the publisher, or hasn’t been, but perhaps I should think more about this, team up with other small press owners, work more together. I think we could do a lot. I think not living in Ottawa has held me back a little. Travel is a bummer because of the time involved and the weather. As I said, I’ve shied away from the publicity aspect, and I should STOP doing that.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Not enough.  Facebook is about it, and my blog at, in which I do talk about the books I publish, and my own writing, as well as anything to do with writing and writers I like.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
I seldom take submissions, but keep my eyes on what is happening with writers. There are authors I’d like to publish who feel my press is too small, not prestigious enough.  I look for writing that makes me stop and think, and since my small press doesn’t come out too often in the black, I’m careful about this, and do not publish too many books in a year through my own presses.

For Tree Press, I imagine that if someone who is associated with the reading series through what we call bums-in-seats support, who attend the readings as often as they can, who come to the workshops and who read at the open mic, submits a chapbook manuscript, we might look at it. This would have to be discussed by the board and some sort of editorial system set up. I can’t see that happening at the present time; running Tree itself takes energy and time, and others may not have the same mania for arranging publications as I do. I just love doing it.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Tree Press’s The Binders by Doris Fiszer is pretty special.  It’s no easy task to take memorabilia and physical experience and turn it into poetry.  Based on her father’s predilection for saving personal family documents, Fiszer brings to life Poland and Germany during and after WWII, and the poignancy of her father’s recent Alzheimer’s disease and death. Sandra Ridley judged The Binders to be the best manuscript of Tree’s 2016 contest submissions.

For catkin press, Swooning (a haibun memoir by Hans Jongman of Toronto), just came out. Guy Simser’s She Don’t Mean A Thing If She Ain’t Got That Swing and Blaine Marchand’s My Head Full of Pakistan will be out shortly.  Simser’s is a comprehensive journey through significant aspects of the poet’s life as he worked in and visited a number of countries in the company of the love of his life, wife Jan. Blaine’s lyric poems are verbal treats that bring his Pakistan experience, and the beauty of Pakistan’s people and culture right here to Ottawa.

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