Tuesday, September 18, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Jake Syersak and Paul Cunningham on Radioactive Cloud

Jake Syersak received his MFA from the University of Arizona and is currently a PhD student in English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. He is the author of the full-length Yield Architecture (Burnside Books, 2018) and several chapbooks, including Neocologism: A Trio of Encyclopedic Entries for Treading the Anthropo-Scenic Psyche (ShirtPocket Press, 2017), These Ghosts / This Compost: An Aubadeclogue (above/ground press 2017), Impressions in the Language of a Lantern’s Wick (Ghost Proposal 2016), and Notes to Wed No Toward (Plan B Press 2014). His poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Conjunctions, Verse Daily, Omniverse, and elsewhere. He edits Cloud Rodeo, serves as a contributing editor for Letter Machine Editions, and co-curates the Yumfactory Reading Series alongside Paul Cunningham in Athens, GA. He is currently at work on an anthology of American surrealism and translating the works of Moroccan writer Mohammed Khair-Eddine.

Paul Cunningham is the author of a chapbook of poems called GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER (horse less press, 2015) and he is the translator of two chapbooks by Swedish author, playwright, and video artist, Sara Tuss Efrik: Automanias: Selected Poems (winner of the 2015 Goodmorning Menagerie Chapbook-in-Translation Contest) and The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, Fall 2016). His translations of Helena Österlund have appeared in Asymptote, Interim, and Sink Review. He is a contributing editor to Fanzine and his writing can be found in Yalobusha Review, DREGINALD, Dostoyevsky Wannabe’s Cassette 68, Fireflies Film Magazine, DIAGRAM, Bat City Review, LIT, Tarpaulin Sky, Spork, and others. His poem-film, It Is Announced (a collaboration with Valerie Mejer Caso and Barry Shapiro), premiered in the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale. He co-curates the Yumfactory Reading Series with Jake Syersak in Athens, GA. He holds a MFA in Poetry from the University of Notre Dame.

1 – When did Radioactive Cloud 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?

Paul: Radioactive Cloud is still a relatively new operation. Cloud Rodeo and Radioactive Moat Press only recently joined forces in fall 2017.

Jake: I’d been wanting to publish chapbooks for a while, but I never really knew how. Then I met Paul, who had successfully published a number of chapbooks but had since halted production. I think we were downing $1 pints of lager at Grindhouse during a very sweaty Georgia summer day when we got talking about the possibilities of making it happen. I really wanted to learn how to do it and he seemed to not want to do it alone: so there you go. I think it was pretty clear to both of us that our respective literary journals had similar enough aesthetics that we would be compatible as editors but also that their aesthetic leanings were different enough that it would make for an interesting mashup.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

P: I started Radioactive Moat in 2009. My aim has always been to publish work from both emerging and established writers. Since I grew up in the green of the radioactive, slime-saturated 90s, it’s no surprise that my endeavors tend to include dark ecologies, grotesquerie, abject bodies, and the Anthropocene. I’m also interested in poetry-in-translation, poetry that seeks to decolonize, and poetry that responds to queerness.

J: I’ve been involved with a number of journals/presses, including Cloud Rodeo, Sonora Review, and Letter Machine Editions. I realized pretty early on that trends in literature don’t happen spontaneously; they’re cultivated over time by those that provide them a venue. But it’s not just a line of influence I’m interested in. I’ve always wanted to have a more direct line to the artists themselves. Running a press and/or journal gives you a great excuse to reach out to and establish relationships with artists you might not get a chance to communicate with otherwise.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

P: To put the needs of your authors and contributors before your own.

J: Right, it really comes down to that. If you don’t believe whole-heartedly in every single work you publish, and aren’t prepared to defend and serve that work in every capacity at your disposal, you shouldn’t be in that position. There’s no room for editors just going through the motions. The literary sphere will be what we make it.

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

P: As far as ‘ecopoetics’ go, I think we’re kind of tired of that. When it comes to nature, we’re looking for something more than a description of the view from a mountain or someone’s reflection on an afternoon hike. That might be one thing that separates us from other presses. Maybe it’s time for a ‘nature poem’ that scares the hell out of people. I think that’s what we’re looking for. It’s not enough anymore to dedicate an ode or a few euphonic lines to a nearly or already-extinct species. It’s too late for that kind of poem.  

J: Considering the first two books we’re publishing, it’s clear we’re aiming to reconfigure how ecologies intertwine with poetics. The fascinating thing about both Carleen and Dennis’ books is that they both implicitly reject traditional ontological models that separate the human from the nonhuman with laser-like precision. Making that boundary more spectral and fuzzy is vital to a future ethics. I think we’re in this as much for ethics as we are for aesthetics. We’re not aiming low here. We’re looking for work that shifts paradigms. We’re lucky to begin our press with two books that do just that.

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

P: Encouraging others to review chapbooks and thanking them for their time and care with review copies. Being active on social media or at least having some kind of presence on social media.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

P: We don’t dig too deep. After all, we liked our authors’ poems for a reason, right? Give us your wonkiest grammar, your lowest references to pop culture! Give us your apple cores, your most nourishing jargon! We’re not interested in rewriting poems. If something seems off about a piece, we’ll just ask.

J: I’m willing to be as involved or non-involved as the author wants. Above all, I want to respect their vision. If we’re publishing it, we’ve already agreed on a fundamental level that we share the vision of the work, and that’s good enough for me.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

P: Chapbooks are shipped in the mail. We do a print run of 100 copies of each chapbook. Once a chapbook has sold out, we ask our authors if they would like us to make their chapbook available as a digital download on the Radioactive Cloud site.

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?

P: There’s just two of us at the moment and four hands are better than one.

J: It’s funny, I think we began the venture just needing someone else’s motivation to kick our asses into gear. We both wanted to do it but I don’t think either of us wanted to go it alone. I know I had had enough of being sole editor of Cloud Rodeo. I wasn’t growing in any respect as a publisher in isolation.  

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

J: I’m always inundated with work that’s far better than my own, so I’m always thinking “shit, I’ve gotta do better.” It keeps me from becoming too comfortable, complacent, or satisfied with my own work. It’s keeps me in a consistent positive panic.

P: I agree with Jake. I think there’s definitely a risk in feeling ‘too comfortable’ with your own writing. Something David Bowie once said has always stayed with me: “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area.”

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?

J: I don’t see anything inherently wrong with it as long as the press doesn’t become a vehicle solely for promoting the editors’ work. There’s certainly more incredible work out there than there are publishers, and so a lot of it doesn’t see the light of day.  I would abstain from publishing my own work only because I’m generally uncomfortable with self-promotion and I think there are far better writers more deserving. I see editorial work as a chance to serve rather than as a personal opportunity. An editor/press out for themselves is a dangerous thing for everybody.

P: I agree with Jake’s take on editorial work as a chance to serve other writers. I might have fewer concerns about self-promotion than him though. I have been a vocal supporter of writers like Steve Roggenbuck. You have to do what works best for you.

11– How do you see Radioactive Cloud evolving?

P: It would be awesome to publish full-length books down the road, but that takes more money. In the meantime, we’re focused on printing one to two chapbooks a year.

J: Yeah, hard to say. I’d love for it to evolve to full-lengths, too. We’ll keep working with the resources we have and take it one step at a time.

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?

J: Well, we had a really successful first open reading period. And we got far more impressive submissions than we were able to take on as projects. So far, so good.

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

P: I was influenced by chapbook publishers like Encyclopedia Destructica, Greying Ghost Press, and Ugly Duckling Presse. Lately, I’ve been really impressed with everything going on over at Bloof Books.

J: As far as chapbooks go, I’ve always really loved the things that Doublecross and Anomalous do.

14– How does Radioactive Cloud work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Radioactive Cloud in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

P: Those conversations are very important to us and our website lists journals and presses that continue to inspire us. Just click on “What We Like.”

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

P: We currently co-curate the Yumfactory Reading Series (named after Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse) in Athens, Georgia.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

P: We share our own work and support the work of others. We review new books when we have the time and share reviews to help spread the word.

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

P: We will most likely hold another Open Reading Period some time in November or December of 2018.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

P: For now, there’s only two in the making. In fall of 2018, we’ll be proudly distributing Dennis James Sweeney’s Poems About Moss and Carleen TibbettsDATACLYSM.jpg. Whether it’s Tibbetts’ “river of zeroes” or Sweeney’s “Black moss,” we see both of these titles as very much in conversation with one other.

J: I am over-the-moon excited about our first two books. These books are innovations of their genres, not just “good” works. Carleen Tibbetts’ DATACLYSM.jpg is full of jewel-sharp, picturesque, lyrical trudges across an unquantifiable digital landscape, fetishizing its own spit-up of cultural ones and zeros as it goes. It’s grotesque and tender and cacophonous and full of beautifully winding human and inhuman turns. Reading it makes me feel like I’m some weird stream unsure of where an algorithm ends and where the human begins. That’s pretty cool. And how can I describe Dennis James Sweeney’s Poems About Moss? Part poem, part essay, part collage, part political treatise: it opens up all these abstracted sores/spores of Trump-era politics, language-powers, moss languages, subject-object dualisms, confessional voices, textual ecologies, and sites/cites their weirdly weird and unexpected exchanges. I’m in awe of both books. They’re special because they’ve renewed my faith in the undiscovered that poetry has special access to.

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