House House Press is a Montreal-based publisher of poetry chapbooks, pamphlets and ephemera operating outside of the prevailing lyrical and experimental aesthetics.
Anahita Jamali Rad was born in Iran and is currently based on unceded Indigenous territory called Tio’tia:ke by the Kanien’kehá:ka, the traditional caretakers of the land. Her work is primarily text-based and explores materiality, history, affect, ideology, violence, class, collectivity, desire, place, and displacement. She has published a few chapbooks and one full-length collection of poetry entitled for love and autonomy (Talonbooks, 2016).
David Bradford is the author of Nell Zink Is Damn Free (blank cheque press, 2017), Call Out (k | f | b, 2017) and The Plot (House House Press, 2017). David holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, and his work has appeared in Prairie Fire, The Capilano Review, Vallum, and elsewhere. He lives in Verdun, Quebec.
[House House Press will be participating in the spring edition of the ottawa small press fair on June 22, 2019]
1 – When did House House 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?
AJ: In 2017, I wanted to start a small press as a part of a text-based poetics project. I wanted to publish texts that forge a poetics outside conventional understanding of poetry, texts that are made within communities and not for capitalist consumption (e.g. memes, digital debris, t-shirt slogans). I was interested in aesthetic formations that do not and/or are not meant to “get published,” and weird poetries by and for those who move through, are proximal to, or never cross the gates of mainstream Canadian art/poetry publishing. I was done with what mainstream poetry is and does, and I was ready to make the space for something else to emerge.
I met David on my move to Montreal and found that we had similar frustrations with the structures of power in the institutions that decided who and what get published, during a time when many of the people involved in those institutions were being exposed for their actions. I wanted to publish David because the work he was doing fit perfectly in with what I envisioned for this imaginary press, but after our conversations, I also wanted to join forces. I knew immediately that he was someone I could trust in all the ways necessary.
After two years of conspiring and finally bringing the press to fruition, our goals remain the same, and we found that there is actually a desire for such a space and the works that come out of it.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
DB: A lot of the frustrations Anahita mentioned—particularly, for me, the predispositions and biases of Canadian publishing community, and the kind of literary landscape, by emphasis and omission, its members have and continue to chart. There’s this old James Baldwin bit I remember Hilton Als once reiterated about being the black person at the white literary or art world party. It describes that look that would try to scuttle itself across the room to whatever other black person or two might show up. The look that asks, are they in on the joke?
I think, for me, I’m still asking that question all the time. I think Anahita and I are lucky to have come up in the poetry world at a time when there are dramatically more folks of colour in the room—and in the journals and on the shelves—than there were even ten years ago. And we’ve both been lucky enough to find editors and publishers and colleagues that value our work because they just value our work. But that joke is still wafting about, and maybe even a longer con than before: one about being collected, a virtue momentarily worth signaling, a whim, not too well examined, and easily discarded.
I guess what brought me to publishing, in this small way we’re doing it with House House, is that I meet a fair few people who’ve long been in on the joke. Writers of colour, but also people using poetry to do something a little weirder, or to fashion something that might help them inquire into whatever. I guess, for me, this is about a space where we can leave the joke out of it for a bit.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
AJ: I come from a DIY background, making zines and self-made chapbooks. For me, it was a way to make something weird, whether that was in terms of content or format, and get it out there in the world to share with a community that was also into making quick and dirty weird things. It taught me to really consider all aspects of a published work, whether that was design, the kind of printing, paper, and how all of those things contribute to its accessibility.
I believe that making the work accessible is an important responsibility for small publishing, and getting the work out there is the driving force of House House. We want the people who want to be reading this work to be able to read this work.
For House House books, the “quick and dirty” aspect has been thrown out for a more rigorous process that takes a few months. We want the writers to come out of the process with an object they can feel proud of, something that truly represents their intentions. I believe the publisher is also deeply responsible for making the writers feel good about what is represented of their process when the object is out in the world.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
DB: Sticking to very small chapbooks—roughly 20 pages or so. Very early on, we agreed we were interested in focussing on one-tract approaches and projects. Basically, tight little bursts, but also works that were contiguous and perhaps too long or particular for journals, too short and specific for full-length collections. Or projects that are just starting, still messy, tangibly in spurts, and which we could work with poets, writers, and artists to focus and deepen for a short breadth.
Another somewhat different thing we’re doing is seeking out some non-poets who have a rigorous artistic/scholarly/other practice that employs poetry-making/poetics to investigate their concerns. We’re interested—and have been working with a few practitioners that fit the bill—in what happens when we encourage those practices to double down on their poetries and give them a substantive poetry context.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
AJ: Social media has been really helpful for us in allowing us to reach networks of people who are not in constant dialogue with poetry publishing. Because our writers aren’t all established in the poetry community, social media has allowed them to reach their respective communities. The literary community has also been very eager and supportive of the press as well. So we have been distributing the chapbooks in bookstores, at readings, and through our website as well.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
DB: I’m just as little or intensely involved as the poet on the other end wants me to be, and just as involved as I need to be to help the poet get to where they’re happy with the project. But I’d say if I have a unit that’s my “dig deep,” it’s the project, not the line. I think a lot about how the most useful notes (and the ones that were the most work) I’ve gotten from editors have always been big questions and ideas particular to scope, not the little details. That says more about me as a writer than an editor, but it’s always proven very useful.
Nadia Chaney’s Reading Practice, for instance, is something we worked together on from scratch, and I very much edited for the project’s tone, conceits, strands, and overarching concerns, challenging her to hone those focuses as they grew. I line-edited too, but as sparingly as I could, and always trying to be mindful of the integrity of, and the reasons for, the little choices she made. Basically, I try to make sure any line or project edits I give skews toward the poet’s concerns, not my own sensibilities. Which I think is probably more involved and critical an editing style than it sounds.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
AJ: We print about 150 copies per chapbook, and distribute at local bookstores (in Montreal and Vancouver currently), on our website, at readings, small publishing fairs, in person, and through social media.
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?
DB: Just Anahita and I! It can get hairy when it’s crunch time, but turnaround on decisions can be sharp. More of a kayak setup than the Titanic. I think it’s about flexibility for us, keeping it small and fun, and being able to stick to particular principles and approaches that can become difficult to hold on to at another scale.
9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
AJ: Editing is actually my favourite part of writing. But the desire to edit can actually get in the way of my producing new work, so it’s nice to get that impulse out when working with other people who have already written something. Seeing other people’s work in various stages is also invigorating and inspiring. Editing is both an impetus to keep writing, and a productive break from my own work.
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?
DB: I think the drive behind that kind of self-publishing can come from various places—some ok, some not so ok. For myself, I was asked to publish with KFB long before I edited for them, and while it was a little different with House House, I feel good about the decision because it was someone else’s idea. I see some editors with separate relationships with their publishers as editors and poets, which I think is fine. I see other people doing it in a totally vain, self-serving way, which I can’t take seriously.
So, on the one hand, right now I’m not sure I’ll do it again, simply because I’m in a position where I approach other presses easily enough and I’d rather publish other writers. On the other, I’m really happy with the chapbook, and am so proud my work is included in the space and roster we’re building up. Like Anahita said, this chapbook—with its self-erasure techniques, auto-archival debris and colourful visual work, etc.—was a perfect fit for the project, and may very well not have been much of a fit anywhere else. So while I don’t think I’ll be publishing myself again any time soon, this is where this weird little book could land, which is kind of the whole point.
11– How do you see House House Press evolving?
AJ: House House should change in ways that are unexpected and unforeseen. We want the press to be a space for weird things that don’t work for “normal” presses, and that means we don’t know what that is until it comes our way. The most important part of this press is that we are open to those weird texts. In terms of production, however, we do not intend on publishing more than 3 books twice per year. We want to stick to this in order to allow for this very important flexibility, be true to our own capacities, and maintain the rigorousness of the process for the writers.
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?
DB: The particular breadth of the projects we’ve taken on has meant the majority of what we’ve published may not have found another venue, at least not in the same form. I’m pretty proud of that—working to fashion a readymade space for work without a readymade space. To provide a circumstance under which the value of that work becomes obvious.
A frustration, or maybe more precisely a concern, that maybe comes with all that is how hard it has sometimes been to get writers to sit down and get the thing done. Most writers have a lot of other pressures in their lives, and there’s no great surfeit of time to sit with and prioritize these projects, or even to think of these projects as something worth finishing. So I’ve found myself having to keep after writers, and keep reminding them we’re not just filling a slot, or doing them a favour. That we have a real stake in what they’re doing.
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
AJ: There are many great small presses out there that publish poetry doing interesting things (such as Belladonna*, Ugly Duckling Presse, and Timeless, Infinite Light) but the desire to make House House was because there was no other press out there that created a space quite like the one we are looking to create. We are hoping to get away from poetry as such, poetry for poets, and even poetry by poets. The magazine 0 to 9, for example was an originary model, for me, as a way of thinking outside of what can be considered publishable.
14– How does House House Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see House House Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
DB: I think our immediate community is our writers and whoever makes it out to see what we’ve been up to. I think I could see we were on the right track when so many of those folks weren’t just poets but other kinds of established artists, and big readers looking for something different. One of the main ways I hope we keep engaging with them is to keep our taste engaging theirs, and to keep offering up these rigorous, unusual little works that deliver a jolt of something not quite expected.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
AJ: We’ve now had one *soft* launch and one *hard* launch of our first season. We’re launching 3 new books in late spring, so there will surely be readings for those. Two of the writers are not based in Montreal, so we’re still trying to figure out how to organize a launch that will work with their schedules. It’s important to us have the writers and their books interact with the public in a direct and intimate way, so hopefully, we’ll have a few more casual readings in our future.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
DB: Just letting people know and see what we’re up to, and that we’re excited about all of it. That basically means showing off projects and events on Instagram and nuts-and-bolts stuff on Facebook. And we both hate Twitter, so...
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
AJ: We don’t currently take submissions. There are quite a few writers with whom we are excited to work for now, so we don’t see any openings in the near future.
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
DB: We’ve only got the three right now, but luckily they’re all special! I mentioned a few things about that above, but:
feral by assiyah jamilla is a publishing debut of any kind from a new, but so settled, black voice, and what for me is a singular take on black radical and queer poetics.
Nadia Chaney’s book, Reading Practice for Rust and Holograms, is also a debut poetry publication from a seasoned poet, performance artist, and independent scholar, a first commission for us and a coordination of theory, sci-fi, and found poetry concerns under the rubric of one explosive sequence of procedural fictions.
And my book, The Plot, cobbles together very personal and very fleshy mixed-media and self-erasure hybrid poems, exploring the relationship between processual debris and family traumas. The kinds of materials that were incredibly unlikely to make their way into a journal.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;