Thursday, April 30, 2020

12 or 20 (small press) questions with John C. Goodman on Trainwreck Press

Trainwreck Press is a Canadian micro-press publishing chapbooks of poetry that is non-linear, abstract, avant-garde, alternative, innovative, surreal, visual, concrete and/or experimental. Basically, work that approaches language in a unique way, poetry that explores the limits of the ability of language to communicate.

John C. Goodman is a Canadian writer and Pushcart Prize nominee. He has published four collections of poetry as well as a novella and a novel. John is the past editor of ditch, an online magazine of experimental poetry and is the current editor of Trainwreck Press.

1 – When did Trainwreck 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?

Trainwreck Press originally grew out of the online poetry magazine ditch. My purpose then was primarily to provide new writers with their first book. I closed the press with the magazine back in 2009, but reopened the press in 2019. Now I am focusing more on work by established authors, although newer writers are still welcome.

What have I learned? To keep things simple; it’s easy to get overcomplicated with busy covers and fancy fonts. Simple is good.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I love publishing, it’s a passion. Art requires an audience. We build theatres, concert halls and galleries to connect audiences to artworks. It is the engagement with the audience that completes the work. For writing, instead of concert halls or galleries, we have books. Through publishing books I can participate in the theatre of the mind that involves the audience in the work. What could be more exciting than that?

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

I can’t speak for all small or micro presses, it is such a broad and varied field, but I feel it is a great responsibility to be entrusted with someone’s work, so I approach each project with care.

What gets published in Canada largely depends on Canada Council grants, which shuts out some significant work. Hopefully, small presses and micro-presses can provide opportunities for these other voices. (I actually had a book accepted by a publisher, but when they found out it didn’t qualify for a CC grant, they dropped it. So there is a need for outlets beyond the CC mandate.)

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

I don’t know that I am doing anything unique. I’m not really out to forge new paths in publishing, I’m more interested in providing opportunities for experimental writers.

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

The latest wisdom from the book marketing gurus is that the most effective marketing is targeted direct contact through an email mailing list. I have a mailing list set up, which folks can sign up for through the website, and a Facebook group for Trainwreck Press to keep people informed.

From my experience, launches and readings are the best way to sell books. For the types of books Trainwreck Press publishes, it helps if the author spreads the word through their community and contacts. Sales come primarily through people who are already familiar with the author’s work and want to support them by purchasing a book.

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

Depends on the work, but yeah, for text-based poetry I tend to go deep, although the final call on any edits is from the author. I will make suggestions, but would never alter anyone’s work.

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

Books are distributed through direct sales from the Trainwreck Press website (through a secure online store). For print runs I went with a print-on-demand model. For books with minimal sales, commercial print runs of hundreds books are not feasible.

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?

Right now I am the sole owner-operator. The difficulty with recruiting other support staff is that I cannot pay them and I don’t feel comfortable about asking people to work for free. But that doesn’t mean I would not welcome help or input from those with a passion for publishing experimental poetry.

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

It reminds me to resist becoming complacent, you know, establish a publishable style and stick with it for evermore. Seeing new innovative work come in, work that pushes boundaries, inspires me to continue to expand my own horizons.

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?

Because of the state of poetry publishing in Canada in the 1960s and 70s, avant-garde writers like bpNichol et. al. had no choice but to follow the self-publishing route; there was on one publishing the type of work they were producing. Before the founding of the Canada Council in 1957, there were only 2 or 3 houses publishing poetry in the whole of Canada, all in Toronto. In the 1970s, the Canadian government established job creation programs such as LIP (Local Initiatives Programs), of which many arts organizations took advantage, including Coach House Press. That government funding helped those poets become leaders in both innovative poetry and innovative publishing. But I think there is still a DIY feel to Canadian avant-garde publishing.

I am not averse to self-publishing and I have self-published in the past. I would not use the press for self-promotion, but if I had some of my own work that I felt was important and was unable to find a home for it with another press, I would consider self-publishing through Trainwreck Press. There is some work that simply doesn’t fit anywhere and if it is not self-published it will sit in a file on a forgotten backup drive somewhere and never have the opportunity to engage with an audience.

11– How do you see Trainwreck Press evolving?

Well, I’m looking forward to building a catalogue, but the direction that takes will depend on the submissions. I am primarily interested in text-based work and did not intend to become involved with VisPo, but the last three books have been VisPo, so we will see how that goes.

One thing I would like to do is issue reprints of chapbooks by established authors that are now out of print. There are many important and inspiring books out there that have been orphaned due to the closure of small presses and it would be wonderful to make them available again.

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?

I find a sense of accomplishment with every book completed. I enjoy the whole adventure of book design. Mostly I am pleased to present the authors; it’s a wonderful feeling to have a book published, to find an audience.

At present I am unaware of anything people have overlooked about my publications and so far I don’t have any frustrations. All the authors have been a delight to work with, really lovely people, but I have had experience with difficult authors in the past and that can be very frustrating.

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

I didn’t have any particular models, but I examined a number of chapbooks and found elements I liked, such as cardstock covers, good quality paper with a nice feel and minimal show through, trimmed edges and fonts that complemented the work. I wanted to incorporate those features into Trainwreck Press books.

These are just my choices. There are presses with other, equally valid, aesthetics, each appropriate to their situation. The important thing is to make the work accessible to the audience in whatever format is available. I’ve had chapbooks that were very rough and others that were individually hand crafted and sewn, and all of them have been fantastic.

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

Nearly all my “friends” on Facebook are writers or small press publishers, so that is the main avenue for keeping up on who is doing what when and where. I couldn’t say I was “in dialogue” with any journals, but I read filling Station, Otoliths some others. On the Trainwreck website I have a [Re]sources page which lists many current experimental magazines and publishers.

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

I don’t live in a city so presenting readings or launches is a major challenge (the nearest city is Victoria, BC) – and the Shaw internet service here is so abysmal (sometimes down to under 1 mbps) that I can’t upload videos or hold virtual launches or readings.

I used to attend as many launches and readings as I could; they are the best way to sell books as well as being a lot of fun and a good way to meet people, network, etc. I think they are important to the life of a poetic community. As far as I know, neither Victoria nor Vancouver nor even Seattle have a regular Small Press Fair. I have had a table at Small Press Fairs in the past and they were fun, however I didn’t notice any uptick in business afterwards, but they are great social events. In my experience, poets are, for the most part, really nice people and it’s a joy to hang out with them.

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

Trainwreck Press is an online business. I depend on the internet for the website, for sales through the online store, for connecting with writers through email, for submissions, for marketing, etc. My main online resource, after the website, is Facebook. I tried to sign up for Instagram, but I don’t have a cell phone so couldn’t do that. Twitter is also targeted to people with cell phones. I would like to expand the reach of the press through the internet and I am still figuring out how to do that. I’d like to improve the look of the website as well – still working on that.

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

Yes, open to submissions year round. I am not looking for haiku, formal rhyming verse, or mainstream-linear-narrative poetry.

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

The book I am most engaged with is notes from recently by Chris Turnbull. Her combination of natural images and text is very profound. I once found a loon tangled in fishing line on a beach. I untangled the line and picked the bird up to carry it to the water and while I held it in my arms it gave that haunting loon call. The call reverberated through my body and sent a shiver down to the ancient core of my being. I get that same feeling from Chris Turnbull’s work. (I actually wrote a story based on the loon incident and read it on CBC radio).

I have also reprinted Cathay by Ezra Pound. This is a book that was very important in my development as a poet and it’s a thrill to be able to present it. I am hoping to reprint more books that were significant avant-garde works in their day. (I think Cathay, from 1915, is outside the controversy over Pound’s anti-Semitism and fascism. Cathay is aesthetically related to Imagism and proto-Modernism and it is interesting how the anti-Romanticism of the early Modernist movement fed into right-wing politics.)

For a third book, I can’t really choose between the engaging visual pieces of Judith Copithorne, the raw reality of Matina L Stamatakis, the linguistic constructs of Heller Levinson or Franco Cortese’s interplay of text and image – I’ll leave that up to the reader.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Megan Merchant

Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ with her husband and two children. She holds an M.F.A. degree in International Creative Writing from UNLV and is the author of three full-length poetry collections with Glass Lyre Press: Gravel Ghosts (2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, 2017), Grief Flowers (2018), four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, is coming into the world in April 2020 with Stillhouse Press. She was awarded the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2018 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, and most recently, second place in the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She is an Editor at Pirene’s Fountain and The Comstock Review. You can find her work at 

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

It took ten years of submitting before my first book, Gravel Ghosts, was picked up for publication by Glass Lyre Press. That acceptance opened a door of permission that I didn’t even know I was waiting for—one that allowed me to move forward in creating my second book, The Dark’s Humming. The work came quickly after that, in a relieved rush. However, Before the Fevered Snow wasn’t created at that same pace. Those poems demanded that I hold them longer. They took a different shape in my mind and in conversation with what they needed to be (mostly because I wrote them as my mother was dying). I shared the book with a friend the other day, when she held it in her hands she said, “These poems are different, they feel different”. I think it will take me awhile to understand exactly how—I am still so close to the work.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

When I was younger and kept diaries, they were always in poem form. I had no idea what I was doing, without any reference for how to do it beyond the elementary school exposure to the stiff and starched texts that my teachers offered. But there it was. My tween and teenage angst expressed itself in free verse.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Almost all of my chapbooks have come out whole, in order, and require little editing. It’s a weird thing to tell people that I spent the day writing fifteen poems in one sitting. When that happens, it feels like a miracle.

My full-length collections are slower to come together, and usually go through a few incarnations before I’m ready to send them into the world. That’s my favorite part though, sitting with the poems, pulling threads, connecting and developing themes, trying to weave them into a whole.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Some poems began as a sound, others a line that tugs something deeper, or a feeling of urgency that’s unlike anything else. That, for me, is the most human feeling—holding those poems until I can sit down long enough for them to take shape. While Gravel Ghosts was a collection that spanned years of work, my second book, The Dark’s Humming, came together during six months of my son’s nap times. It started as a joint project (with Comstock Review Editor John Bellinger) about madness--we were exploring all the soft and sharp edges of it and when I started writing poems about postpartum depression and motherhood, I knew that I had been swept into another book. Writing Grief Flowers was a very similar experience.

At the time that I was writing Before the Fevered Snow, I didn’t know that it was a book, I just knew those poems were saving me. When it did come together, it was an entirely different manuscript I had titled Paper Mother. That was actually the manuscript that the editors at Stillhouse Press accepted. But in the months between submitting and the acceptance, I kept writing, and noticed that the newer poems were stronger, more focused.  So, when I got the phone call to discuss publication, I had to find the courage to tell them that Paper Mother had been dismantled. Somehow I managed to ask them if they would be willing to read a whole new manuscript.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? 

I view the opportunity to share my work as the reward. I love connecting with the audience, allowing those poems that I labored over to have their moment. Sitting down to write, showing up to the page, and being present with the poems = the work.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I am always looking critically at the perspective that I have to offer, in authenticity, at how I relate to the world, at how specific language can create or destroy, can be inclusive or exclusive, at how I am representing the themes that I address (motherhood, autism, cultural violence, grief). I have had to closely examine how much of my truth I am willing to put into a poem with regards to my family members who might read that work, and how much I am willing to risk. When I do write about my children, I try not to write about their experiences directly, but about my experiences with them as I watch them navigate this world and all of the challenges they face.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

To create. The framework of the artist/writer in terms of their role in our culture is dynamically unfolding and so many artists and writers are contributing in powerful and meaningful ways—sharing their voices, stories, and gifts. I think the main responsibility for the creative soul is to create—for their own integrity and well-being, as well as for the ripple effect of their contribution to our world. Each offering is so much more than just adding beauty, or making a statement—when we have the opportunity to listen, or hold, a perspective or story that is different than our own, then we can start to open into empathy.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential. I have had the great privilege of working with tremendous editors (those at Glass Lyre Press, Cindy Sostchen-Hochman, and Tommy Sheffield at Stillhouse Press), but have had radically different editing experiences. So far, my experience with Stillhouse Press has been the most intense. I spent weeks working directly with Tommy via phone calls, going line-by-line through each poem in Before the Fevered Snow. He is amazing! I would make a suggestion and he would instantly come back with something to the tune of, “Well, you already used that word in the fourth stanza on page twenty-three, so …”. It was a giant refresher course in grammar, and I learned new ways to think about and look at my work by engaging so closely with the poems, how they moved, and why they worked (or didn’t). I started to understand more about the choices I had intuitively made along the way. I learned how to dance between defending my work and letting go. The book is stronger because of his insight and effort.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Go where you are loved.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation to children's books)? What do you see as the appeal? 

My children’s book is really a poem, so there was little transition there. I am working on fiction these days though. And that is a whole new world. It’s so appealing because my brain doesn’t speak that language fluently—I struggle to think in terms of character development and plot. It’s a challenge, which keeps it interesting.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I work at home, writing and editing, while raising children (one with special needs), so I have learned to create in the slips of time that aren’t accounted for. Now that both of my children are in school, there is a wider breadth, but the majority of my books were written at a desk in the corner of the kitchen, sitting next to the tub while my children bathed, in the car waiting to pick someone up from school/a music lesson/therapy/or swim practice. I learned how to be present with life and the needs of those around me while holding the poems until I could find enough time to give them shape on the page. I didn’t apply any guilt to the process, or an expectation that I would write every day and in that way, when I could carve out the time, it felt like a gift.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? 

I try to engage with new experiences, conversations, adventures, and as much nature as I can without having an allergic reaction. I am also learning how to have patience for the wisdom and perspective to come into view. I see a poem as having two parts—the container (language, shape), and the wisdom/heart of it. I view the periods of quiet as spaces for that wisdom/understanding to grow, and then when it does, I get to play with the right way to express it.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The smell of ponderosa pine after the rain.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? 

I have been learning how to play musical instruments (ukulele and guitar) along with some music theory and everything in my world has shifted. Also, I spend a lot of time outside in our yard, communing with the ravens and hummingbirds. They have taught me a lot and I have found that when I am able to sit quietly with them, I can begin to hear the poems.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I am deeply grateful for the community of writers and editors that I have been able to connect with via social media, AWP, readings, etc. Somewhat recently I connected with Connie Post, former Poet Laureate of Livermore, CA and fellow Glass Lyre Press author. She has been a remarkable mentor and friend in terms of all things writing, navigating raising a child with autism, and general life advice. Regarding books, there are a few I keep close by—Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert), Love, an Index (Rebecca Lindenberg), The Carrying (Ada Limón), and Our House Was on Fire (Laura Van Prooyen).

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Sleep in a houseboat in Amsterdam.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? 

In another life, I would want to work for the CIA in forensic linguistics to solve mysteries and fight crime.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

When I traded a promising career in marketing for my MFA in International Creative Writing, I learned how to follow a path simply because it made me happy.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I have a long-standing love affair with the movie Wonder Boys and am currently reading Pema Chödrön's Welcoming the Unwelcome, which is pretty great.

20 - What are you currently working on? 

Happiness. Healing. Balance. And also, I am writing ukulele songs for kids on the spectrum that are fun and instructional—my favorite so far is called “Appropriate Shoes”.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Michael Cavuto, COUNTRY POEMS

the made-up

Mexico, old man’s porch

& the riderless horse

                Two spent pistols made
                made-up holes on
                the body, and a poem in your
                pocket home (“VII,” “THE LAST POEM OF HAMISH BALLANTYNE”)

In his introduction, “ARE YOU READY FOR THE COUNTRY?,” to Queens, New York poet Michael Cavuto’s debut full-length collection, COUNTRY POEMS (Toronto ON: knife|fork|book, 2020), Dale Martin Smith writes:

Mike Cavuto finds songs to make country a possibility. A country of now, a shared heredom (a word associated with Kenneth Irby and his enfolding of attention to country rites). Attuned to the great West Coast poet Joanne Kyger, Mike writes “we are the minds of this country.” He works toward a sense of in-betweenness. A noetic weaving together of sources across geographies. Cities are points of transaction, and the spaces between go into the person, the lyric channeling of something old and hick, good in every way.

There is something of Cavuto’s lyric comparable to the work of his co-hort, Vancouver Island poet and translator Hamish Ballantyne (who has a debut chapbook newly out as well, also produced by knife|fork|book) for the ways in which the lyric is set on the page, the way the rhythms between the two intersect, and the density of small moments. The connection between Cavuto and Ballantyne are clear, as one becomes aware that the two are founding members of the pure-sound collective Sex Panic!; and then, of course, there is Cavuto’s nine-poem sequence that opens the second section, “THE LAST POEM OF HAMISH BALLANTYNE,” that ends: “all those // holes in the story, parts of / the plan — // We left unknown.” For all the references we, from the outside, might not necessarily catch between the two collaborators and friends, structurally, certainly, they exist as two sides of the same lyric, which is quite interesting to see from this particular distance. There is also something of Robert Kroetsch’s “Country and Western” (a section of his Completed Field Notes) to Cavuto’s poems as well, although perhaps no more a connector than the words and the idea, an image of the mid-west, whether American or Canadian, that sets ablaze far more abstracts than specifics, even for myself, the product of an eastern Ontario farm. As Dale Martin Smith tells us: “Country is home. And it’s gone. Country is a place in temporal location. It is the apprehension, a going through, of song.”

& a lingering
nightvoice —

     mourning patterns, the season
                             for daybreak drinking (“LOST FIELDS”)

His poems spark, and amble, composed as small lyric spaces and small lyric bursts that accumulate into sequences, or simply sit as explorations of single moments, as the sequence “LOST FIELD” writes: “old words // easy to forget // Picine // that hard sharp beak [.]”

The collection is set in four sections—“LOST FIELDS,” “COUNTRY POEMS,” “GIFTSONGS” and “PYRE”—the final of which has extended into further pieces, “PYRE II” (Touch the Donkey #21, April 2019) and “PYRE III” (Touch the Donkey #23, October 2019). As he discussed the series in his interview for Touch the Donkey, the poems are composed annually, as “a kind of elegy.” “I began these poems as one would stacking rocks for the dead, and I return to them each year to witness their change.” The poem opens: “Throbs of words // This is a swelling / These are heaps [.]” It writes of mourning-as-accumulation, setting stone upon stone as an ongoing gesture, an elegy that attempts to mark not a single passing but multiple. I’m curious to see how this so-far-ongoing series of annual compositions fit into any further of his full-length collection, perhaps akin to Gil McElroy’s long-ongoing “Julian Days” sequence which, to date, is included as a section in each of his own trade poetry collection. Does this suggest Cavuto’s work as an expansive field, or a sequence of threads, of which “PYRE” is but one? As Cavuto offers as part of his Touch the Donkey interview:

When I started writing the Pyre poems two years ago, it was in the space of a very important poet’s passing, and I was taken up with the poem’s particular capacity for remembering – so in that way, the first Pyre poem was a kind of elegy. In writing through an experience of poetic memory, I engage with a distinct kind of time unique to poetry.