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;

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