Friday, July 31, 2020

Jameson Fitzpatrick, Pricks in the Tapestry

Upon opening the first page of New York poet Jameson Fitzpatrick’s full-length debut, Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, LLC, 2020), I was immediately struck by the opening poem, “Scintilla, Star,” a single-page piece that ends with:

I found it was better,
if I could not be no one,
to be someone. Small, but
particular. Specified, which was
an apprenticeship for special.
Cold, another word for cool.

There is some remarkable clarity and wisdom in his lyric, and this is a powerful debut, on the heels of two chapbooks: Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018) and Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014). Fitzpatrick is capable of some incredible precision, even as his poems unfurl to stretch into and cover vast distances. His meditations are exploratory, a curious blend of meandering and incredibly precise essay-poems inching thoughtfully through the beauty, imperfections and traumas, attempting to arrange or rearrange his own thinking, perhaps, into less damaged structures.

Fitzpatrick might be considered a hopeless, or even relentless, optimist: the world can be dark, but we don’t have to be, which in turn, might allow such darkness to fade from the world, or become, at least, a protection against it. As he himself has suggested, his poems exist on a fine line between hope and hopelessness, engaging both sides of the coin so that one might better understand the whole. His poems are smart and playful, yet rife with dark elements such as nightclub shootings, homophobic violence and erasure, such as the incredibly powerful “A Poem for Pulse,” a poem that acknowledges the June 2016 shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three. His poem writes: “What a strange power to be cursed with: / for the proof of men’s desire to move men to violence. / What’s a single kiss? I’ve had kisses / no one has ever known about, so many / kisses without consequence— / But there is a place you can’t outrun. / There will be a time when. / It might be a bullet, suddenly. / The sound of it. Many.” It might be hard to consider an elegy composed to acknowledge the homophobic violence of a nightclub shooting to be a poem that includes any element of optimism, but the three page poem ends with:

Love can’t block a bullet
but neither can it be shot down,
and love is, for the most part, what makes us.
We will be everywhere, always;
there’s nowhere else for us, or you, to go.
Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.
Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matthew Tomkinson

Matthew Tomkinson ( is a writer, sound designer, and doctoral student in Theatre Studies at the University of British Columbia. His debut collection of short prose, Archaic Torso of Gumby, co-authored with Geoffrey Morrison, is out with Gordon Hill Press as of March 2020, and his chapbook, For a Long Time, is available from Frog Hollow Press. Matthew’s music for dance and theatre has been presented at a number of festivals including PuSh, New Works, Vines, Dance in Vancouver, and Dancing on the Edge. His work spans a wide range of genres including acoustic ecology, deep listening, musique concrète, noise, ambient, and techno. Together with Andy Zuliani, he presents collaborative sound art under the name Magazinist. As a doctoral student, Matthew’s research considers contemporary representations of illness and disability in performance, with particular attention to sound. He lives in Vancouver on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

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

My first publication was a chapbook called For a Long Time. The book is what I call a “story told in quotations,” which gathers together a collection of sentences containing the title phrase, beginning with Proust and ending with Jo Nesbø. Because I spent so many months looking for sentences beginning with those words, “for a long time,” I’m now unable to read or hear that expression without doing a double take. Which is to say: the biggest impact it’s had on my life is probably the way it continues to invade my consciousness.

The chapbook and the more recent book of short stories, Archaic Torso of Gumby, couldn’t be more different, not least of all because the latter book is collaborative. But there are a few shared themes – obsession, repetition, curation, list-making, intertextuality.

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

I think I’ve always done a little bit of everything. ATOG is mainly prose because Geoffrey and I were interested from the get-go in a kind of worldbuilding project – not that worlds can’t be built out of poetry, but that prose seemed better suited to the kind of maximalism we were going for.

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?

It took five-ish years to finish ATOG, but somehow it never felt slow. All the stories developed at their own pace and presented different roadblocks. Generally speaking, I write pretty slowly and myopically. I rewrite a sentence until it feels good and then move on to the next one, rarely knowing where things are headed. Sometimes there’s research and I’ll take extensive notes, 99% of which won’t get used. But mostly it’s just the odd character name typed into my phone. The stories that take the longest to materialize usually start as a high-concept idea that I struggle to find a viable framework for, but I’ve learned to let ideas go if there isn’t some ease in trying to write them.

4 - Where does a work of prose 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?

With ATOG, Geoffrey and I wanted to do both: write short pieces that end up combining into a book. In keeping with the idea of worldbuilding, we wanted all the stories to feel like they were spinoffs of one other, as though they were all set in the same fictional town, without actually doing so.

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

They aren’t part of my process, per se, but they certainly change my own relationship to my work. I had always thought of my chapbook, For a Long Time, as a very on-the-page story, but reading it aloud feels like a hypnotic incantation, and I’ve come to value the aural aspect of the book more than anything. Otherwise, I’m highly allergic to public readings: my voice gets dry very quickly and the whole thing’s a struggle. 

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?

As a reluctant academic, I try to keep theoretical concerns out of my creative writing. That said, many of the stories in ATOG are constraint-based, but more because I find they help me generate material and less because I’m convinced that these constraints might enact something beyond the text. With ATOG, the main question we were trying to answer was probably: what’s special about collaboration and how can we harness it? For me, the question hasn’t changed because I’m interested in doing more collaborative writing and seeing what other shapes it could take.

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?

I have no idea! All I can say is that I appreciate writers who introduce me to other perspectives and lived experiences, writers who push boundaries, make others feel seen, speak truth to power, etc.

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

Both. It’s especially strange to write a collaborative book where you function as each other’s editor, and then to have a third party enter the picture. It kind of uncomfortably emphasizes the fact that the book is a shared delusion between two enablers.

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

I once wrote to Rikki Ducornet and, in reply, she signed-off with “THRIVE!” It’s unquestionably the best single-word advice I’ve ever received.

10 - 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 tend to write in the morning, usually from seven to noon, mainly because I have zero mental stamina in the latter half of the day. I stick to this schedule at least a few days a week, but it’s not regimented by any means. Apparently I’m unusual in that my day starts with making breakfast within five minutes of waking up.

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

I usually talk it out with a friend and they’ll usually say something or give a suggestion that will open it back up again.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Black mould.

13 - 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?

As per the title, Archaic Torso of Gumby is heavily influenced by cartoons and animation. The book is meant to feel sort of rotoscoped.

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

Some favourites: James Baldwin, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Jos Charles, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, Rikki Ducornet, Franz Kafka, Alexander Kluge, Ursula K. Le Guin, Clarice Lispector, Herman Melville, Paul Metcalf, Maggie Nelson, Georges Perec, George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Eliot Weinberger, Virginia Woolf

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

Writing-wise: a stage play.

In general: karaoke.

16 - 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?

I’d like to learn to program in Python or Java, and I could imagine doing that for a living.

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

Writing has mainly been a side project for me. It comes in and out of focus. I’m almost always doing something else.

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

Last great book: Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss, technically a play.

Last great film: Parasite, by Bong Joon-ho

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a book of found poems called Nosologies about outdated medical practices, drawing on archival texts going back to the 17th century. You’d think it was inspired by the current pandemic, but I started it last year. It’s about indeterminate vapours and superstitious purification rituals. Ultimately, I see the project as an opportunity to transfigure my own hypochondriacal fears and tendencies, which have only ramped up during the C19 situation. In other words: THRIVE!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Ashley Miller on Mason Jar Press

Ashley Miller is the Content Editor for Mason Jar Press. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago where she is sometimes writing and sometimes editing, but is almost always reading. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts.

Mason Jar Press has been publishing handmade, limited-run chapbooks and full-length books since 2014. The Press is dedicated to finding new and exciting work by writers that push the bounds of literary norms. While the work Mason Jar seeks to publish is meant to challenge status quos, both literary and culturally, it must also have significant merit in both those realms.

1 – When did Mason Jar 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?
            Mason Jar Press started in 2014 when Michael Tager approached Ian Anderson to design the covers of his chapbooks, collectively called The Pop Culture Collection. Ian had been playing with the idea of starting a small press and he liked the collection so much he asked Michael if he could publish them under the Mason Jar Press name, and voila, the press began.
            In the beginning, MJP put together small, high quality projects that highlighted interesting voices. This goal hasn’t so much shifted as much as our vision for Mason Jar has expanded over the years. Our titles started as limited-run, hand-sewn books and have moved to perfect-bound, full-length projects. We are still on the lookout for interesting voices and projects that challenge the status quo, both in subject matter and genre.
            We’ve learned a lot over the years and continue to learn as we expand our catalogue and tackle new endeavors. The important lessons have basically been be cool, do good, and actively listen.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
            Our core staff members attended the University of Baltimore’s MFA program in creative writing and publishing arts together. We have always been readers and book people, but the MFA program and our experiences with other writers and presses during that time further developed our interests in indie publishing. I don’t think any of us actually expected to become so passionate about publishing, but we keep finding ourselves fascinated with the process, and we love putting out amazing art that may not have found its way into the world otherwise.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
            Small publishing, in our understanding, has a responsibility to create space for underrepresented identities, voices, and causes. Do the interesting, strange, quirky, remarkable thing and do it well, with the finesse the author deserves and with the heart larger publishers may not be able to offer. 

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
            No one else has our titles. That may sound reductive or cheesy, but it’s true; no one else has had the privilege to work with our authors on the exact titles we’ve produced. Each project is important and has been special to Mason Jar and is something only we can offer.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books and chapbooks out into the world?
            That’s a difficult and complicated question to answer. The world of publishing is changing, and the way of getting the word out there is too. It seems there’s been a recent shift away from more traditional book reviews and marketing strategies and an expansion into virtual events with an emphasis on social media engagement.  We’ve been finding our way like everyone else and we certainly don’t have the answer as to what’s most effective. We’re very curious how to move forward.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
            Our team approaches each work differently based on what the project and author need. Sometimes a project calls for deeper edits while others only need a bit of polishing. We see pitches and submissions that run the gamut and are excited to work with authors at both ends of the spectrum, but we do tend to bring on titles that are close(ish) to publishable simply for time’s sake.
            Most crucially, perhaps, is that we view each book as a partnership. While we delve into each aspect of a book, we work closely with our authors on every step, from line edits to cover. We want our authors to feel a real ownership of their book, not just the manuscript the book came from.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
            We’ve started working with Small Press Distribution in the past year for our distribution needs. We used to work directly with local bookstores and we still ship directly through our website. Our initial runs are typically around 300, depending on presales and our discussions with the author. Many of our titles go into second and third printings, with those runs being decided on as needed.

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?
            Our main staff consists of nine people, but our three lead editors (Editor in Chief, Managing Editor, and Content Editor) handle the majority of production work on our titles. We pull others in as needed, especially during open calls or special events. The benefits of having multiple eyes and brains on a project almost always outweigh any drawbacks, as there’s almost always someone to ask for help or to catch an error.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Working in publishing means some of us are writing a lot less, not necessarily because we’re too busy, but because we’ve discovered we’re actually editors, not writers, and that’s where we get our creative joy. I’m not sure being an editor has changed how I think of my writing, more so that it’s shifted my creative priorities to working with authors and their manuscripts.

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?
            We don’t practice pulling from in-house talent. We have brought on authors we’ve worked with as staff (Michael Tager is now Managing Editor, Celeste Doaks reads submissions for us and cohosts the podcast, Tomas Moniz is now our Acquisitions Editor) but we won’t publish active staff members. We don’t particularly like the optics of publishing in-house voices, but each publisher has to do what feels right and good to them.

11– How do you see Mason Jar Press evolving?
            Expanding in the e-pub realm is a current thought as we recently started producing e-books, or maybe we’ll get into publishing radical children’s books, or expanding our ability to print art books or graphic novels. Basically, we have no set plan for how we might grow, which we think is important for organic growth and adaptive exploration, but we hope to continue to chase exciting opportunities. Stagnation would be an ultimate disappointment for us.

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?
            We’re super proud of our growing catalogue and staff, and the fact we’re still kicking 6 years later. Having Tyrese Coleman’s How to Sit as a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award was definitely a thrill. Any time we see positive reactions to the titles we’re helping put into the world is awesome.
Our biggest frustration is always the lack of time and energy. Our staff has full-time day jobs and many of us have children and other big responsibilities. There are only so many hours in a day and many times we need or want more than we’ve got.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
            Michael and Ian looked to Barrelhouse, Ink Press Productions, and Publishing Genius for a lot of guidance, particularly with contract questions and operating procedures. The indie publishing community helped us immensely when we were first starting out, and our friends in the business continue to share ideas and support us.
            We’ve tried to give back as well when new presses have asked for advice to the best of our ability. So, if you’re starting a press out there, feel free to shoot us an email!

14 – How does Mason Jar Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Mason Jar Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We think community-building and participation are super important. We’re all in this together and we should all help each other out whether that be through signal boosting or event organization or sharing ideas. We have working relationships and friendships with a good number of literary journals and presses: Writers and Words, The Inner Loop, Barrelhouse, Split Lip Press/Journal, SFWP, Ink Press Productions, Fear No Lit, Little Patuxent Review, Writers in Baltimore Schools, and many others.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
            We help coordinate release events and readings with our authors for each project as they see fit. We don’t have the funding or bandwidth to fully coordinate and support book tours, and we don’t require our authors to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with, but we do think it’s important to get our writers in front of audiences. We also participate in local events and public readings for this reason.
            Public events are incredibly important and the virtual ones going on now are filling that void. One of our newest authors, Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes, launched her book Ashley Sugarnotch and the Wolf via a live YouTube stream and it was wonderful! Interacting with authors and hearing their words adds a very important layer to a book.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
            The internet is huge for us. It allows us to have staff in various parts of the country and makes it much easier to work with non-local authors and vendors. We take submissions and pitches through the internet, a vast portion of our communication is via email, we make sales on our website, we utilize social media to connect with others, to promote our work and work we find exciting, and to foster ideas and community. We don’t really know how we’d be able to do anything close to what we currently do without the internet.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes! We’re always open for pitches and we have regular reading periods, though what we’re open for changes. We were open for fiction collections this year and we’re getting ready to open a call for pitches, since we don’t know what we want next! Tomas Moniz, who recently joined us as Acquisitions Editor, is running that one.
            We frequently describe what we’re not looking for as the story about a white suburban dude struggling with standard white suburban dude stuff. That is unless it’s handled in a new, intriguing, subversive way. Which we haven’t seen yet.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Danielle Zaccagnino’s forthcoming Suppose Muscle, Suppose Night, Suppose This In August is a strange little gem of a hybrid collection. It contains lyrical essays and poetry that weave through dreams and nightmares, euphoria and fear, intimacy and distance, and examines fears, anxieties, and forms of escape. With dreamlike imagery, a unique inventiveness, and emotional clarity, Zaccagnino dissects that which we are too afraid to consciously touch.
Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes’ Ashley Sugarnotch and the Wolf is a sparkling collection that presents a narrative between two cosmically intertwined characters in both syllabic and prose poetry. The commanding and hypnotic voices in this collection examine cycles of violence through a lens of myth and modernity.
Malka Older’s …and Other Disasters consists of short fiction and poems that explore aspects of otherness, identity, and compassion across a spectrum of possible existence. Older’s characters grapple with what it means to belong and be othered, to cling to the past and face the future, all while navigating a world riddled with natural and man-made disasters. The stories are familiar in troublesome ways and scratch at our social consciousness.