In this installment of Lyric Essentials, we’re joined by Juliet Cook who shares the poetry of Tory Dent. Cook talks about how Dent was writing during her own struggle with HIV/AIDS, and the mortality imposed by the disease. We cover important ground on self-expression and the way Dent’s work, in particular, has a sense of the sacred.
Riley Steiner: Why did you choose this particular poem to read for Lyric Essentials?
Juliet Cook: I chose a poet I loved years ago, Tory Dent. I don’t remember exactly how I first encountered her. I think I found one of her books (What Silence Equals or HIV, Mon Amour or both) at a public library near where I used to live that offered the best contemporary poetry section I’d ever encountered. Then I purchased her last book, Black Milk, which ended up being published the same year she ended up dying. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.
I knew she had passed away quite some time ago, but when I looked her up online to remind myself when, I found out that when she died, she was the age that I am now.
I chose a poem from Black Milk because I didn’t want to select one particular poem from one particular poet I’m aware of right now. I really like lots of poets and poetry now, but I didn’t desire to narrow it down to one. So, instead, I chose a poet who I remembered being moved by and wowed by in the past. I re-read the poem first to make sure I still liked it, because sometimes my tastes change over time and also I have memory issues. When it comes to poetry books and movies and so on, I can remember if I really liked something and felt strongly about it, but I can’t remember the details of exactly why. Just that it resonated with me, generated strong feelings, and moved me in certain ways. If that was a while back, I need to re-read/re-watch/re-consider and interpret it in the present instead of the past.
As it turned out, I still really liked Dent’s poetry.
I’ve always had a tendency to be drawn to personal, emotional, un-calm, unsettling poetic expression, sometimes to the extent that some might perceive it as over-the-top or oversharing. With that said, the thing about Dent’s poetry is that even though some might perceive it that way stylistically, I doubt it was over-the-top, since she wrote it while in pain, suffering, and in the throes of death via HIV/AIDS.
Her poetry strikes me as both highly emotional and extremely well crafted at the same time, which I admire.
It’s not as if this particular poem, “The Part of Me That’s O,” was my one favorite from the book—I like a lot of the poems within the book—but most of the poems in the book are quite long, so I chose to read one of the shorter ones that I liked. The title poem in the collection is about thirty-five pages long, for example. I don’t remember if I felt this way in the past, but in recent years, I tend to prefer shorter poems of one page or less. But my mind makes exceptions if a longer poem really draws me in, such as on ongoing dark story poem by Frank Stanford or these long, elaborate, interconnected end-of-life poems by Tory Dent.
RS: What do you admire about Black Milk as a whole?
JC: Dent strongly expresses what she feels drawn and driven to express for her own personal reasons. Not for any popularity contest or bestseller reasons.
She expresses herself openly, specifically, uniquely, and creatively in the limited amount of time she has left.
Her poetry is both personal and specifically crafted at the same time.
“What’s most terrifying resounds as wings, swooping closer, those angels that operate as passive spectators while heinous events take place. And if prayers ever do reveal themselves as answered, it’s the stumps of our amputated limbs we thank them for, our most natural, instinctual capacity to love ruined, pitted, abolished.
Hence, I refuse to look upward, upward to a canopy of presupposed atonement. What were once prayers for readiness to reckon with disappointment become angry, incriminating prayers, prayers of ultimatum. Those prayers, those useless elocutions from our humiliated hearts, evolve into, or rather grow up into, articulations of atheism, pronouncements of love retracted, of love regretfully spent. We express instead, spitting upward and out, aiming to reach the hemlines of their robes, war-waging rage on our enemy angels. They prolong our torment and revel in it.”
–from Tory Dent’s poem “When Atheists Pray”
RS: You mentioned that you first encountered Tory Dent’s work years ago. Has your interpretation or understanding of this poem changed at all from then until now?
JC: I don’t remember exactly what my interpretation or understanding was when I first read it. I just remember that I was drawn to how she expressed herself and felt strongly about it and that is still true.
It feels scared and enraged at the same time. It feels horrific but terribly real.
RS: Has her work influenced your own in any way?
JC: I have tended towards over-the-top and negative in a lot of my poetry, largely because that’s how my brain works—but since I also tend to enjoy reading that sort of content, it has probably influenced my own creativity over time.
To me, Tory Dent is an example of a poet who says what she needs to say, for her own personal, inward-focused reasons, but also broadens her personal reasons into a large scale.
With me, most of my poems are inward-focused, and part of me likes that; but another part of me might like to be able to broaden them out a bit more, without dulling them down. I don’t want my poems to be overly obvious, but I also don’t want them to be so abstract or so stuck inside my own brain that they only make sense to me.
When it comes to poetry by Dent and others I admire, I love it when uniquely original work that emerged from another writer’s brain is able to strongly resonate with my brain, too.
There are many people for whom poetry does not resonate much at all, but for me, it’s a primary form of expression, both reading-wise and writing-wise, even if a lot of people don’t relate to it.
“…a purity superimposed upon a purity like a testudo forming a bulletproof sky which ultimately fails to protect, as art fails, to provide shelter from the mammal in us: from the carnivorous, the banal, the rupturous, the pitiful. There will be no birthing, but a series of swallowings until gaunt from longing I will have settled into a state of impoverishment normalized finally by some property of physics that adapts the disassociated to the hemisphere: like E. coli in water, I will live. My erotic impulses curtailed so many times that in ringlets they will lie like sheaved hair, as fertilizer fulfilling its wishes…”
–from Tory Dent’s poem “The Part of Me That’s O”
While working on answering these questions about Tory Dent’s poetry, I searched my past posts about her on Facebook, out of curiosity. I didn’t even know if there would be any past posts.
As mentioned previously, I think my tastes change over time to an extent, but maybe not as much as I thought, because when I typed Tory Dent’s name into the Facebook search bar to see if I’d ever mentioned her on Facebook before, what I found was that I had posted various lines from her poems back in 2012—and that some of those lines are the same lines I’m referencing in this interview in 2019!
What I also found was that a main reason I was posting some of her poem lines in 2012 was because she had a written poem in honor of Marie Ponsot, a poet who had suffered from a stroke and aphasia—and in 2010, I had also suffered from a stroke and aphasia.
For a while, with Ponsot’s aphasia, her own poetry didn’t make sense to her anymore, which in my mind seems like a total horror story, and one that I was worried about encountering for a while. I was worried: what if my own poetry didn’t make sense to me anymore? What if poetry in general didn’t make sense to me anymore, and what if I couldn’t even write it anymore? Fortunately, I only had that issue going on for a relatively short amount of time (a few months). I still have memory issues, but thank goodness my own poetry (and other people’s poetry) makes sense to me, whether or not it makes sense to a lot of other people.
“Peace became associated with that essential vanishing point. Peace used to mean simply a sheet of paper and a pencil. Now to associate peace with something else, such as myself, for instance; Myself as once I came to know myself, both future tense and past.”
–from “Immigrant in My Own Life'” (for Marie Ponsot) by Tory Dent
Tory Dent published three volumes of poetry: What Silence Equals (1993); HIV, Mon Amour (1999), and Black Milk (2005). She is the winner of a James Laughlin Award and was named as a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Dent’s work was also published in numerous anthologies, and she was awarded grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the PEN American Center, and other organizations. Along with poetry, Dent wrote about art for magazines and exhibitions. She died in 2005.
Juliet Cook‘s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective/Dark Particle, 2018), DARK PURPLE INTERSECTIONS (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9, 2019), and Another Set of Ripped-Out Bloody Pigtails (The Poet’s Haven, 2019). She has another new chapbook, The Rabbits with Red Eyes, forthcoming in 2020 from Ethel Zine & Micro-Press.
Cook’s first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. She’s also included in a full-length collaborative poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, with j/j hastain, published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti, was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2018.
Cook also sometimes creates abstract painting collage art hybrid creatures.
Cook’s tiny independent press, Blood Pudding Press, sometimes publishes hand-designed poetry chapbooks and creates other art.
Riley Steiner graduated from Miami University, where she studied Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. She’s published her creative work in the Oakland Arts Review and Collision.
So maybe you’ve started a literary journal or a podcast? Maybe you’ve been rejected by presses and feel that it’s time to start a place that reflects your thoughts on contemporary publishing? Maybe you’re working in an English Department that’s looking to expand their scope? There are lots of reasons for starting a press, but before you do, check out Sundress Publications’ roundtable discussion with independent press editors about the highs and low of indie publishing.
Why did you found your press?
Carly Miller: I think one of the main reasons was to figure out a way to be a literary citizen outside of being writers and past literary magazine editors. When my cofounders and I started the press, we were five MFA graduate students sitting in a deli asking ourselves what books we love and why we love them. We found ourselves discussing literary theory in conjunction with how our favorite books “work” in their engagement with the reader, how we wanted to engage in this idea of “the creative act as critical act.” Poetry engages with so many different tensions, from subject matter to craft, and we wanted to create texts that could allow the conversation to become wider through the poet’s own voices and how they engage with various tensions. So, we founded a press to engage in these moments of tension, a.k.a. contemporary poetics alongside contemporary criticism, with hopes to contribute to this larger conversation.
Margaret Bashaar: Masochism? I mean, I have always found a deep sense of emotional fulfillment in promoting the art of others. There hasn’t been a time since I was 14 that I wasn’t editing some kind of literary publication. Little in life genuinely makes me happier than finding poetry that I feel merits an audience and working to connect that poetry with an audience. So masochism, definitely. And I like making things with my hands, and books of poetry seemed like as good a thing as any to make with my hands.
M. Mack: The phrase we use is that we wanted to fill a gap in the publishing landscape. At the time, in 2012, there was a real shortage of markets that both called themselves feminist and welcomed work from folks who did not identify as women. So we created Gazing Grain Press as a place for feminists of all genders. The landscape has changed a lot since then, which is really exciting, and we now have a number of contemporaries.
Juliet Cook: I started my Blood Pudding Press close to ten years ago now, so it’s hard for me to remember the exact details of how I felt at that time, but I know it involved a strong and genuine passion for poetry and a realization that it was mostly poets who published other poets. I had been a big fan of ‘zines in my late teens through mid twenties, then indie literary magazines in my twenties all the way until now. When I was in my early thirties, I became a big fan of frequent blogging for several years. My blog site was Xanga and my blogger name was candydishdoom. I met a few creative writers there (some of whom I’ve remained connected with ever since), right around the time when they were initially starting their own online literary magazines and/or small presses. For example, Rachel Kendall, who started Sein und Werden not long after we met and has kept it going for years now and Kristy Bowen, who started Dancing Girl Press around that time. I loved how small indie poetry presses seemed like unique artsy poetic variations of ‘zines and I loved the individualism of our Xanga blog style communication and I loved poetry and poetry chapbooks.
I think I’d had a little back burner of an inkling to start my own itty bitty press for a year or two before I actually did it, but I felt overly nervous that I’d somehow screw it up. But in late 2006, I had this sudden spurt of finishing a small series of Twin Peaks inspired poems that had been sitting unfinished in the back of a folder for about 10 years, and I felt really strongly about the poems, and thought they worked best together instead of individually, and so I decided that would be a great time to start my own small press and publish my own chapbook first, because if I had trouble with formatting, design, or anything else, I wouldn’t be affecting another poet with my fledgling difficulties. Kristy Bowen gladly shared information with me about how she formatted her Dancing Girl Press chapbooks, I followed her formatting tips, I designed my own cover art, and I took it from there. After I got more comfortable with formatting and design, I shifted away from publishing myself with my own press and started publishing multiwriter collections and individual chapbooks by others.
For years, I felt so passionately excited about choosing chapbooks, designing chapbooks, and uniquely hand-crafting chapbooks. I loved being a part of the poetry community who was not only focused on herself, but also helped support others too.
What were some of the early pitfalls you found?
Carly Miller: We’re only two years old, so we may still be in the early pitfalls stage. One of them is definitely funding—we started the press as grad students, who don’t make a lot of money in the first place, and we’re all trying to find jobs and stability in the real world. But we rallied, and we’re working on ways to figure out funding (a.k.a. we’re finalizing our Indiegogo campaign to run sometime during the summer).
Margaret Bashaar: Time. In the past I have over-committed myself, time-wise, and it’s been a huge problem. Essentially, Hyacinth Girl Press is two people—Sarah Reck (who is our prose editor and does all our layout and design work and runs our website) and myself. It was a struggle for us to find a balance with the number of projects we could realistically take on without overwhelming ourselves, and the chapbooks we put out suffering as a result.
Juliet Cook: I honestly don’t remember many EARLY pitfalls, aside from my initial nervousness. I remember feeling extremely drawn to, excited, and passionate about what I was doing for quite a few years.
Reading the responses above mine, about money and time, I agree, BUT I don’t remember those being major concerns of mine when I first started my press. As far as funding, I don’t expect nor do I want anyone else to help fund my press (other than buying the created chapbooks). I am an ANTI-fan of how much crowdfunding has grown in recent years. As far as time, that can certainly be a challenge, but I’ve tried my best not to take on more than I can reasonably handle.
For me personally, the pitfalls came later, when I started to feel as if my press was inundating so much of my time and creative energy, that I didn’t have enough time to read things not related to the press, to write and revise my own poetry, to submit my own poetry, and so forth. I think I have a high drive but a moderate to slow process of accomplishing certain kinds of things. I’m not a good multitasker; I’m a one focus at a time sort of person; and for various reasons, it seemed to be getting harder for me to split my focus in all the directions I wanted to and it got to the point where I sometimes started to feel bothered by my own brain’s slow pace. Over the years, I’ve heard quite a few small press editors/writers express that their press started to take precedence over their own writing—and that’s fine, if you WANT that to happen—but ultimately, I DIDN’T want anything to take precedence over my own writing, at least not on a long term, ongoing basis.
Some other pitfalls that came later for me were partly generated by social media and/or my own brain’s interpretation of certain aspects of social media. Social media, especially facebook, is so up-to-the-minute that it can rather easily cause you to feel like if you’re offline for a few days, then you’re not going to stay up to date and you’re not going to stay on top of things that are going on in poetry land. Plus sometimes on social media, certain poets or presses suddenly seem to get lambasted by a whole group of others and if you were offline for a few days, you don’t even know what generated the lambasting when you get back online, and even if some of the lambasting was deserved, it seems to quickly reach the point of fast-paced attack mode, like people are flinging an arsenal of pies at other people’s faces and the pies have weapons loaded inside and people seem to launch too quickly into taking the side of this weapon-loaded pie or that weapon-loaded piece.
Another social media related pitfall for me is that I feel like I see other small presses talking about their big influxes of chapbook sales and then I start wondering why is my press barely selling enough chapbooks to break even when other small presses sound like they’re selling more than double the amount I’m selling and so what am I doing wrong, etc. . . .
When I started to question my own way of doing things, that’s when I also started to reconsider my press—because I don’t want poetry to feel like some sort of competitive popularity contest, yet part of my mind felt as if it was starting to warp itself into that way of thinking.
Like one part of my mind couldn’t care less how I compare to others; but the other part of my mind was some mutant cheerleader doing little splits and wondering why this press’s splits and this press’s splits appeared to be spreading much further than mine, even though I didn’t necessarily want mine to spread that much further.
M. Mack: One of our favorite early pitfalls happened when we took on Meg Day’s chapbook We Can’t Read This in 2013. We had to (quickly) get permissions to print ASL sign images in the chapbook and then redesign the book with the images we got permission to use. We wrote many carefully worded queries to publishers of ASL dictionaries and spent many hours scanning and erasing backgrounds in Photoshop. We got outstanding images to use from the University of Alberta Press, for free, and that worked out great. The thing about running a press is that you never really know what is going to happen. Things happen, and you figure out how to respond. Often, you figure out that the response involves a carefully worded query.
This isn’t exactly a pitfall, but it’s important to remember that everyone involved with your press is volunteering their time and attention and energy because they believe in the work. One thing that often surprises people I talk to is that expanding a staff takes time. Expansion isn’t as simple as bringing more people on to handle a growing workload. We expanded our staff from two to ten in 2014, following six months of preparation, trying to make our processes as transparent as possible and making all of our policies and procedures as open to revision as possible, and preparing ourselves to let go of some control of our precious literary baby. Even with six months of preparing for expansion, it was a healthy learning curve for all of us. We operate as a feminist press, and it is difficult sometimes. It is important to be open about how much work is required to run a press.
How much marketing is a new indie press expected to do for its authors?
Carly Miller: I think we’re expected to do just as much as older presses! I mean, we definitely have to hit the ground running with promoting our books to the best of our ability, and finding ways to get the book in other people’s hands.
Because we’ve mostly created anthologies, we’ve taken advantage of Twitter by tweeting lines from the anthology. We’re always keeping an eye on our contributors, too, helping to promote a new poem or a new book of theirs. We also connected with a few reviewers and teachers who reviewed or taught our books in their classrooms. We’re also wanting to host more readings, whether they’re in San Diego (our hometown/location) or not. These examples lead me to say that we’re so lucky that our contributors want to help us in terms of marketing efforts—Angela Veronica Wong set up a Spotlight feature on Coldfront (here’s the link: http://coldfrontmag.com/spotlight-locked-horn-press-part-1of-8/) and Krystal Languell hosted a joint reading for us in New York when our first books came out.
Basically, I think authors are expecting marketing efforts, but are also willing to help with marketing because that is the landscape of indie press publishing today. We have our own set of people we contact to help us get a review or something, but we’ve also seen the power of what happens when contributors promote their own work—literally, one contributor shared our newest collection on their social feed, and one of their friends immediately bought the book. We hope our contributors want to share the book with their friends, but we’re focused more on our efforts to get the books where they need to go.
Margaret Bashaar: I think a tiny indie press is expected to do as much promotion and marketing as that press promises to do. I know some presses don’t send out review copies, some don’t bother to try to get their books in bookstores, some don’t maintain their websites with a page for each chapbook, some don’t do promos for their chapbooks, some don’t do pre-sales, some never attend AWP, some only attend AWP and eschew all other fairs and conferences, and some do all of the above and more. I think it’s a case by case basis, and I feel that as long as you are upfront with what you as an editor are capable of and willing to do, then you’re doing great. Be honest. Do what you can.
Juliet Cook: I think this is variable and largely depends on the press. The size of the press, the money of the press, the number of editors of the press, the time constraints of the press, the location of the press, the brainwaves of the press and what those waves are aiming to do.
My press doesn’t do a great deal of in-person promoting, overall. I’ve been to AWP a few times, but certainly can’t afford that conference regularly. I’ve been to smaller, more local conferences and events in my general area. But I’m limited because of location, my brain flukes, and other reasons.
I do promote new chapbooks quite a bit online (via facebook, twitter, my personal blog, my Blood Pudding Press blog, and my website), I do have an online shop offering my Blood Pudding Press chapbooks (https://www.etsy.com/shop/BloodPuddingPress), and I do send out quite a few review copies of each chapbook. I appreciate it when the authors help to market and promote their work too.
One positive thing about social media for presses is that it’s a widely available promotional tool.
One not so positive thing is it can shift your attention all over the place, looking at a little bit of this and a little bit of that and wondering how in the world you’re going to find time to focus on everything that interests you.
With everything that’s going on in social media, all at the same time, even though posts can direct attention towards your press, they don’t necessarily increase the sales of your press. Just because people like a bunch of things on social media doesn’t mean they’re going to buy all those things they like.
Margaret Bashaar: I completely agree with what Juliet says about social media—popularity on social media does not necessarily translate to chapbook sales. My top five selling chapbooks I could never have predicted. There doesn’t seem to be a very set formula for “this is what will make a chapbook sell,” and I do my best to not worry about that. I hope that if I feel passionately about a book that will translate to others and they will want to read the book.
Sometimes something totally unexpected and ridiculous happens that you could never in any way control—a chapbook that I published in 2013 was featured on Jen Campbell’s book vlog as her favorite book she read in 2015, and sales of that chapbook skyrocketed as a result. There was no way for me to control this, for me to make this happen, other than to publish a bunch of chapbooks and for them to somehow make their way to her and for that particular chapbook to speak to her.
I think it’s easier to say what will make a chapbook NOT sell. If the poet is non-present on social media, if you release the chapbook on a holiday, if the poet or editor is non-present in promoting the book. Things like that.
M. Mack: All of the marketing. (I’m kidding, kind of.) If you want to publish a book, you have to market the book. That said, you’re probably volunteering your time to publish books. Marketing is a very important collaboration between the editor and the author. Make the workload more reasonable by being smart about where you send materials. Ask your authors for ideas and feedback. Make sure you are sending materials to meaningful places. See who will accept digital press kits and digital review copies; more and more markets will. It’s often easier and more economical (and less risky, especially if you make your books by hand) to distribute digital marketing materials. That said, especially if you make your books by hand, you want to represent your books accurately in digital form by including photos and descriptions of how they are bound.
What are some of the differences between online chapbooks and print chapbooks? What are the benefits of each?
Carly Miller: While my press hasn’t ventured into chapbooks yet, we’ve had these conversations. Online would allow us to reach a larger audience, especially if the chapbook is available for free (think H_NGM_N Books and Sundress’s e-chaps). Printed chapbooks are such an experience, since the ones I own are that perfect size that fits so easily into my purse and make for that perfect lunchtime read. I know we’re leaning towards more of a book-arts approach with the chapbook, which isn’t currently possible with how large our anthologies are. We haven’t fully done the research to see what would be cheaper in terms of the printed chapbook to go with POD, or figured out the book-art approach, but we’re getting there.
Margaret Bashaar: A print chapbook will exist forever as an artifact. It will be a thing you can hold and touch and re-read and nibble on for as long as you want to. There is more freedom of design and obviously of material in a print chapbook. A print chapbook can be thrown at a rowdy audience member at a reading. As human beings in our current form, we read better on paper than on a screen. Can you tell I deal exclusively in print chapbooks?
An e-chapbook can be much more widely distributed. E-chapbooks have a much smaller overhead. E-chapbooks, once designed, do not need to be re-printed. They do not need you to spend hours and hours folding and binding them. There is less restriction on length with an e-book because you don’t have to force a staple through 13 sheets of paper.
I think we are still in a place where people take print chapbooks much more seriously than e-chapbooks, and while I don’t know if I agree with that notion, I do think it shows a certain commitment to a book to bring it into physical existence. Though if I’m being honest, I used to take that much more seriously than I do now, because lately a lot of presses are being funded by crowdfunding campaigns, and so it’s less a mark of willingness to put your ass on the line to put out a book in print now.
Juliet Cook: I personally prefer print chapbooks, visually and on a sensory level. I think they look and feel more unique and extra-special and one-of-a-kind and you can touch them and smell them and flip through their pages at your own pace.
I’m a big fan of online literary magazines, but when it comes to chapbooks, I definitely tend to be more positively drawn to print.
However, online chapbooks are more easily and widely accessible and thus could have a significantly wider potential audience.
M. Mack: We don’t publish e-books at Gazing Grain, but I teach them in my chapbooks courses. I think e-books can do really exciting things with design, and different people can have access to them. E-books are really great for use in classrooms. (If you want your print chapbooks to be used in classrooms, consider ISBNs or an ISSN to make bookstore ordering easier.) Print chapbooks can also do amazing things with book arts, of course. I consider chapbooks to be extremely intentional handmade objects. My favorite is when publishers make e-books of their sold-out limited edition handmade chapbooks, like Bloof and Big Lucks do.
What tips do you have on designing the layout of an issue or book?
Margaret Bashaar: So, you make friends with this really nice girl named Sarah when you’re both in 2nd grade and you stay friends for like, twenty years. And then it turns out that she is working for Hachette Book Group and wants to try her hand at book design, and you’re starting a press and she’s like “hey, can I do your books’ design?” and you’re like “that’s cool—I was just going to do it in Word or something” and then it turns out she’s amazing at it and that’s my advice.
Juliet Cook: I don’t have the best tips to offer. I’m a one-woman old school designer, who uses Microsoft Word to design my chapbooks’ innards AND covers and I’m not good at explaining how I do it, I just do it how I do it.
Margaret Bashaar: Okay I figured someone else might have some tips, but now that I see that we’re all sort of in the same position I’ll try to some up with something more practical.
1. Teach yourself Microsoft Publisher. It’s not the best program, but if you have the Microsoft Office suite, you’ll have Publisher and you won’t need to spend any additional money on a special program. Plus, unlike Word, it’s a program that is actually meant to be used for things like pamphlet and book layout. It is not a difficult program to figure out (I figured it out on my own in like, an hour).
2. If you have some extra scratch, spring for Adobe Illustrator/InDesign/Photoshop. They are expensive, but I am told also totally worth it if you have the money.
3. Don’t be afraid to do things simply or with old school methods. Sometimes a clean, simple, text-based cover design is better than a fancy pants crowded looking one, and sometimes photocopying is totally the way to go.
M. Mack: I’m also not that helpful here, because I have been designing magazines and books since I was in high school, and for a long while I designed publications sort of professionally for a nonprofit. But, along that time I had to learn new programs and new ways of doing things, and it is possible to teach yourself design programs. If you’re starting from scratch, look for elements in books you admire. Choose a program and learn it. The internet is amazing. I once taught myself to code an e-book with Lynda.com in a weekend. Margaret makes a good point about affordability. I use Adobe because it is what I have always used. Try out different programs that are available to you. Think about what will suit your needs. Adobe has pitfalls not only in cost but also in availability (which is related to cost). Our editors are all over the United States, and sharing design files is nearly impossible. So, think about what your needs are (and will be) before committing to a program.
How do you determine fair pricing for cover art?
Margaret Bashaar: I figure out what I can afford, and fair price is probably like three times that. Honestly, Hyacinth Girl Press is infinitely lucky in that Sarah Reck, our co-founder, is such an amazing designer. When I’m dealing with an outside artist I am as up front with them as I can possibly be about our budget restrictions and I don’t ever try to force anyone to lower their prices for me. If it’s not a fit due to finances, it’s not a fit. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Often, if I really have my heart set on a particular artist I will offer to buy the original piece for my personal collection, and that usually moves things along, but that also depends on my personal finances being in a place where I can buy art.
Juliet Cook: I highly value visual art, but I can’t afford to pay an artist a hundred bucks to design a cover for me, or even fifty bucks. In my own experience, some visual artists value poetry just as much as some poets value visual art, and they’re excited enough about having their art appear on the forum of a poetry chapbook and being credited in the book and receiving a free copy of the book that they don’t require monetary payment. I’ve paid some artists a small amount (in addition to crediting them and giving them a copy of the book) to create a new piece of art specifically for a cover. I’ve also purchased an existing piece of art from an artist in appreciation for being given permission to use that existing piece of art on the cover of a book. I’ve also used parts of some of my own visual art creations as cover art for some Blood Pudding Press chapbooks.
M. Mack: Unfortunately, most of us pay what we can afford. My only advice it to make sure that you are upfront with the artist with whatever your price is. You don’t want to put yourself in the position where an artist has said yes, but you can’t afford the fee. Make sure the author knows what the budget is and can include it in any conversations they have with artists. If you’re seeking permissions to reprint artwork, have a conversation with the author about budgets and expectations before you seek them. You might get lucky, but it’s best for everyone to have all of the information.
How do you make the most of writing conferences like AWP? How can you network at a conference without going overboard?
Carly Miller: This last AWP in Los Angeles allowed us to connect directly with our contributors and give them the book right away, which allowed us to not only thank them in person for contributing their work, but save on shipping costs once we got home. For networking, it really is just remembering that people are people. I’ve been to AWPs where I’ve had to stand behind a pillar to calm myself down before meeting some of my favorite poets, but keeping in mind that people who approach your table or have already contributed to your press have some connection with you, it allows the nerves to settle. I’ve taken advantage of book signings and making my small talk there versus chasing someone down when they’re clearly on their way to something (and yes, I’ve just run into people and walked with them wherever they were going, too). Really, just be yourself and if you see that person you want to connect with, fantastic—and if not, then hey, there’s always email.
Margaret Bashaar: I’m really bad at not going overboard at conferences, but not so much with networking as with running myself ragged selling chapbooks. I tend to spend 100% of my time at AWP and other festivals/conferences at my bookfair table talking to people about my press. I honestly enjoy doing so, but I tend to exhaust myself. I’ve found that, as an editor, the best thing I can do for my press is be present at my bookfair table as much as possible. My co-editor has never attended a bookfair or festival with me, so I am the sole representative of my press at these events. I spend money to be there, so I want to make sure I make the most of it, and that means pushing myself that extra mile to be personable and chatty and helpful. I usually take a few days off from socializing afterwards to recover, and that helps a lot.
M. Mack: Network wherever you are. Always have materials for your press with you. I embroider Gazing Grain Press tote bags for our editors to carry. I think of myself as a walking book fair table. Speaking of which, walk around bookfairs where you are exhibiting and introduce yourself to your contemporaries. If you’re walking around with everything you need if a conversation comes up, it is easier to enjoy the conference as an individual as well as an editor. I don’t think staying static at a table is necessarily the best way to promote your press. You’re also (most likely) paying your own way to the conference, so I think it is just as important to set boundaries and make sure that you are fulfilling your own goals for the event (such as seeing panels related to your latest poetry project) as it is to promote your press. Often, these things can go hand in hand. I like to introduce myself to judges of our contests after they speak on panels. I get to hear the panel, and I get to say, “Hi, thanks so much, you’re great.”
What would you say writers expect from the editors of a new press?
Carly Miller: I think writers expect professionalism in all forms. Each interaction needs to be professional and show that the work is being handled with care. I think writers want to see that the press is making an effort to get their work out into the world, and having the work presented in a way that is really beautiful (as in the physical object of the book via design, even when it’s online) and shows a sense of community-building via reviews and marketing efforts.
Margaret Bashaar: I feel like expectations of new presses vary, and I feel as though editors more or less drive that expectation with how we present ourselves on our websites and in our initial communications with writers who want to work with us/we want to work with. It’s hard to say “this is what writers expect across the board.” I mean, I know what I, personally want from a press—I want the editor to reply to my communications in a decently timely manner, I want to be kept updated on the potential timeline for my book or chapbook’s release, I want to have open communication and conversation about my and the editor’s expectations and plans for the book and its release and promotion. So I would say the most important thing is communication. Juliet Cook: I think that depends on the writer and the press. For me as a writer, I’m fairly open, but I would like a press to offer me a tentative time frame of WHEN the book will be published (and offer me updates if that time frame changes), a reasonable amount of free copies of the book with additional copies at a discount rate, and a reasonable amount of help promoting the book. Since that’s what I desire as a writer, that’s what I aim for as an editor too.
M. Mack: Excellence. Writers should expect excellence and respect. If you can’t prove yourself with an existing catalog, you have to prove yourself with the way you treat your authors and your books in process. I think the best way to do that is to be lovely to work with while you create lovely books.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of beginning a new press?
Carly Miller: It’s the moment the books fall into our hands. As soon as we have them, we’re able to send them to our contributors and say “thank you” all over again. It’s really the vision coming to life and seeing how excited our contributors are about the book, and wanting to share that excitement with others.
Margaret Bashaar: I haven’t started a new press in seven years, but I think the most rewarding thing for me when I first started HGP was probably interacting with each of my poets in person for the first time. I do my best to actually meet the people who I have published face to face, and it’s almost always a really fantastic, heartwarming thing.
Juliet Cook: Feeling like you’re being a personal part of the poetry community. Feeling like you’re creating what is meaningful to you and making a small but powerful difference to a few others.
Spending some personal time and energy and creative attention and genuine care focusing on other poets you appreciate and admire and helping their voices be heard.
Receiving meaningful tidbits of positive feedback and support directed at your press’s chapbooks’ innards as well as their design.
Having a few people who seem to actually care about and appreciate what you do and genuinely enjoy it.
Being your true creative self and helping to share a few other true creative selves.
M. Mack: The most rewarding part of running a press is directly contributing to the publishing landscape. Sometimes this also feels daunting. Pay attention when you feel uncomfortable and see if you need to make changes. One of my favorite parts is when people handle our books and ephemera and explore them. I like exhibiting for this reason—showing people how things are made. It is also really great when I bring a Gazing Grain text to one of my classes as an example of a book form and my students get excited about it. One of the most fun things for us is that Gazing Grain is a project of Fall for the Book literary festival, so we launch our chapbooks at Fall for the Book’s two annual events. Our authors and runners-up come to read, and our local editors get to present the brand new book or ephemera to the authors and get to know them. This is another good thing about going to big events like AWP, getting to see your authors and put together events for them.
Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. She is the author of more than thirteen poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and a collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Cook’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX in 2008 and her second full-length poetry book, Malformed Confetti, is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. In addition to her writing, Cook creates other art too, such as semi-abstract painting/collage art hybrid creatures. She is also the editor of Blood Pudding Press (poetry chapbooks in print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (a poetry focused online blog style lit mag). You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.
Margaret Bashaar is the founding editor of Hyacinth Girl Press with co-editor Sarah Reck. Her first book, Stationed Near the Gateway, was published by Sundress Publications in 2015. She has published three chapbooks; Rungs, written with Lauren Eggert-Crowe (Grey Book Press, 2015), Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011), and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt Press, 2009), and has a fourth chapbook, Some Other Stupid Fruit, forthcoming from Agape Editions. Her work has also appeared in or is forthcoming from journals such as The Southeast Review, Rhino, New South, So to Speak, and Copper Nickel, among others. She hails from Pittsburgh where she co-runs the annual arts anarchy event, FREE POEMS, with Rachael Deacon, and works to destroy classism in the literary world in whatever way she can.
Carly Joy Miller’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Boston Review,Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart and was a finalist for the Stadler Fellowship. She is a contributing editor for Poetry International and a founding editor of Locked Horn Press.
M. Mack is a genderqueer poet, editor, and fiber artist in Virginia. Ze is the author of Theater of Parts (Sundress Publications, 2016) and three chapbooks: Mine (Big Lucks Books, forthcoming 2016), Imaginary Kansas (dancing girl press, 2015), and Traveling (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015). Hir work has appeared in such places as cream city review, Hot Metal Bridge, Menacing Hedge, and The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014). Mack is a founding co-editor of Gazing Grain Press, an assistant editor for Cider Press Review, and the monster maker behind What Is Reality Plushies.