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Archive for the 'Small Press' Category

Kevin Sampsell Interviews Zachary Schomburg

Zachary Schomburg moved to Portland last year and dropped off a copy of his book, The Man Suit, for me to look at. A couple hours later, he was my new favorite poet. There are so many reasons why I like him: His writing is accessible but strange, he's not a big city academic, he runs his own small press, he's handsome but not too handsome, he eats meat, and he's a great live reader.

I guess another reason is that he's not really popular yet, and it gives me a sense of secret discovery — a sort of familiarity, like he's just writing for me and maybe 30 other people. But that obscurity is already fading. Since moving to Portland, he has read at a number of events and he has about eight books, in one form or another, coming out this year. Well, three anyway. His work constantly pops up in magazines and on web sites and he's also becoming known for his translations and collaborations with other poets. (Visit his blog for more of his work.)

Schomburg is reading at Smallpressapalooza on Monday, March 16th, at 5:15pm. I interviewed him via email.

Did you have pets as a child? Did you talk to them or pretend they were people?

Yes. When I was very young, we had some kind of largish dog. Its name was either Penny or Nickel — I can't remember exactly. It would bang its head all night long under the kitchen table, repeatedly, with endurance. I mean it hit its head very hard. According to my mom, it also destroyed multiple screens in our screen door. Apparently this dog did no good, but I loved it. At least, I think I loved it. I remember a nice family coming over and adopting it from us. I was very sad, but knew it was for the best. I lived my childhood imagining Penny or Nickel frolicking free on the golden edges of cornfields in some dog-loving eastern Nebraska farmstead. My mom later told me, as an adult, that that "family" [was] the dogcatchers, and that day of the dog's transition to a better home in the country was its last.

I also had a cat named Mousetrap which was given to me for Christmas when I was eight. It died only a few years ago. A dog named Buddy that we rescued. I have a 19-year-old sister (who I would not consider my pet) who loved that dog and still prizes a stuffed replica of that little dirty poodlish mutt which I remember having leaf-bits in its curls and smelling like shampoo and poop. And until recently, two cats I miss dearly, Malkmus and Salinger. No current pets.

I did not pretend they were people. I pretended trees were people, though.

The Tribulations of a Marquee Changer

Quite possibly the worst job at Powell's is changing the marquee. I'm not one to complain usually but each time I go out there to change it, something horrible and life-threatening happens. You see, our marquee is old. And dirty. And the gutters where the letters are supposed to sit are often warped or totally broken. I'm lucky if I can fit more than a couple words on each line. It's like writing haiku, but with less syllables. Somehow, yesterday, I was able to put a web address on there to promote our poetry contest. I was amazed at my achievement. But these rewards do not come without cost. Here are some of the dangers and nagging dramas I deal with in this somebody's-got-to-do-it position.

Faulty Suction: The tools are awkward yet simple. Some 12-inch tiles with black letters and an extendable pole with a suction cup on the end. The marquee is about 10 feet over the sidewalk — not high enough to warrant a ladder but high enough to strain your neck while you ...

What the Heck is The Zinester’s Guide to Portland? (An Interview with editor Shawn Granton)

Shawn Granton is the modest and hard-working mastermind behind The Zinester's Guide to Portland, which is now in its fourth edition (after a wait of more than three years). Unlike most travel guides and city of commerce pamphlets, the Zinester's Guide is aimed specifically at the literary, crafty, and creative folks that cover our green landscape — or those people from other cities that come here to see what all the fuss is about. I mean, it's getting hard to hide the fact that Portland is one vibrant and bustling center for those who crave a richer sense of creativity and artistic freedom. In many ways, Portland is a utopia and Granton's wonderfully illustrated book (and its website) celebrates that.

First things first, why did it take so long to get this new edition out!?

Shawn Granton

Part burn-out, part stage-fright. The first three editions came out each year from 2001 to 2003 to coincide with the annual Portland Zine Symposium.

Each edition got bigger, and by the 3rd edition we had gotten it to the point that we felt it was good enough to ...

Interview with Derek White

Derek White is the publisher of Calamari Press, a small press that he started in 2003, initially launching with several collaborations of his poems and experiments combined with some of his favorite artists. In 2004, the first issue of Sleepingfish, an ambitious but more accessible literary journal, was published. More recently, Calamari has released beautiful and enticingly mysterious books by underappreciated writers like John Olson, James Wagner, and Peter Markus. These books are lovingly designed by White, incorporating his love of language and surrealistic collage style.

Before book publishing and writing, White earned degrees in Philosophy and Physics, worked for Napster, and wrote restaurant reviews. His newest book, Poste Restante, offers a fresh take on the flash fiction genre, with stories often reading like strange folk tales or half-remembered dreams.

Your press has put out a group of books unlike any press that I can think of. Was it your goal to forge such a unique identity for your releases?

It definitely wasn't a premeditated goal. I guess I am just trying to fill a niche of stuff that I like or want to see in print and wasn't finding elsewhere. It also came out of the frustration of getting my own work published, finding other publishers that for whatever reason were reluctant to take on works heavy with graphics or experimental formatting, or works that fell outside of the realm of conventional fiction or poetry or were too experimental.

And how does your literary journal, Sleepingfish, fit into all that?

Sleepingfish actually came first. Calamari Press was an extension of that — publishing longer works from authors and artists that I had discovered through Sleepingfish.

Your own books range from sprawling concrete poetry to your recent book, Poste Restante, a book of fiction and art. Many of the stories seem to have a worldly feel to them as if they were written in other countries. But you note when and where each was written and all were created in America. It gave me an odd sense of disorientation.

No apologies here! I think disorientation is good. The stories from Poste Restante were all seeded directly from dream journals. The listed location is where I had the dream, but the location inside the story is an entirely different matter — some are places I have been, others are fictitious or they are those strange juxtaposition of places and people that occur in dreams.

Kevin Sampsell Interviews Kevin Keck

I received Kevin Keck's book, Oedipus Wrecked, about five months ago. It had just been published by Cleis, a press that specializes in erotica and gay & lesbian books. Now, I like dirty books as much as the next guy, but I prefer smut with a sheen of literary resonance — like Jonathan Ames (I've called him "gentlemanly perverse" before) or Steve Almond. Finally, I took Keck's little collection home and promptly, to my surprise, fell in love with it. Keck does something that I really admire in this book — he reveals the strangest and most embarrassing details about his life. From his early days as a horny, confused teen into an adulthood that found him saddled with huge phone sex bills, Keck combines his lurid secrets with a surprisingly poetic flair. Each story (they're technically essays but I can't help but call them stories) starts with a rush, grabbing you by the belt in less than a minute. I found myself laughing out loud and shaking my head in astonishment throughout this wonderful and alarming book. Though it came out in fall of 2005, I'm calling Oedipus Wrecked my "Sleeper Hit of 2006."

I conducted this email interview with Kevin Keck over 4th of July weekend. — KS

What gives you the guts to write about sex in such a frank (and sometimes embarrassing) way?

Kevin and SashaI don't know that I have anything resembling "guts" — I just have a different understanding for what other people might consider intimate information. Also, I think I was reading some crucial writers at a key time in my life that were very honest, very free with their vulnerabilities, or at least their perceived vulnerabilities. Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes — his whole trilogy really — just changed the way I approached writing. He was so unabashed about his failures.

But that's a pretentious answer. Rather bullshittish. I was looking for freelance writing work, I'd told a few funny stories about some failed sexual experiences to some writer friends while drinking one night, and my friend Parker encouraged me to write one down and send it out. I got a bite on the story "Hard Evidence" (which appeared in a much shorter version originally) in 1998, but most of the stories were written between 2001 and 2003, and all of them because I needed the money. I'd like for you to believe that I wrote them out of a commitment to art. (Well, I think some of the essays are quite artful in the ways they discuss sexuality...) Writing for me is a process of understanding the world — that's what I'm interested in as a writer. The reality of the world is that I need to eat, and so sometimes my artistic pursuits have to be linked inevitably to the purchase of beans and Spam.

Who were the other authors you were reading besides Exley?

Around the same time I was reading Exley I was also getting into Philip Roth, Milan Kundera, Charles Bukowski... I was interested in reading people who seemed to display fearlessness in their narratives. I was also reading a lot of poetry then as well — Larry Levis and Stephen Dobyns and Sharon Olds, really great narrative poets. None of this language poetry that's making the rounds today. No wonder contemporary readers have abandoned poetry with the likes of Ron Silliman making the rounds. It's a testament to his mediocrity as a poet that he hasn't had the guts to kill himself. Well, that's unfair of me to pick on Silliman because I have an aesthetic disagreement with him; I'm with him politically. He's been around as long as the poets I've already mentioned; he represents the poetry equivalent of a Peter Gabriel-centric Genesis, and I just happen to prefer that Phil Collins rockin' pop.

Have you ever gone to any treatment centers or a psychologist for sex addiction?

For sex addiction? Are you insane? If I was addicted I'd be getting too much, and I'm not. If anything I feel I should go to a treatment center for the sexually deprived, or a brothel, as the good people of Nevada call them.

An Interview with Joanna Yas of Open City Magazine and Press

Open City magazine first grabbed my attention back in 1999 when they published an issue that not only had short fiction by Sam Lipsyte and Mary Gaitskill, but also poetry by Stephen Malkmus and Will Oldham. Those are heavy hitters in my world. I was further impressed when they started publishing books — one of the first magazines that I can recall to dive successfully into the murky waters of the book world. Their books include My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum and the recent Goodbye, Goodness by Sam Brumbaugh.

I talked recently with Joanna Yas about publishing, the art of rejection, her skateboarding husband, and the press's newest release.

What's your title for Open City? How long have you been there, and when did it start?

Thomas Beller and I are both the editors of Open City Magazine and Books, so technically we're co-editors. But then when someone asks me what my title is, I say, "I'm the editor," since to say "I'm the co-editor" sounds funny unless Tom is standing next to me. And "I'm an editor" is a bit vague. So sometimes I say "I'm the co-editor with Thomas Beller," which is long. You've obviously hit on a complicated issue for me!

Thomas, by the way, is also a founding editor, a co-founding editor actually — he founded Open City in 1991 with Daniel Pinchbeck. I've been there since 1999.

How many people are involved with the choosing of what goes in each issue of Open City and what is that process like?

We have a handful of readers — about five for fiction and two for poetry — who read the slush pile. They're writers and grad students and people we know are familiar enough with the sensibility of the magazine to judge whether or not something deserves a second read. Tom and I also frequently reach into the slush. It's so satisfying to find something good.

We also have contributing editors — colleagues of ours, mostly writers and editors, who recommend writers they come across. Open City is not democratic. If any of us finds something we absolutely love, it goes in. We don't all have to read it and agree on it. We've published things I wasn't 100% crazy about, or even 47%, but I loved the fact that someone else was so passionate about it. You put out a lot of issues, you have to let go a bit, loosen things up. It can't just be the "things I love" anthology all the time. And I've worked at other places where nothing was published without a committee consensus — which resulted in a magazine full of very well-written, competent stories with all the right elements. But boring boring boring.

Have you had people get unreasonably angry at you for not accepting their work?

I had a guy once try to engage me in an angry email correspondence about how I didn't "get" his work because I'm a woman. In trying to be nice, my rejection note probably referred in some way to how I felt about the subject matter — but what he didn't get is that I was just trying to reject his story because I didn't like it. I hate it when people respond to my rejection letters, so I try to avoid writing them via email. This is the most common — people really want to know what you "mean" in your rejections — and what we're "looking for," and get frustrated if I can't give them some magic key to acceptance. But the truth is, it's usually this gut feeling. I swoon, I laugh, I feel like I've fallen in love. Then I accept the story.

Small Is Beautiful (and Other News)

Warning: Footnotes ahead!

Last year, a new small press out of L.A. sent me some of the most beautiful little books I've ever seen. Cloverfield Press publishes small pocket-sized books (they really are the size of a shirt pocket) with beautiful letter-pressed covers that fit like dust jackets around their simple-but-elegant chapbooks. Inspired by Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, the folks behind the press have published work by new writers like Portlander Mary Rechner as well as indie superstar Miranda July*. They are now taking pre-orders for a Haruki Murakami story that comes out in May. Beware: the print run is only 1,000.

Another Californian doing interesting things is Don Waters. Mr. Waters published a few books under the name Versus Press back in the early '00s. His latest endeavor is an impressive and strange CD release that swirls around a short fiction by Dennis Cooper. It includes music by Guided by Voices' Bob Pollard**, Richard Hell, New Wet Kojak***, and others. It also includes a deliciously creepy spoken word track by Mr. Cooper himself.

On the local front, Portland Alt-country-rock singer Willy Vlautin, a burgeoning writer who had a computer full of ...

Trevino Brings Plenty Interview

Trevino Brings PlentyTrevino Brings Plenty can be intimidating. A large Minneconjou Lakota Indian who often wears a dark trench coat and a stern unforgiving look on his face (a characteristic he humorously points out in his poetry and prose), his serious appearance and sharp words would turn Christopher Columbus into a puddle of nervous sweat.

Trevino has been reading his poems and publishing his own books around Portland for eight years. His work shuns mopey introspection and mystical posturing in favor of realism, skepticism, and gritty philosophizing akin to Charles Bukowski or Adrian C. Louis. He can make you laugh out loud, shock you, offend you, or make you feel uncomfortable — often at the same time. At the age of 29, Trevino displays some of his best and most polished work in his new book, Removing Skin.

Kevin Sampsell: When did you first start writing and what inspired you?

Trevino Brings Plenty: I first started writing in high school. I was a young Indian kid from a low-income family who lived most of his life in the city. When I started I didn't want to write of being NDN. I was scared. My writing ability was not there yet.

At that time, I studied and composed classical music. Having grown up with Pop Music, Hip-Hop, and traditional Lakota music, I felt I had a voice to cultivate and to do that I had to get serious about what I enjoyed. The romantic time period in western history fascinated me. There was mention of literature influencing music, from there I picked up the writers of the period. I was reading romantic poets and feeling that what they were writing was poetry. I was 16 years old and writing like I was from the 19th century. Boring.

"The power of one word is amazing," my stepfather said to me as he read over treaties, pondering the meaning of Indian life in the present. That was my chant while I studied poetry: the power of one word. I browsed the dictionary looking for words. I went nearly every day to the public library and checked out CD's, musical scores, and poetry books. As I went through the history of western music I did the same with literature. A few years later I found the Beat writers and Jazz and more writers of color. I felt I was getting closer to my voice.

KS Interviews Trinie Dalton

Trinie Dalton's Wide Eyed is one of the most inviting and interesting books of short fiction to be released this decade. Her stories alternate easily between funny and sad, dreamy and harshly realistic. She writes like someone who wants to be your friend, but as a reader, you're not sure if she scares you or not. Some of her stories display a style of living that seems like it's on full blast, like the narrator is even overwhelmed by the emotions of her surroundings. Dalton lives in Los Angeles and is also the co-editor of a peculiar book made up of notes that she confiscated from students (as a substitute teacher) entitled Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is.

Kevin Sampsell: With all the music references in your stories, I imagine you as someone who wanted to be a rock star. Is that an accurate guess?

Trinie Dalton: I started going to shows at an early age. My dad used to take me to shows like Peter, Paul, and Mary, or Linda Ronstadt. So as a teen, I was obsessed with music and going to shows. Siouxsie, Love and Rockets, Dinosaur Jr., The Sugarcubes, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ween, that era. Some good bands and some suck ass ones. For my twelfth birthday, my mom let me take a limo to see The Pretenders and Iggy Pop! I played in a band awhile back, Unicornucopia ??? all the songs were about unicorns. It was folky, kind of predating all the freak folk stuff. Fake medieval, with a big paper mache unicorn, and I'd dress up like a maiden, play guitar and sing in harmony with two guys. But now, I'm a music journalist. I write for Arthur and the LA Weekly. I want to get better at writing about music. I'd like to write more songs some day. It's fun to play live.

KS: Your stories have such an easy conversational tone to them. It's a style that reminds me of a really good zine. Did you ever make zines?

TD: I do make zines. In fact, the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco just hosted a show called "The Zine Unbound: Kults, Werewolves, and Sarcastic Hippies." I made Werewolf Express, a zine all about werewolves, then curated a show about werewolves based on the contributors. Each zine takes about a year to make. The one prior to that was Touch of Class, about unicorns, then there was Rodentia, about rodents. I've made a ton of homemade books too, like Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Aztec Gods. I make them to take breaks from my more serious work. I love making collages, and I enjoy graphic design and typography, so I get to play around with all that when I make zines. They're my dream magazines.

KS Interviews Jennifer L. Knox

I have a love/hate relationship with poetry. Only a couple of times a year do I truly get excited about a book of poetry. Jennifer L. Knox's Gringo Like Me (Soft Skull Press) is one of these rare gems. While reading it I kept thinking, I can't believe this is poetry. Her work is hilarious, unpredictable, and sometimes abrasive. They sometimes read like fake commercials or demented monologues. She has toured the country, run her own reading series with the poet Ada Limón, and has had poems published in venues both traditional and odd. Her poem, "The Laws of Probability in Levittown," was just picked for Best American Poetry 2006. It'll be her third appearance in that series. She lives in Brooklyn and is working on a second collection which she is calling Drunk by Noon.

Kevin Sampsell: Your poems perform on the page really well, sometimes like a good but uncomfortable joke. Did you shape some of these poems through performing?

Jennifer L. Knox: Definitely. Since I work mostly in dramatic monologues, the element of performance, address, or delivery ??? whatever you want to call it ??? is fundamental. There's no monologue if there's


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