Interview with C.J. Martin, Co-Editor
How did Further Other Book Works start?
Further Other Book Works began as a result of my exposure to fine press publishing while working at a bindery in TX. Something about the fine press model suggested different strategies for getting books off the ground, different possibilities for what kinds of projects we could accommodate. We were stepping away from working on Little Red Leaves. Dawn Pendergast had taken the driver’s seat and had been doing such amazing work with the Textile Series that we were itching to start making things again (our first print venture was Dos Press, but since then we’d published almost exclusively online).
It also began with a particular book: at some point Dawn P and Paul Klinger visited, and Paul brought the notebook for what would become Rubble Paper, Paper Rubble—this completely impossible stack of itinerant graphite-rubbing poems. We were certain it needed to be in the world, and that we wanted to help get it out there. A little later we visited them in Houston, and the first thing we saw walking into Paul’s apartment was a series of enormous contact prints he’d done of an alligator. We were both so startled by the intimacy and hazard of these prints that we began to understand something we hadn’t quite seen about Paul’s work—it wasn’t just that his materials (graphite, acrylic, wallpaper, repurposed office products, etc.) lived in a more plastic understanding of field poetics, but that his method called for a kind of reckoning between one’s thought about the field of the page and one’s presence in the literal world-field. While his poems and prints can be ‘viewed,’ they aren’t really visual poetry per se, but more like the notebooks of some wandering naturalist, vital because they move via an inextricability of person/thought/world that holds that this kind of movement is as much conceptual as it is meteorological as it is ecological, that the person is a vehicle but isn’t the central fact (any more than the weather, the field, persons), and that contact IS the work (the page is just an evidence, even a necessarily one-sided one at that).
In Seasons, Etel Adnan writes, “Mind and weather fuse, in the mind’s owner and in the weather.” The responsibility of bringing into circulation work shaped on such principles is what drove our first efforts with FOBW.
Tell us a bit about Further Other. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We publish what we want to live with, and, if we’re lucky, what we didn’t yet know we wanted to live with. Our friends who do the same are abiding influences. Michael Cross’s Compline and Kyle Schlesinger’s Cuneiform, both very dear to us, are excellent examples. Historically, publishers like How(ever) and Telephone Books are (among many others) super instructive models.
Often, we read poets we love back to the presses they ran or who published them early on. So, first encounters with the work of Kathleen Fraser, Susan Gevirtz, Bev Dahlen, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Myung Mi Kim et al, brought us into the How(ever) nexus, where, among the rotating list of guest editors and contributors, we locate some of our most trusted mentors as poets and publishers (and many dear friends in poetry). Likewise Maureen Owen’s amazing poems led us to her Telephone Books, which we have to thank for early titles from both Susan Howe and Fanny Howe.
In all of these examples, what’s clear is that the publishing is an extension of conversations where poets (as publishers) work out what it might mean to do this work, what it meant what that guy did last night, what so-and-so’s new poems do differently, etc. These aren’t abstracted, anonymous publishing ventures, where the press brand means much of anything on a resume—if you know the press you likely know the person (and vice versa). They’re local, occasional efforts to engage and extend a community.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
You can view details on current and forthcoming books, chapbooks, prints and ephemera here or here. Since Klinger’s book, we’ve released titles by Sarah Campbell, Jean Donnelly and josé felipe alvergue. This year, we’ll bring out Carter Smith’s first full length poetry collection, as well as an accidental collaboration between Robert Glück and Kathleen Fraser. In 2016, we’ll release a book of Beverly Dahlen’s essays and Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Eurydics. Once we’re nearer to the end of this list, we plan to take on guest editors for a free open reading period.
And we’ve just launched the first issue of our journal, ATTN:, which collects poems, sketches, comics, reviews, journal entries and other occasional pieces composed on July 31, 2015, from a long list of writers. The journal attempts to foreground communities of attention in their moment of attention. We’ve issued calls for proposals for two chapbook supplements to the journal that will feature correspondence and archival projects (see the calls here).
This year, we produced a series of letter pressed Jack Spicer broadsides featuring previously unpublished poems illustrated by four artist-poets: Norma Cole, Kevin Killian, Paul Klinger, and Kyle Schlesinger (see details here). The broadsides are part of a fundraiser for the first art monograph from FOBW: The Collages of Helen Adam, produced in conjunction with The Poetry Collection at UB. This is our most ambitious book to date, and we’re super excited about it. We’re also working with Norma Cole to produce her first book of visual art sometime in the next couple of years.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Archival projects and reissues: the CUNY Documents Series, the big Adnan set from Nightboat, the Butoh notebook from UDP, this slate of Mayer reissues, etc.
The demand for accountability.
The push to detach/steal from institutional access.
The (minor) exodus of poets/presses from big literary cities (but not the move to artists’ colonies or teaching posts).
Press-curated reading series and house readings (but not book tours).
Free PDF publishing (but we still tend to print stuff out).
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Further Other Book Works?
We do this as a way to cope. Engaging with other poets and getting to bring their work to a wider audience (often by handing out free books at readings), getting to say to someone who hasn’t seen the work—this is going to blow your mind—then getting to hash out why it’s so lid-flipping, etc.—these are things that make it easier to remain in the world.
We think poets as such should be lousier business people on the whole, kind of like those politicians who mine the family fortune on a pipe dream (but not rich, not politicians). The least exciting presses are typically the ones who’ve sorted the market part out without breaking a sweat, and in most cases it takes a special effort or an accident to remain vital once you can afford an employee. It’s not just that we think you should be willing to lose money with your poetry press (which, in general, we do): we think your press should be a refusal of professionalization, at least if the work you publish rejects same (& if it doesn’t, we probably have very little interest).
Our understanding of reading/contest fees is that they often do little more than fund projects already in the wings. If you plan to publish a thing, or if you’re likely to let someone jump the queue if their ms. shows up in your inbox, great! (At least if you do so out of a love for the work.) But you’re at least a little sketchy if you’re charging other folks admission. This is especially true for book contests, across the board, and most paid open reading periods (sorry, friends). Do presses that charge reading/contest fees still publish important work?—Yes, absolutely. Does the fee-based model provide access that many people wouldn’t have otherwise?—Not necessarily, not often enough. Often, not even remotely.
Costs are down, I think, at least when it comes to digital printing/publishing (try BookMobile, or just use a laser printer and a stapler or something (steal printing from work, if you can). Anyway, it’s the administrative view that fears rising costs, because from this perspective we have to hire out for everything and go big (paying other very professional people for design, printing, advertising, etc.), rather than learning the production end ourselves and doing some extra legwork. Maybe it’s all about collaboration. Find a friend who can teach you page design or who’ll do the work for cheap. Get the authors involved, if they’re willing. Don’t plan runs of 1000 copies or whatever. Put the books directly into people’s hands, whether they can afford them or not. (So, don’t publish with profit or posterity in mind—think of all you’ll have done for future bibliophiles on the hunt for ephemera.)
In general, in life, we chant the mantra of our dear friend, Michael Cross: TRY HARDER. This works for press operations, too. It can’t be true that the only way to fund a project is to collect a toll from folks you have no intention of publishing. Presales and subscriptions can generate funds to get things off the ground. Ask your authors for help if possible: they should hit up anyone who ever loved them to pitch in ahead of time. If your authors want to help fund the book, let them. So too, your own mother. Last resort, you fund it (sell your prized possessions).
We’ve done all of these things to fund FOBW projects, always with very little income of our own to speak of, and we do job work to offset the cost of the publishing (design jobs, binding jobs, print jobs).