Interview with Dan Kaplan, Managing Editor and Poetry Co-Editor
How did Burnside Review Press start?
With no literary publishing experience to speak of—just a love of reading and writing poems—Founding Editor Sid Miller (and associates) released the first issue of Burnside Review in 2004 in Portland, Oregon. Legend has it it was laid out in Word. It was. Things got better. Expansion came in the form of annual chapbook contests, with winners over the years including Louise Mathias, Rebecca Farivar, Kathleen McGookey, Laurel Snyder, Weston Cutter, Robyn Art, Michael Leong, and, in fiction, Leslie Jamison and Sarah Blackman. (Our fiction contest is currently, and perhaps permanently, on hiatus.) Children were born. A poodle died. With support from a 2011 Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, in 2013 we published Burnside Review Press’s first full-length poetry collection, Matthew Lippman’s American Chew, which won our inaugural book contest. Jeff Alessandrelli’s This Last Time Will Be the First and Kimberly Burwick’s Good Night Brother followed in 2014, Andrew Michael Roberts’ good beast in 2015, and Gary McDowell’s Mysteries in a World that Thinks There Are None and Kallie Falandays’ Dovetail Down the House in 2016.
Tell us a bit about Burnside Review Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We actively resist the question about our influences and aesthetic—in part because we don’t know how to answer it (our influences are many), because tastes vary widely within our editorial staff, and because each of us is willing to entertain almost anything (as long as it’s done well). We believe this is a strength: not looking for anything in particular, never knowing what will emerge and take hold of us. Invariably, one us will be juiced about a style, voice, or tack that the others wouldn’t have expected. Also, because we leave the final decision to an outside judge (for the books, recent judges have included Mary Szybist and Ada Limón, with Suzanne Buffam judging this year’s contest; for the chapbooks, Adrian Matejka and Jennifer L. Knox have recently done us the honor, with Diane Seuss judging this year), and because we receive and present our judges with a broad range of work to choose from, we are often surprised (and always delighted) by what enters our catalogue. That’s what keeps things fresh and exciting—for us and, we hope, readers of our titles.
One thing I’ll say about (physical) aesthetics: While we certainly recognize the continuing growth of digital publishing, we remain faithful to print, believing that the physical object of the book immeasurably enhances the power of writing and the pleasure of the reading experience. We strive to reflect our careful attention to presentation in our chapbooks (letterpress covers, the papers and materials we use) and books (their distinctive size, design, and cover art). This will never change for us.
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?
Next up (in 2017 and 2018) are Montreux Rotholtz’s Unmark (selected by Mary Szybist as winner of our 2015 book contest), a collection of deft, restless, gorgeously etched poems; Jake Syersak’s expansive, relentlessly meditative Yield Architecture (selected by the editors from our 2015 contest finalists); and Sara Miller’s charming and odd Spellbound (selected by Ada Limón as winner of our 2016 book contest). All three are first books, and we couldn’t be happier to bring them into the world. Andrew McAlpine’s The Volunteer (selected by Adrian Matejka as winner of our 2016 chapbook contest) was released this spring, and a new issue of the journal is coming soon.
Hard to say what we hope to publish in the future. We’ll know it when we see it.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
Many want to be published, but few want to read—and especially to pay to read. With so much free online content available, the small-press publisher’s task is that much more challenging. This is not a new point, but it’s one worth making: if people want small presses to survive—and, presumably, those who read, write, and think about poetry might—hopefully they’ll consider investing in that survival by buying books.
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 Burnside Review Press?
Without a doubt, running a small press is a challenge. We’ve been around for thirteen years and have seen more presses come and go than we can count. (We have trouble counting.) If you’ve seen or read anything from our catalogue, you know we’re deeply committed to publishing stunning books inside and out, but we’re still here because we treat our operation like a business, not an art project. Fantastic ideas are, well, fantastic, and good things may happen in the short term, but if you don’t have some kind of business plan, an eye toward sustainability, you probably aren’t going to last. Are sales sometimes down? They are. But we understand what we’re trying to do: to put out 2-3 books, a chapbook, and a journal every year; to present them beautifully in print; and to support our authors to the degree we can. If revenue lags, we adapt.
At this point, for us, reading fees are essential. Where the money goes is obvious. We hope that would-be Burnside Review Press authors (and any who submit to contests or pay reading fees) understand that they may be aspiring to something personal, but they’re also supporting something communal. We’re also lucky to have a small, productive, committed staff who are doing well enough in their everyday lives that they can come to this endeavor without needing much financial compensation (if any at all). Without the backing of an institution, this is the only model that works for a truly independent press like ours.