Interview with Dylan Harris, Founder and Editor
How did corrupt press start?
I moved from Dublin to Paris at the end of 2009, and soon found that, although there were a good number of fine Anglophone poets in the city, many were having difficulty getting published. The French publishers weren’t interested, unsurprisingly, but the British, Irish and American publishers tended to rather strongly favour poets in their own countries. I think this was mostly for cost reasons, but parochialism was clearly part of it. Anyway, since I’d set up a small press in Dublin with Kit Fryatt, Wurm Press, I knew what to do, or so I thought, & I did so again. It worked. Corrupt has published some great works by some fine poets. I’m biased.
I chose the name because I’m dreadful at marketing, but a lot of people had already kindly marketed that name for me. We’d all heard of the corrupt press, so I thought I’d better start it.
Tell us a bit about corrupt press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Well, the obvious influence is Kit Fryatt, who is still doing poetry things in Dublin. We had set up Wurm im Apfel, a reading series with occasional conference, and Wurm Press, together—and then my work took me to Paris.
I’m very interested in the impact of internationalisation on English, and like to publish poetry in English written by poets whose mother-tongue is another tongue.
I’m interested in innovative poetry, having grown rather found of British contemporary modernism, poets such as Keston Sutherland (the only poet I’ve seen with groupies), Prynne, and many more poets pushing the dark aside in many different ways. I personally like to wreck grammar and see what survives, and am often surprised at the new semantics made.
But I’m happy to publish thoroughly traditional very good poetry simply because it’s very good poetry: an incredible performance by James Fenton at Dublin’s Poetry Now in 2006 taught me that.
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?
Corrupt has an incredible forward catalogue of brilliant poets: would I say anything else? The thing is, it’s true, although I’d say that too. Coming soon, for example, is The Silent G by the American Armenian poet Arpine Konyalian Grenier. This is a very powerful work. Recent books include KALEIDOgraph, a classic thin volume that’s a collaboration between the Irish poet Anamaría Crowe Serrano and the Greek poet Nina Karacosta, if you like an English language collaboration between the Irish and Greek languages. The press has published dozens of books, both chapbooks (pamphlets) and full collections. The website unsurprisingly has them all on show. Do go look see!
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.
Exciting? Poetry is always exciting to me. Furthermore, it seems there are ‘things happening’ in the UK, judging by the number of poetry rows I’ve spotted recently, although I’ll admit I’m so out of touch I don’t know what they’re arguing about.
What needs to change? This is very prosaic. I want corrupt to cover its outgoings. So I need lots of people who are fond of poetry to buy books. I’m sure we’ve all been to readings where the poet has put a lot of effort into their performance, has been loved, but has sold no books (after I’d seen that a few times, I decided to always try to buy a book to encourage the poet, &, admittedly, to make sure s/he can buy me a beer back afterwards). I feel as though there’s often a bit too much take take and not enough generosity in audience culture. But a lot of that is down to event hosts. When I ran events, I emphasise the poet’s books, and—although it took a little time for the message to soak in—books sold. If the hosts don’t encourage an audience to buy books, they won’t buy books. So my want is very direct, very simple and very prosaic: I want event audiences to express the love of poetry by buying poetry books, by buying a printed version of what excited them in the performance moment, to buy many more treasures to explore for years afterwards.
Of course, I want people to read the books they buy, which comes to the next problem. Poetry isn’t light reading to help the mind wander into sleep, it’s challenging stuff that requires concentration to get the best out of it. Unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t have the time to read properly. With society structured so the rich take money from everyone else, for example by underpaying them (there are so many abuses of society’s structure), and with everyone taxed to pay for the mistakes of the rich (for example, the 2008 bailout of the banks), too many people have to work all hours just to survive. They don’t have time to read properly. I don’t see that changing; the rich have conned too many turkeys to obediently jump onto their dinner table. This is a social problem, a political problem, and, I think, poetry is suffering because of it. Perhaps, in the longer term, automation and basic income will address the matter, but that’s a wee bit like looking forward to dancing a tango with a golden dinosaur at the end of the automation rainbow; bizarrely lovely to think about, unlikely to happen just yet. Right now, all I can ask is that people make time to read poetry well.
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 corrupt press?
I pay for corrupt press myself because I only want to be answerable to my poetry aesthetic. As valuable as grants are, I prefer to avoid the strings that come with them. Anyway, I’m terrible at dealing with bureaucracy. My professional life (I’m a bureaucrat) allows me the good fortune of being able to donate time & money to the press. I try and make sure the income covers actual expenditure, so I only actually donate time, but that doesn’t really work. However, it means I can publish what excites me poetically, and sod reputation and convention.
Printing costs, now there’s a gripe. The costs of printing a chapbook here in Luxembourg are greater than the price I can charge for it. But if I hop on the train and spend the morning travelling two countries north, the costs are about the third of what I can charge, and the quality’s the same. All I need is a decent print run, and I cover my train fare and the overnight stay in the hotel. When you consider I like to go to the Netherlands to take reflection photos, many of which end up on the cover of corrupt books, you see why all this fits together so well.
Regarding reading fees, I think there’s a cultural difference between the UK and the US. I couldn’t dream of charging reading fees, and I myself wouldn’t dream of submitting my own work to anywhere that charged them. To me, from my background, it’s not just that it stinks of vanity publishing, but, worse, it comes across as punishing a poet for writing when we should be rewarding them. I want my poetry judged for its own sake, and I want to judge others’ poetry for its own sake. I don’t want to exclude poets from submitting to corrupt just because they’re skint, or skinflint, or don’t know the value of their own work. Money’s the wrong filter. Book costs are not small, print costs are not small, but even so the cost of a corrupt press book is the standard cost for a poetry collection published in France, which at €15 is significantly less than the cost of a decent night out. That’s how the press should cover its costs, by selling books. Mind you, I’m absolutely ****** at marketing, so the numbers are low. The highest sales were around 200.