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Interview with Kyle Schlesinger, Proprietor
How did Cuneiform Press start?
I established the press in 2000 with what now seems to be a very common dream of printing poetry chapbooks by emerging experimental writers. Some of the first were by Patrick Durgin, Gregg Biglieri, Luisa Giugliano, Nick Piombino, Derek Beaulieu, and David Pavelich. There is a 15-year retrospective in Marfa now, so I’ve had the pleasure of re-reading these books recently. Before there was Cuneiform I was printing and bought my first letterpress in the late nineties while living in central Vermont. I love Vermont.
Tell us a bit about Cuneiform. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Cuneiform would be a lot different without: florescent ink, Jan Tschichold, Vandercook flatbed cylinder proof presses, Vilém Flusser, the kindness of strangers, Paula Scher, spaghetti westerns, Tom Raworth, handmade paper, Johanna Drucker, Toots, Alastair Johnston, Ebo Taylor, Frances Butler, woodtype, Phil Zimmerman, Carl Schlesinger, Emily McVarish, Fine Print Magazine, Steve Clay, The Poetry Collection at Buffalo, Asa Benveniste, Paul Moxon, Wes Wilson, Clifton Meador, Philip Whalen, Steve Woodall, Corita Kent, CBAA, Steven Wright, AIGA, Fred Smeijers, JAB, Martin Majoor, CMYK, Walter Hamady, Rich Kegler, Terry Belanger, Piero Heliczer, Jack Spicer, Dick Higgins, Nina Simone, Simon Cutts, USPS, Erica Van Horn, study tables, Alan Loney, loving patrons, Robert Creeley, generous donors, Ted Greenwald, Kit Robinson, Lewis Warsh, Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, Wallace Berman, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Bruce Conner, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Dorn, Holbrook Teter, Michael Myers, Graham Mackintosh, Alex Katz, Joe Brainard, and many more I’m quite sure I’ll think of after I get home. These are mostly mentors—I couldn’t even begin to comment on my own generation. The library is a wonderful aid to memory.
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?
Recent titles include Jim Dine’s Poems to Work On, Sommer Browing’s The Circle Book, and The Art of Collaboration, edited by Anca Cristofovici and Barbara Montefalcone. The Treads Talk Series I curated with Steve Clay will be out with Granary as a co-production any day now. But now it’s a clean slate, nothing lined up at all and that feels great. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself—that’s where a lot of presses go south. I would like to start a music series this fall, back to poetics.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
It’s a cliché to discuss the relationship between new media and old, but for the last fifty years or so that’s been the topic, and in a funny way, we haven’t quite moved beyond that yet. It’s still a compelling argument for the emerging generation of aspiring publishers to shape the future of literacy, to build the books they want to read—exciting times indeed.
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 Cuneiform?
I’ve always seen publishing as a form of art, a medium, so for me, there are a lot of creative answers to these questions from a personal and historical perspective. When a small press attempts to model itself on a corporation, things get a little ridiculous. Contracts, prizes, royalties, pouty-author photos, etc. might appease the ego for a minute, but it’s not sustainable. Publishers and authors who take themselves too seriously, which is different from acting professionally, are a drag. We’ve never had a schedule, but have always operated under the Black Mountain mantra that the book is done when it is done right.
Can I end with a question for you and your readers? Since the little magazine scene started to slow down, I’ve lost touch with what people in their, say, early twenties are reading, writing, and talking about, but I’m really interested. Any recommendations would be appreciated! Thanks.