Submission Guidelines: N/A
Interview with Jeff Alessandrelli, Director and Curator
How did Fonograf Editions start?
I wrote about that process in a shortish essay entitled “Bad Business is Good Art;” it can be found over here at TheFanzine. In brief, though, Fonograf essentially began, like a lot of small presses, via a brainstorm in a bar and from there it was just putting the pieces together bit by bit while simultaneously figuring out the $ angles. Everyone involved with Fonograf is big into vinyl and poetry, so combining the two seemed worth the time, effort and energy. Which it has been so far.
Tell us a bit about Fonograf Editions. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I suppose our main influence is the now-defunct Caedmon Records, which was one of the first—if not the first—record labels wholly devoted to recording authors read their poetry/fiction. Listening to the Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein and Marianne Moore records that they put out back in the day definitely inspired us to try and make it happen ourselves, circa 2016 and beyond. Other influences include Marc Maron’s podcast WTF and the vibrancy of the poetry community in Portland, Oregon, where we were birthed.
In terms of our aesthetic and mission, it’s somewhat hard to say. Fonograf is an arm of Octopus Books, so like Octopus we’d rather be semi-pro than pro; more concerned with words and sounds and less concerned with spreadsheets and career paths. Our mission, ultimately, is to put out vinyl records of our favorite poets reading their poems. 2 records a year is the goal for the foreseeable.
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?
Currently we have two records out, Eileen Myles’ Aloha/irish trees and Rae Armantrout’s Conflation. Eileen’s record came out in May of 2016 and Rae’s came out just last month; December of 2016. Up next is Harmony Holiday’s LP The Black Saint and the Sinnerman, which is one we’re all really excited about…barring the unforeseen it should be out by April or May 2017.
Wish-list for the future includes but is not limited to: Anne Carson/ David Berman/ Alice Notley/ Douglas Kearney/ Matvei Yankelevich and Eugene Ostashevsky reading both their own work and the work of the Russian Absurdists they’ve translated; one side of the record would be read in English and the other in Russian. (I, of course, don’t speak or understand Russian.) I could keep going, but I won’t. Ron Padgett. Actually, do you think James Franco would sell? Maybe we could sell out literally and figuratively and put out a James Franco record.
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.
There’s a lot, right? And too much to get into here. Personally, I think people should chill on social media a bit while watching Bill Strobeck’s amazing YouTube videos. RIP Dylan Rieder.
With ugly words like populism and the like being thrown about so hurly-burly now it’s also great that presses and magazines focused on translating non-American writers are out there and surviving/thriving. Ugly Duckling, Circumference, Guernica, the African Poetry Book Series housed out of Prairie Schooner. I know I’m leaving out a lot, too many, but the aforementioned endeavors are all ones that I find particularly inspiring and worth checking 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 Fonograf Editions?
Well, to quote from Anne Carson’s “The Truth About God”:
My religion makes no sense
and does not help me
therefore I pursue it.
When we see
how simple it would have been
we will thrash ourselves.
We don’t charge reading fees but we also don’t accept unsolicited submissions. At this point we’ve lost money but hopefully that changes in the near-future or the far-future.