This is the thirty-sixth in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Dan Machlin, Ted Dodson, and Jennifer Tamayo, Editors
How did Futurepoem start?
Futurepoem began in 2002 as a decision by press founder Dan Machlin to collaborate with graphic designer Anthony Monahan on a book publishing project. We came up with the name “Futurepoem.” It began just as a forward-looking impulse. But was also born out an effort to try to create a new kind of publishing space, one that was open-ended and constantly evolving. At first, we simply approached authors whose work we really admired and invited them to publish books with us. But soon, we decided to pursue a more community-led participatory model. This more open approach to publishing and the quality of the books that we were putting out seemed to resonate, and this personal project eventually grew into a successful not-for-profit organization that has published over 21 titles to date.
Tell us a bit about Futurepoem. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
We like to think of the name “Futurepoem” as a question and our mission as one of investigation. Each Futurepoem publication frames a diversity of future literatures, a future equally open to questions and investigations within future work. We generally focus on innovative literature. Literature that introduces new approaches to what a work of poetry and/or literature can be. Work that is groundbreaking in various ways and which we feel we can uniquely champion.
Futurepoem primarily publishes full-length books of poetry that are selected annually from our open call for manuscripts. The open call—a free contest that is open to anyone who wants to submit a manuscript—is the foundational program of Futurepoem’s publishing ethos and allows for this free investigation of new and future poetics. Each year, a rotating panel of guest editors chooses two manuscripts from the open call for Futurepoem to publish. Many of these manuscripts are first or second books from emerging and established poets (though there are exceptions to that), and because of the rotating panel of editors, each book is aesthetically complicated in its own right, no book being the same as the next.
Our publishing influences are quite diverse. Initially we were inspired by communal models of publishing such as Krupskaya and Subpress and great innovative small press publishers like Black Sparrow, O Books, Roof, Talisman, The Figures, Sun & Moon/Green Integer, The Jargon Society and many others. And early on our founding designer Anthony brought a great love of print design and non-literary design references to the table. Like the unique visual identity that Vaughn Oliver created for the British Indie record label 4AD, and even the eccentric book projects of actor Crispin Glover. Gradually the other designers that have worked with Futurepoem, Jeremy Mickel and now Everything Studio have brought their own unique interests to the table.
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?
Our four forthcoming books are Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s Solar Maximum, David Buuck’s Site Cite City, Evan Kennedy’s The Sissies, and Simone White’s Of Being Dispersed. Not to mention a imminent second printing of Ronaldo Wilson’s Poems of the Black Object. They should be published over the course of this year and the next. There’s also some rumor of a strange facsimile edition of our Messages to the Future art postcard project—but we can neither confirm or deny that statement.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Small press publishing is always exciting. Certain publishing projects, presses, etc. have lifecycles that run their course and fade, but small press publishing itself is always in renewal. It’s a cosmopolitan network of writers who are also readers, readers who are also writers, publishers who are both and give much more than they take. Seems every day a new community of writers coalesces and emerges into this public network. Small publishing will remain exciting as long as it continues, as a field, to work toward ideals of visibility and cosmopolitanism. But if we were to name one thing that gets us particularly excited it is the fact that so many younger writers are now starting their own small press publishing projects and publishing really stunning broadsides, chapbooks and journals that take incredible care and time to make in an age where everyone is saying print is dead. And at the same time other work is instantly shared through blogs and what not—it’s a really interesting moment!
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 Futurepoem?
For one, we don’t publish very many books. We average about two to three a year. Additionally, our editorial staff—Dan Machlin (founding editor), Jennifer Tamayo (managing editor), Ted Dodson (books editor), and Chris Martin (editor-at-large)—work almost entirely on a volunteer basis, and we additionally have the occasional intern who is also happy enough to lend her/his time to benefit the press. Beside cost of printing and readying the books, the only other overhead costs that we incur are a monthly fee for a small storage unit, expenses around attending book fairs and conferences (primarily, AWP and the New York Artbook Fair at PS1), and whatever we might need for a reading or event we’re hosting (food, wine, etc.).
That being said, the economics of small press poetry and experimental literary publishing have never been pretty. But we certainly don’t think anyone who starts a press or a journal who wants to publish really interesting and challenging works thinks that is ever going to be easy. As far as reading fees go, all of us at the press have a pretty strong belief that we want to continue to keep Futurepoem a free and open submissions opportunity to all innovative writers. The flip side of this is that we really do depend on community support to continue this model and to keep up the level of publishing we currently support. Its super challenging and any help and donations are greatly appreciated and definitely get put to good use! We are also hoping to introduce a subscription model in the near future that will allow people to subscribe to two years of Futurepoem books at a reduced price plus get special subscribers-only extras! We like the idea of that kind of community-supported model and lots of other presses like Ugly Duckling Presse have done a great job with it. So our hope is that it can work for Futurepoem as well.