This is the thirty-ninth 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.
Submission Guidelines: Not accepting unsolicited submissions.
Interview with Patrick Durgin, Founding Editor
How did Kenning Editions start?
In 1998 I was getting to know writers whose work seemed to me at least as worthy of circulation as the work of their elders, and so I conceived of a “newsletter” to publish three generations of (mostly) poets, and framed it with a call to consider this material a form of “civic discourse.” I thought there was a dampening of the radical modernist impulse to bring the news and wanted to keep experimental poetry messy and self-aware. I was just hearing about Lettrisme at the time, things like that. You can imagine… I published thirteen issues of the newsletter (including K. Silem Mohammad’s first book, a poets theater script by Barbara Guest and Kevin Killian, and Hannah Weiner’s Country Girl). In 2006 I figured my time was better spent publishing books and entering “the trade,” and that’s mainly what I do now. Kenning Editions is now a non-profit organization.
Tell us a bit about Kenning Editions. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I was influenced to start the newsletter by post-punk zine culture, in which I was involved, but also by Floating Bear and other mimeograph revolution artifacts I happened upon in galleries and libraries. Sun and Moon Press was an initial model for the press in terms of the books. The aesthetic varies, but everything Kenning Editions puts out is explicitly involved in a negotiation between political commitment and aesthetic quality. I evaluate a work’s suitability based on the intensity of that negotiation. Work of that kind proves, in so many ways, that “experimental” is not a stylistic feature or set of effects. I think risk and deliberation are mutually ramifying whenever there is an experiment involved.
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?
The most recent book is Jean-Marie Gleize’s Tarnac, a preparatory act, translated by Joshua Clover, Abigail Lang, and Bonny Roy. This spring (2015), I have initiated a series of non-fiction writing called Ordinance. The Ordinance essays are in the areas of contemporary poetics, philosophy, politics, and technology. The first few are by Julietta Cheung, Andrew Durbin, Daniel Spangler, and Daniel Borzutsky. They will be short, handmade, perfectbound books, but they will also be freely downloadable.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
In a way, the Ordinance series reminds me of 1998, and that feeling I had that really crucial things are happening and I can identify and amplify these things. I can tell you what seems especially tired about independent literary publishing, and that is the quasi-global market ethos of the AWP’s trade show floor.
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 Kenning Editions?
I have no compunction about sharing numbers or talking money, because I come from midwestern, working class culture. I don’t know these conversations, though, and so I don’t know what issues to throw these numbers at. I can say, though, that I think independent literary publishing should be a coterie affair. So open reading periods, reading fees, and contests make no sense to me. I also think that if experiment(al) means what I take it to mean, and if it’s to be taken seriously, contests are defeatist. We are independent because we believe, on some level, that competition does not reveal merit. I will, however, take your money.