This is the twenty-fourth 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 Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Founding Editor
How did Letter Machine Editions start?
Letter Machine Editions started as a conversation between Noah Eli Gordon and me in Denver. We were sitting at the bar at City O City, and we were talking about the great small presses that our friends run—Octopus Books, Ugly Duckling Presse, Action Books—and others. Then we started discussing what we’d publish if we ran a press. Before the end of the night that “if” became a “when,” I think—and then it was just a matter of time and energy and money and follow-through.
Tell us a bit about Letter Machine Editions. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
My favorite presses are the little ones: Kelsey Street, Edge, Leon Works, Krupskaya, Nightboat, Flood Editions, Post-Apollo, and many others. Something that Jennifer Moxley said in conversation with Noah has stuck with me. She was talking about Robert Creeley: “who was also secure enough in his literary taste not to need all the work he liked to replicate the codified gestures of his tradition.” I think that’s Letter Machine in a nutshell. We didn’t want to reflect one school or mode or style or ethos. Wherever Noah’s and my interests overlap—somewhere perhaps between Celan and Guest, Vallejo and Notley and Ceravolo, Wieners and Stevens, Gladman and Robertson. I think we hoped that doing books by Sawako Nakayasu and Farid Matuk and Juliana Leslie and Aaron Kunin that our ethos would manifest in the disparate engagements of the work. We both love prose and we both love hard-to-categorize books as well. So we seek those books out that fall between the cracks maybe, like Edmund Berrigan’s Can It! which is prose, memoir, poems, cut-ups, interview, diary, journal—and really defies genre wonderfully.
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?
Last year Noah stepped down from the press to direct Subito Press, where he teaches at UC-Boulder. So now that I run the operations, I’m constrained by my new freedom. We just released Andrea Rexilius’s New Organism, and we are in the final stages of a book of interviews edited by Cristiana Baik and Andy Fitch, as well as Alice Notley’s new book Benediction. We also have a book called Evening Oracle by Brandon Shimoda slated and Fred Moten’s Newarkansas to look forward to as well.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I’m excited about so many new titles right now—new books by Bhanu Kapil and Dawn Lundy Martin from Nightboat; Lisa Fishman’s new book from Wave Books; everything from Fence and Futurepoem and The Song Cave as well. I work closely with Sidebrow Books and Black Ocean (on my own books) so I gotta shout them out too. Brooklyn Arts Press and Big Lucks are two newer ones who are killing it, too. Emily Hunt and Chris Nealon, Dot Devota, James Shea, and R. Erica Doyle are five of my favorite poets lately. I just read Ronaldo V. Wilson’s new Counterpath book, which is phenomenal. Noemi, Belladonna, and so many new (and new-to-me) presses on the scene. I’m stunned at how many there are and stunned at the variety of approaches. I think what Garrett Caples is doing with his City Lights series is just rad as fuck—Alli Warren, Eric Baus, Cedar Sigo, Cathy Wagner, John Coletti? Yes. The technology of the codex is alive and well in poetry. (When Letter Machine started getting wider attention for Fred Moten’s book The Feel Trio, which was a finalist for the National Book Award last year, I went ahead and made a list of smaller [and big] presses—as well as their books—that I love, which is here.)
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 Letter Machine Editions?
The numbers at Letter Machine are pretty typical, I’m afraid, and we live month to month, subscription to subscription, sale to sale like any other super tiny press that does only a book or two per year. We don’t run a contest and we don’t charge fees to read, but nothing’s off the table. I’m not against either of those models—and have funneled a lot of my own dough into presses that way. I don’t think that’s bad, or not necessarily. There are so many options to publish nowadays—including lots of creative ways to do it yourself—that slagging off presses for charging $20 to read is tedious. I say, just don’t submit to those if you don’t dig that model; or start your own press and publish your friends. That’s fine too. My friend Ander Monson just published his own box-set-style limited edition of his new book of essays, and it’s just slick as hell. I love that he did that and feel inspired to do something similar with this five-book sequence I wrote called No Volta. Jeff Clark’s Ruins is one of my favorites in that vein. I’m all for different modes. We’re hoping to have an open reading period soon, but I gotta make sure we do it right. We might charge, but it might be like a subscription model too. I haven’t figured it out yet. So, yeah. The numbers are always brutal. And even if there are a thousand new purchasers of small press poetry titles per year, I feel like there’s a thousand new small press books a year—so the money stays the same. Anyhow, I think it’s good that all that money isn’t concentrated much at the “top.” If it’s diffuse then lots of new and unusual little books get to live as objects—chapbooks and small editions and paperbacks and self-published works and even digitally. We live in debt in a gift economy to be able to make the books that we need to see in the world. It’ll burn most of the tiny presses out after long enough, but they’ll leave behind some good works that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Hopefully they got into it for love and passion and not merely to turn a buck or whatever.