Interview with Hari Alluri, Garrett Bryant, and Amanda Fuller, Editors
How did Locked Horn Press start?
Firstly, thank you for including us in your interview series! Locked Horn Press (LHP) started during a conversation between writers at a deli in San Diego. The founding editors gathered knowing we wanted to contribute in a meaningful way to the literary conversation. Our first goal was to make an anthology that spoke to the times through a myriad of diverse voices and points of view. One of our founding members suggested war poems. Another said something like yes, war is one crucial theme, and: what is our driving vision? We followed that initial impetus to explore war, and arrived at a contemplation of conflict itself. We didn’t not think of that literary question, “But what’s the conflict?” By way of a few digressions, we realized/remembered that conflict at its best is a productive space to engage in difficult and important conversation, not just about literary topics, but about the world within which they matter: our questions would be those that are both urgent and timeless, questions with which we must really lock horns.
In that same conversation, we realized that a specific form of conversation we could offer, in addition to providing space for creative work, was conversation about the work, how and why it is made. We wanted to offer space for poets to respond not just as artists, but as humans interacting with the world in a variety of ways. We wanted the press to be a place where artists could discuss why engaging with literary work is necessary and integral. We started from an assumption that literary work is central to the human experience, but we wanted to better understand why.
Ultimately, we decided to begin with a pair of books, an anthology paired with a critical forum where artists could engage in dialogue. Thus, our anthology + critical forum/interview series was born. Our first set, inspired by the VIDA counts about gender and publishing, included Read Women: An Anthology and Gendered & Written: Forums on Poetics, where artists discussed the idea of gender in relation to their work, the work of others, and the world.
Tell us a bit about LHP. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
LHP is a multi-genre publisher founded upon the idea that any space in which conflict exists is also an opportunity for discovery and conversation. We strive to publish creative and scholarly work that provokes, inspires, and sparks not only excellent writing, but also dialogue into contemporary issues. The works we publish are designed to speak to one another. Interweaving the creative and critical, these collections are meant to provide space for writers and readers to engage the various and persistent conflicts that surround us. Even as each text stands alone, our hope is that in presenting interacting texts, our projects can inspire further conversation about the state of our world and literature within it.
Our aesthetic for the anthologies is to select work from primarily living writers—highlighting a mix of established, unknown and emerging writers—who contemplate our selected themes with depth. We want to be troubled and inspired by the work. If there is anything explicitly outside our aesthetic, it is work that does not trouble us. We also want to be challenged by the distinct and diverse aesthetics of the various editors working together in this collective press. Outside of work we gather via our contests (we generally publish the winning poems and runners up), we also solicit work from artists we feel engage with our theme in a way that excites and confounds us, work that evolves the conversation. We try to support and promote artists from traditionally marginalized identities, ethics and aesthetics.
Our aesthetic for the critical texts is evolving, moving from primarily interviews to include essays and other types of work. Whether narrative, lyric, protest, experimental, prose, hybrid or not in-between, our first question is whether the work unabashedly approaches conflict with energy and finesse. Is there honesty, imagination, joy? Pain engaged? Generally, we go back to our name, and our guiding vision; the more the work makes us lock horns with something meaningful, the more we need to publish it. We generally begin gathering work for the critical text by asking those included in the poetic anthology to contribute interviews or essays. At the same time, we are doing research on work related to the theme with an eye toward including responses from artists outside the anthology.
Our influences include Lucille Clifton, Ilya Kaminsky, the international vision of Poetry International (SDSU), community and activist groups for whom poetry has been crucial, press releases, Gary Snyder, Chris Abani, Marilyn Chin, Sandra Alcosser, The Language for a New Century, Ecco Anthologies, Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, Kaya Press, Write Bloody, Sherwin Bitsui, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Ashaki Jackson, African Poetry Book Fund, the desire to build community and collaboration, Kundiman, VONA, Las Dos Brujas, Canto Mundo, Cultural Studies (Stuart Hall), Critical Studies (Edouard Glissant), Patrick Chamoiseau, hip hop, Inside the Actors’ Studio, negritude, black arts, Amiri Baraka shows up as someone who steps deep into conflict and also checks himself as he goes, emerging voices and youth poetry, VIDA of course shows up in the theme of our first pair of collections, but also the type of work they set out to do and have accomplished.
In general, we want to engage difficult topics that inspire the apposite desire to say, “fuck it,” and then not do that but rather engage more deeply.
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?
Read America(s): An Anthology 
Syncretism & Survival: Forums on Poetics 
her. [chapbook by Hope Wabuke, forthcoming Dec 2018]
Read Water: An Anthology [forthcoming Feb/Mar 2019)
Rise & Runnel: Forums on Poetics [forthcoming Feb/Mar 2019]
Read Ritual: An Anthology [forthcoming Feb/Mar 2020]
We want to continue to make anthologies that deal with the physical and emotional cipher that is our contemporary world. We will continue to take an idea and see how artists respond to it—we want to complicate those themes that seem already established, that seem, but are much much more than, easy. One of the things we’re always working on is how to ask, including how to ask for responses that complicate our own chosen themes.
We ran our inaugural chapbook contest this past year, calling for work that responds to the theme of urgency, and were humbled by the generosity and depth of the submissions. No joke: over and over again, we wished we could publish more than one chapbook in the contest. So many of you are writing beautiful poems into fully realized chapbooks! And, Hope Wabuke’s work is a perfect example. This chapbook coming to fruition is the achievement of one of our goals from the beginning of LHP, to expand beyond our publication of anthologies into offering collections from individual and/or collaborative artists. We will continue to publish chapbooks and the theme of urgency will be a recurring one because of how it fits with our aesthetic and mission statement, because there is so much urgency in the world that needs to be rendered. The chapbook contest will open again Feb 1, 2019 and closes March 31.
A related goal for the coming year will be to expand our chapbook series so that we have two each year, one toward the spring responding to urgency, and then another toward the fall on a different, perhaps recurring theme, one that balances in some way the theme of urgency. Restorative? Perhaps. Renewal. Yes? Breath? Breath. To be transparent, that aha moment arrived by way of multiple conversations, thesaurus searches and further conversations.
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.
Independent small presses are necessary. A small press allows the outlier to have a voice, to bring new perspectives in publishing to word. Small presses can offer more accessible space for diverse voices and offer inclusivity and community when large presses have solidified identities and can be (or appear to be) less flexible or welcoming.
What needs to change is the lack of support. There is not an easily accessed support system within the larger literary machine for fledgling presses. It takes an extra human effort to make these spaces because it is labor of love in an already over-labored world. We mean, how do artists who often exist in or on the fringes of poverty fund projects when they’re unproven? How does a press prove itself? What is it we can do when operating inside this capitalist system when we do not aspire to be a money-making enterprise? To provide one example, if the embattled NEA likes to match funds, what if there is little to no seed funding? There seem to be many new and exciting programs where established poets and writers mentor new and emerging artists. Apart from classroom visits and talks, we would like to see (and hopefully help build) mentorships for small presses.
For all our good intention, we often have to make sacrifices that are troubling to us. We want to use a local San Diego printer, and leave our dollars in our community, but costs make that impossible. We want to pay artists for their work, but, apart from the prizes, don’t yet have the funding to do so. It is difficult to accomplish these goals when our contests and personal funds, or the world of crowd-funding that we have yet to feel like we can step into in a good way, barely cover the enterprise itself. When we think of going out to fundraise, an awareness of how our communities are already struggling gives us pause. We discuss corporate or other types of sponsorship, but that too, with its potential strings, gives us pause. So, yes to mentorship and yes to imagining new opportunity and funding structures. If there are responses to these interviews, we’d love to hear folks’ ideas!
There is, however, something beautiful in how our press exists as part of each of our individual struggles and strengths, where we must individually operate as ourselves in the world, and in life, whether with family or work obligations, and still find time and energy for press business when we have no office, little infrastructure, etc.
We depend on each other and our collaboration gives us strength. We go slow and check ourselves and each other often.
And, a light exists in seeing other presses navigate fledgling life successfully while publishing important and inclusive works. For example, we look to projects like the African Poets Book Fund, Calypso Press, and others as inspiration.
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 Locked Horn Press?
As Arnold’s character in Red Heat so famously said, “Vodka.”
But really, apart from sometimes preferring other spirits to vodka, we cope by supporting each other. By recognizing we cannot do everything at once, and then making compromises we all agree are necessary and livable.
For instance, we have a publication schedule, but given the nature of the enterprise, it stays flexible. We have no choice but to do small print runs, and then re-print once they sell out and there is interest. Luckily, because the anthologies and critical pairings are teachable, we have done well in the sense that generous poets working at universities and in other types of programs, have taught our books. This pattern, which has grown over the years, has helped us receive enough of a revenue stream to survive.
While contests are controversial, and we feel the many sides here, they have yet to be a significant revenue stream. They keep us afloat. We offer pretty good prize money because writers deserve it, and more. Basically, we have at least achieved a cycle where one book can pay for about 80% of the next, and the rest we make up in personal donation. Read America(s) has had two print runs so far, and is our best seller to date, but even that is only at around 200 copies for each printing. I guess since we are considering a third reprinting at the moment, the interview gave us a moment to reflect and say, “HEY! Selling 400 copies is no small feat.” Of course, many were sold at discount prices and offered to contributors, or required percentages of revenue—not small enough—be given to a third party vendor like Amazon or Paypal.
Short term goals and long term vision: as we’re doing these projects we’re taking steps for viability, strategically; frugal for now, we understand we must remain patient. We want to build slow and solid. We are working on what it takes to offer writers compensation. In the meanwhile, we are deeply grateful for the generosity of established, mid-career and emerging poets who empathize with our vision and are still willing to contribute.
Another big issue for us is distribution. We don’t want to call out names, but several distributors we respect and are influenced by seem not to offer even more established presses—let alone our press—enough support. For now, we recently made the decision to not sell on Amazon (re: highway robbery) and focus on personal sales direct from our website. This limits our visibility, not only in the struggle to get our books into the hands of readers, but also in getting our contests, etc. publicized. Some magazines and organizations have exorbitant costs to advertise and won’t consider us without a major distributor. This is where we must give a genuine and heartfelt shout out to Entropy for being accessible and supportive!
In the end, our longevity will depend on developing a flexible organizational structure that can function in a business sense, while still honoring our collaborative and cooperative roots, even as we all move around the world in physical space and take care of our creative work and the struggles that folks in the world always go through. Our communities and our support for one another as editors and artists help sustain our patience and drive.