Interview with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., Co-Founder/Lead Designer
How did Monster House Press start?
Monster House Press began in a punk / show house of the same name in 2010. I moved from Cleveland to Columbus, Ohio, into the Monster House where 8-12 people had been living for several years. Monster House hosted DIY music shows as well as poetry readings, often merging the two, booking writers to read on a bill of bands & vice versa, in the living room or basement.
I was self-publishing poetry & other zines and doing / hosting readings for ~3 years at that point & I wanted the poetry / stories / art I was coming in contact with to exist in a longer-lasting form than the ephemeral zine. So many people wrote a zine, made 25-50 copies & then it was gone. I wanted to create a container for all these texts and stories to live in & engage them as an collective connection / energy with others. I realized starting a publishing house might sync & engender my natural penchants & joys for gathering together, design, organization, & collective/individual manifestation & collaboration.
James Payne, who lived at Monster House at varying times, suggested I start a publishing house. I thought, o okay. With the co-enthusiasm of another Monster House resident, Ryan Eilbeck, we decided to explore what that might mean, while also not really knowing what “starting a publishing house” actually meant. A collective of about 8-10 people who were interested in literature formed & had a meeting & it was so. The universe created an environment to facilitate MHP’s existence—another roommate, Pat Crann, ran a screen printing company in the garage behind our house & helped print our first books—other roommates & friends were at a positioning in their lives where they really only truly cared about making art, music, or writing & wanted to co-create, help edit, envision, plan events, as much as possible—another friend was in art school & taught me how to use InDesign & Photoshop. That was pretty key!
In hindsight, the Monster House was just this truly thriving & supportive place to start a press. The energy, enthusiasm, & resources were unparalleled. I had the thought I could do it & the universe aligned its possibility & I chose to see it. I think this is how things happen, in a way. And it began in that house, the name of which we still carry. I’m always surprised I can look back so precisely in on that place—to 115 W. 10th Street, right on the southern border of Ohio State University’s campus, looking out on the garage just beyond the unkempt backyard & garden—and recall its precise provenance, because, it feels without beginning sometimes.
Tell us a bit about Monster House Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
As one person involved with MHP currently, I’m personally of the belief that poetry, language, art, & thought should be and is a multitude of expressions, and is actually almost all perception / consciousness; is multiple, infinite, abundant; is happening with & without intention. In this way, I think the academic approach to poetry / writing / art is valid, and I also think it is not necessary to be an academic to write poetry or make art, etc. I like to exist, as a person and within the structure that is MHP, in as many expressions as possible. I try to pay divine attention to this world, our lives unfurling constantly. I think poetry, language, art, & thought could be shared with & connect to the people of as many disparate worlds and lives as possible—as well as those who are more directly in our vibrations & alignments. MHP publishes local and regional writers, alongside more widely recognized ones.
We like getting everyone together in the same house, field, swimming in the same river, standing under the same sky, looking into each other’s eyes, closer. I don’t think, necessarily, that there are writers and non-writers—I am of the belief that thinking is a kind of writing in itself, that thoughts are poems, in a way. I think every one of us has a little big of magic & can harness it. Our aesthetic involves that core belief in a way.
Part of what we hope to do is to exist and publish & connect people and their stories, poems, & art. We organize events that feature writers and artists of disparate atmospheres, experiences, identities, places, styles, et al. What are we here in these forms for if not to exchange the energy of being with each other & connect across the giant ostensible canyons of separation? I believe literature & readings are a sacred container, though not the only one, to fulfill & honor these links between us, with which we can see our connectedness & concomitance made manifest, with which we can cultivate empathy & a camaraderie antagonistic to those attempting to wall off everyone from each other. We’re focused on writers & artists, because we are them, & support each other with well-designed, beautiful books & a connective circuit of literature & readings, which exist as a link within a larger circuit.
Another goal perhaps is blurring the line between academic writing and people who are writing outside of academia. In styles & forms. In content & aesthetic. In ideologies & ideals. In audiences & performers. There’s something magical that happens when worlds come together that hitherto did not. We are after the sort of magic that is not planned. Like Jacques Derrida’s description of the monster, we are all connecting through stories & narratives resonating with / from each / an other, as well as our own. Another’s experience grafts onto you and becomes part of your life, and vice versa. Being open to it & what is created is extremely beautiful, & necessary. “A future that would not be monstrous would not be a future; it would already be a predictable, calculable, and programmable tomorrow.” Sharing voices, perspectives, & identities & lives that are otherwise quelled or repressed or diminished—that’s what we want & believe in as this kind of “monstrous” future. And in the textual form, that too. MHP is also constantly shifting & grafting & becoming. I’ve been involved since the beginning, and mostly just do the design work now. The rest of MHP has featured an ever-shifting array of poets, artists, musicians, writers, teachers, activists, and just people who are interested in it. We hope to operate from a deeply sincere base of gratitude. We’ve are brimming with an ocean’s depth of Midwestern sincerity. For all that we are able to do in this life, we praise.
More & more, I perceive MHP as an autonomous & living thing that facilitates the manifestation of books, events, connections, etc. It feels alive on its own. It might die one day, who knows.
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?
Releases we’ve got lined up include—Andrew James Weatherhead’s collection, Aardvark, a mix of poems & collages; Bloomington poet Morgan Eldridge’s debut full-length book of poetry & prose—Omen/Amen—which is this beautiful melding of doom & hope; Andrew Duncan Worthington’s collection of short stories & poems, Delete Space; & in early Fall, we’re publishing Anaïs Duplan’s new chapbook, Mount Carmel & The Blood of Parnassus. & probably some other chapbooks or smaller things, too!
We also just published the new issue of our Quarterly on newsprint, a project that started last Fall & will come our on every equinox / solstice—MHPQ—which, the Spring issue’s theme is American Spring, referring to both the political & Earth definitions of spring. This issue has writing by Kaveh Akbar, Bella Bravo, Glenn Cox, Marlin M. Jenkins, Bree Jo’ann, Yalie Kamara (who has a great new book When The Living Sing, coming out soon!), & Andrew James Weatherhead. Tess Pugsley did the art, which is gorgeous.
We are always publishing in our Pamphlet Series, which releases every 1-2 months-ish, & illuminates a single longer poem or story. Rachelle Toarmino’s Rebound came out in March & Marlin M. Jenkin’s The Slave Trade Moves to eBay in the Capitalist West is up next. We’re also working with some editors / educators on a small newsprint publication of poems by folks at the Monroe County Jail in Bloomington soon, which I am excited for.
We hope to continue publishing work that fuses, deconstructs, grafts, (re)imagines, connects, & disentangles the myths, customs, language, narratives, ideologies, apparatuses, & presuppositions of the contemporary milieu & moment. There’s so many incredible people making incredible work. We’re so grateful to help bring it into the world.
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.
One of the first smaller publishers I remember discovering & admiring was Arbeiter Ring Publishing, from Winnipeg. I loved that they published such a myriad of texts & genres and that they made very pretty books. I like immaculately designed & beautiful books. I believe you honor the work, the text, everyone really, by making a book that looks stunning. Off the top of my head, I’ve been noticing and enjoying everything coming out of Wave, Milkweed Editions, Metatron, Commune Editions, Birds LLC, Copper Canyon, Peach Mag, & Timeless, Infinite, Light, among many other pertinent & superb smaller publishers, too multiple to name. Those listed were mostly just poetry publishers too, & there’s so much more out there. Also, we love our our fellow Bloomington presses—Ledge Mule Press & Cardboard House Press. There’s just so many entities doing great work. MHP collaborated last Fall with H_NGM_N Books to co-release two new poetry books by Matt Hart simultaneously, Radiant Action & Radiant Companion. It was a true delight working with them. I love collaboration and the fact that there’s an infinitude of art and writing being made with such care, always.
As far as what needs to change, I can only think from my perspective, which I think includes hoping to continue to grow & connect people of many worlds always and do it well and beautifully. Continuing to support & co-create with writers & artists. Mutual aid & equal exchanges of energy. Operating out of a base of love, not ego, is key. Learning & growing constantly in a loving universe that is rerouting us toward our truest paths constant—restoring, healing.
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 Monster House Press?
We believe in working from a base of love & gratitude in what you are doing. We’re all volunteer run right now & hope to sell enough books via touring, events, book fairs, etc. to pay authors and artists and continue publishing their work. You are supported by the universe if you believe it is a supportive universe. We don’t really think too deeply about what something will cost or budget or etc. I mean, we do some, of course, but if we believe in a book or project & trust it will come to fruition. I believe publishers should support writers and artists more than I perceive they do currently—and that can mean actually monetarily or with more author copies or helping set up readings, connecting circuits, however you can. It can be difficult, money & numbers, especially with poetry, but I believe in an abundant world apart from capital’s lack mindset. You co-create the reality in which you live, and the universe supports you in all you do, with love. Trust.