Interview with Leif Haven, Editor
How did Persistent Editions start?
Persistent Editions was created in order to publish works of prose or poetry that might not fit into other more traditional modes of publication. Works that you couldn’t just shove into a larger collection. I call them chapbooks, but some people might say that some of these works are too long to be chapbooks. I don’t know. The works that I’ve published have all been in this liminal zone between book and non-book—it’s these works that don’t really fit in anywhere that made me want to start a press. Plus, the modes of publishing open to small run, low-budget publications were really cracking open a couple of years ago, and it continues to get easier to publish—so why not publish these works?
Tell us a bit about Persistent Editions. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The name of the press is a little tongue in cheek. I’m well aware that small (micro? nano?) presses don’t always have a lot of staying power, and short books of experimental (innovative?) poetry and prose don’t necessarily have a lot of persistence. My initial idea of Persistent Editions was somewhat absurd and performative: “printing” in or on tangible, persistent media, such as stone, concrete, wood, etc. So in that case there would be some kind of literal persistence—meant to be a bulwark or maybe just a helpless contretemps against the inevitable flow of time, and the futility of trying to keep track of anything in the accelerating communication/media landscape. Persistent Editions was meant to be the opposite of Twitter—the text that you can’t move, that does not slide easily down a screen. While I love Twitter, and use it, I think there is a need for the opposite as well.
Aesthetically, there is no real thing or school that moves Persistent Editions. At the time that it was created I was reading and writing about Edmond Jabes and his form of the book influences what I thought a book could be and do. The Black Mountain school poets also had a lot to do with forming what I think of as the aesthetic of Persistent Editions. Works that push against the boundaries of what a book can be or do—super long epic experimental works, or short, almost disposable works. Fluxus pamphlets, zines, etc., all have something to do with it. But to say that there was or is any intention behind the aesthetic choices I’ve made would be a half truth at best.
Also, just the idea of the book or text as art object is a motivating part of this project. While the small run print on demand books might not be as ‘craft’ oriented as some art books, I still think of the chapbooks that Persistent Editions has made as art objects, rather than just vehicles for texts.
There is no mission.
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?
Latronic Strag, by Sara Deniz Akant was released earlier this year, and it was never given a formal debut. This is a beautiful book, and I’m happy with the way it came out. It’s square, matte cover, with art by Ashley Colley, and the work itself is of course wonderful. It’s partially “found” text, and it’s made up of this incredible invented and inventive language. The text is all over the page, it jumps the gutter, it fades away. It was an irresistible book to read and think about and ultimately put out and it deserves to be read. Sara Deniz Akant’s first full length, Babette, won the Rescue Press Book prize and is coming out in November as well.
I’ve read a few things that I’ve been excited about but I’m not sure that they’re still available right now—in fact I know that I let some works slip through my fingers. Persistent Editions, like any small (micro? nano?) press hovers on the brink of total annihilation. There’s never enough money, there’s never enough time, there’s never enough reason to keep doing it, and all of those add to up perhaps an attractive impossibility.
I’ve had many ideas for publications projects—poems published as Google ads, etc. But investigating the machinery of those conceptual projects makes you realize that they’re just not as feasible as you might hope. I do think that I would like to print a magazine or journal—a full color publication, with primarily nonfiction and fiction writing, photo essays, and perhaps a few poems. I love a beautiful periodicals because they’re temporary—not quite disposable, but you don’t really put magazines on a shelf, unless you’re a collector or something. I have this book, Fright Catalog, by Joseph Mosconi, which Insert Blanc Press printed as a full-color magazine, hanging on my wall—something like that; I’d like to publish a magazine that people hang on their wall as art. You buy a magazine to read on the train or plane and then, when you’ve read it, you kind of discard it. Investing in beautiful magazines really strikes me as some kind of overtly hopeful, optimistic, possibly even sacrificial gesture. To give a disposable object so much care and attention strikes me as something like a metaphor for a lot of things.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I’m excited when I go to a bookstore like Powell’s and I go to the small press section and every book is just fantastic looking, and feeling. I love that people are making these books—but I don’t love that it’s essentially impossible to value the work in any appropriate way. I want to pay $20 for every poetry book and I want everyone else to do the same, so maybe the author can maybe have an easier time paying for the things that are necessary to live. On the other hand, I can’t afford to purchase every $20 book of poetry—I don’t know anyone who writes poetry who could do that. Purchasing books of poetry has always been kind of a bourgeois endeavour; I guess what’s exciting to me is both books as objects and the possibility of literary community online, even though I’m a complete hermit, and rarely interact with a literary community online or off. This might be too simplistic or broad, but I think the most exciting thing about small/independent literature right now is that you can reach so many people using the internet. The physical book isn’t even necessary—even if we can still appreciate and enjoy it.
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 Persistent Editions?
I’ve never charged a reading fee. I pay for everything out of pocket with money that I make not publishing literature. None of these books have come close to recouping the cost of production, let alone paying authors or paying artists or paying anyone. I’ve tried to be very clear with Persistent Editions that we are not publishing books—we are publishing chapbooks. That’s because I don’t have the resources to support a book and I don’t want to dedicate the resources to promoting a book in the way that I feel a book should be promoted. Chapbooks are smaller in footprint and like I said earlier, the goal was not to publish books with this press. In a sense that’s a big cop-out, but I think that many super small presses promise more than they can deliver, and that’s irresponsible. Even if it’s not explicit, when you give out a book prize, and take entry fees, and things like that, I think it’s the responsibility of the press to be able to market the book, help with organizing readings, reviews, etc. and many presses just don’t do that. It should be part of the responsibility of the press to monetize content effectively—sometimes I think that small presses need to be more realistic about the resources necessary to pursue a sustainable publishing business model. I never thought Persistent Editions would be sustainable or self-sustaining, and I never set out to make money doing it. We’ve sold a few hundred books, and while none of them have made money, it’s not like a complete loss. We got a few hundred fantastic little chapbooks to people.