Interview with Chelsea Tadeyeske, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
How did pitymilk start?
In late 2012, I finally decided to trust that I knew how to make things pretty and also that I was surrounded by and connected to a bevy of super talented poets. Prior to starting pitymilk, I was working with Plumberies Press helping edit and construct books for authors I admired, and also co-organized the Midwest Small Press Festival for a few iterations in Milwaukee and Kansas City. I wanted to continue to grow my networks through sharing work that deserved a platform. I wanted to be a part of helping poems find their way to people more intimately. I also had the name ‘pitymilk’ in the queue for some time and it needed a home somewhere, so it all kinda came together.
Tell us a bit about pitymilk. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I have too many influences to list, but can say with complete sincerity that I admire every independent publishing enterprise. I’m sort of in love with the feeling of leafing through a handmade artifact, it feels mystical; it looks, smells, feels and I bet would even taste better than mass produced poetry. Aesthetically speaking, pitymilk’s website says we’re interested in “bizarrely beautiful writings that redefine genre and easily digestible poetic/literary interpretations.” Of course, that is super vague, but I suppose it’s an undeniable feeling you get when you are in contact with something special. We are interested in and committed to providing space and support for marginalized voices because that’s art that is transgressive, radical and ever-so important. pitymilk likes experimenting with a wide range of production methods such as screen printing, letterpress, and other accoutrements that make books that much more riddled with quirky and intoxicating mistakes. The mission, for now, is to keep producing regardless of commercial success and not only contributing to the redefinition of what a “good” or “valid” book of poetry is and looks like, but also how readers come into contact with it. As a poet and bookmaker, I travel with books of my own in addition to the books that I make. When someone purchases or trades for a book of poetry they feel connected to while meeting and shaking someone’s hand that either wrote or made that book with those same hands, it is a magical and radical exchange, and on some level is the reason why I do this.
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?
Our most recent release is DUETDUET (vol. 2) featuring work by current Cincinnatians Bethany Lewis and Madge Maril. DUETDUET is a reoccurring journal featuring a tasty sample of two poets, faced in opposite directions. Our dream is to have poets meet one another that way and perhaps start more collaborations in the future. I started soliciting work from poets I thought would hit it off together, kinda like a blind date, but that was a lot of control and I’ve been surprised at the compatibility of submissions that roll in at the same time. This latest issue is a dream cereal of pretty bruises, birthcontrol/cigarettes, and feminist ruminations on Lolita. Alongside that, pitymilk will be releasing MASHNOTES, a chapbook by Jane Flett in late winter/early spring. She describes the poems as “…romantic poems in the grand tradition of Sappho and Byron. Except, because I have the heart and soul of a grubby teenage girl, it follows in the tradition of dirty notes handed to your crush in the back row of math class. The poems are a mix of weird spells and declarations of filth to all the cuties I’ve ever made out with.” It will be a smash! We have other exciting projects on the cooker and look forward to announcing them this spring. The future seems uncertain, but rife with possibility. Admittedly, pitymilk can get better at consistency and promotion and that is something that I am personally trying to improve. As someone who is constantly moving it’s hard to be 100% committed knowing all the time and care making a book entails, but I’m trying to stay in one place long enough to allow some of pity’s projects room and time to thrive.
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.
I have always thought that presses with a collective model like Monster House Press are giving a very unique and needed perspective on independent publishing. Just because it’s “small” scale publishing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite a group of creative individuals to collectively lend their ideas and expertise in the formalization of an ultimate vision. I fantasize about living somewhere long enough to build a team around pitymilk and even incorporate varying forms of media projects to bend the confining definitions of small scale publishing and what people tend to think it can accomplish. Also, I’m a punk with a trash heart and think that recycling or repurposing material for projects is an important process to think about while being economically and environmentally aware. Rabbit Catastrophe Press’ Scrap Chap projects inspired me to get more informed about ways to be kinder to the earth while still making beautiful, unique artifacts.
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 pitymilk?
pitymilk never has and probably never will make any real profit. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re relatively small and make approximately 100 copies of each chapbook, and if materials and demand still exist, we keep printing until we run out of either. We’re scrappy punk babies, so we tend to collect materials as much as we buy them. Over half of my closet is paper stock and odds and ends from printing books, which will most likely recycle into future projects. Unfortunately we can’t afford to pay authors and visual artists with cold hard cash, so we send them copies of their book that they can sell at whatever price they deem fit. In response to the question more specifically, I don’t feel a poet should pay for any step of the process to being published. It’s possible that in other independent publishers’ universes this is necessary and all are consenting to this being a part of the journey to a finished project, but for us, making money was never why this started and we more often than not end up putting our own money into the projects we love.