Interview with Samuel Binns, Founder and Editor
How did Sutra Press start?
Sutra Press began as spiritual yearning. During my final year of undergraduate studies, I found myself in dark woods. Poetry is a golden thread I follow that helps navigate myself through this labyrinth called life, so I made the decision to take a year off before graduate school to further dedicate myself to poetry and founded Sutra Press as a collection of golden threads.
Tell us a bit about Sutra Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
As a press, we publish authors who follow their own golden threads that spiritually guide them.
As William Stafford says in his poem “The Way It Is,” “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among / things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread.”
And as William Blake writes in “Jerusalem,” “I give you the end of a golden string / Only wind it into a ball…”
These texts have been central tokens in the formation of our testaments.
Since we believe words should hang together like thread, we publish hand-stitched limited edition chapbooks. I strive to incorporate the practice of meditation throughout the entire publishing process. Poetry and books are patient, waiting to be created and read, so we attempt to work and grow like a small but well-tended garden. We search for flowers. We try to subvert the hurry of everything around us. I don’t have a car, so when it’s time to deliver chapbooks, I walk on a trail to the post office and look at trees as I follow the creek that runs through our town.
We admire the work of Adastra Press, Garden-Door Press, Horse Less Press, DoubleCross Press, and Glass Poetry Press. Aesthetically, the modest design of the early publications of Frank Stanford’s Lost Roads Publishers have influenced our own design. We are influenced by sutras, especially the Heart Sutra. Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté. Bodhi! Svaha!
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 catalog currently includes two chapbooks. Buddha vs. Bonobo by Brendan Walsh is a reflection upon humanity and the inherent spirituality and nonviolence of bonobos. Dear Creatures by Claire Bowman is an exploration of identity and the psyche through perceptions that are derived from being a wet, electrical body that houses consciousness. Our third author, Caroline Kessler, is currently residing in Israel as a recipient of the Dorot Fellowship and her book is now available for pre-order. Ritual in Blue by Kessler is a meditation through realms of desire and spirituality in the midst of displacement.
In the future, we hope to publish work similar to that within Alcheringa, a magazine of ethnopoetics. Sutra Press and our supplementary poetry magazine, Mantra Review, both aspire to publish prayers, visions and dreams, sacred narratives, praises, proverbs. If anyone’s interested, we’ll be open for submissions from February 1st to April 30th!
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’m forever grateful that small/independent presses are so willing to help each other. I become more and more excited about the possibilities and opportunities within the writing world—countless writers and publishers are making every day an invitation and a celebration online and in their communities. I hope we continue to reconcile and extend our shared humanity by reaching out to people who may not consider themselves writers. Everyone has a story to tell or a poem to write and we can facilitate that power of fellowship. Being from Arkansas, there are not many small independent publishers here (only Sibling Rivalry Press comes to mind). Since opportunities are so limited (especially in rural communities), even one literary event or workshop or gathering can have a big impact on a small community.
The heart of small independent presses is having the capability to take risks, and I think we should all continue taking risks and take more of them. I’m excited about the subversive power of small independent presses. I would like to see submission fees change to no submission fees.
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 Sutra Press?
Survival is a juggling act. We survive by taking risks and making sacrifices. In a perfect world, we would be able to do what we love and not worry about losing money, but I’m willing to lose money if it means bringing forth a beautiful publication. I’m willing to not charge a submission fee if it means welcoming anyone to submit regardless of their financial situation. I’m a poet and publisher, not a businessman hoping for a profit. I don’t keep a spreadsheet of costs. When first starting, I did some rough calculations and figured that I would eventually break even.
Being a small press, it helps having small print runs. The majority of the printing costs come from printing the covers. There are other components such as website cost, ISBN numbers, postcards, endpapers, postage, which all add up. It’s not cheap, but it can be. I mailed a chapbook to Australia and the postage costed more than the chapbook. We’re still learning. Also, we include a postcard and broadside with each chapbook with hopes to establish gift-giving as a part of our ethos, and as gift-givers, we try to remove the price tag since we care more about staying true to our calling. Sometimes I wish I was more practical.