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Interview with Katy Bohinc, Star Arkestress
How did Tender Buttons Press start?
Please see Lee Ann’s section of the website. But I’ll tell you even more juicy details in the meantime.
In 1989 Lee Ann was hanging around the NY School poets and two things were said to her. 1. by Bernadette Mayer: Why don’t you start your own press and publish your own book? 2. by Anne Waldman: oh you should start a magazine. Lee Ann, of course, as she always does, runs with good ideas—but always her own way & thought “I’ll do books!” She found out Bernadette’s Sonnets had no publisher! And grabbed them! Anne Waldman’s book came next, then Harryette Mullen’s…..
Tell us a bit about Tender Buttons. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The name stands for Gertrude Stein’s text: Tender Buttons. And that’s really the aesthetic too—experimental women’s poetry. Anything with language. Smart and playful.
And, this’s a bit under the radar but if you ask the right person, Stein named her book “Tender Buttons” because it was a slang euphemism for certain female nether regions. Basically, secret lesbo terms (so great, right?). The press’s aesthetic may or may not be related to this slang term.
The other way to talk about it is these words Boundless Practice. Lee Ann asked me to publish my book, Dear Alain, and I was like….you don’t have a website….so this turned into me saying…well OK but I’m going to work to bring the press into the digital world and so we began this very intense and beautiful collaboration. Because here’s the other thing, Lee Ann and I live in the same building, the same house. I live on the first floor and she lives on the 4th floor with her family. So when we do this press, it’s literally in our living rooms. I have this “Certificate of Authority” – which is to employ people by the state of NY – hanging on my wall because it cracks me up that we could pay anyone, and also that’s way too “categorical” because what we do is Boundless Practice. It’s from nuts to bolts, and always has been: poet as writer, as editor, as publisher, as publicist, as historian, as archivist, as designer, as creative director, as social media marketer…. People ask “oh Cassandra Gillig did your cover is she a designer?” No. She’s just a creative person who used InDesign to make a genius cover like artists do. We’re none of these titles. We’re boundlessly creative working with everything at our disposal to make great art. And that art can take the form of a website, or a cover, or a search engine marketing campaign (I have this dream of flooding all search pages with flarfy search ads!)…I mean, it’s fitting for poetry. It’s part of our art that we cannot find the precise words to encapsulate all of ourselves. (Is Lee Ann my landlord, savior, friend, mother, daughter, publisher, editor? and/or vice versa?!) That we have broken down barriers of institutional titles to just be—(Founding) Editrix and (Star) Arkestress. Some people call this “wearing a lot of hats” but I think it is something that is true for a great, great deal of poets and speaks to our economic situation as well as our coLABorative economic values and importantly our duty to document and preserve this crucial history of amazing small press publishing. Because we are a small press that published one book every two years which proves it’s the work itself that matters, not the sales, not the fancy marketing, not the “typical” 8-12 books a year model. Like there is a value in and of itself to not have a million-dollar marketing budget and all these specific denotations of who does what etc. Value in and of itself in the making-space, the radical hospitality for great works one believes in. Thanks god the poetry of that model has proven itself and we are here to shout it everywhere. I hope we can serve as proof of the importance of the small press to the whole entire world. And it’s an especially great proof, I think, that we maintain this functional integrity: Tender Buttons as it exists today, and always has, is a sort of friendly commune—an extension of the poetry—a very long performance poem.
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?
OMG. So April 2016 will bring publication of the Omnibus: The First 25 Years of Tender Buttons Press. Omnibus means collected, so it will have the full text of Mayer’s Sonnets, Waldman’s Not a Male Pseudonym, Mullen’s Trimmings, Agnes Lee (a memoir by Lee Ann’s grandmother—women’s histories are all our histories), Rosmarie Waldrop’s Lawn of Excluded Middle, Hannah Weiner’s silent teachers remember sequel, Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups, Jennifer Moxley’s Imagination Verses, Laynie Browne’s Pollen Memory, India Radfar’s the desire to meet with the beautiful, Michelle Rollman’s Book of Practical Pussies and a selection of my own Dear Alain. (Dear Alain is 222 pages so necessarily a selection, as will be probably Agnes Lee & Book of Practical Pussies.)
We’re thrilled to be celebrating the release at the 2016 AWP in LA at…LACMA! Damn! Mark your calendars!
After that Julie Patton’s B. Whoa. I mean, need I say after Zukofsky’s A is Patton’s B? And cross your fingers this doesn’t get swiped from us, but we’re in talks with Angelo Micah Olin to publish his book. His, that’s right. The first…male. Angelo was formerly Jenny Olin, so…what does that mean? We’re not sure & don’t care cause we love Angelo’s poetry to pieces. Male or Female it’s the right aesthetic. Or, as Lee Ann puts it, it’s “intersextual.”
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I’ve been watching UDP in NY and Detroit and am just amazed by how graceful Anna and Matvei are and how beautiful their MANY books are. After publishing-printing three last year I am amazed at how anyone does more. UDP does—sometimes it seems like 20, 40, 60? a year. They are always developing young talent and taking risks and throwing parties (yes that is a wonderful thing) and I adore & admire them. They’ve got the history in practice with their letterpress designs and it is beautiful and very well and lovingly executed. Rock on.
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 Tender Buttons Press?
Print on demand has been awesome for us. We use Bookmobile in Minnesota who are dear partners. They are actually technically a micropress: printing small print runs. So instead of printing 1,000 up front which can cost thousands, they print 80 copies, for example, and we pay for them as they are sold. So we ship a carton to SPD only when SPD needs it. This makes the economic burden much easier. Our eCommerce website (Shopify, $35 a month) is great. It takes orders directly and puts the money in the bank. Orders go directly into Bookmobile’s fulfillment system (you need a developer to hook you up with an API). And voila! It basically runs itself. We paid a designer (the amazing Wayne Smith) for book layout for Dear Alain and Sonnets, but if you can find someone who can do InDesign (lots of people can!) basically your upfront cost is $35 a month for Shopify and I think like $160 per title to upload into BookMobile….then just use the cash from your eCommerce account to pay BookMobile as the books are shipped. In theory, this pays for itself, or at least very much keeps upfront costs WAY down. As far as marketing, it’s Facebook, Twitter, Insta & in-person Personality. Same for us as anybody.
I’ve actually just shimmied our website for the brand new Digital Downloads of Dear Alain, Sonnets & Please Add To This List: A Guide to Teaching Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets & Experiments. We had a great year so we’re offering them pay-whatever-you-want Radiohead Rainbows style (that was great, right?).
Contrary to the lead of your question, I actually think most everything is cheaper now operationally with digital models. The expense is labor. Like I said, Boundless Practice. We’ve always done this out of love. And that is the hell and grace of poetry. No one chose this field. It chose them. So we’re free (and obligated) to get completely creative.