Submission Guidelines: “Our submissions page is very unfriendly, so as to discourage writers who don’t fit the Pacific or experimental categories. But I’m open to discussions, queries, small samples of work.”
Interview with Susan M. Schultz, Editor
How did Tinfish Press start?
Tinfish Press was founded in 1995 as an attempt to bridge (and cross-pollinate) the work of experimental writers on the continent and the work of local writers in Hawai’i.
Tell us a bit about Tinfish. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our mission statement is that we “publish experimental poetry (and some prose) from the Pacific region.” Our publications engage a certain writing practice, quite loosely defined. We publish a lot of authors who are Asian American, indigenous Pacific, or White, but we aim to put them in conversation on issues of writing, form, language(s), the environment, militarism, you name it. I’m never happier than when one of our writers discovers another. Pam Brown (Australia) and Maged Zaher (Egypt/Seattle) come to mind; they even wrote a chapbook together for the press. We publish a lot of Hawai’i authors, as well, as part of our kuleana to contribute to this amazing place.
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?
Last year we published six chapbooks, covering a range from work on caregiving Alzheimer’s patients to an Iraqi poet who lives in the Philippines. We also published a posthumous book of poems by Albert Saijo, a Japanese American poet who was interned during WWII, became a Beat poet in San Francisco, a marijuana farmer in northern California, and in his last years, a great conversationalist in Volcano, on the Big Island. We published a wonderful experimental work of translation by Jonathan Stalling—the poems move from English to Chinese and then back to (a different) English and feature a foundry of translators. Next up are books by Lissa Wolsak, Kaia Sand, and Timothy Dyke, as well as a chapbook by Eileen Tabios.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
It’s so hard to keep up with small press publishing, as there is so much of it. I was just at AWP, which is full immersion small press, rather dizzying, and or bludgeoning. What I love about the counter-economy we live in is the ability of many presses to take risks, because you’re not going to make money anyway. But the presses I most appreciate are those with a real argument to make, rather than simply being a reflection of their editors’ tastes. The latter kind of press often publishes good work, but it seems scattershot to me. The former stakes a claim, as I like to think Tinfish does. I see small press publishing as the work of positive critique—if something is missing, be it native Hawaiian literature or literature in translation—then fill the gap with something new, rather than critiquing absences. I realize it takes resources to make these positive critiques, but perhaps fewer than many people think. Tinfish does more with a lot less than many publishers.
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 Tinfish Press?
We’re nearly self-sufficient, enough to keep things going. What helps is that many of our books are taught in university and other classrooms, so there’s a captive audience of consumers. Though what with student debt, it’s hard. And the tendency, even now, for professors to ask students to buy novels and then to xerox a few poems, sticks in my craw a bit. The worst is international postage, to tell you the truth. As we cross national boundaries in our publishing practice, we get a lot of orders from, say, New Zealand/Aotearoa and Australia. Ouch. On principle, I hate contests and asking poets for money simply to read their work, so we don’t do that. I love donations.