Interview with Megan Burns, Publisher
How did Trembling Pillow Press start?
My ex-husband and I started publishing full length collections in 2006. Prior to that, we were publishing chapbooks and broadsides as well as poetry magazines under the press name, including YAWP, Solid Quarter, and Entrepot.
Tell us a bit about Trembling Pillow Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Trembling Pillow Press publishes 4-6 full length collections per year. I would say about half of all publications every year are first time books. I work on one book at a time, so part of the mission of the press is to give poets the opportunity to have a positive experience of working with a small press that can give them their attention while guiding them through the process.
My influences range from mixed media collaborations to experimental work, and I think that does come through in the types of books the press publishes. I basically tend to steer towards works that push that genre envelope of what poetry looks like as well as being work I personally want to read. I’m not really concerned about the status of the poet as far as their popularity re: awards, publications, social media etc. as I am the quality of the work.
I also tend to select poets who I see working in their communities to build connections and to give back to the poetry community as I think part of being a poet is not just the personal work we produce but how we move through our communities creating support. If given the choice between manuscripts, I am definitely looking at how a poet interacts with and gives back to their respective communities.
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?
We’ve published four collections in 2019:
Julia Madsen’s The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, A Burial: Investigations into the Heartland
Michael Sikkema’s You’ve Got a Pretty Hellmouth
Christine Kanownik’s HEAD
Tracey McTague’s Marginal Utility
Forthcoming Titles include:
Dominique Salas’ Unoriginal Danger
John Sinclair’s The Book of Monk
Anne Champion and Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Levitations
Erin Bertram’s It’s Not a Lonely World
We are also excited to launch the Marthe Reed book prize in the fall in honor of the poet Marthe Reed and her commitment to both activism and poetic expansiveness.
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 not sure that it is small presses that need to change as much as the larger publishing industry and the continued catering to it that poets and artists continue to do. I see people constantly clinging to old models of success and status in the poetry world, and it seems archaic to me to step into this programming telling us who is important and what it means to be successful rather than simply creating our own spaces.
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 Trembling Pillow Press?
Again, I think if you are running a small press and you feel the need to break the bank to attend large conferences to be visible or to pay fees to some national group to have that status, maybe question whether any of that matters.
I’ve never gone to AWP. I’ve never paid any fees to be a part of any publishing guild. I don’t advertise. I pay my genius poet friends to do things from running my website to graphic design. I do a lot of the work myself. And the press runs on my accountability to it. I make one book at a time because that’s what I can afford to do. I don’t try to be anything more than I can be, and I’m not really concerned with any end goal of popularity as much as I am with putting work in the world that lets poets do their job better. The press is a means to an end, and the end is to let poets make more space for bringing joy and beauty into the world. That’s all.