Interview with Joanna C. Valente, Founding Editor & Editor-in-Chief
How did Yes Poetry start?
YP started as a magazine in Feb 2010, so it’s been quite a long time. It started out as purely an online space, where I ran quarterly issues—and now it has expanded to regular special features that I post anywhere from everyday to a few times a week, writing prompts, and physical and e-book chapbooks. We also run a #NotTrump resist series.
I started the magazine, unromantically, in my college dorm room by myself on Tumblr and bought a URL for it and figured out how to set everything up myself. Clearly, it’s grown a lot and I really love being able to give people a platform for their truths and stories.
Tell us a bit about Yes Poetry. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
My influences are everything around me, although I am definitely influenced by poets such as Kim Hyesoon, Anne Sexton, Srikanth Reddy, Richard Brautigan, Claudia Rankine and so many more. I would define my aesthetic by saying I enjoy bold work that deals with being honest, making statements, not shying away from difficult topics—I also love surrealism, anything strange and absurd.
My mission is simple: to publish work that sheds light on someone’s truth. In particular, I am interested in work from marginalized people and communities, because I want to create a space where they are welcome and heard.
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?
Currently, we have published chapbooks by Thomas Fucaloro and Gregory Crosby, with Nathaniel Rosenthalis’ forthcoming. In terms of the the features, we recently published Jason Koo, Jayy Dodd, Lauren Milici, Ally Ang, and many many more. We’re hoping to do more art/poetry chapbooks in the future, and are currently (and slowly) going through all the work that has been sent to us. It’s hard choosing titles, especially when you are a micro-press like we are with limited staff and resources. The benefit to that, of course, is the fact that every title we choose is dealt great care.
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.
We’re the most excited about the DIY approach, especially when it comes to the artistry side of it. Not enough presses focus on making the books pieces of art, and that is our main focus, which is also why we publish fewer titles, rather than more, since we look at each book as a piece of art you hold in your hand—or read on the screen if you opt for the e-book version.
In general, we’re hoping the publishing world becomes less stuffy, more about sharing ideas and work and just having fun. Not everything has to be so “serious,” in that the institutionalized aspect of it is so off putting and snobbish and gatekeeping at times. Most of all, we want more experimentation all around.
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 Yes Poetry?
Honestly, we just cope by publishing work we love, and supporting the writers in any way we can, whether it’s by publishing, submitting their work to contests or anthologies, or just being an ear when they need someone. In terms of cost, we just front the cost ourselves—we’ve never charged for reading fees or submission costs. And while I don’t think it’s a bad thing when presses do, because presses do need help and support, I try to personally stay away from that so I can encourage all writers to submit, especially writers who don’t have a lot of money. Because those fees add up.
Does that mean we’ll never charge fees? I don’t know. If we do, it would be a rather insignificant cost, but I’m not really thinking about that right now.
Because we do pay for everything (printing, website, etc) out of pocket, it is why we have chosen to publish only a select few titles. Website costs themselves aren’t much, but printing and shipping does add up. Would I love to publish more? Of course, but right now, it’s mostly just not in our budget sadly. I am interested in doing more e-chaps in the future, as a compromise.
Bonus question: What question do you wish we’d ask? How would you answer it?
What our favorite diner food is, which is mac and cheese or grilled cheese.