Thursday, October 31, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Michael Sikkema on Shirt Pocket Press

Shirt Pocket Press is a ragtag kitchen table chapbook press focused on poetry, vispo, asemic writing, fauku, lists, collage work, radical nature writing, anarchic recipes, conceptual and procedural work, erotic writing, and other assorted weirdness.   

Michael Sikkema is the editor of Shirt Pocket Press, the author of Futuring (Blazevox), several chapbooks from Horse Less Press, Grey Book Press, HNG MN Books, Lame House Press, Serif of Nottingham, and collaborative chapbooks, two with Jen Tynes (Shirt Pocket Press and Black Warrior Review), and one with a herd of fine writers (Sidebrow). 

1 – When did Shirt Pockets Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
I started Shirt Pocket to keep me busy through a summer of not teaching. It allowed me to focus attention on poetry in a more intense way than I’m usually allowed. My original goal was to keep myself out of trouble and to highlight some types of poetry that I want to see in the world. To that end, my goals are the same now as they were then.  I learned that it’s all collaboration all the way down.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I help out with Horse Less Press, designing covers, reading manuscripts and making decisions. I was already doing that when I got a hankering to start up Shirt Pocket. I think championing people’s work is one of the most important elements of being a poet. Having a micro-press let me do that in even more ways than I was before.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
The small press, in all its various modes and designs, keeps poetry readers in touch with what is happening now. Full length books from shiny publishing houses can take years to produce and hype and get into people’s hands. It’s sometimes painful to watch readers perform from their two and three year old books, when they are * so * done with those poems and already onto new ones. Chapbooks, pamphlets, broadsides, etc are really the poetry world’s answer to Rock N Roll Radio. Or, at least what Rock N Roll Radio used to be. It takes a few days of collaboration to produce a fine chapbook that keeps us in touch with what is happening * now *.  The small press gets to do what it wants because the profit margin is not the determining factor.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

I’m not sure that we’re all that special. We are looking for all the weird. Asemic writing, vispo, anarchic recipes, erotica, minimalist writing, erasures, radical vernacular, procedural stuff, letters, collaborations, ecopoetics, etc. We have little to no interest in classical ideas of beauty.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?

Social media and the post office.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I am an active editor. I try to shape the project with the writers. I respect each approach to this. I take an active role because it seems like a natural part of collaboration. So far, I haven’t lost any friends. 

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We are a micro-press. I mail everything myself. Print runs vary but are small. 20? 30? 40? They go up as more people find out about the press.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
I do the editing work, but Jen Tynes can sew books like nobody’s business. I cannot. She takes care of book sewing and I do most of the rest of it. However, living with such a smart and talented poet/editor sure is helpful in a whole lot of ways. While her Horse Less Press and my Shirt Pocket are not officially affiliated, I gain a lot from talking to her and the other fine Horse Less folks. They’ve been doing this a while.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don’t think my thinking has changed as much as certain notions that used to be foggy are now clear and underscored.  I think the collaborative aspect of writing/reading/publishing is crucial. The feedback loop that can be created from poets, and readers, and book makers is central to my understanding of how poetry works. Working on other people’s projects reminds me to think about readers sometimes, and other times completely ignore them.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I have published a collaboration that I did with Jen Tynes because it was fun. I put together a little chapbook of my own stuff when I was going to attend the Milwaukee Small Press Fest, because I wanted something to trade with friends. This makes perfect sense to me. I attach no serious cultural collateral to chapbooks. That’s the awesome thing. They essentially make it easier and more fun for sexy nerds to read and write with each other. There should be no controversy in this.  Chapbooks are essentially the closest thing poets have to jamming with each other. Don’t trust people who try to take away your instrument. Or your means of production. Or your pen. Or whatever.

11– How do you see Shirt Pocket Press evolving?

I see Shirt Pocket growing glacially. I am committed to micro-publishing and collaboration. I would like to develop a solid working and playing relationship with the poets whose work I admire.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

The Pocket is too young and dewy to answer these questions. We still have sleep in our eyes.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

I find myself thinking a lot about the work that Jen Tynes, Stephanie Anderson, MC Hyland, Nathan Hauke, Kirsten Jorgenson, Gina Myers, Gary Barwin, and others do. I find myself thinking a lot about Jonathan Williams.

14– How does Shirt Pocket Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Shirt Pocket in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
It’s all conversation. So. Horse Less Press, Tarpaulin Sky, Coconut, Projective Industries, Ark Press, Strange Cage, Doublecross Press, My Name is Mud, The Cultural Society, Dear Sir, Word for Word, Serif of Nottingham, BookThug, and on and on. Check out the fine curating Jon Henson is doing over at Selby’s List. It’s full of our friends and enemies.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

I co-host a reading series here where I live but thus far we haven’t done any formal launches. We, however, will. We have featured many great writers and most of this year’s schedule is already full. So. I think public performance is the bee’s knees and more poets should work to get beyond the podium.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

I live in a place with no real writing * community * to speak of. So the internet is magic.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do not want to read you unless you’ve read and enjoyed the work of 3-4 of our authors.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
We just published BE THE TOAD by Gary Barwin. Moving with the lightness of speed, Barwin’s toads Hi Di Hi Di in multidirectional space showcasing minds in music at work. We had to smuggle this one across the border, to the tunes of croak and cello, yellow blossoms on the sun. Worth the ticket cost and more.  I hope this is the beginning of a long cross border relationship. A lot of great poetry is coming out of Canada these days.

We just published Jen Tynes’ NEW PINK NUDIBRANCH.  Intelligent, sexy, strong, lyric, anti-lyric poetry as interrogation, as range-finding, as echolocation, and as natural human act.  Funnier than you would expect for something as angry and beautiful as the earth seen from the moon at night.

We just published PASTORAL (YEARS LATER) by Nathan Hauke and Kate Kern Mundie.  Sparse and expansive, quick sketches with high resonance, charged with the power of attention, these poems and drawings don’t take up that many pages, but they have all the time. All the lines create something bigger on the inside.

You can find all these and more at:

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jennifer Moxley, There Are Things We Live Among: Essays on the Object World

            In George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, wedding china likewise serves as a symbol of a woman’s things apart from those of her husband (though acquired through her marriage). When Betsy Tulliver’s husband is financially ruined, it is the thought of selling off her “silver and chany” that most aggrieves her, especially her silver teapot and sugar tongs. Should strangers, who know nothing of their value, buy them, they are certain to be mistreated and scratched.
            Her heartbreak over the lost wedding china stands in for the larger failure—of a business, of a marriage, of a life. It is as if the dishes are the only thing standing between these women characters and the suffocating truth of how great a compromise marriage has asked of them. They cannot work to earn back such things, and their one bargaining chip—maidenhood—has long ago been cashed in. They have nothing else to barter. When the things go, the sacrifice made to acquire them seems for naught. (“Red Pickle Dish”)

American poet Jennifer Moxley’s There Are Things We Live Among: Essays on the Object World (Chicago IL: Flood Editions, 2012) is a series of short personal essays on objects and how they relate to us, and we to them. The pieces connect so well together that the book feels composed as a single unit, and the beauty of the collection is in how uncomplicated, straightforward, personal and wise these small essays are; how unadorned and readable, and deeply heartfelt and complex. Moxley’s thirty-eight essays work together to unfurl complicated ideas of self, home, family and belonging, expanding out into the entirety of history and literary ephemera even as she returns to the deeply personal. This is a book essentially about ideas, told through the perspective of an entire lifetime of reading, thinking and living. As she writes in the “Preface,” the book wraps itself around a quote by George Oppen.

            As soon as I had my topic I had my title, knowing that I would write about George Oppen’s poem “Of Being Numerous.” I have always loved the way the opening lines, “There are things / We live among ‘and to see them / Is to know ourselves,’” connect “things” to both self-knowledge and structural assumptions. Oppen’s poem provided me a template for writing about how things define us, as well as about the politics of things, and how they function in literature and philosophy. He helped me to explore the paradox of living in a materialistic culture that yet exalts idealist philosophical and religious traditions.

Moxley’s work is a complex one, requiring deep attention, rereading and very little interruption. We live in an object world, and Moxley navigates through what so many of us do daily, and with little thought. Moxley has an incredible attention to detail, as she writes about books, reading and living as a long, continuous thought, and the polyphonic effects of how we experience, understand and relate to the world. Her deep attention weaves through Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin, her mother’s sewing machine, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Robinson Crusoe, George Eliot’s The Millon the Floss, her year in Paris as an au pair, Russell Edson, Proust’s The Search for Lost Time, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, the intimacy of clothes, Moby Dick, Walter Benjamin and the experience of clearing out her childhood home after the death of her stepfather. There is something of the short philosophical meanderings of writers such as Mark Kingwell and Alberto Manguel here, or even of Stan Dragland’s Journeys Through Bookland and Other Passages (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1984) and Apocrypha: Further Journeys (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press/writer as critic, 2005). Hers is a life lived through, in part, books, and Moxley’s pieces explore how it is we live in the world, how it has been discussed previously, and how certain things have changed, while others haven’t in the least. The fluid associations she makes are quite stunning, as is her fondness for the considered object, one thick with history and meaning, even if only her own.

            For me fetishes and talismans have always been things not only removed from human labor (as is Marx’s point), but from any social value whatsoever (use, exchange). Unlike the diabolical specimens found on the forgotten shelves of curiosity shops, and handed, like poisoned batons, from imprudent owner to imprudent owner, my fetishes are ostensibly valueless items whose special meaning remains a secret between me and the thing. This is the only way to keep them safe from the nefarious machinations of those who live to shatter the illusions of others.
            I have never bought or sold a fetish. All have come to me by chance, either as found objects or as gifts (but never as a ceremonious or wrapped gift, such as a birthday or Christmas present). When they arrive as gifts, they do so out of the blue, usually from someone I know but a little. An acquaintance who, by this gesture, suddenly seems to see into the very heart of who I am. The giver and I, once the gift has been given, will never be close friends. Too much is known already, and there is an understanding, a knowledge that would be destroyed by the quotidian banalities of cultivating a new friendship (telling our “stories,” planning cumbersome coffee dates).
            The fetish is always something with little or no apparent value; that is until, having tucked it away in my purse or slipped it into a pocket, its magic begins to work.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rhonda Douglas, How to Love a Lonely Man

Self-Portrait as the One Who Got Away

After, I’m all vowels
agony has sharp elbows (ows, ows)
inhaling grief in the Yaris
all alone.

After a while there are a few things I wish to take back:
              first intake of breath that gave me away
              collapse into kiss as though kiss was another place
              near here, and you had a map.
              Take back London, all of Bloomsbury, Wagamama—
  kicking you out of the Good Enough Club.  Perhaps.
              Take back the sacrifice of small animals for safe flight.
              Eliot, Homer, Virgil, all mine again. Maybe.
              Take back silences, the drive from Montreal, 417 offering
              its asphalt linear hopes: pleasure, pleasure, pothole, home.

Dodged a bullet, friends say. Culpable and just not capable,
your twitching carapace must be crushed.
Asshole. Unworthy. Unimaginable idiot.
They exhaust vowels creating a new you
for me to see. I need new glasses,
can’t quite clear the rearview.

                                                            Time ticks,
April lies empty (oh, ache) this time around,
missing cupcakes, balloon animals, Baudelaire.
Couples kiss in the park, I’m seeing
someone new. Friends change the subject.

If one wishes to tie Ottawa writer Rhonda Douglas’ trade poetry collection, Some Days I Think I Know Things: The Cassandra Poems (Winnipeg MB: Signature Editions, 2006) to her follow-up, the poetry chapbook (part of a larger work-in-progress) How to Love a Lonely Man (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2013), the theme is rather obvious—one of connections attempted, achieved, failed and finally lost. Given that the narrator of her first trade collection was the legendary Cassandra of Greek mythology, doomed to have her predictions (and those of her descendants) never believed, how distant is that from a contemporary voice that opens Douglas’ poem “One Year Later”:

A list of all the things I still want
to tell you: how Viagra ruins
any sentence it’s in; reading Dante
again, I’ve allocated a new circle for strip malls,
another where everyone’s giving a keynote address.

The eleven short narratives that make up How to Love a Lonely Man exist less as a manual than a series of warnings, such as in the title poem, that includes: “Stroke / the greying temples of the head on your lap, don’t say / Christmas, don’t imply there are weeks to come.” Another poem, “How to Love an Anxious Man” includes: “The tick of his heart to not sure, not sure. / After sex, he’s twitchy, some country music / star’s cousin.” There are some deep hopes, bad fortune and ill-fated choices within the lines of these poems, and hers is a narrator that wishes for something that even she knows is not nearly enough. It’s as though her narrator exists in a kind of Victorian longing: a blend of pessimism, romantic ideals and pragmatism. A recent episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation included one of the main characters discussing marriage, how you shouldn’t marry the person you can live with, but the person you can’t live without.

Given that Douglas has been working the past couple of years to complete a manuscript of short fiction, I’m curious to see how close the narrators of these two works are in tone, writing from the perspective of being so close to something that remains impossible, and entirely out of reach. It suggests that Douglas favours the voice of the voiceless: those who haven’t had much of a voice, she who spent her time not being considered, offered, or listened to at all. Throughout the small collection, there are parts of the chapbook that are quite striking, and other parts that feel a bit too loose and conversational, which might entirely be an argument of style. Her narrator expresses disappointment, grief and even rage, and hopefully manages to put the whole sordid business behind her. In the final poem in the collection, “A Few Uses for It When It’s Done,” she ends with:

Write it off, that boy you used to know, used to love, used to
pardon my Biblical reference. This is the art of lost and found.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair, (part two,

Finally, I’m able to get to the remainder of the items I picked up at this past fair [see my previous post on such here]. And, if you are interested, there were even twenty-nine interviews posted with exhibitors to this year’s fair, over at YouTube (myself included). I posted all the individual links to such over at the (Canadian) small press book fair blog.

Ottawa ON: What will jwcurry do [see one of my previous posts on him here] for his 1cent series now that the penny is being removed from circulation? I offered him a nickle, and received two copies of 1cent #403, “in lieu of review,” hand-printed in an edition of one hundred and forty-four copies on March 3, 2013. A few years ago, I composed an essay on jwcurry’s 1cent series for Open Letter, which can be picked up either through them, or through picking up my first collection of essays (in case anyone is interested), and I would recommend to anyone writing jwcurry directly to get copies of his recent catalogues of publications, including his collection of small press ephemera available through his apartment-filled bookstore, Room 302 Books (c/o #302-880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa ON Canada K1R 6R7).


a century old
& this man’s still yodeling
beard not included (Gerry Gilbert)

The small publication reprints small pieces from other publications, which presume his endorsement of such, and include Sam Andreyev’s “the blue rock” from Evidence (Quattro Books, 2009), Nelson Ball’s “A Crow” from In This Thin Rain (Mansfield Press, 2012), Gerry Gilbert’s “SLOWING RAIN” from Counterfeit Pennies (, an untitled piece from Frances Kruk’s Down You Go (Punch Press, 2011), Lance La Rocque’s “OPEN” from Vermin (BookThug, 2011), The Locust’s “New Tongue Sweepstakes” from Safety Second, Body Last (Jpecac Recordings, 2005) and Tom Walmsley’s “IN THE HOSPITAL ELEVATOR” from What Happened (BookThug, 2007), all published, as the title says, in lieu of review. As much as I love this small publication, I do miss his newsnotes publications, which is filled with his reviews, commentaries and conversations, and I can’t even remember when the last issue even appeared. When might we see a new one?

Kingston ON: From Michael e. Casteels’ [pictured above, talking to Pearl Pirie] Puddles of Sky Press comes the third issue of illiterature: a journal of minimalist poetry, featuring work by Nelson Ball, Gary Barwin, derek beaulieu, Judith Copithorne, jwcurry, Amanda Earl, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, David Fujino, Geof Huth, anatol knotek, Nicholas Papaxanthos, Aram Saroyan, Gerry Shikatani, Sandra Stephenson, George Swede and Mark Trustcott, edited by Casteels himself.

the dog in the lake

the top of his back

not wet

like joy

or grief retrieved

the thrown ball returned

to shore then shook (Gary Barwin)

Puddles of Sky Press is a relatively recent publishing venture that has quickly evolved into a micro publisher worth paying attention to [see my previous note on him and his work here], producing small impressive items of incredibly condensed texts and concrete/visual poetry works, and this issue also includes a tiny chapbook of visual works by Ottawa poet Amanda Earl. Earl has also been producing increasingly interesting works over the past few years, from poetry to visuals to prose, and the results are striking. An aspect of the journal reminds me of the journal that Stuart Ross used to produce (and is hopefully still producing), his PETER O’TOOLE: A JOURNAL OF ONE-LINE POEMS, and, I suspect, even if Casteels isn’t working a direct homage, there is certainly plenty of overlap in their interest.

                        branch like a line like a branch (Mark Truscott)

Friday, October 25, 2013

new from above/ground press: Armantrout, Higdon, Adams + the 2014 subscription bonus!

Rae Armantrout

The State In Which
Hailey Higdon

An Overture in the Key of F
Carrie Olivia Adams

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
September/October 2013
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

ALSO: anyone who subscribes to above/ground press BEFORE November 1st also receives a complimentary copy of each ofthese! new titles in the works by Lary Bremner (Timewell), David Phillips, Nicholas Lea and Hugh Thomas, among others.

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 [NEW ADDRESS!] or paypal (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print). And keep checking in on the blog for a variety of new publications, reviews of titles, interviews with authors, upcoming readings and a ton of other activity.

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.