shreeking violet press, established in June 2014, specializes in small runs of handcrafted poetry broadsides, books and other papery oddities.
Marilyn Irwin is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Creative Writing program, winner of the 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, and a 2014 Hot Ottawa Voice. Her work has been published by above/ground press, Arc Poetry Magazine, Bywords, In/Words, New American Writing, Matrix Magazine and others. Her seventh and most recent chapbook, waving usufruct, a poetry/photography collaboration with David Emery and Samantha Lapierre, was published by The Steel Chisel in 2016. She runs shreeking violet press in Ottawa.
shreeking violet press will be participating in the ottawa small press book fair, to be held on Saturday, June 18.
1 – When did shreeking violet 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?
After being named a 2014 Hot Ottawa Voice by the Tree Reading Series, I decided to make a broadside of my poem “sex at 31” to sell at the reading as I didn’t have much to leave on the book table at the time. Due to lack of time and a big helping of ambition which involved a typewriter, unforgiving handmade paper and needle and thread, I only made 4 (and then 2 more, one for myself and one for a friend who requested it). I realized it was then or never and wrote “shreeking violet press” on each. I refer to it as “Broadside #0”.
Over the next several months, I obtained a logo and went a little nuts purchasing art supplies. I carved different rubber stamps (something I previously had never attempted) and painstakingly hand stamped 150 broadsides and modge podged little fabric wraps (more, if you count the ones that I futzed up) and spent way too much on cool envelopes for the inaugural spring collection with poems by rob mclennan, JC Bouchard and Rachael Simpson. While I treasure them dearly, I realized that production model was not sustainable and that, if I wanted to keep things relatively affordable without compromising my creative itch while respecting and honouring the work people submit, there must be another way.
For the fall 2015 launch, I accepted chapbook manuscripts from Pearl Pirie and David Currie. This time, I outsourced the printing and art which saved immense time and stress and afforded me the time to focus on the layout and design and sewing the binding, etc. This model of production persists and continues to be effective and relatively smooth.
Since establishing the press on a whim, I have been publishing new books and broadsides by some amazingly talented writers in the spring and fall, to coincide with the bi-annual ottawa small press book fair (with the odd one-off). I feel like we’ve figured out our stride for this stage of the press’ lifecycle.
I have learned how to be more patient. I have learned that sacrifices sometimes have to be made for valid reasons. I have learned the joy of helping to bring other people’s work into being and it is rewarding beyond measure.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
It stemmed out of my desire to create books and nice, papery things which first crossed my mind when I self-published my first chapbook, for when you pick daisies, in 2010, for my first featured reading with the factory reading series.
The desire to make unique representations of work I admire by people I admire occurred to me moments after I completed the project. I can’t really draw or paint but I love experimenting with crafts and I love paper as a physical object which, alone, can reflect a wide variety of styles and moods. I love editing documents and the whole midwifing process. I really enjoy helping to anchor something as abstract as poetry to an actualized, physical form. And there is no better feeling than seeing an author as excited about the finished product as I am after they’ve entrusted me to best represent and showcase their work.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
To assist the author by way of platform in spreading their humble, beautiful, gut-wrenching, devious, burning, important words to the minor masses. To act as archivist.Validation. Encouragement.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
My initial reaction to this question is “I don’t know” simply because there are so many other presses doing their own wonderful things, making their own contributions to the local and further poetry communities. There are many new and established poets and authors whose wonderful, experimental, raw, upsetting work I wouldn’t otherwise know thanks to small presses.
As a publisher, I’m particularly interested in work that is equally foreign and familiar. There needs to be that balance of intrigue as well as an appeal to my human experience. If I’m not affected by the work, I won’t be inspired by it and it will be written with permanent marker on cardboard bound with tape. The hope is that all comes out in my choice of authors and our finished products.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
You know, I bet the internet is probably the answer here; soft copies. We have an online presence and one can purchase our wares online but, for now, I prefer sticking to real paper smell and real paper feel. The paper method might not be as effective at spreading the word as far or making as many sales but, if those were my true blue life intentions at this point, I wouldn’t have a day job. The MOST effective way would be to follow the above/ground method of quick copies on cost-effective paper in higher runs bound with 1 staple. It’s just not what I’ve set out to do. And I enjoy the sewing and the stamping, and the pretty paper, etc., etc., too much.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Yes. All of that. First and foremost, I only solicit work from writers whose work I genuinely enjoy and admire. I generally assess the individual pieces (singular if broadside), then the project as a whole. I will share my thoughts and suggested edits (if any) but the author retains full control and final say and I’m very transparent on this point.
Some poets will ask for a more in-depth review and others would prefer little to no input. I’m happy to oblige but am careful to pay attention to cohesion, syntax vs rewriting their voice and intentions out when they are game for feedback. My effort really depends on the shape of the work and how nitty gritty the writer (and I) want to get. Some submissions are more polished or clear in their intent than others when they arrive. I try not to get too handsy but will suggest minor edits or, in the case of chapbooks, removal or exchange of pieces if they don’t flow or contribute to the flow of what’s happening around it. I’m game for whatever it takes for both the writer and I to feel proud about what we accomplish and set free into the world by the end of the process.
7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Currently we have a bi-annual presence at the Ottawa small press book fair and are hoping, time and finances willing, to attend book fairs outside the city in the coming year(s).
We love to daydream about what annual/biannual launches or a regular-ish reading series might look like. We could put our things on a table and call it the book table and see what happens.
Our wares are always available, while supplies last, through our Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/shreekingvioletpress
Runs vary, according to available time and finances, from 50 to 100 copies.
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?
It is mostly a one-woman affair. I have outsourced some of the printing (and folding) to save on time and headache – especially when deadlines approach. I’ve also worked with some amazingly talented artists such as Angie Nellis and Geoffrey Bates and am always looking to collaborate with artists willing to work on these projects. It is consistently a beautiful time.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I suppose it hasn’t; not obviously, anyway. I have my tastes and my ways and, while I have noticed my writing style has evolved over the past 7 or 8 or 9 years that I’ve been actively engaging with poetry and the poetry community, I can’t boil down a single “ism” I can solely attribute to my growth as editor/publisher when so many other wonderful experiences have been part of my education and experience as a writer.
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?
This can be a contentious issue, depending on with whom you speak. I see the argument for and against. I see no justifiable reason why a publisher shouldn’t publish their own work through their own press (considering the amount of time, energy and, presumably, out of pocket finances they have invested in their company) with the caveat that you don’t make your own work the priority or focus of your press’ output. Because that would get old real fast. There is merit to seeing the worth of your own work and not being able to find it a home/mid-wife. There is also the possibility that one needs to further edit instead of self-publish before it’s truly ready for other eyes. And one of the perks to focusing on other authors is all the amazing, never before seen work you get to read and produce all nice-like for the people.
I’ve self-published thrice under the shreeking violet imprint. The first was a run of 4 + 2 broadsides which inspired my getting into action to set up the press.The second was a broadside co-released with a broadside by Ottawa poet Chris Johnson as we were collaborating on erasure poems which culminated in a joint feature for the relaunch of Chrysalis back in December. And, a poem of mine will appear in our first collective effort, due out this spring: “L’dor vador: A collection of poems inspired by other people’s recipes.” This, for the simple fact that I facilitated the workshop which inspired me to create the book and I participated along with the group. These choices made sense to me at the time and I don’t feel as though my name is too pervasive throughout the shreeking violet catalogue. It’s difficult to be objective about how not-me thinks to know if it’s overkill or not but I’m more or less comfortable with the choices I’ve made on this subject.
11– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
above/ground, Apt. 9, Puddles of Sky, Little Red Leaves and JackPine all offered a different and appealing perspective on what small press publishing could mean - and they continue to do so. I’m sure I’m missing another handful of names. There are so many more who make beautiful little books which I’m just discovering. It’s an exciting time to have a toe in the small press world.
12– How does shreeking violet press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see shreeking violet press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Food for thought! It’s amazing how many opportunities present themselves once you establish a thing or start a thing or do a thing. This type of engagement has not been on my radar, for the most part, due to limited brain space and time for what I want and need to do with the press in its establishing years. I will add this to my daydreams. Please ask again in some years’ time.
13– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
This has been on the backburner for about a year. If I could split myself in three….
14– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Due to limited time and finances to invest in production and communications to hopeful authors and an ever growing list of people we’d like to publish, shreeking violet does not currently accept submissions.
15– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Pearl Pirie’s Reviews of Non-existent Titles was the inaugural chapbook we published on the heels of our first three broadsides. It was the first objet d’art where I didn’t have to create the d’art so it was a much more zenful experience on my end. The description over on our Etsy store reads: “Reviews of Non-existent Titles is a bitingly funny and thoughtful collection of book reviews of books that, well, don't exist. While the books may not be real, Pirie’s commentary beautifully and painfully captures the dichotomy that surfaces when critically examining poetry - especially the kind that makes a reader cringe.”
I’m very excited to be publishing Ryan Pratt’s debut chapbook, Rabbit months, this spring. Ryan is a long-time supporter and reviewer of small press goings-on, namely between Ottawa and his current hometown of Hamilton with a growing list of his own publication credits in recent years. It’s been a pleasure working with Ryan and engaging with his pieces. It’s my hope that this book will help underscore and spread the reach of his careful skill. Poems like “Nagual” read like someone wise beyond their years with that perfect balance of observation, meditation and intrigue boiled down from a real experience or reaction: “The light is still felt. The word moon / points someplace else.” I hesitate to quote some of his other pieces as his formatting is precise, just as his every word, and line choice as been placed just so.
L’dor Vdor: A collection of poems inspired by other people’s recipes is the result of a workshop on “Recipe Poetry” which I facilitated earlier this spring through Carleton University’s English Literature Society. I’m very excited to publish such promising young writers including Ian Martin and Jennifer Greenberg with some beautiful illustrations by Geoffrey Bates. This is the perfect book for foodies and poetry lovers alike. Some recipes are more appetizing than others. It was a fun project through and through and I hope that comes through in the finished product.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;