For the first time, Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series will be participating in the ottawa small press book fair, to be held on June 18.
1 – When did the Vallum Chapbook Series 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?
The Vallum Chapbook Series started in 2005 published by Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (Vallum). As a publisher we have strived to publish a variety of voices, with a focus on Canadian poets, but not exclusively. In the past, we have chosen solicited work by one notable poet and one emerging poet. This year, we have established our first Chapbook contest, open to all. We publish two chapbooks per year, so one will be the contest winner and the other will be a solicited work.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Well we love books! We started publishing the magazine Vallum: Contemporary Poetry in 2001, and have been registered as a Canadian Charity since 2003. We decided to broaden our scope and publish chapbooks in addition to the magazine.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Small publishing is very important in the continuation of literary culture and vital for the promotion of poets and poetry. Although printing costs are often prohibitive, and there is a turn to digital media, I think publishing in print is important. There should be support from the public and other financing institutions for small presses as they are supporting something of value in the literary community.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Vallum publishes on a small scale and is not doing anything that other small presses are not. We try to publish good writers, with as best a publication quality as funding will allow.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
The most effective way to get chapbooks out into the world is by advertising them through social media and launches. Launches are great because the poet can also read their work and promote their chapbooks that way. But mostly, it is through forums like blogs or Face Book that information about new chapbooks can be circulated. Distributors usually don’t accept books that are not perfect bound and in quantity, so it has to be done via mail, or word of mouth. Vallum’s magazine has national distribution by Magazines Canada, but the chapbooks do not.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Editorially, we do not like to change too many things about a poet’s chapbook, unless the poet is emerging and in need of some guidance. A light touch is most often preferred. We have 2-3 editors looking at the chapbooks and a layout designer who also does some cover art.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We distribute our books through our online store, through subscriptions, at press fairs, and sell them at launches. Our usual print-run is 150, but that may go up.
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 mainly us, the editors-in-chief, who are involved with editing. The Managing Editor is involved with production and design/layout. This works well, although there are always time
constraints to worry about.
9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Being editors has humbled us in that there are so many good poets writing out there. So much poetry to choose from, and so difficult to make decisions. We have been lucky in that Vallum has published many excellent poets like Don McKay, Franz Wright, George Elliott Clarke, Jan Zwicky and others. Also some exciting new talent.
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?
Vallum has published work by its editors in the past, but it is something we try to avoid, although we’re not against it. Sometimes it’s good to have work by the editors put forth by the same press. It allows a view into the editor’s and publisher’s world, and so, why not?
11– How do you see the Vallum Chapbook Series evolving?
Vallum’s chapbook series is becoming more noticed since we have started to promote it more. We’ve held more launches and advertised more. Hopefully the Chapbook Contest will be fruitful and allow for a wider range of poets to reach us. Maybe one day we’ll publish more than two per year.
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?
We’re really happy with the poets who have contributed to the Series and hope to continue in this vein and to find new, up-and-coming poets to add to our list. I think a lot of people haven’t known about our Chapbook Series, so it’s been a little slow in the past selling copies and getting the word out. It’s more feasible to promote one’s publications with the help of social media. Our biggest frustration is that people are reluctant to actually buy poetry books.
13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Our models have been small Canadian presses, in general, with no specific one. As mentioned, our chapbook series has been slow in evolving, but it’s coming along nicely. Our first models for publishing were university publications at Concordia University while we were MA students there. That's where the Vallum idea began.
14– How does the Vallum Chapbook Series work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see the Vallum Chapbook Series in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We’re making every effort to be in contact with other presses. Recently we had a Toronto launch with Frog Hollow Press, and we’re in exchange with the Atwater Reading Series, and other venues. We go to the Toronto Small Press Fair and Expozine every year, and this summer to the Ottawa Small Press Fair. We’re always looking to connect with other publishers and poets in the literary community. We hold regular launches for the chapbooks and the magazine, and this is very important in keeping in touch with the community, vital even.
15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We hold a launch and/or readings every time we publish something, be it a magazine issue or a chapbook. These are very important to get the word out and important for the authors who like the visibility and the opportunity to read and display their work.
16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
This year, we’re using the internet and converting some of our print chapbooks into digital chapbooks, for those interested in digital.
The internet is a vital tool for the dissemination of poetry and the like. Unfortunately, this is not always the best way to enjoy poetry. A book in hand and a cup of tea (coffee or beer!) in a cafe is a much better way.
17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We used to be open to submissions but now have a Chapbook Contest in place and we like to solicit one of the chapbook authors. So the winner receives publication and promotion. We may increase our yearly chapbook run, if time and resources permit. One of the things that we adhere to is a 25-pp length maximum for contest submissions.
18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Some of our most recent titles include Mary di Michele’s The Montreal Book of the Dead, Don McKay’s Larix, Vincent Pagé’s
12 or 20 (small press) questions;