Thursday, June 25, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #5 : Puddles of Sky Press,

Michael e. Casteels wrestles with robots in existential-crisis, dinosaurs that refuse extinction, alphabets in various stages of explosion/implosion, and many other serious topics, like century-long bus rides, and the way the clouds look right now. His first collection of poetry, The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses, was published in autumn of 2016 by Invisible Publishing, and a chapbook collaboration with Nick Papaxanthos is new with above/ground press. He lives in Kingston, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

Puddles of Sky Press produces handmade chapbooks of poetry, with a focus on surrealist, minimalist, and concrete/visual poetry.

My friend Andrew Nurse and I started the press over 15 years ago when we were both living in Peterborough. We started it as an avenue to help one another publish poetry zines, which we distributed to friends and family. We shared production materials like staplers and paper cutters and printers, and when we could, we’d help with some printing costs for others. Through the press we also hosted a number of poetry readings in Peterborough.

When I moved to Kingston 10 years ago I continued publishing my work under the Puddles of Sky imprint. Through Stuart Ross, the 2010 Queen’s Writer in Residence, I became aware of the broader community of chapbook presses. With some encouragement from Stuart I began publishing work from other writers. I also became more focused on the quality of my publications—moving away from zine publishing, towards finer crafted chapbooks.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?

Over a dozen times now—I easily lose track of time, so I’m not sure of the exact number.

Sometimes, sale-wise, the fair can be hit-or-miss. Some fairs I’ll sell a whack of chapbooks, and some fairs I’ll hardly make my gas money back. But really, if I were in chapbook publishing to make money then I’d have been out of the game 15 years ago.

The best part about the Ottawa Small Press Fair is the community. Most of the folks I see there I only see there, twice a year. It’s my time to connect with other writers, peers, and friends. I’ve made some incredible relationships through the Ottawa Small Press Fair. They’re a welcoming bunch.

Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?

I usually base my production schedules around the Small Press Fairs. I’m a professional procrastinator. Usually the week leading up the fair has me awake until 2:30 a.m., proofing, printing, cutting, stamping, sewing, trimming, etc. I love that rush that leads up to the fair.

I had a few projects lined up for this June’s. One was rubber-stamped chapbook by MA|DE (a collaboration between Mark Laliberte and Jade Wallace).  Another was a self-published chapbook of new minimalist poems. These two projects are on the back burner for now. I’m waiting for the impulse to start working on them. Without that impulse I’d really feel like I was forcing the production, and that would take a lot of the fun out of the project. I’m certain that drive will arise at some point in the near future.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?

One project I have continued is the Puddles of Sky Postcard Series. I’ve published 4 postcards since March. I haven’t been selling any of them, but I’ve been sending them out to friends and family and other writers. It’s how I’ve managed to keep in touch. Rather than sending an email or a facebook message I just jot down a quick note and pop it in the mail. Having over 800 postcards on hand makes that pretty easy.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?

To be honest, I’ve sort of retreated from the world for the past few months. I haven’t been on social media since mid-March, and I’ve been trying to curb my internet activities as much as possible. I’ve never liked video calls, so I’ve really cut myself off from the larger community for now.

On the flip side of this I’ve been incredibly productive with my own writing and visual art work. I feel like it’s been a good, and healthy retreat—sort of a social hibernation. I’m back to work now, so I imagine I’ll start reconnecting with the larger literary community before long.

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?

All of my supplies are pretty easily accessed. Since most of my recent publications have been rubber-stamped, I have a surplus of materials to work from. I’ve probably got enough paper and ink to last me two or three pandemics.

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might people still be able to order copies?

The most recent publications are the new Puddles of Sky Postcards. Two from myself. One from collage artist Sean F’n Gammon. And most recently, an installment of jwcurry’s Welcome to Concrete Series. They’re not up on the website yet, but this interview is the push I need to update that, so expect to see them there soon.

Q: What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the 9th draft of a novel. Working on a series of comic book collages. Plus writing postcards, typing letters, and slowly crawling out from my cave and re-entering the world at large. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #4 : Carol Stephen,

Carol A. Stephen’s poetry appears in Poetry Is Dead, June 2017 and numerous print publications, including Wintergreen Studios chapbooks Sound Me When I’m Done and Teasing the Tongue.  Online poems appear at Silver Birch Press, Topology Magazine, The Light Ekphrastic, and With Painted Words.  Carol won 3rd prize in the CAA National Capital Writing Contest, and was featured in Tree’s Hot Ottawa Voices.  She served on the board for Canadian Authors Association-NCR and co-directed Ottawa’s Tree Reading Series.  Carol has five chapbooks, two released in 2018: Unhook, catkin press, Carleton Place and Lost Silence of the Small, Local Gems Press, Long Island, NY.  In 2019, Winning the Lottery, Surviving Clostridium Difficile was published by Crowe

Q: Tell me about your writing. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

I've been writing off and on for decades, but got serious about it in 2006. I need to be able to write. I am compelled to write, and in times of worry it is the one thing that helps the worry to subside.  But that's writing. And you asked about publishing.

In 2011, I set up Quillfyre Publishing to produce a chapbook, Tangled Strands, for poems from A Canadian Authors Association poetry circle. The following year, I published my own work in Architectural Variations. (A copy of that book is in the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, along with a copy of a poem I wrote about a now-vanished small wetland area and its sign: No Swimming - Alligators.

Since several friends already have established imprints, most of my own chapbooks appear under those imprints.  But I've been active in the poetry community in and around Ottawa since 2006, and at times have served various writing organizations. I've been a member of the Ottawa branch of Canadian Authors Association, on the board of Tree, a co-director of Tree, a former manager of the Ottawa area branch for The Ontario Poetry Society, and I am a Bywords poetry selector.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience? 

I've exhibited at the fair three times in the past, when there was new work available to offer. But I have attended quite a few more times as a customer.

Q: Would you have had something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?

This year, I have several of my poetry chapbooks available. My latest book, an combination of essays and poems, Winning the Lottery, will be on offer as well.  Other titles available include Architectural Variations, Ink Dogs in my Shoes, and two chapbooks published in 2018: Unhook, Lost Silence of the Small. I still have a few copies of two collaborative chapbooks with JC Sulzenko, Breathing Mutable Air and Slant of Light.

Q: How are you, as literary writer, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?

The shutdown has certainly changed life as we know it!  And it makes it difficult for writers to get their books into the hands of readers.  Other than running a single ad on Facebook during a one-time credit offer, I have not been marketing my work. There is a diffidence there that I still haven't quite worked through, I guess.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?

I am actually far more active in the writing world right now, partly because even though I live outside Ottawa, with events moved online I can once again take part without having to drive home at midnight. ! During shutdown, I have been attending Tree via Zoom (they are doing a great job! Kudos to Ben Ladouceur and Stephen Brockwell!) , and Writerly Love, a writing community under the wise guidance of Rachel Thompson, who edits for Room.  One great thing about the shutdown is the newly available reading series from coast to coast that no longer are too far away to attend. (Although often a bit late in the evening!) I am trying to attend book launches as I can though, both to be supportive, and to keep that electricity of being with other writers and poets that just doesn't exist otherwise. I really miss that part of being on the Board of Tree. I hope that continues after everything is opened up again. It has provided a way to attend launches for new books. I have also participated in the e-book offerings by Jay MillAr on Book*hug. The good thing about e-books is the space they take. But they still don't really replace a good hard (or soft!) copy book. There have also been some interesting Zoom events from the OPL recently. I am surprised at just how active the virtual writing scene has become.

Q: What is your most recent book? How might folk be able to order copies? 

My most recent book is Winning the Lottery, surviving Clostridium Difficile. It's about surviving a life-threatening infection and learning to live with an altered anatomy due to an ileostomy. One of the poems from this book was published in the Let Them See You Sweat issue of Poetry is Dead magazine, Spring-Summer 2017. Descriptions of my poetry chapbooks are available at Copies of them, as well as Winning the Lottery, are available from me, by dropping a line to Winning the Lottery is also available from Amazon.

Q: What are you working on now?

JC and I have been seeking a publisher for Breath of Sea and Sky, our collaborative collection of ekphrastic poetry, and that is ongoing, but we took advantage of the shutdown to look at it again and revamp it a bit. For myself, I have been writing a lot of pandemic-related poems, and submitted them to calls, and poems about the dystopian world just south of us.

Because I am a prolific writer, though, I am now finding it hard to choose which poems I want to send out as a full collection. That had to wait last year, but I am back on that project as well.  And, I'm also enrolled in a month-long workshop through the International Women's Writing Guild called Writing your Tomorrows: Tools for Women in Transition.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Talking Poetics #21 : Cody-Rose Clevidence

poems projects forms ideas

    caveat:  once I was asked this question and I hacked together a smartish sounding answer and my partner at the time later was like man the real answer is I come home and you have 25 tabs open all of synonyms for “dirt”.  so.  there’s that. 

   here is my notoriously incorrect self analysis:  I wait until I have an idea—this waiting usually feels like I have given up on writing and ideas—I read my books and wait for something to interest me, both in the realm of some sort of architecture-of-thought [about a given set of things] and also formally, prosodically.  maybe the lulls are when absolutely nothing excites me so I have nothing to study, nothing to attempt, but also some times I think of it like some sort of gestational primordial soup of a back burner in my mind thinking along until there’s some sort of form, some readiness to the ideas.  this is true of my first two books but my third book had a different set, or angle, or dimension, of first principles, which was annoying to concede to.  anyway.  right so it seems to me that first poetry is made of words, and, intrinsically, words are made out of sounds, and in conjunction with eachother words and sounds form beat structures, prosody, no matter what.  so it seems like if yr not contending with those things that’s like a painter disregarding colors as foundational to the form of the painting, or light and dark, or brushstrokes.  I think my study began when I started studying prosody in this way like, as a mechanism.  but I wont suggest mine, go find yr own obsessions.  and then in my life and my writing there’s just ideas, the question of what’s interesting.  in BEAST FEAST it was ideas of the law, the state, lawlessness, chaos, randomization, order and also probably “America” and ideas of freedom, and queerness.  In Flung / Throne I had just read John McPhee’s Annals of A Former World and was trying to conceive of geologic time and the evolution of consciousness and sentientness and sensation and like I dunno mitochondria and stuff.  I didn’t write my third book for a long time because every time I tried to write it came out this earnest personal emotive goop which... like I just don’t normally find interesting in poems, so I was like damn bitch fine I’ll wait it out till this passes, and then it didn’t pass, this was all after my dad died, also I think living in the south, in Arkansas, was reaching its roots in me, and, fuck it, love exists, or whatever, like it happens to people.  Anyway I wasn’t bored of prosody but I couldn’t find anything stunning to break apart and figure out how it worked on that level and I just for whatever reason turned to the things my dad had given me when I was younger, maybe that’s a common returning-to, but so Rilke and Nietzsche and Ovid and Homer.  so like there’s yr earnest anguish in the 1st two, and the world as magical and fickle, and then what I ended up wanting to study was the emotive and architectural effect of motifs, of the recurring refrains of codified language, the way those repetitions build up an increasing emotive force and meaning and anchor and thread.  I think my third book is mostly a lovesong to Arkansas, and to grief.  So yeah, I don’t, much, conceive of “a poem” ... my friend the poet Sara Nicholson once told me she was just trying to write “poems” like as opposed to the whole arc or argument of a whole ass project, and I remember it blew my mind.  Her poems are beautiful, and complete, as poems.  I don’t think I can do that, I can mostly only think of mine as “movements” or something, all angles towards some constellation.  but I will say when I’m working on a project I gather a stack of books whose writing I want to shape the writing I’m trying to write and read and reread them until the prosody and the lineation and the way things are used goes like below the level of “I-I-understand-in-my-brain” (useless) to some deeper melding of understanding in my understanding of lines, prosody, lineation, image, all together.  which is also why you have to be careful what you read, because it gets in there whether you like it or not, its a careful question of choosing how you want to be shaped, I think.  a thing to guard. 

  I understand this doesn’t answer the question of why the fuck my poems look like that on the page.  all I can say is sometimes I draw out the forms before I have the words for them.    

   Amway, I’ve had some thoughts forming for a few years now towards some different thing, no frills no imbecilic flourishes, that I’m just starting to grapple with or conceive of and there’s a way in which that can’t be talked about, cuz if you look at it too hard the form that’s taking shape in yr periphery will collapse.  but these days I’m mostly googling words that rhyme with “justice”

Cody-Rose Clevidence is the author of BEAST FEAST (2014) and Flung/Throne (2018) both from Ahsahta Press, and Aux Arc / Trypt Ich (forthcoming from Nightboat) and several handsome chapbooks (flowers and cream, NION, garden door press).  They live in the Arkansas Ozarks with their medium sized but lion-hearted dog, Birdie.