Wednesday, June 10, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #2 : phafours press,

Pearl Pirie with fellow exhibitor Seymour Hamilton : photo by Stuart Ross
phafours press, is meant to spread wider what delights me, or moves me. Sometimes thar’s social conscience, or haiku or surreal. I’d like to publish poetry with the importance & tone of the stories in Shut Up You’re Pretty. But who wouldn’t.

Online it’s at or you can go to Twitter but tweets are fewer than leaves on a winter oak @phafours

Pearl Pirie’s fourth collection, footlights, comes in the fall 2020 from Radiant Press. Her newest chapbook is Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020). Her epistle haibun chapbook, Water loves its bridges: Letters to the dead, is due out in Dec 2020 from The Alfred Gustav Press by subscription.

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

The idea(l) of a press with the power of means of production in hand appeals. I like self-reliance. I made chapbooks since primary school.

I thought online meant anyone could access but sites get lost in the billions. I wanted “real world” copies of my online chapbooks at pagehalffull so made mini chapbooks of those online around 2000-2003 & dropped them guerilla style in library books, at cafes, and in newspaper boxes like I saw homeless people doing with their poems.

I wanted to make a poem sampler, yes, I called it that,  for a small press fair in 2007. That was when the press started because I started looking beyond my own poems.

It seemed it needed a name so I picked phafours (fa’ forz) for the PHA4 gene which governs the pharyngeal cells, gonads, sphincter and may relate to longevity. I thought it was funny. Plus it’s a homophobe for favours.

I wanted to publish poems of the Rubies & boost other poets around me which I did. 2 years after that I took a bookmaking workshop with Terry Ann Carter and discovered flutter books. I started asking friends if they’d let me promote them with this format & dropped them about willynilly after the style of rob with his poem broadsides.

I did a few anthology chapbooks,- some co-published with Tree Press, but mostly single author. Some were experiments in fancy hand binding like Monty Reid’s Kissing Bug with the sepele veneer cover.

One anthology had all funds going to the Guatemala Stove Project so poetry funded stoves for 3 families. That’s something I’m most proud of. Real world change.

All in, 57 titles.

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

I’m not sure. Maybe since 2011?  15 times? I could be wildly wrong. I missed a year at least as an exhibitor due to concussion. I probably went since 2006? Sometimes I tabled with others. The past is a coastal country of fog.

The fair is the biggest social of my year & my biggest book buying blowouts. I like seeing the new faces & familiar ones with no where to be but chat. I feel at home among like-minds. 

My fav part of readings is the chatting and this is that without having to aurally absorb poetry. I’d rather read.

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?

Not this time, but I had hoped to sell my newest chapbook from Éditions des petits nuages. In the fall i hoped to sell my Radiant press book as an author but probably 2020 fall fair is off too? Maybe quarantine will last 2 years.

I haven’t had an open call for a couple years. I try to solicit women poets, check in for years, but get put off & get out of the blue from retired white guys. Even after I put up notice of closed for submissions. but that’s industry standard reflection of societal gender behaviour.

There were a few chapbooks in my wish-queue last year that I got out there.

I haven’t decided whether to produce more or not but a few years ago I decided I won’t be acting like a commercial press anymore, making new wares for spring & fall seasons. I will publish when there’s energy & sometimes I can’t resist trying to signal boost.

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?

Everything is winter molasses. I hear that is common in Spain on grilled eggplant but since I have no eggplant, make of that what you will.

Pre-pandemic I closed the etsy endeavour since it cost more than it made in fees. I updated my massively (3 year) out of date author site. I made a few chapbooks as free downloads under resources. People buy from there. De facto every dollar paid for my chapbooks, i go around & buy twice as much in books. (Oops.)

Mostly I’m reading & working not writing & publishing.

I’m designing new online courses with an ever sliding schedule of launch date.

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 will be doing my first zoom reading  7pm on June 12 with Ellen Chang-Richardson, Chris Johnson, Conyer Clayton, and Christine McNair as part of the inauguration of the House Party Series. Contact to register & for details at: RSVP with  Book sales & hat pass all goes to Black Legal Action Centre.

I have attended three Zoom events, and attempted to attend a couple more but didn’t get through. 

I often don’t have enough internet here to connect even for a phone call where in we both don’t sound like Darth Vader, but I’m more curtailed by how much I can absorb. 

I suppose twitter remains my main hub for what’s going on in literature. And books themselves.

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?

I usually print from my home printer anyway. A lot of sales are direct by mail so no big changes there.

It’s more an examination in how I wish to spend my time. I like layout & design but not fiddly bits of assembly or the baffling art of promotion & sales.

And I question the point of publishing to absorb loss. The economics are harsh. I want authors to make money from poetry. Maybe that’s me being commodity-minded which is the wrong model. Many authors often give their copies for free to people I would have sold to in order to get back material costs. I don’t know how not to lose money & for the author not to lose money.

I don’t know how to sell ideas that I’m jazzed about. Maybe I bite down too much on my enthusiasm and assume the brilliance of these works are self-evident?

If authors are already good at self-promo marketing, what value do I add with my stamp? Anyone can publish. If they are not good at sales, i don’t think I can move stuff to the degree they deserve. I am flummoxed Grumpy Cat.

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

The morning becomes azaleas/
Le matin devient azalées haiku by Paul David Mena
Evacuate: poems by Mohamad Kebbewar
Occasionally Rational Human by Stephen Brockwell
Savior of the Western Wor(l)d by Pearl Pirie
Cough of a Sloth by Claudia Coutu Radmore

Everything is at with prices. People can email what they want & we can work out etransfer or whatnot from there.

Q: What are you working on now?

In theory a novel. (Maybe more practically a thumb puzzle. )

I’m trying to read as much as I can. Currently: Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutinji, Motel of the Opposable Thumbs by Stuart Ross,  Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, The Devil by John Nyman, The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde, and The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole.

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