Thursday, August 27, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #16 : post ghost press,

post ghost press is a tiny publisher of microchapbooks and other strange projects, committed to publishing something new, weird, and lovable every month.

Dessa Bayrock is an ex-journalist and current PhD student. She is the editor of post ghost press and quite successfully kept six marigold plants alive this summer.

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

I founded post ghost press in the summer of 2018 in the twilight of July and the cusp of August. The inception of the press came from a couple of different places: after picking up a handful of poetry zines in Shelf Life Books while visiting Calgary, I became entranced with the one-sheet, eight-page zine style that folds against and into itself to make a tiny book. I was entranced with how I carried this zine with me, pocket-sized, and how easily it could be mailed, this palm-sized poem book, to anyone at all. I began cutting up a series of old science encyclopedias I found in my apartment building’s laundry room and collaged a small story of my own into a zine, and then immediately thought: okay, but how can I start publishing other writers? Two years later I’m still cutting up those encyclopedias, as well as a stack of 70s National Geographics, and mailing these weird little microchapbooks all over the world. It’s a dream – a strange and compelling dream.

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

I’ve exhibited twice at the small press fair, and visited twice before that. Wandering into the Jack Purcell gym for the first time on fair day and seeing all these local chapbooks and poets in one place is a little like wandering into a carnival – you know, for book nerds. It’s entrancing and energizing and everyone chatters a mile a minute.

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 use the fair as impetus to get some cool projects nailed down and pushed through production – it’s hard running a press and making your own deadlines, and there are so many cool projects I want to do. The post ghost press tagline is “put poems everywhere”, and the fair is an excuse to take that literally – matchboxes, socks, bookmarks and stickers and so on and on. What would a poem look like on a teabag? What would a poem look like on a coaster? A beer can? It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day work of chapbooks in the press, and the fair is like a friendly little notification: Hey! What else do you want to put on a table and show people? What else seems cool and undoable? Okay – how can we do it? With this year’s fair cancelled – and, you know, the pandemic, and the largest civil rights movement of our time –  it was easy to put these projects away for a while. It’s a bit sad, and to be honest I’m not sure when I’ll make time for those special projects again. But it feels important, too, like an act of mourning – for the fair, for all the delayed publication schedules from my press and others, for everything else lost in the pandemic – and, simultaneously, like an act of self-care. In a way, the cancelled fair gave me the gift of being able to slow down, at least for a little while, and to think about how the press is or will be moving forward.

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?

Just before the pandemic hit, I’d been collecting submissions for a tiny anthology about love. This submissions stack turned out to be a beautiful resource of hope: all these strangers talking about what it means to love someone far away, to love someone who doesn’t know, to be told they shouldn’t write about love, to be told love doesn’t exist, to love a sister, a mother, a brother, a roommate, a cat. I sat inside my apartment and sobbed over these submissions – these tiny transmissions from the past that spoke so well to the future.

I ended up producing the love anthology, as well as an origami broadside (which was an amazingly fun project, and which I’m so glad I never have to do again and yet can’t wait to try again), and then kept diving into that submissions pile to create another tiny anthology about hope and spring just as we realized that the pandemic was going to stretch into the spring, and summer, and god knows how much else longer. I have a third anthology, too, lined up from this submissions stack, and I think its time is coming closer, since this collection is less about love and hope and more about what the world looks like after positivity has waned: a reminder that anger, bitterness, and bad dreams are blossoms and fruits of the same plant, and that they also deserve to be heard.  

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 have to admit that I’ve hermited, hibernated, avoided. I find it incredibly hard to enjoy video meetings or events, even with people I love. There are so many beautiful events happening online, and I’ve been watching them from the sidelines and cheering and wishing I could feel more engaged. For now, for me, it’s more than enough that these events are bringing communities together for other people. After five months, I’ve started to come to terms with this. In some ways, it’s comforting – to give myself permission to hole up in my apartment and anonymously make and mail zines to people.

And I’ve been writing, too, in my own way. On the airplane home from an ill-fated March trip, which began when the pandemic was an interesting anecdote and ended with the world shutting down, I wrote a poem about Tolstoy and birth and apocalypse and office memos which wound up in a charitable anthology of pandemic poems. This month, I’m writing in tandem Heidi Greco and Sybilla Nash as part of The Decameron Writing Series, which is a lovely and strange project grounded in plague work like the original Decameron (how do we talk about it? how do we stay sane while avoiding it?), which is organized by Angela Caravan (who wrote one of the very first chapbooks I published with post ghost). It’s this kind of work and these kinds of connections that remind me that the world is still going on; we’re still able to connect to one another, to hold and comfort one another, even without zoom calls.

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’m lucky in that my production isn’t too complicated: every chapbook starts out as a single piece of paper, which I usually obtain using the photocopiers at Staples. I’m lucky that I live so close to Staples, and that the print shop remained open for curbside pickup even when the photocopiers were closed for the pandemic. This ran me into new issues (why are the margins so much wider when the print people print them for me? should I cut them of? how much is a paper cutter? god, why is a paper cutter so expensive?) but at the end of the day it wasn’t too difficult to manage. More difficult is finding motivation – not just to tend to the press, but to do anything. It’s a difficult time to find gentleness, but important, too. I’m grateful for my subscribers, who support me and support the work that I’m able to do with the press, and never get impatient when their shipments are days – or weeks – late. Everything is running on a different kind of time, right now. Patience is one of the most important kind of gifts we can give one another, and I’ve been given an embarrassment of riches from my subscribers, my writers, and everyone else in the community in these weird and trying times. 

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

I just published three brand new chaps, which have been in the pipe for a while: Fishmongering with my mother-in-law, by Ashly Kim, and Augury of Ash, by Summer J. Hart.

Fishmongering is another kind of a love poem: an ode to an intergenerational and intercultural relationship, and the depth and breadth and surprising texture and detail of that relationship. It’s sweet but also sharp, and it could bone you like a fish – if it wanted to.

Augury of Ash is a strange and beautiful poem that feels like a dream and like an old-world fairy tale all at once. It feels, in some ways, like a list of omens – and the reader has to divine their own path out of the dark forest, the bird-filled nightmare, the strange shadows on the wall.

These and many others are available in the post ghost press Etsy shop!

Q: What are you working on now?

In no particular order, and as vaguely as possible: a set of poems about a dead dad, a set of poems that are really Venn diagrams, a set of poems about bitterness (although I already told you about that one, so it’s cheating), a chapbook from which the Seinfeld references have been exorcised, a deck of cards that is both a world-building device and a narrative in its own write, and a long collection of mountain-themed work which may or may not spell its own demise.

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