Poets, Presses & Periodicals is a regular feature of OmniVerse, created and curated by Sara Mumolo: a conversation with the publisher of a small press or periodical, a poet they have chosen to highlight, and one of our OmniVerse staff writers.
In this installment a poem and audio recording of the featured poet, Stacy Szymaszek, follows the conversation.
Sara Mumolo’s first collection of poems, Mortar, is forthcoming from Omnidawn in fall, 2013, and she is also the author of the chapbook March (Cannibal Books, 2011). Mumolo is the Program Manager of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College of CA. She curated the Studio One Reading Series from 2008-2012 and has published work in Lana Turner, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Volta, The Offending Adam, and Action Yes, among others. She co-edits the irregular chapbook series, CALAVERAS, with Alisa Heinzman.
Elizabeth Robinson and Colleen Lookingbill edited EtherDome Press for twelve years. Robinson is the author, most recently, of Three Novels, a collection of poems published by Omnidawn. A new book, Counterpart, is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in September, 2012. Robinson has been a recipient of grants from the Boomerang Foundation, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Fund for Poetry. She will be a Djerassi Fellow in the fall of 2012 and the Hugo Fellow at the University of Montana in the spring of 2013.
Stacy Szymaszek was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. From 1999 to 2005, she worked for Woodland Pattern Book Center. In 2005 she moved to New York to serve as Program Coordinator at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, where she became Artistic Director in 2007. She is the author of the chapbooks Some Mariners (Etherdome, 2004), There Were Hostilities (repair, 2005), Pasolini Poems (Cy Press, 2005), Stacy S: Autoportraits (OMG! Press, 2008), Orizaba: A Voyage with Hart Crane (Faux Chaps, 2008), from Hart Island (Albion Books, 2009) and austerity measures (Fewer & Further Press, 2012), among many others. Her first full-length book, Emptied of All Ships, was published in 2005 and her second book Hyperglossia in 2009, both with Litmus Press.
The recently published EtherDome anthology, As If It Fell from the Sun, edited by Elizabeth Robinson and Colleen Lookingbill highlights work from each EtherDome chapbook author published over the years; it establishes a broad community of poets experimenting with the limits and nuances of what poems can be. EtherDome has fostered a dynamic space of openness and connectedness for women writers across the country.
Sara Mumolo: In the introduction of As If It Fell From the Sun, you mention that EtherDome has created a space for the lively clatter of emerging poets. This anthology acts as a tangible representation of this community and its voices, a representation that you had hoped to foster with the press’s inception. The chapbook as vehicle is a small container of work by an author and this anthology asks you and Colleen, as editors, to choose just a few pieces from these containers. Can you talk a little bit about the process of publishing the anthology vs. the chapbooks? I’m interested in your experience of making, as the chapbook can act as art object, while the anthology provides the community or neighborhood for the EtherDome endeavor.
Elizabeth Robinson: I am very in love with the world of the chapbook. It seems like an ideal way in which to frame a small body of work and try out its shape and its sinews. As a rule, I think I am attracted to tightly framed selections of work, and the chapbook can serve in that way. At the same time, a chapbook, because it is shorter, permits the author and reader to really scrutinize the relationships between poems and the patterning that emerges when one piece of work is juxtaposed with another. It’s possible to take risks and stay provisional in the construction of a chapbook while a full length book tends to make different claims for itself and to “set” or “gel” in contrast to the fluidity of the smaller publication. In putting together the anthology, we basically invited the authors to make their own decisions: “Send us ten pages of new work, of work from the chapbook, or any combination thereof.” Maybe inviting this sort of mix is how we tried to make way for the generative instability of the chapbook on a larger scale. Then, reading through the work over and over, I found myself so excited by what happened when we put these poetries side by side. Neither Colleen nor I have ever sought or wanted to cultivate some unified poetic style with the press. I hope that range is evident to the outside reader. Yet I’m very happy to look back at twelve years of material and to feel that the writing retains its vitality and that the authors we worked with are still writing, using poetry as an exploratory vehicle, and (much to my and Colleen’s gratification) continuing to publish.
SM: What sort of work would you look for to sustain your interest as editor? Perhaps you can tell us about how you come to the work and projects that interest you the most?
ER: I can’t really speak for how Colleen understands editing, but (having also worked on a magazine), I felt very free to respond to whatever poetries serendipitously come my way. That is, I don’t see most of the publishing projects I’ve worked on as a means of creating a grand poetic statement or a clearly defined school or community of writing. For that reason, I tried to choose poets who wrote dissimilarly and who were spread out over some geographic range. Implicit in my editorial approach is the imaginary dinner party: what would happen if these people were in the same room? How would their differences and affinities work out? I am an ardent fan of Burning Deck Press, and I like that they have published a huge amount of poetry and that some titles on their list seem much more successful than others—that is, Burning Deck takes risks and the passage of time may later clarify which works were truly innovative or original. In the meantime, it’s great to have the immediate pleasure of the poetry and the excitement of participating in a publishing project.
SM: I’m wondering how the initial determinations of choosing to publish just one author per year, per editor limited or sustained your participation in those traditions of experimental writing and small press publishing? Can you recall some of your favorite memories, surprises or conversations that came up between you and Colleen regarding each other’s choices about whom to publish?
ER: We basically chose one author per editor per year because we paid for everything out of pocket and the idea was to put together a project that we could sustain for a long period of time, both in terms of the economics of it and the energy it takes to stay organized and really invested in the process. We had to learn how to run the press, and I’ll say bluntly that this, like any project is imperfect. There are issues of representation of the larger community and diversity that we did not do well on. And there is always the challenge of getting the work out into the world once it is published. My encouragement to others would be to understand that any project like this will be partial and imperfect, but it’s still worthwhile and still a great pleasure just to participate and to help bring the work of interesting writers before new eyes. One thing that I really enjoyed is that we would give huge numbers of chapbooks away, and each author would suggest a different group of people they’d like to see receive chapbooks—or Colleen and I would happen to have contact with (in any given year) different presses and authors to whom we’d give chapbooks. Sometimes at the AWP, I’d just walk around with chapbooks, matchmaking: who would like this? So that proves (to me, at least) that even the distribution of chapbooks had an imaginative aspect and that, by sending our little pairs out into the world, we were addressing and interacting with a variety of writing communities.
SM: If poetry in this country is characterized by communities, can you talk about which communities acted as a catalyst for you and Colleen to create EtherDome? How do you see As If It Fell from the Sun conversing with these communities?
ER: Colleen and I have senses of community that are both overlapping and divergent. As we note in the introduction to the anthology, we met in a workshop taught by Dodie Bellamy, so I think that one thing that is intrinsic to our approach to writing is that people write together, in community, in friendship, in exploration. So many of our authors came to us casually—I think Colleen chose some of her writers from a reading group she was in, and at least one writer I chose was also from a reading group I was in. We published some of my former students. Rosmarie Waldrop sent me a writer with whom she had worked. I used to have a reading series in my backyard in Berkeley, and we found some people there. On trips to Milwaukee and wonderful Woodland Pattern, I met Stacy Szymazsek who later came and read in my backyard and Colleen heard her and said, “We must publish her!” When I went to read in the Twin Cities, I met Kelly Everding. So a lot of it is serendipitous, but I would note that people who have excelled in creating community—like Woodland Pattern or the Waldrops at Burning Deck, or Rain Taxi happened to overlap in fortuitous and generous ways with our project. And then people like Kate Greenstreet and Erica Lewis and Stacy Szymazsek and Sarah Suzor have gone on in various ways to do their own community-fomenting projects. Lisa Rappoport has been doing small press work for quite a long time as well, and Caroline Crumpacker did a lot of work with Fence and, now, the Millay Colony. I’m extremely happy that we’ve worked with people who have not only gifts as poets but agency within various writing communities.
ER: Stacy, Sara has invited me to ask you a question, so here goes. I’m interested in how your work at Woodland Pattern and at the Poetry Project have impacted your sense of what it is to be a contemporary poet. Also, your work with Gam.
Stacy Szymaszek: I dedicated Hyperglossia to Woodland Pattern and The Poetry Project for giving me a life in poetry. My life as a poet pre-1999, or my sense of it, was quixotic and tinged with abjection–or, to be more succinct, it was without community or structures to support community. I was working as a prep cook for a catering company after having moved back to my hometown of Milwaukee after a six-year absence. I was twenty-nine and declared my adventure into the world to become a poet a total failure. I worked a minute away from Lake Michigan, so often sat on this craggy Bay View Beach, to recover. I started to write two to four line poems, not about the water but in an attempt to reconnect with the concept of ebb and flow. A friend of mine got a job at Woodland Pattern, and I said to her “I need to work there.” I got an interview and was initially hired as part time assistant to the Education Coorinator.
My memory may be wrong on this, but I think I went to a lunch hour writing group there before I started work, and it was the first time I shared my poetry with a group of disciplined poets who were thinking about poetry and language in a radical way. In addition, I had access to an almost unbelievable collection of small press material, all new to me, that seemed to be waiting for me and my about to be new poet friends. I went about reading things by press (Pig Press, Broadside Press, Something Else Press, Telephone Books, Tuumba, Corinth, just to give you an idea of the range of what was there at the time). I also learned that in small nonprofits, there is often more work to be done than there are people to do it. So there were opportunities to make myself useful in new ways, to Woodland Pattern, The Poetry Project—and to really challenge my rather limited sense of my own capabilities.
My sense of being a poet necessarily includes working on infrastructures that support poetry and afford some dignity to a vocation that is purposefully maligned. Having public forums for our work is essential, but keeping those places functional and vibrant is an art in itself. I remember when I became Artistic Director of The Poetry Project, I was still kind of dewy-eyed, because oh my god, they just put me in charge of one of the most important sites for contemporary American poetry—I didn’t realize how hard the job was going to kick my ass. Going on six years, we’ve done well for each other. My work there has been integral to a couple of long pieces I’ve written, yet at the same time, it’s so demanding that it is harder to achieve balance between poet/administrator—and to strive for balance in the way that people see me in those roles, as much as I can influence that! I have deep camaraderie with the staff and everyone who gives their time, talent, and resources to The Project. It’s on us to make sure this creation evolves, and doesn’t get crushed.
It was a taste of camaraderie and yearning for more of it that started the editorial project GAM. My thinking was—wherever I am, I must make poems, I must have friends who make poems too, wherever we are is a place—and that place was the Great Lakes region of the Midwest. It was free (“GAM is a gift”) and one couldn’t subscribe to it. I had to believe a person would appreciate a copy. It too was inextricable from my job and my writing and the reading series I hosted—the cultural work of being a poet.
from austerity measures
in seed husk
never a parody
of care i.e.
hustle with elder-
woman in camouflage
all elegy all
carrot this elbow
ma belle these
when memory attacks
bring breath back
one thousand times