SK: American Books is a new press with only one publication (as of this interview). Could you give me some background details on the press, such as who are the editors, how did you all meet and when (and/or why) did you decide to start the press?
BP: Hey Steven, thanks so much for being willing to talk with us about the press. Yeah, American Books is co-edited by Natalie Häusler, Ed Steck, and myself. The three of us met in grad school at Bard College’s interdisciplinary arts MFA program. Originally, Ed had the idea to start the press, which was going to be called “American Books; Steck Editions” and Natalie and I were just going to help out, contributing writing and design work. At some point, Ed just asked if we wanted to be fully involved and run the thing together, even-steven, which Natalie and I were both excited to do. After that, we dropped the “Steck Editions” part, though I think Ed’s planning to put things periodically under that imprint. We started the press to put a good range of work by both visual artists and writers out into the world and, slowly but surely, that’s what we’re gonna do.
SK: Where did the name of the press come from? Are you publishing or planning to publish poetry that aesthetically feels “American”?
BP: Well, as I mentioned before, Ed came up with the name and, while it is certainly parodying the cheap, puffy-chested sense of nationalism that gets so much air-time in this country (America, the brand), we, most importantly, want to publish work that continues to expand and deepen what flies under the “American” flag. Hopefully, that will continue (at the very least within the context of the press) to crystallize and flex as we put more stuff out, but I do think we’re off to a pretty good start.
SK: Speaking of aesthetics, judging from your first publication, Solicitations, the press seems committed to integrating artists with poets. Could you talk about the importance of art within the context of the press and/or your own work as a writer?
BP: Yes, we definitely want to integrate visual art and writing of all kinds, though I don’t think that has to mean we’ll publish text/image collaborations, for example, though if that happens, great. I think we just recognize that ideas, senses of aesthetics, and artistic processes sometimes move more fluidly and interestingly across disciplines and media than they do within a given discipline or practice.
I often feel like my writing is in closer cahoots aesthetically with certain painters, video artists, or sculptor friends of mine than it is with other poets, for example, (I know this is the case with many artists and writers) and it’s interesting to be able to map and create similar cross-disciplinary conversations about a range of subjects as editors of this press. Having said all that, I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that we know and love a lot of terrific visual artists as well as writers and we want to use this press as an opportunity to raise awareness about them and cultivate interest in their work.
SK: Forgive me as I’m going to gush in public, but Solicitations is one of best journal presentations I’ve seen. Can you explain the concept behind the journal for these who haven’t seen it and talk a little bit about how the design idea came into fruition?
BP: I’m really proud of Solicitations, so I’m happy to hear you gush about it. It’s the project we wanted to introduce the press with. It was a way for us to gather support and community around the press and to make a statement about the kind of thing we’d be doing in the future. We asked several artists and writers, whose work we knew and loved, to submit to us whatever they’d like, given the spatial limitations. It was a curated solicitation with very little editorial input from us (for the most part), hence the name. We also asked for the contributors’ work as donation to help raise money for the first book we would put out: Jeremy Hoevenaar’s Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement. In other words, contributors didn’t receive a free copy (except as a pdf) and all the money from the sales of Solicitations went (is going) straight to producing Jeremy’s book. So, the generosity of the contributors was just amazing and the work they gave us is completely incredible too.
As far as design goes, Ed had cooked up the idea of having loose pages bound by a hand-made box before we had even started the press, but Natalie chose the typeface and laid everything out so beautifully inside. There are three different versions, each with different cover designs: the Berlin edition, the NYC edition, and the Pittsburgh edition (still under construction). This happened mostly for convenience sake (Natalie lives in Berlin, Ed lives in Pittsburgh, and I live in Brooklyn), but I love that the three of us each got to handle the cover our own way.
SK: I know you’ve edited Forklift, OH for a while, did that make the transition into starting a press easier or do you feel like the experiences with Forklift and American Books are completely different?
BP: Yeah, I edited Forklift, OH with Matt Hart and Eric Appleby et al. for several years until 2010 or so. It was such a fun, formidable experience for me. Doing Forklift and doing American Books is very different in a lot of ways (Matt and I seemed to read submissions every week for Forklift, for example, which is not part of what we’re doing with American Books), but one thing that I certainly learned from Matt and Eric is that you can just go ahead and make things with what’s available to you. If you’re creative and are interested in publishing good work, you find that there are always resources, not to mention the fact that constraints or limitations sometimes yield more interesting results anyway.
SK: American Books will be publishing a chapbook by Jeremy Hoevenaar, a wonderful poet whose work you were kind enough to introduce me to a few years back. Can you talk a little about Jeremy’s forthcoming chapbook, as well as any other forthcoming projects in the works?
BP: We’re trying to get Jeremy’s book (I don’t think we’ll be making any distinctions between full-lengths or chaps, but it’ll be on the shorter side), Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement, out by late February. It’s a long poem in 16 parts that takes its title from the Cold Mountain Poems of legendary Chinese poet, Han-shan, and also Robert Smithson’s site-varied series of sculptural works, called Mirror Displacement. The poem seems to draw its subject matter from a variety of activities that most people encounter on daily basis (being online, reading literature, making jokes, cultivating relationships, etc), but filters and reflects those activities to make a series of shifting statements and textual surfaces, which are nevertheless held together by what feels like a single subjectivity or consciousness. Riffing on (Jack) Spicer, Jeremy writes: “My vocabulary did me to this.” And I definitely think that’s a good way to describe the book.
Also, we invited Jeremy to ask someone near and dear to his work to write something about it, which could just sit in relation to his piece, both as a way to create a little bit of context for the writing and also as an alternative to something as short and tag-liney as blurbs. Jeremy asked Anselm Berrigan, so the book will include an ancillary piece by Anselm as well. That’s a feature we’ll probably try to keep from book to book.
Brett Price lives in Brooklyn and is the Presse Manager for Ugly Duckling Presse and is a co-editor of American Books along with Natalie Häusler and Ed Steck.
Steven Karl is an editor for Coldfront Magazine and lives in Miami, Fl.