Spotlight: O’clock Press

Interview by Ken L. Walker

This is the launch of a new project, one in which the independent publishing process happening throughout microcosmic American poetry communities gets a focus. From broadsides to chapbooks to matchbooks, independent poetry publishing is an amazing silent preponderance and decentralized multitude. And, with self-publishing websites and bookstore gadgets becoming as ubiquitous as the “Big Four” has in the distribution of “literature,” independent poetry publishing is just as important now as it was when New Directions or Burning Deck or Graywolf first began; that said, it is also easy to mourn the end of so many others. So, here is the beginning of a database of “spotlights” that put a different indie poetry publisher under the microscope of a few introspective, slightly solipsistic questions. Hopefully, this will further the dialogue of who’s publishing whom and what quality of publishing they are engaging in.

First up on the docket are a couple of young men who recently graduated from Bard College and have started the O’Clock press as well as CLOCK magazine, whose first issue was released earlier this year and features poems from the likes of Macgregor Card, K. Lorraine Graham and Dawn Lundy Martin. The magazine, itself, as you will read, is handmade, hand-stitched, produced on a super-low budget and topped out at 100 copies. It’s lovely and arrived to the launch party at Brooklyn’s Unnameable Books in a myriad of colors. They have also, via the press, printed and published chapbooks and a play with plenty more to come, soon, including the second issue of the magazine.



KW: What was the impetus to begin this magazine and press?

KS: We all read a lot of reviews and, speaking for myself here, wanted to craft one ourselves in order to try to take an active stance in the contemporary poetic discussion at large. Last winter, I began work on the O’clock Press chapbook series. Sometime early in the spring, Andrew asked me (in Latin class, of all places—I think we were reading Catullus?) if I wouldn’t like to join him in an effort to start a journal. So we joined forces, as it were. Over the course of the spring, we would meet at a diner in Red Hook once a week to talk over ideas, which got more and more serious, until finally we had an idea of what and whom we generally wanted to be working on.

AD: Out of the blue last February, Joan Retallack, a poet who’s been very supportive of me for a long time, suggested that I start a small press and journal so as to get my work and ideas out there. I thought immediately of Kit, and told him about an idea for a journal I had titled TANGO, which would feature 10 emerging poets in every issue. Keeping with the theme of the press, we changed the title to CLOCK, and upped the number of contributors to twelve. I asked my friend Allen Edwin Butt, who’s a brilliant poet living in South Carolina, if he wanted to help out, and he agreed—making us, finally, a team of three. We started throwing around some names, and I contacted a few poets (Ben Fama, Christie Ann Reynolds, Macgregor Card—none of whom I knew at the time) to see if they were interested in submitting. Once we saw how enthusiastic they were, we got the confidence to get this thing going.

KW: And what is Allen’s contribution, role, etc?

AD: I’ve known Allen for about five years now, and he’s one of the most important people in my life. I think of him as a kind of prophet. His input was and is tremendous—in both CLOCK and my own writing . . . Since Allen lives in South Carolina (and in Germany while we were putting together CLOCK 1), his contributions have been mostly editorial. We each have a different but sometimes overlapping set of poets we’re interested in publishing, so he brings his own point of view to the process. In the first issue, for instance, he contacted K. Lorraine Graham, a poet that neither Kit or I had ever read before. He’s also my closest friend in the world, and I’ve really grown up as a poet with him.

KS: Allen has an enormous knowledge of the history of the craft, and his awareness of contemporary poetry and poets is acute. Lautréamont once said, “Everytime I have read Shakespeare, it has seemed to me that I am shredding the brain of a jaguar.” While Allen has an enormous knowledge of the history of the craft, his awareness of contemporary poetry and poets is acute. He has had a great way of finding poets from all around that Andrew and I perhaps would not have thought of, or, speaking for myself now, would not have even known. As Andrew said, his stint as an ex-pat kept his role to that of an editor, but his input has definitely shaped the magazine – both its contents and the path we envision for it – and who know what will happen if he can get his hands on the publishing process.

KW: Tell me about the process of making and marketing the magazine.

KS: Making the magazine (along with the chapbooks) has been perhaps my favorite part of the experience with the press. I’m a sucker for making books. I won’t bore you with details of printing (although the ways in which I ended up having to use wooden blocks to manipulate the college printers—still free for a graduate—to print on 9”x18” paper were hilarious and border-line medieval), nor those of cutting, stamping, drawing, writing, etc. Just know that it took a long time, and that, during the stitching, there were a lot of Twilight Zone episodes and Rod Serling interviews being watched. All told, I tried to make the books and magazines as comely as possible—a sort of gesture against mass-market publishing, to say make no mention e-books. Not only did the focus on beauty make the whole process more satisfying, but I felt it would really show the respect we have for the work inside.

AD: I wasn’t very involved with the publication process (it sounds like hell every time you describe it, Kit!), but I’m about to for CLOCK 2. With Kit and Allen, I did editorial work, then moved down to the city before I could help Kit out with the physical production. My job was largely marketing and getting people interested in the magazine. That largely involved me meeting people, going to readings, telling people about CLOCK, setting up a Facebook, etc. It was great, and I had a lot of help from the contributors, who spread the news to their friends. Marketing was easier than I expected because people in New York are always so ready for a new magazine to come along. As soon as I mentioned it, people were excited!—and wanted to submit, of course, sight unseen.

KW: What do you all see is the biggest hurdle/dilemma for independent publishers?

KS: The costs of decent paper and printing, hands down. Though, if you get creative, there are ways around this. But if and when the money’s there, the biggest hurdle might just be getting through the noise of poetry’s extremely busy publishing world and somehow getting your books into the hands of people interested enough to read them. Finding readers (especially poets, not the richest “demographic”) willing to support your small press instead of the other zillions out there is still the most mysterious hurdle of them all—that hurdle doesn’t look so high until you’ve published a couple books and tried to distribute them yourself.

AD: I agree. Expanding your audience, getting people outside of your immediate circle, geographic location to pay attention to what you’re doing is very difficult. Most of us don’t have the kind of publicity apparatus of, say, FSG, so it’s difficult to get the work you publish (the work you love) out there and read. And, of course, we’re poor. But the Internet has made publishing better. I don’t even know how many people outside of Brooklyn and Boston know about O’clock and CLOCK. In the end, it just takes time.

KW: Would you ever consider electronic formats—saleable .PDFs, web-only content, e-reader material, etc?

AD: Probably not. But once a book sells out, I think we’ll probably post a .PDF online. But I don’t have anything against online publishing–if anything it’s a great way of getting work out there. And for many people who don’t have the resources to start a small press or journal, that’s the way to do. Some of my favorite journals–notnostrums, for example–are online, but I think the three of us are still interested in the book as an object. We like the challenges of producing a physical object, of holding it, mailing it. I think Kit might be more opposed to online publishing than I am.

KS: As far as I’m concerned, online publishing is a great way to get work out into the world for free. Thanks to the online archives such as Brown University and The University of Tulsa’s collaborative “Modernist Journals Project”, we can view the original copies of magazines long out of print: BLAST, The Little Review, The English Review, among others. Certain contemporary publishers, like Ugly Duckling Presse, make use of digitized books once the originals go out of print, and it’s something I think we should really appreciate and take advantage of. As for us, it seems to me this sort of archival use of e-publishing is the only publishing we would do. However, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to e-publishing, were a poet to approach us with a compelling idea that demanded the electronic form. Given our limited technological capacity, however, I don’t know if we would be the best publisher to approach for such a project, anyway. Personally, I don’t see any problems in e-publishing, so long as the work is either distributed freely, or demands the form. Neither of these credentials are met by a project like Kindle, which centralizes the capital in publishing and, so far as I can tell, works against the interests of poets and writers at large. In the end, if you really want your work to be seen for free, legalities aside, why not print up poems on posters and paste them around your city? That way nobody pays, and everybody sees.

KW: What would be a good definition of a “poetry community? (I ask this because I think you all are creating a micro-community while being parcel to the larger more over-arching one.)

AD: Poetry communities emerge when friends start to write and publish one another. Sometimes those friends propose theories about one another’s work, but sometimes not. As far as what we’re doing, I don’t think we’re trying to propose a narrative or set of practices that could be collated into a unified poetry community. We’re interested in difference, and if that difference makes any community I hope it’s called American poetry. But as a poet, I am more narrowly interested in the community of poets living in Brooklyn. This includes the poets who publish and are published in journals like Agriculture Reader, jubilat, Supermachine, Maggy, notnostrums, even CLOCK. It’s so difficult to identify what immediately unifies that community other than friendship, but the work that’s being done there seems to me to be very vital right now.

KS: Simply, I would consider a poetry community a set of writers who are influenced by each other’s work, whether or not these writers are in personal contact with or close proximity to one another. More complicatedly, one could go into the way in which a poetry community works as a system of support both practically (helping with readings, publications, book-lending and -suggesting) and to be honest, emotionally (helping us not feeling completely isolated in a practice that could otherwise feel very isolating). What’s the rule of thumb, that we will all know someone with at most 5 degrees of separation, or something like that? Between poets, the rule should be adjusted to about 0.3 degrees of separation—max. The poetry world is small, and that’s perhaps why it’s so exciting: so much great work is being written by poets today who are, after all, friends, or at the very least, acquaintances within a community or mutual influence and support. Then again, it seems to always have been that way.

KW: Are there any poetic, say Modernist or contemporary as a summation, movements that inspire you?

AD: I try my best to steer clear of these kind of temporal distinctions—they seem more like traps than opportunities for productive discourse. But I suppose, agreeing to the most common historical limits that academics have given Modernism, the Objectivists (and the movements they inspired, like Black Mountain and Language) are my favorite.

KS: To narrow it down off the bat, my sympathies lie most closely with French Modernism for its obsessive exploration of personal experience: inside and outside society and social conditioning, inside and outside selfhood, inside and outside language, etc. A poetry simply taken with dichotomy. Perhaps we can thank Arthur Rimbaud for that, whose koan “je est un autre” underwrites much of the poetry I’m alluding to. I would be hard-pressed to name a specific movement as a favorite, seeing as I try to focus on the work of individuals and avoid giving too much attention to the movements they have been assigned to, unless of course the relationship was deliberate, and thus unavoidable in reading. Stubborness aside, I am perhaps most moved by surrealism, but I only read a few “Surrealists” with any regularity: Benjamin Péret, Pierre Reverdy, Paul Éluard. The movement’s been so washed out by the popular imagination, which makes it rewarding to revisit. It’s a hard question, though. I can’t even tell if I’m telling the truth. Influences, in my case, change more often than clothes.

KW: Is there an essential quality to poetry that separates it from the rest of the arts?

KS: Poetry can, like music, expire in time, but only when read aloud. Like the plastic arts it can be experienced time and again as a spatial arrangement, but only when read on the page. (Pierre Alféri’s Cinépoèmes are especially interesting conceptually for their ability to, like film, make poetry expire both in space and time.) Like much fiction, poetry can recount a narrative, but only if the poet is interested in doing so; and like fiction that has shed its obligation to ‘tell a story’, poetry can do away with its devotion to time’s narrative arrow and really start fleshing out its specialty: investigating language as a primary means of experience, and not as a means of merely recounting experience. This, for me, is what poetry has that the other fields of the arts do not: the genre’s ability (obligation?) to force language into a space of nudity, in which it must speak for itself and not for the speaker using it. What is most fun about poetry is the way it rejoices in unforgivingly straining grammar to arrive at new spaces of experience; and moreover, the way it brings us to use our language self-reflexively, which allows us a clearer understanding of our relationship to and our subjective home in language. We can read as much philosophy of language as we would like, but until we put down our rational guard and allow the language on the page, and not the ideas behind it, to produce experience, we will not be dealing with poetic language.

AD: Charles Bernstein, quoting David Antin, once said that poetry isn’t a genre, it’s a supergenre—a practice that can collect numerous genre within it, including fiction, philosophy, epic, lyric, what have you. I think that he’s right—and that drive to include everything in a poem is what makes poetry so exciting. I think that any language- oriented practice can be poetry. In my own writing I’m interested in the ways the American novel can be reinvented as a poem. In fact, I want everything to be reinvented as a poem.