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Running A Small Press With Paul

By Dana Ward

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So, when we left off last time, I said I’d have one more story about how poetry & art in my life move around & through this bar. I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my friend Paul Coors is a bartender there. He & I have been working together for a long time now. We’ve worked on books & shows & exhibitions & readings together. Whatever we’re up to in our own works tends to dovetail & float through work of the other. A lot of times that’s an intentional thing. Other times we experience that sweet, momentous kismet of finding we’re working through similar problems once we get together & talk.

There’s a lot to say about Paul’s work as an artist, but let me focus for a minute on the way it relates to the press. His work has a mercurial character & that’s part of what’s so fabulous about it. Its subjects are varied but in the largest sense he’s always asking where things belong. Where they go. He’s one of those artists gifted in arriving somewhere with an economical answer to a million different questions.  He gives so much upfront, by way of the pleasures of design & coordination, the surprise of what I’ve seen hits only later when what was familiar in its look has worn off. Like Floyd, with whom he collaborates as well, there’s an elegance of thought that speeds through an unwieldy social terrain, beset by institutional & financial pressures, & arrives at an art that’s often as accessible as it is opaque.

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We wanted the look of our press to partake of these general qualities. In a bit I’ll tell you more about what we had in mind, in terms of some general aesthetic questions as well how we came up with the name Perfect Lovers. But first, I want to share with you some of the things that we’ve published already as well as what’s to come in the weeks & months ahead.

Our first two books came out last year. One is by Cincinnati poet Yvette Nepper. I started hearing her read around a few years ago & immediately fell in love with her poems. For awhile, she was publishing her works as handwritten poems on dollar bills. That was her page for awhile. Eventually, she started writing in a little notebook, shaping the bracing, short poems I’d grown so fond of.  She hadn’t published much otherwise & so we were honored to be able to bring out this first book of hers. The other work we published last year is by Dan Thomas-Glass. I’d encountered his extraordinary Great American Beat Jack series in the belated, badly missed magazine Try!, edited by Sara Larsen & David Brazil. In these poems Dan takes on the prosody of something canonical, a poem or a song, & writes through it exactly, shaping the results into the spiraling groves of a record, exquisitely pairing his choices as A & B sides in a series of poem-45′s. These works are amazing, & it was exciting for Paul & I to devise a way to publish them, deciding on a clear sleeve with a simple yellow cover, with some notes from the poet & a track list on the back. We’re pretty thrilled with how these books came out, & one of the pleasures of publishing them together was the way that Yvette & Dan found symmetries & shared concerns in one another’s work.

We have three new books about to go to print in early March. We’re a little behind where we’d like to be in our schedule, alas, but the books we have nearly ready? OMG. I was introduced to Wendy Trevino’s work via a recording of a reading she gave that’s archived over at Andrew Kenower’s indispensable A Voice Box. I got in touch with Wendy after hearing the reading & the book she’s put together assembles many of the pieces she performed. The poems are as alive to the possibilities of negation & feeling in a moment of crisis as anything I’ve read. Another book we’re putting out is by Debbie Hu. Debbie’s work came to my attention after this piece circulated online. That work’s become axiomatic for me, as has Debbie’s poetry & thinking in general. The last thing that’s arriving at the same time as those books by Debbie & Wendy is a book by the poet Micah Freeman. Micah’s a Cincinnati native, & while he’s moved on, his art & his being remain central to life in our city. We hosted a little farewell reading for him before he split, & that night he performed this poem “Hair,” one of my favorite poems by anyone from these past years. That poem’s at the center of the book of his we’re bringing out.   Those books will be out before March ends, & we’re finally going to have a proper website up & running. This fall we’ll have new books by Susan Landers & Leopoldine Core, as well as a collaborative edition by the artist Shana Moulton & the poet John Coletti.

For Paul & I it’s going to be a happy year bringing all of these things we so love into the world. Below, you’ll find something I wrote regarding how we arrived at the name of our press, Perfect Lovers. While you read, why not listen to this beautiful song by Franklin Bruno’s Human Hearts called “Perfect Lovers (Summation Gallop).” As you can see, it takes its name & feeling from the very same wellspring.

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Felix Gonzalez Torres’s “Perfect Lovers” (pictured above) is a miracle. By that I don’t mean that it’s supernatural. I mean instead that the inexhaustibility of its generosity shocks me, as if it were divine. It gives, & has given me, time. Time as it is made (dominion),  time as it mystifies (dimension), time as it structures, (prosody & music) & as it decimates (the inexorable; death).

The piece’s feeling for the temporal begins with love & loss. As the piece was being created, Torres’s partner, Ross Laycock, was dying of AIDS.  In this initial, heartbreaking frame, the two clocks, slowly falling out of synch, give us to the thought of these lovers as their time together is diverging, split one way toward heaven (by way of illness, of hell), & the other, toward the time of the survivor, whose sense of time on earth will be forever altered by this loss.

Thinking of Felix & Ross, we might then consider another, related  de-synchronization; between the beginning of the AIDS epidemic & the broader recognition of its ravages. As we know, for years, & at an unspeakable cost, the disease was ghettoized as “gay cancer,” a wrath-of-god plague rained down upon the sinful from above. This disastrous illogic was sanctioned at every level of American life. That such hate found a mouthpiece in the highest stations of government remains an unforgivable, pathetically predictable crime. The activist means by which this gap was remedied are for us a model of ingenuity & courage. But the fact that such a gap ever existed, was allowed, was in fact made to exist & to occasion such loss & such pain, cannot be redeemed by its subsequent mending. In that space there is only rage & grief.

From there the clocks take us to a broader vantage still, where such viciousness joins its American company of slavery, genocide, misogyny, mass incarceration, perpetual war against “the other” at home & abroad. The time of justice & love sundered by force from the time of life as lived. This is the voracious time that means to swallow all others, the time that situates all of this slaughter within its own logic, then later, for convenience & false exculpation, poses in specious & tearful regret, while continuing on with various forms of the same devastation.

So here are the clocks as we live them right now, where one holds our beautiful antagonisms, our intimacies, our palliative cares, our tenderness, our wildness, our art. The other our alarm clock, our doomsday clock, the clock on our phone, the clock we punch in but never out on, the clock in Times Square & the nursing home, the indoctrinating clock on the Kindergarten wall, the clock kept from sight of the factory floor. The piece gives us time to act against,  fighting our way out of this crumbling & bathetic forever, where forms of mutuality are rendered as impossible, or leveraged, by way of profiteering & some lies, into virtual Potemkin global networks.

With that in mind, let’s shrink our vantage back down, to Paul & I, & to Perfect Lovers Press, to where we, in our lives together as friends, found ourselves staring at the clocks described above, there with our daydreams & artworks on one, & our jobs & their-time suck on the other.  When Paul & I come in, the clocks give us access  to something more gentle, something full of pratfalls & frustrated fuck ups, sweet & sad–the time of the small press or artist run space, where the desire to make public work that one loves is always out of step with the time (& time IS, sadly, money) one might forage to achieve this. One clock holds ambition, ardency, desire, & the other, the long delayed book, the unrealized show, the overdraft fee, the strained friendships, & the extra shifts at work.

One afternoon beneath those two clocks, Paul & I were working on a book together, to be included in an exhibition he had coming up. We decided to publish it under the name of a press, one that didn’t yet exist. This yielded that pleasurable exercise of naming, of looking for the apt thing together. In our search, the conversation moved around in what we shared; frustrations of money & art, the breathtaking work of ours heroes & friends. We found ourselves talking about Perfect Lovers, & marveled at its rigor & depth. One reading offered our personal lives. Another gave huge world historical process. Then finally, our last reading opened on the ways in which these things were mainly, & bracingly, the same. We decided Perfect Lovers was just the right name. Both a tribute, & a fittingly succinct articulation.

So we released works of our own beneath the banner, then decided we should really get it up & running, have it function as a proper little press.This has meant some symptomatic fits & starts, of which they’ll be more going forward, but regardless, he were are, a basic little happy operation.

Do we have a program? Oh, I don’t know. If so, it’s quite general & classic–to bring things we love into the world as cheaply, & quickly & as beautifully as possible. Books & editions. Stuff online. We hope to accommodate works that maybe haven’t found a home by virtue of their weird or funny shape, things that disregard genre or media convention & too, things that ardently embrace them. But really finally anything, whatever; collaborations, dilettante eruptions, scrawls & screeds, meandering daydreams or rigorous theories (meandering theories as rigorous daydreams) & maybe, just maybe, having meant to or not, these things will somehow engage or unfold, play or reckon, with the spirit of our namesake.

So that’s what’s here for us, our guiding lights. Hung up on the black & blue wall where they shine–one clock re-formulates O’Hara, holding that, while we despise systems that would crush it, we certainly don’t regret life. The other holds scorn for that affirmation, meets it with an obstinate refusal. Only one can set the pace going forward. Between them, there’s only one choice.

Here’s a link about how to make Perfect Lovers yourself, where you live or better yet, wherever you are, any place you might find a wall. Like in Wal-Mart. Or you could put it on the phony wall between the head & heart. So much of his work was designed to be reproduced by anyone, anywhere, whenever they might need or want it, & almost for free.  Against the gallery system (the world system) in that way. It’s sort of funny to think, if you take what I’ve said at all seriously here, the piece is sort of everywhere, it’s with us all as time. Why go through all the trouble to produce it? For me, when I try to answer that question, I feel the whole world rushing in. It’s kind of where the magic starts. How anyone answers, & then, what they do, that’s what I think of as art.

Oh, & don’t forget, if you do install the piece, the clocks are to be mounted very close to one another. So close, in fact, that they touch.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 by Dana Ward.