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on the small press, part three: ‘the writers who we have heard at some grimy event’
Mess Editions is Andrea Abi-Karam, Paul Murufas, Wendy Trevino, Lara Durback, who all met in Oakland.
Mess Editions is just starting out, but we intend to only publish writers with some combination of these qualities:
- people who haven’t been published before
- people who are interested in/involved in direct action; they might have been arrested
- people who have had less than stable living situations, unhoused or squats, etc.
- queer folks who are part of this politics
- people who do not have the most stable ways of earning money
(-hm, it starts to sound like a precarity of living)
- people who met across overlapping worlds since the Oakland Commune existed starting in 2011
- people who have writing as a huge important part of their life, i.e. feel the need to write poetry, but perhaps are not as wrapped up in an identity designation of a poet as a stable thing (this is a paraphrase of something Wendy has said and/or written about the writing she values)
- people who don’t have an MFA, hopefully many who have not had much formal schooling
Mess Editions seems to have come partially out of the relationships begun by Andrea’s Words of Resistance reading series that has been happening for about a year and a half at various locations. These relationships have emerged and the diversity of who shows up at these readings is a happy consequence of the precariousness of our own lives and how our intentions begin to align. Our alliances are growing all the time through intersections like these readings. Who is this our? I don’t know yet.
I just realized (writing as myself in this paragraph) that limiting the publishing focus to those without an MFA is nice because this stops the publishing problem of everyone approaching you to make a book or collaborate which can mean “help me make a book because I don’t know how to” which can be great but doesn’t mean much when you are already in “bad debt” with poet friends, to use a Fred Moten term, and he meant this bad debt is lovely, but poet communities are already bound by all kinds of bad debt which is great. And are already tied to each other. And so I get to say no to publishing friends all the time (since Wendy and I are the MFA-laden people of the press).
But there might be a very-much-needed bond created in extending publishing efforts to others that we want to know better who we barely know except for admiring that they have put their bodies on the line, or “safety” on the line, or stability on the line, in some way, out in the streets, or that they choose or have ended up outside of some education, or normal work structures, and this is hard, and this is not an idealization of this state of living, just an acknowledgement of it, and it’s not permanent, and the writing that comes from this state of living or being is very compelling and we wanted to make it visible.
Some of us in Mess Editions wanted more rawness in publication and some of us wanted more polished things, we have sort of a combination of those things. We have friends that have access to resources and we put the resources and people together in order to get the guts digitally printed, and letterpress print the covers ourselves, and sew them with a pamphlet stitch, and trim them to have a smooth edge (when we felt like it). Sometimes they get passed out before they are trimmed cleanly. We talked about how the people we would publish can be involved in the process of reading one another’s work and we would get them together to do it, but right now it’s just us. There was the night we were editing together really late, when 2 of us had another project they’d already stayed up all night for like 5 days in a row, but we were having so much fun, and we crashed on the couches, and we actually got all the editing done with nearly no mistakes. I didn’t want to learn InDesign at all, I was anti-, because I wanted to blend some respectable looking paper with scanning cut-and-paste stuff or handwritten notebooks and such, so that people wouldn’t have to learn all this computer bullshit and have hacked design programs that might not communicate with the most recent version of the InDesign determined by who can afford it, but Andrea and Paul wanted to learn it, so we had a very quick & scrappy demo of InDesign from a generous friend Ali, and we sort of learned it, but there is room in the future for the other methods that others might want. I am concerned some writing won’t exist for various reasons if people wait to design it the way they want. I think a lot about design and what it communicates, and I hope we can interrogate that without being too pure about any one view.
Like we say we are not publishing MFAs but some of the people we publish will probably get MFAs. And some never will. But the lists of people that we think of, the writers who we have heard at some grimy event that we ended up at, we want some document of that writing, we have to beg some of them, including J who might be the most loved of the Bay’s writers though almost no one has ever seen their writing in a physical object, and I understand this begging people to publish them though I don’t know why I understand it.
Money is another site for interrogating our publishing role, we don’t seem to stress much about it (money). Most of the resources we are figuring out how to work with are free but Andrea had an anti-Valentine anti-patriarchy punk show (which had to be moved and ended up twice as successful because of Andrea magic) to get money for this certain black paper. We had talked about just giving out the chapbooks always, but then sometimes we accepted donations and didn’t think much of it. Everything costs money.
We have a concept of the “unmeeting.” I think all of us feel somewhat pummeled by the organizing meetings we have participated in, and many of our publishing meetings were bizarrely “productive” though we would often just stare eating chocolate or cookies or coffee or wine and talking about our relationships, someone might be crying or at the point of having almost cancelled the meeting, then at some point we would talk about what/who we wanted to publish, and how we could do it, and who we could ask for help/support. It was an excuse to hang out and lean on each other and also make something happen without those horrible things that happen in larger meetings where everyone’s energetic coils and lasers of resentment and confrontation are zooming and flashing across the circle…I’ll speak for myself here, but we know everyone in Mess Editions expressed at least how they could no longer handle more meetings. That’s enough to explain. I don’t have to conjecture the why.
So we’re doing like 200 copies of each author. We have a list of about 10 who we want to publish. We wanted to do 4 authors at a time, and have them support one another and learn along with us. So far, it’s two, within us, that we have published, the 2 without MFAs, Paul and Andrea, but we have figured out our how, for now, and though that will change too, we’ll probably always have black covers. That’s one thing we always agreed on.
PS Shout out to Commune Editions for writing using the “we” when writing online a bunch. It is hard to do and scares me though it is worth trying, I fell in and out of it because I am terrified of speaking for everyone.
The idea for the Fair culminated in 2006 when I was discussing other regional Fairs with my friend Kevin Thurston. I’d been doing zine fairs and art book fairs in NYC and Toronto since the late 90s, and when I returned from the University of Maine at Orono in 2005, I was convinced that it could be done in Buffalo. We sent out a few emails to test the waters, and got an overwhelmingly positive response. The first BSPBF took place in March of 2007.
Buffalo has such a rich literary tradition, but an even richer tradition of progressive work, experimentation, and cultural innovation. After the dissolution of Black Mountain College, many of the key figures in experimental music, literature, and performance landed here. Their presence really had a lasting effect on the region, and gave rise to a certain ethos in Buffalo: a tightly knit group of cultural workers unafraid of crossing boundaries or blurring genres, one steeped in a legacy of unpretentious blue-collar scholars acting with very little regard to the status quo in literature or other fields. I wanted to create an event that reflected that ethos-something where DIY ethics and handmade objects were privileged, but also something that was affordable, inclusive, democratic, and egalitarian. I simply couldn’t believe that our city didn’t have one—and to be honest, some of the motivation was selfish—if there were no venue to peddle our own work, we’d make the venue ourselves. Cull it from the wreckage, I suppose. Or craft it from the remnants.
I didn’t really understand early on what role the BSPBF would play outside of Buffalo. The very first year, most of our participants were local. By the second year, it had become regional (the Northeast and the Great Lakes), and by the 3rd, it was pretty much national. It revealed a deep need for an affordable, inclusive, and uncensored space for micro-presses, individual authors, printmakers, and book artists. After the first year, when I saw a number of collaborations arise between participants, I realized that there was also a need for cross-pollination. I’ve become so keenly aware of this that I often develop the seating chart for the event with an eye on who might enjoy sitting next to one another, learn from one another, or end up working together although they come from disparate disciplines.
Since 2007, the Fair has grown every year. We had a few reading alongside the Fair at the start, but now it’s truly become a 4-day event: Thursday night features progressive fiction and a pre-pre-party, Friday features small press poetry and a pre-party, Saturday is the Fair, the a post-party, and Sunday is the Fair as well. We had to expand to two days because we had so many vendors that wanted to participate, and because so many vendors said one day of interacting (with the crowd and each other) wasn’t enough. Now we have some vendors who do both days, and some who only do one day, giving us the opportunity to change out the roster. In that way, we might incorporate 140 vendors on Saturday, but if 40 can’t stay, the next day we can roll in 40 brand new people, for a total of 180. This also give attendees a reason to come to the Fair both days: new things to peruse.
The national response to the Fair has been overwhelmingly positive. As for AWP and the other big shows, I really believe that each of the book fairs has its own place in the grand scheme of things—even art book fairs that are very exclusive, very academic, or very expensive. They serve a certain demographic, and they give certain artists opportunities within that ecosphere. But I feel it’s really important to set up a Fair that coincides with your values, and what you sense your community’s values to be—the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair is what it is because it grew out of a Buffalo ethos. I do have one bit of advice though: avoid what I refer to as the Galapagos syndrome. A million tiny islands developing independently of one another, but situated within a stone’s throw. If someone locally creates a Book Fair, and you don’t like it, I don’t know if the answer is always to create your own. I think the answer is to voice concerns and come to consensus about the spirit of the Fair, and what its role should be. Otherwise, you run the risk of total atomization—you will dilute the vendor pool, you will dilute the crowd, and at the end of the day, you’ll have ten unsuccessful Fairs throughout the year run by different people, instead of one or two that are highly successful.
Tags: Andrea Abi-Karam, bad debt, Black Mountain College, Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, Chris Fritton, Commune Editions, Fred Moten, Kevin Thurston, Lara Durback, National Poetry Month 2014, Oakland Commune, Paul Murufas, Wendy Trevino, Words of Resistance
Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by Stephanie Young.