CalArts Student Design Collective Interviews Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs

By Harriet Staff

A great interview with poet and small-press publisher Brenda Iijima has just gone up at student-run FISK, a collective at CalArts for student designers. The interview focuses on Iijima's press, Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, which many of you must be familiar with. Inspired by Jen Hofer's Literary Citizenship class, one of FISK's editors got some beautiful responses out of Brenda. First up, "This is a difficult question… I guess I am most interested in what the bare minimum pieces required to constitute a 'book'?"

BI: ...A book is therefore what creates the future/or lack thereof if we are simply retracing endlessly problematic ways of being (see racism, sexism, poverty and other social issues that press upon human life). The way we enter into the environment and coexist is represented in how the text finds an ecosystem in a readership. This doesn’t seem like a functioning metaphor but I think it can be. Everything pertains to everything else. We use books to make this clear, to create receptivity, connections. We also talk, discourse, and use other modes of communication, but the book is important because it is a container and stores information and feeling for longer durations. What is really ephemeral is temporarily suspended. A book is like a refrigerator! I could say more—I should. But will abbreviate here for lack of time. Thank you for this feisty question!!!!

Iijima also talks about the beginning of the press, as well as its name, and who she looks to publish:

When you first began the press (2002? When the first chapbook on the list is dated to?), what did you imagine happening from then until now? What do you imagine the next decade will hold for PP@YYL?

My main aim was to learn about poetry through this intimate and direct means and find out who shared affinities, interesting modes of thinking, what was possible, what was stimulating. To put works into conversation, to put poets in conversation. To get this great work out there. It was learning by doing and doing as teaching as well. I had things to offer as someone who switched over from visual arts to poetry. I hoped to make interesting, compelling books that weren’t too costly or overdone. Simple, charged and real. As time went on I saw this project through a feminist filter—how important it is to make sure women are being published.

Also, all underrepresented voices. I’m very keen on this and make it a demand of my press, a necessity a point of contention (with other presses). I try to reach out to poets I don’t know so I’m not only publishing my friends which can be a form of insularity or even hegemony somehow. This makes me very open to new readings, new works, new expressions. This is still an aim. Culture is constantly shifting under our gaze. I don’t publish work that is alike, necessarily. It is more interesting to see divergences and similarities together, how this works in tandem. Does this make sense?! I’ve been very committed to publishing first time authors and poets who haven’t had much exposure. This is very exciting for me. It gives someone a forum. To open the dialogue socially. Chapbooks are first and foremost social documents that need to be read, discussed, etc. I always wonder if I should publish more perfect-bound full-length collections instead of chapbooks which are much more ephemeral. I love chapbooks because they are really read. One can read a chapbook from cover to cover in about 20 minutes. There is nothing per say intimidating about a chapbook. I think this is its special quality, among other things. Chapbooks are ephemeral ideas that are easy to get out there and pass around. Goals: to be true to all of this that I have just written. To be as generous with the poets I work with—offering full engagement, discussion, networks.

The two also talk about Iijima's own poetry and artwork. Chapbook images featured in the interview include those by Jamie Townsend, Shelly Taylor, Chris Mattison, HR Hegnauer, Angela Hume, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee. Brenda also mentions the upcoming CUNY Chapbook Festival. And here's more about FISK.

Originally Published: March 26th, 2012