Small Press Questions for Kenning Editions's Patrick Durgin
On rob mclennan's blog this week: a great interview with Kenning Editions' Patrick Durgin. Durgin, as you may know, is a poet, editor, professor, and Hannah Weiner expert, having brought us the indispensable Open House as well as The Early and Clairvoyant Journals of Hannah Weiner. mclennan and Durgin talk about Kenning's editorial process, the literary community, and models for living (publishing). Here's an excerpt:
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Small publishing is a broad category. I'm not sure what that means in the context of this questionnaire, exactly, because, on one hand, print culture has undergone several important changes since I became involved, and the platforms for circulating poetry I find of interest have proliferated and diverged such that, as a matter of degree, that kind of enterprise is able to shrink to service very specific projects. This is good, but I question whether as many editors are exploiting the opportunity. In some ways, the opposite is true and platforms, missions, critical values are less frequently articulated. The creative writing industry has benefited from the fragmentation of literary publishing, especially, being able to reciprocate with credentializing organs and even the promise of careers. I publish because I am thinking through aesthetics, politics, various problems, and I never can do it alone.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Nothing unique, perhaps.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Give them away.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
My standard contract stipulates that I will not edit the text in any way, leaving the author to engage me as they see fit without being obliged to take advice. I do not understand the expectation that the actual composition of a work should be approved in the same capacity as publishing it.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Small Press Distribution is my distributor and I love them. Print runs range from 200-2000.
8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
I am transforming Kenning Editions into a non-profit corporation and I gathered a board of directors whose editorial advice--in terms of acquisitions--I trust. I think of myself as the series editor, and then I sometimes work with editors on specific projects, such as Kevin Killian and David Brazil, coeditors of The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945-1985.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I have always done both simultaneously, so I don't perceive a change, really. It is true, though, that I never write without the work's circulation in mind.
10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I edited Hannah Weiner's Open House for Kenning Editions. And now my poets theater script PQRS has just come out. To me these aren't self-published, because what matters is the capacity in which the work is done. I understand self-publishing as a gesture, and I have done it (under no imprint). But doing these two books with Kenning Editions was for me a practical matter in every respect. Years ago, I was influenced by mail art and fanzine culture. But at this point, I am trying to translate something like what Dischord Records had done in releasing Minor Threat and Fugazi records. It is only logical to align the writing, editing, design, publishing, promotion, and distribution. It is simply the most efficient way for me, a writer slow, as though averse, to finish a project. And like Dischord, Kenning Editions represents a community and is not at all a matter of "vanity." Quite the opposite. From time to time, I can contribute to it in terms of the actual discourse, rather than solely the circuitry. If it were obvious that the press were the right venue for a project, who would know better?