Omnidawn Press

by Lily Duffy

As small press publishers of poetry and fiction go, Omnidawn is distinctively ambitious. Founded by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan in 2001, the press holds four annual contests (two for chapbooks, two for full-length manuscripts) and publishes an average of six books per year—recent titles include include Julie Carr’s RAG, Gillian Conoley’s Peace, Endi Hartigan’s Pool [5 choruses], Karla Kelsey’s A Conjoined Book , and Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [guma’].

Single-author collections are not Omnidawn’s only publishing project. OmniVerse , an online journal of poetry, essays, interviews, and cross-genre work, is published on the first of each month, and in July 2014 the press will publish the inaugural issue of Best American Experimental Writing (BAX), a new annual anthology curated by a guest editor (this year’s is Cole Swensen), as well as series editors Seth Abramson and Jesse Damiani.

It was also recently announced that OmniVerse essayist and Omnidawn Advisory Board chair David Koehn, with the help of several guest poets (including Rusty and Omnidawn authors Maxine Chernoff, Donald Revell, Gillian Conoley, and Brian Teare), will be leading an online workshop in fall 2014. Partial scholarships are available for “Prosody & Revision,” and all proceeds will benefit Omnidawn Publishing, introducing a new, educational facet to the press’ already well-established engagement with the writing community.

An interview with Rusty only made the generous and energetic spirit behind Omnidawn that much more palpable:

Lily Duffy: The Omnidawn website states that the press publishes “writing that opens us anew to the myriad ways that language may bring new light, new awareness to us.” How do you think Omnidawn books see themselves in relation to the world, occupationally, ethically, and/or otherwise? What are some of the larger statements or arguments you feel these books are making about what literature can (or should) do?

Rusty Morrison: I experience each book that we’ve published as establishing uniquely its relationship to the necessary instabilities in its vision of every aspecting turn of world. I would do each book an injustice if I were to lump them together into an amalgam. I respect your question, in that you are asking how each book reads itself reading the world. Every poem, every page, every line is, in some manner, evolving as a world, while reflecting upon a world, that dissolves the static it was (“static” as “stasis” and “static” as “noise”). Thus the works demand from themselves that their vision NOT be uniform or homogenizing. There’s a wonderful excerpt online from Barbara Guest in which she says

The poem is fragile… It needs to reach through the armed vehicle of the poem,

to loosen the armed hand.

Losing the arrogance of dominion over the poem to an invisible hand, the poet campaigns for a passage over which the poet has control. Yet the unstableness of the poem is
important.

I offer these delightful sentences from Guest for their excellent kinship to our conversation, and in order to turn their meaning a bit, and use them also to suggest that it is often the fragility that a poem exposes, and that the poem exposes in the poet, in her relation to the work, that can help both writer and reader break through her armor of expectation, her armor of assumption that the poem is a vehicle going to a somewhere that has a where-ness easily assumed.

I am less interested in imagining what might be “larger arguments” made generally by our poets and more interested in the ways I must simply return to each book, and find anew how it changes my life in the instant of reading it, again and again.

Some of our books, like Robin Clarke’s LINES THE QUARRY, address what might be called politically crucial topics. Others, like Norma Cole’s WIN THESE POSTERS AND OTHER UNRELATED PRIZES INSIDE, might be reframing the very means of speaking topically about presence. I could make some comment about every book, but simple framing statements are not useful. Reading the poems is useful.

So I will leave it to Barbara Guest, who is a master at de-framing the frame of the conversation, as she turns outside in, and inside out, regarding what is being done and undone, what is apparently donned, and what is the sneaky addendum of gorgeous adornment that is kept hidden, in the conversation we call literature.

LD: Is there a story or some sort of epiphanic moment behind the inception of the press?

RM: There are so very many parts to this story! I’ll tell you two parts:

a) The name ‘Omnidawn’ was Ken’s idea. Ken Keegan is my husband and press partner. In college, he was inspired by the architectural designs of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. Ken had wanted to bring many artistic mediums/genres together and build a theater-in-the-round space for performance, readings, presentations, gallery openings, etc, to house them. And he planned to call it the “omnidome.”

b) In 1999, I’d gone back to grad school (again). This time for an MFA in poetry, and I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Brenda Hillman. I knew I wanted to study with her because of her amazing poetry, but I also learned that she was an excellent teacher who believed in community, and in creating opportunities for sharing the writing of one’s peers. I was also very lucky to have Lyn Hejinian as one of my teachers. She, too, was a phenomenal teacher and mentor in the craft of writing and the vision of community. Ken was inspired by something Lyn Hejinian said: “if you want to be invited to the best parties, you should learn how to give one.” Her words were what gave Ken the idea that we might create an “omnidawn,” a press, that would, in some sense, fulfill his early vision (the omnidome) but do it in a way that would allow us to publish poets whom I revered and new writers whom we wanted to bring to readers. We both were inspired by Lyn’s idea of giving to readers and to writers the best “party” we could! From publishing poetry books, we intended to move into other genres and mediums, as time and energy might allow. We have been doing this, expanding however we might, since 2001.

LD: How has the press changed over the years—were there things you implemented or felt strongly about in the beginning that you’ve since shifted positions on?

RM: As we’ve added staff, we’ve been so excited to see the myriad ways in which their visions enlarge our own. This seems in keeping with our name “omnidawn,” so I’m not sure that our position has shifted. But, certainly, our position’s pliancy has increased. Our wonderful staff has kept us limber. Most recently Gillian Hamel has become our Poetry Managing Editor and taken over many important responsibilities; she remains our OmniVerse magazine’s Managing Editor as well. Our full staff includes:

Rusty Morrison & Ken Keegan, senior editors & publishers

Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel, managing poetry editor & OmniVerse managing editor

Cassandra Smith, poetry editor & book designer

Peter Burghardt, poetry editor & book designer

Turner Canty, poetry editor

Liza Flum, poetry editor & social media

Sharon Osmond, poetry editor & bookstore outreach

RJ Ingram, poetry editor & social media

Juliana Paslay, fiction editor & bookstore outreach manager

Gail Aronson, fiction editor

Melissa Burke, social media

Sharon Zetter, grant writer

Josie Gallup, feature writer

LD: What, for you, is the most difficult part of running a press? Have you found ways to help make this part easier?

RM: I used the word “limber” above, and I believe this is an essential quality in my work. It is difficult to not let past standards become rigid. But it is, of course, essential to keep attuned to what we most value, essential to take the extra moment needed to sense each decision, and consider its full array of possible consequences. It is not exactly difficult, but more, it is a constant necessity to stay awake, to be mindful, to have the valor needed to ask oneself at every small turn, “how will this impact our future?” Daily meditation practice is sanity enhancing, since it allows me to keep breathing!

LD: Pretend Omnidawn is a person—what adjectives would you use to describe h(is)(er) personality?

RM: I don’t think of “omnidawn” as a person, as a noun. My practice is to imagine “omnidawn” as a verb, as the collective action, in action, of

–our staff when they are engaged in presswork, and

–all the writers’ works that we publish.

When I think of Omnidawn as actions in the world, then I continually ask myself to widen my perception to consider both the obvious and less obvious impacts of those actions.

Again, by thinking this way, I can continue to imagine what shifts in our verb might yield in ways we haven’t yet realized.

But this takes me back to Barbara Guest!

If I substitute the word “press” for the word “poem” each time it appears in this quote (below), then I can see that Barbara Guest has given me a useful few statements to repeat to myself as I sit down for a daily meditation before I enter into my own ‘action’ as one of the poets engaged in presswork:

The poem is fragile… It needs to reach through the armed vehicle of the poem,

to loosen the armed hand.

Losing the arrogance of dominion over the poem to an invisible hand, the poet campaigns for a passage over which the poet has control. Yet the unstableness of the poem is
important.

Burning Deck Press

by Alexis Almeida

burning deck press

When I think of Burning Deck, a few words come to mind: visionary, understated, incisive, mythic, innovative. Though I think these are all fitting terms in a way, what makes Burning Deck unique is that it could never be confined to any of them – open-minded as it is specialized, Burning Deck has created a unique name for itself without being easily definable or simple to pin-down.

Aside from having carved its own valuable space in the publishing world, Burning Deck is the collaboration of two brilliant poets: Rosmarie and Keith Waldop. The two met in Wurtzberg, Germany in 1954 and immediately wanted to work together — their first project was translating a Nietzsche poem. Soon after, in 1961, Burning Deck started as a small literary magazine. In the time between now and then the press has grown immensely. Rosmarie and Keith have published around 235 titles, and recently celebrated their 50th anniversary as a press in 2011.

Timeline

I was able to speak to Keith briefly about Burning Deck, but before addressing it here, I’d like to run through a brief timeline:

1961 – Burning Deck Press is founded. Though it called itself a quinterly magazine, it only published four editions before it turned to publishing chapbooks. Later, with the help of NEA grants, it was able to start publishing books of poetry, and occasionally some fiction.

1984 – They merge with ANYART Contemporary Arts Center, becoming the literature program of the not for profit organization from Providence.

1985 – Letterpress printing is discontinued, as developments in automatic bookbinding makes it more cost effective to go in that direction.

1992 – The French translation series, “Série d’ Escriture,” is founded.

1994 – The German translation series, “Dichten,” is also founded.

Interview                                               

AA: I really appreciate your taking the time to answer a few questions! What led to the decision to start the press? Can you talk a bit about some of your original plans/hopes for it?

KW: We realized simply that there was no press doing what seemed a necessary function, keeping some track of these things.

AA: Who were some of the first authors you published? What were some of the criteria for deciding who to publish at that time?

KW: The first we thought of printing was Creeley. He and some of the San Francisco poets were virtually unknown in the rest of the country.

AA: I know Burning Deck was originally a magazine – did its aesthetic focus shift at all when you started exclusively publishing books? When did translation become an important part of the press?

KW: There was no shift in focus at that time. We went to books because that made it easier to move around. We simply printed what we thought was important and was not yet available.

AA: I know Burning Deck is dedicated to innovative and experimental poetry – Michael Palmer has even said that   without its presence “we experimental poets would, simply, not exist.” Can you talk a bit about how you might define innovative or experimental poetry?  Are there any poets writing today whose work seems particularly innovative?

KW: I can only say that I have read much poetry of all kinds. I look for work that surprises me against this background.

AA: Can you talk a bit about the transition from letterpress to offset printing?

KW: It was purely a matter of what was financially possible.

AA: Do you have any advice for people hoping to start a small press?

KW: At this point the easiest seems to be web-publishing, which I know nothing about. For print books, the most difficult thing is distribution. Getting in touch with Small Press Distribution early would get you valuable advice.

A Few Things About the Press:

Beginnings: In 1961, the poetry world was somewhat divided between supposed “beat” poets and “academic” poets. Burning Deck did not play into this split, and started publishing a good swath of poets  – from Zukofsky to Creeley to Snodgrass – though sometimes the poets themselves would complain for having been published alongside others with starkly different aesthetics. Among those published in “Burning Deck Magazine”: Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Donald Finkel, Kathleen Fraser, Barbara Guest, Heath-Stubbs, LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka], Robert Kelly, X.J. Kennedy, Denise Levertov, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Christopher Middleton, Natalie Robins, Louis Zukofsky.

Authors: As stated above, Burning Deck was not solely concerned with “literary schools,” – however, according to Rosmarie, the shift from publishing the magazine to publishing exclusively books led to an increased focus on“work that foregrounds form and structure in innovative ways.” Although they do print well-known authors, they have remained dedicated to lesser-known writers, writers that other publishers wouldn’t necessarily take a chance on. They have have published the first books of Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, John Taggart, and Anthony Barnett – all who were virtually unknown before their books were published with Burning Deck. Some other poets they are especially proud to have published are Alison Bundy, Ray Ragosta, Michael Gizzi, Cyrus Console, Catherine Imbriglio, Jane Unrue, Craig Watson, and Dallas Wiebe, and more recently Elizabeth Willis (Turneresque), and Peter Gizzi’s Artificial Heart.

Translation: This is a large feature of the press. Though Rosmarie is German, and the two met in Germany, they were both also on fellowships in Europe from 1970-171, spending the majority of this time in Paris. This is when they were introduced to many French avant-garde writers, including Edmond Jabes, who Rosmarie would both translate and write about later. Burning Deck became an important for introducing French  & German avant-garde writers to an English-language readership.  Recent from Serie: Jean Daive’s “Walks With Paul Celan,” translated by Rosmarie, and from Dichten, Gerhard Ruhm’s “I My Feet,” also translated by Rosmarie.

Printing: In 1961, letterpress was beginning to be replaced by offset printing, and many people were getting rid of their letterpresses. Because of this, the Waldops found it affordable to use one while they were in grad school, but by 1985, it became more feasible and affordable to use offset. They remain committed to smyth-sewn, acid-free paper to ensure good quality but low process. On the topic of design, Rosmarie offered: “In the early days of Burning Deck, when we were handsetting and handprinting we tried to make the cover design simply out of letters, lines and print ornaments (i.e. lead ornaments we could stick in the letterpress). Keith did most of the covers. When  we went to offset this changed. Keith still did most of the covers, but if the author wanted a particular image, design, or designer  we went along as long as it did not cause unaffordable expense.” She has also said that “…it is printing, even more than editing, that has affected my own writing. Printing letterpress (especially setting poems by hand, as we did in the beginning) is so slow a process that I became extremely aware of any unnecessary ‘fat.’ It has helped me make my poems leaner.” They currently use SPD distribution.

Prizes:

- In 1984, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s The Heat Bird received the American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation

- In 1985, Ron Silliman’s Paradise received the San Francisco Poetry Center Award

- In 1991, Burning Deck was the focus of a weekend-symposium at Foundation Royaumont, in France.

- In 1996, Cole Swensen’s Numen was finalist for the PEN West Award

- In 2001, Brown University’s Writing Program held a 3-day Festival for Burning Deck’s 40th anniversary

- In 2008, Catherine Imbriglio’s Parts of the Mass  received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America

- In 2008, Rosmarie Waldrop’s translation of LINGOS I-IX by Ulf Stolterfoht received the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation

- In 2010, “L’Aventure ‘Burning Deck’” was a feature of the “Lettres sur cour” Poetry Festival at Vienne, France

Exhibitions of Burning Deck books have been held at Wesleyan, Brown, and Long Island Universities, at Woodland Patterns in Milwaukee, various libraries, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Centre Internationale de Poésie Marseille and, most recently the Poetry Foundation. Single books have been included in exhibitions at the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Stedelijk Museum, and Kensington Art Association, Toronto.

Coffee House Press

by Connor Fisher

Overview

Allan KornblumCoffee House Press is a small, literary press based out of Minneapolis. The press was founded by Allan Kornblum and publishes eighteen books a year. The genres of works published include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, memoir, and anthologies. Notable authors who have had books recently published by Coffee House Press include: Eleni Sikelianos, Travis Nichols, Brian Evenson, Selah Saterstrom, and Mark McMorris.

Website

coffeehouse site

The press’ website, in addition to providing a regularly refreshed list of current authors and an online store, houses a list of upcoming events involving Coffee House authors and a blog. The blog contains various types of material surrounding the press and its authors, including artist statements, book excerpts, and written thoughts and statements from current and previous residents in the Coffee House Press Writers and Readers Library Residency Program.

Books

Kind-OneDue to the relatively large size of Coffee House Press compared with many small presses (Brent Cunningham of Small Press Distribution considers Coffee House an “independent press” rather than a “small press”), the press tends to have a more inclusive aesthetic than many smaller presses. Coffee House does not exclusively publish work within any single, specific genre or subgenre. Its catalog includes works of mostly-realist literary fiction (e.g. The Kind One by Laird Hunt; a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award and winner of the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award), documentary poetry (e.g. Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak), experimental poetry (e.g. Julie Carr and Dan Beachy-Quick, among many others), and notable poets associated with the New York School (e.g. Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman), alongside numerous anthologies, memoirs, and works of nonfiction.

Interview with Publishing Assistant Molly Fuller

mollyfuller

Connor Fisher: I see from coffeehousepress.org that the press is located in Minneapolis—was it founded there as well, and was the press created for a specific reason (e.g. to fill a gap in the literary scene of the time)?

Molly Fuller: Coffee House Press originally started as a mimeograph magazine called Toothpaste Press, in Iowa in the 1970s.It was a sort of way to bring the care and tradition of classically designed books to more avant garde writers. [CHP founder Allan Kornblum] wanted to make sure these writers were not just printed but published; essentially to also bring the commerce and professionalism of publishing to these writers operating on the margins.

CF: How is Coffee House funded?

MF: We are funded by a variety of sources, revenue from sales comprising the largest part. We are also a 501c3 nonprofit, so we additionally receive money from government and private grants and individual contributions. Even though the amounts are different, all of these sources are equally important as we could not operate without all of them.

CF: I saw online that Coffee House publishes about 14-16 books a year (fairly large for a small press)—does the press have an ideal size that it would like to reach (whether larger or smaller), or has the number and quality of manuscript submissions and book sales determined the size of Coffee House, to some extent? 

MF: We actually publish 18 books a year at this point and we feel pretty satisfied with that number. It’s large enough that we can bring a good amount of great literature to the reading community, but also small enough that we can really spend a lot of time working on the books and with the authors. I would say that is the main reason we have settled on that number; we are a staff of ten, and the amount of care we put into each book is largely what determines our size.

CF: the Coffee House mission statement states that the press aims to “produce books that celebrate imagination, innovation . . and the many authentic voices of the American experience.” In meeting this goal, does the press adhere to a specific aesthetic or polemic? or does the quality of the manuscripts themselves determine which are selected for publication?

MF: We don’t necessarily subscribe to any particular aesthetic; we don’t want to be a static entity. We change and grow, and are allowed to do so because we aren’t fixed on any one particular type of book or author or genre. We publish new books in context with books we’ve previously published, so in a lot of ways our list guides itself, certainly in conjunction with our long standing staff and authors. We have a full-time staff that is working years ahead of the books that are coming out currently, so that really allows us to be flexible, but also selective in choosing what we put into the world. Quality of the manuscripts plays a huge role in what we publish, but there are some things we specifically don’t publish, genre fiction being one of them. A person may have written the best traditional historical romance any of us has ever read, but that doesn’t fit in with the mission of the press. The mission guides our selections and we publish on a very broad range of topics, in a variety of styles. I guess I would say one thing that determines a CHP book is a unique element; a bending of traditional language, format, or style; an element of surprise so to speak. We are, in a way, a home for orphan books; books that add to the cultural vitality of the reading community but that probably wouldn’t get picked up by a big publishing house.

NewPages.com Interview with Allan Kornblum 

In mid-2006, newpages.com interviewed Coffee House Press founder Allan Kornblum—the interview can be accessed here. In the interview, Kornblum expands upon his motives for starting a small mimeograph magazine in Iowa in 1970 (which would eventually become Coffee House Press) and discusses the importance of typography and letterpress printing to the formation of Coffee House Press.


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