Lessons from Indie Poetry Presses at Publishers Weekly

From the article:

With minimal staffs and tiny budgets, independent poetry presses exist on the margins of the publishing world. But that fringe existence allows them to take wild risks and create new models for publishing and promotions. PW spoke with six emerging presses to get an insight into their nimble thinking, and to see which of their strategies might work for mainstream publishers.

Publish for Love: Argos Books

Argos Books was founded in 2010 by three poet/translators—E.C. Belli, Iris Cushing, and Elizabeth Clark Wessel—who met in Columbia University’s M.F.A. Program. They starting making chapbooks by hand and now publish full-length collections, with an eye toward unusual voices, projects that don’t fit into traditional genre modes, women writers, and works in translation.

The three editors only publish books that they love, and they take on projects without thinking of the financial bottom line. “Our connections to each book are aesthetic and emotional and intellectual,” Clark Wessel says. But, she adds, they do make money on the books. Not every book pays for itself, but most books do, and those pay for the ones that don’t.

Amber Atiya’s The Fierce Bums of Doo-Wop, a hand-bound chapbook, is a recent critical and commercial success that sold out its print run quickly. Similar to a number of Argos poets, Atiya came with a small following already in place, which was a huge benefit and gave Argos something to build on. “When she reads,” Clark Wessel says, “everyone in the room becomes a big fan.”

Locked and Loaded: An Interview with Montana Ray at Weird Sister

Emily Brandt: The book felt very nourishing, like a meal, in part because of the visual elements. There’s also so much narrative and so much rich language. As a writer, you’re creating this form and moving through it so beautifully and challenging so many of our ideas of what a mother is, what a child is, what violence is, what nonviolence is, what a book of poems can do. I had a student who was wearing to school yesterday this t-shirt that had a blonde woman in her underwear pointing a gun at whoever. I said to him, “I’m kind of offended” and he said, “It’s about power though. This is about power.” So I said, “Yeah well, her mouth is open, she’s naked,” and he was like, “But she’s got some power.” So then I showed him your book and he flipped through it and read a little of it and handed it back to me and said, “Miss, it’s the same thing.” So how is this book not the same thing as his shirt? Or is it?

Montana Ray: That’s the best question I think I’ve ever been asked. I think there is probably some sort of relationship there because I feel like the book does glamorize violence. It doesn’t show you how fucking fucked up it actually is, and it can’t because it’s a representation. It’s about a play therapy kind of world. But the book isn’t really selling anything. Because it’s outside of the pop culture market, maybe it gets away with some stuff that otherwise it would be more accountable for. But I think the whole book is about that, about film. There is a poem in there about a woman—”(una pistola) (bajo el vestido)”—in front of a camera with her shirt undone holding a machine gun on an album cover, and the complexities of that situation. Because she also has a gun below her slip for at night when she’s in bed for her pinché lover, uncle, guardian. So there is this duality of a glamorous vision of a woman with a gun during the daytime on an album cover, versus the threat of actual violence and a woman using a gun as self-projection against male sexual aggression.

–From Emily Brandt’s interview of Montana Ray at Weird Sister

Arielle Greenberg & Joy Katz discuss (guns & butter) at APR

Arielle Greenberg: “Startling complications” is also an apt way to describe Montana Ray’s (guns & butter).

There’s a narrative in her book, but it’s a brutally, beautifully complex one. The speaker is pregnant in “spikeheels”; she is in love with her partner, but he’s violent and abusive; she acknowledges the privilege of her class and her appearance but she’s a disenfranchised single mom; she’s a responsible, loving mother who takes her toddler to a bar and lusts after the waiter;  she swears like a sailor and includes actual recipes for banana bread and cocktails. It’s a riveting, unusual depiction of womanhood.

Joy Katz: These are concrete poems in the shape of guns. It’s tough to write about guns, let alone make concrete gun poems, without playing off predictable anger about our American gun obsession.

AG: What is more potentially cheesy and treacherous than a concrete poem in this day and age, right? And beyond the concrete shapes, there are so many layers of formal invention—the unusual use of texting conventions and emoji, and parentheticals—that could be gimmicky.

JK: Yes, especially Ray’s parentheticals. Amazingly, they are not fussy. The little encapsulated phrases are like bullets. The poems are actually loaded.

Yet Ray points the menacing-yet-erotic gun cliché straight at a reader’s face: “(u’re driving) (how kind) (would you like a blowjob)”. Is she getting off on this? It’s uncomfortable to read. Is it funny or serious? What’s the power relationship in the car? The poems succeed because there aren’t clear answers to those kind of questions. The speaker rides along, “(thinking of Stokely’s cool / kids campaigning) (in the pitch of night).” She’s pregnant, “(my body is an insane cornucopia)” — isn’t that a fantastic image? — and the poem lands on what may be the most critical complication of the book:


to standup for the Brother)

(who holds my head down)

AG: I wanted to talk about the same exact passage. So much going on here—personally, politically, culturally, historically—at the intersection of oppressions. And the question asked goes unanswered, which is the only honest option, as far as I can see.

American Poetry Review vol 44 no 3

Montana Ray interviewed at TCJWW

Sarah Clyne Sundberg: You frame yourself as a feminist. Do you think sexuality complicates feminism?

Montana Ray: I think I was trying to perform an examination of culture in this book, trying to think about how this relationship was conditioned by media and conditioned by my family heritage. But I wasn’t really systematic, or academic, in my approach. I was just kind of in it. I was interested in the slippage between feeling crazy, feeling like your sexuality is not your fault, feeling like you’re the only sane person for a three-state radius and then feeling like you’re totally insane. And I think that’s a really common experience for feminists.

Montana Ray interviewed at The The

“I’m in the mountains right now at my sister’s place in Oaxaca, under like 15 wool blankets staring at these gorgeous mountains and being totally snobby and skeezed out by my sister’s living standards; you know sublime + expired Lala yogurt dumped into the garden and bed bugs meet tarantulas. And anyway last night my son, sister, and I were telling stories around her fireplace. And taking turns, and Ami was like I’m not really into telling stories, I more like to tell facts. So we pulled the story of Cupid and Psyche out of him, fact by fact. And I think that there’s a way that the poems in this book seek out language as fact. I’m interested in language as something concrete in the fact of its materiality.”

Montana Ray, interviewed by Fox Frazier-Foley

(guns & butter) reviewed at Entropy

From Art & Crisis (u can touch it): Montana Ray’s (guns & butter) by Brooke Ellsworth:

(guns + butter) invites us to read its shape as an idea firmly rooted in our contemporary experience of crisis: engage > delete. It invites us to read the voice in these poems by the same model. Our role as poem-spectator and civilian-spectator are inseparable. How do we measure the success of a poem in the shape of a gun? Or in the shape of a recipe? What is there to take away from any platform or prosody that is premised on the end-goal, objectivity, neutrality, the cathedral spaces of discourse? The two poles of this collection, guns + butter, are the consumables of these questions. Lethal + edible. They are evasive because of their everydayness. Ray reminds us that docility and absentmindedness are how we are asked to approach them, the newsfeed, drones, the tar sands. (The conveyors of political content) are not the conveyors of urgency that art can be.

Each poem in (guns & butter) comes into focus and quickly escapes it. The parentheses mushroom to an (((((((((((( inward rate, at the same time they and the recipes force us to engage some idealized result. (guns & butter) has us think about how our poetry becomes pressured by crisis, how we can pressure crisis and engender crisis with our poetry. A concrete poetry of a parenthetical narrative becomes an aesthetic imperative to recognize violence as its own organism, a beast we feed, a beast that feeds on us. Art is also a beast we feed, or choose not to feed. It’s when we overlook the conveyors of art within crisis, or the conveyors of crisis within art that we have truly given up. These are after all poems and we would die without them.

Joshua Daniel Edwin & Sharmila Cohen at The Conversant

From The Conversant:

Sharmila Cohen: It’s pretty clear that translating a work like Kummerang would be no easy feat—can you discuss your process a bit? How did you tread the line between sound and content? Did you put more emphasis on one or the other? What were the particular difficulties you faced with it being such a sound-heavy poem? How much input did Dagmara have? Do you think anything was gained or lost in the process?   How was this experience different from other translations you’ve done?

Joshua Daniel Edwin: Translating gloomerang was certainly a challenge. The poem is ripe to bursting with sound-play and references and allusive connections and strange direct-address dialogue. Finding a balance between all these elements, or rather, figuring out a balance in English that worked as well as the balance Dagmara struck in German, was a long process. The first breakthrough I had was with the title. The original, “kummerang,” is a neologism that mushes together kummer (which means grief, troubles, sorrows, worries) with boomerang. My first solution was “boomeranguish,” which is pretty close in terms of sense-meaning, but all wrong in terms of sound. I kept thinking about it, and when I hit upon gloomerang, I knew I had found something good. It sounded right and it felt right. The sense-meaning wasn’t quite as close, but it was close enough and it captured the aura of the original. That set the tone for everything that followed.

The Best of 2015 at Public Books

Morgan Parker at Public Books:

Montana Ray’s (guns & butter) and Liz Clark Wessel’s Two Suns

I haven’t dug a good concrete poem since, probably, reading Apollinaire. Montana’s, sometimes in the shape of a gun, sometimes in the shape of a vagina (a poem in itself), are as original and unforgiving as they are funny and relatably devastating. She takes on heavy topics like single motherhood, violence, race and family, examining and challenging tradition in content, cadence and form.

(guns & butter), arriving in April, will be the first full-length book from Argos Books, whose catalog of chapbooks and calendars is full of letterpressed, hand-bound knockouts. In addition to being a press committed to quality aesthetics, Argos is edited by dedicated writers with innovative and striking work themselves: co-founder Liz Clark Wessel’s debut Two Suns, also forthcoming this year from The Lit Pub, is gorgeous: thoughtful, earnest, and smart.

Be A Dead Girl reviewed at Entropy

From Alexis Pope’s review of Be A Dead Girl at Entropy:

OK: I’ve made up my mind. I want Krystal to by my life planner. Hire her to speak through me when they put me in uncomfortable (& wrong) situations. I channel her on the phone call, stand up for myself. I channel a she the way she should be. It’s not a performance.

Languell delivers her bitch slaps with a laugh. Owns it. “Adults have relationships / nice work”

Languell’s intelligence & thought stand up straight in her fuck-off boots, but she’s not kicking. She’s shrugging because she doesn’t care if you get it. If you don’t get it, she’s not talking to you. “Holes are / abstract pleasures     if you didn’t know / they give direction     to feeling”

Direct me out the door. Direct me to the source of my life.

I’m writing this to say you should probably read this chapbook. Like, now. I’m writing this to say “A lot of shit will never happen” like me being able to talk like an intellectual about poetry. All I know is how to feel it. Languell speaks for me. I really don’t have to say much at all.

15 Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2015 at Weird Sister

Marisa Crawford at Weird Sister:

12) Guns & Butter by Montana Ray

The first poetry collection from self-described “feminist writer, translator, and mother” Montana Ray, Guns & Butter is made up entirely of poems written in the shape of guns that touch on themes including single motherhood, the literary canon, and gun violence. Cathy Park Hong says “[Ray’s] voice is mesmerizing, tender, vicious, chimeric, as she veers between role-playing a warrior glock-wielding Annie Oakley to “warm, new mother.” Read a few of Ray’s gun poems here, and get super-stoked.

Best Books of 2014 at Volta

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs Best Books of 2014 includes Fierce Bums of Doo-wop by Amber AtiyaBe A Dead Girl by Krystal Languell.

Brandon Shimoda’s Best Books of 2014 includes Wife by Caitie Moore.

Real Talk with Amber Atiya at PW’s

Amber Atiya at Poets & Writers:

“These are moments I live for as a writer, scribbling notes in the margins of a SNAP booklet (“What You Should Know About Your Rights & Responsibilities”) or on the back of a voter registration form I’ll never use. Occasionally, these moments become poems, a couple of which appear in my chapbook, The Fierce Bums of Doo-Wop, recently published by Argos Books. (Shout out to my nephew J—-, who checked my ego by constantly asking, “Ams, what’s the name of your book again?” Only to walk off, chuckling, before I could answer.)”

Iris Cushing On Publishing

Iris Cushing, interviewed by Jasmine Dream Wagner in the Conversant:

“Too often, I think, publishing is seen as a ‘goal’ of writing. It’s not. It’s one possible outcome, but there are hundreds of other equally good outcomes. My aspiration in editing Argos is to make the publishing process part of a continuum with the writing process. Poems are born in context, in the midst of a place and a time, among friends and lovers, plants and animals, grumpy co-workers and flirty bartenders; I want to take up publishing as a part of that whole. A book shouldn’t be something that is made when the poems are ‘finished.’ Rather, a book grows out of its context and leads to further changes, further growth.”

Results of our open reading period

Dear Friends of Argos,

During our open reading period last year we received over 200 chapbooks & we have been slowly reading, enjoying, pondering, and responding to these manuscripts ever since. The work we received made us excited to be publishers; there are such talented folks writing at this moment, and the fact that so many of them trusted us was a true honor. After much thought and discussion, we are proud to announce the following chapbooks will be joining the Argos catalog in 2014 & 2015:

the fierce bums of doo-wop by Amber Atiya
Symphony No. 2 by Emily Carlson
Turn it Over by Jaime Shearn Coan
Like a Country Road Going Back in Your Direction by Stephanie Gray
Poems by Ma Lan (translated by Charles A. Laughlin)
Go Ahead, Be a Dead Girl by Krystal Languell
& lunar flare by Levi M. Rubeck

Argos Books
(Elizabeth Clark Wessel, Iris Cushing, E.C. Belli, & Aiden Arata)

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: 2014 Argos Poetry Calendar

From Vouched Books:

The past two years, Argos Books–which is run by E.C. Belli, Iris Cushing, and Elizabeth Clark Wessel out of Brooklyn, NY–has released a limited-edition, monthly poetry calendar.

This year’s version contains poems by Kazim Ali, Sommer Browning, Christophe Casamassima, Don Mee Choi, Ryan Eckes, Farrah Field, Joan Kane, Bhanu Kapil, Rachel Levitsky, Anna Moschovakis, Jared White, and Simone White. The illustrations were drawn by Essye Klempner.

While we’re already in the fourth month of the year, consider ordering one of these wonderful artifacts to hang on your wall so that you may pencil-in (and not forget) trips to the tropical fish store and next your Laser Tag outing.

Quarantine Reviewed in Rain Taxi

From Tivka Jakob’s review of Quarantine by Malachi Black:

The best way to read Malachi Black’s Quarantine may be to start at the end. Or in the middle. Of course, there’s always the option of starting at the beginning—if you can find it. As a collection of crown sonnets, this chapbook is extremely cyclical. Black trudges from desperate pleading to fervent gratitude, from solitude to singularity, from life to death to rebirth. He recognizes the inherent activity and monotony in the crown sonnet structure and utilizes it to explore a period of quarantine in his house, in his thoughts, and in his faith. He sees himself, his ailments, and his god as if through a shifting kaleidoscope: with vibrant colors, shapes, and variations of light, too fleeting to preserve but too impressive to dismiss.

Iris Cushing & Elizabeth Clark Wessel at the Poetry Society

From the Poetry Society website:

Could you talk a little bit about your own process of making and publishing chapbooks?

First we design the chapbooks on the computer. (Thank you desktop publishing revolution!) We make sure that all of the materials we use are of good quality, acid free, nice to touch, and not terrible for the environment when possible.  We do a lot of the printing ourselves (guts on our laser printer, some of the covers on our inkjet printer).

Iris: We also letterpress some of our covers at The Arm in Williamsburg. We have a small studio in Brooklyn, with a large kitchen table in the center, which is where we assemble the books. Chapbook sewing is always a jolly good time. We fold, awl and sew the bindings, then trim the face of the book on a paper guillotine. I often thread needles, which I happen to be good at. Our wonderful intern, Grayson Wolf, often helps out, as well as Mårten Wessel (Liz’s husband) and the chapbook’s author.

Argos Books featured in Small Press Points

From Poets & Writers:

“We wanted to contribute our own idiosyncratic visions of contemporary poetry to the greater conversation,” Clark Wessel says. Although Argos has released a few full-length books, it primarily publishes chapbook-length poetry collections, translations, and writer-artist collaborations, often in hand-sewn and letterpress editions. “We are interested in innovative poetry that takes risks with form and content and is attentive to the possibilities of the chapbook. We want to see work from writers whose identities and perspectives fall outside the mainstream.”

2013 Argos Poetry Calendar Featured at Rain Taxi

From Rain Taxi:

Still need a calendar for 2013? Check out the amazing poetry calendar from Argos Books—each month features a different poem by the likes of Eileen Myles, Mark Bibbins, Cecila Vicuna, Harryette Mullen, and other joyful noisemakers. It’s a chapbook you can hang on your wall, really—and it’s got a gorgeous letterpress cover to boot.

Russian for Lovers reviewed in Rain Taxi Review of Books

Vladislav Davidzon reviews Russian for Lovers in Rain Taxi Review of Books:

“With her primer of the elemental letters and lessons of love, Blitshteyn has composed a lovely debut book of poems. I for one am expecting my next lesson eagerly.”