Montevidayo Survey On Publishers & Genre: Specimen 3: Blue Square Press

by on May.16, 2011

[I undertook this survey on Publishers & Genre to explore the idea that genre might not be inherent in the text but rather an assemblage of author, publisher, materials, readers, other texts. Our first featured press was Spork, followed by Fence.]

This week’s featured press is Blue Square Press.

I blurbed this terrific, strange, very readable book.

Blue Square is a new upstart press offering fresh and headsplitting prose from such authors as Sean Kilpatrick, Jack Boettcher, and the editors themselves.  David Peak and Ben Spivey, two out of four Blue Square eds, answered our quiz.

David Peak offered this headnote to their joint response:“In order to approach this interview, I wrote some quick responses and then Ben wrote inside of and on top of those drafts. We repeated this process twice. It was revealing for us to see how our answers morphed, and ultimately reflected our process as co-editors.”

In the following response to our survey, David’s answers will appear in plain text and Ben Spivey’s will appear in red.

1) To what degree is your press a host for new genres? What new genres?
To whatever degree that’s just beyond measuring—or labeling. I’m going to say things that maybe don’t make sense, just fair warning, but I think that as soon as a genre is given a name, or once it’s identified and becomes recursive or self-aware, once those things happen, it dies. In that sense, I think I’m most interested in writing that’s alive. But doesn’t know it’s alive. I like the idea of text functioning as a central nervous system. Encased in genre we become what’s expected, what I’m doing might be outside of those expectations and with that I’m elated. Genre is. What I host is not. If I publish something that feels new or feels familiar to people then they can decide the label. I’m not concerned with genre types, fitting into or out of them. That does not mean I ignore or dislike them, but they simply do not factor into what I what to publish. What attracts me to a text is something outside of that, it’s an almost instant feeling of yes that grows—it’s how I know I’m breathing. I’m not sure how to explain it, but you can see it like Fall, it’s the books I’ve published and the writers I believe in.

2. What is genre? What is a genre?

We use the word, I think, to refer to a certain familiarity, or pre-conceived set of expectations—something the reader brings to the text. What the writer does from there, how they manipulate those expectations, is the fun part. Brian Evenson comes to mind, how he has bent the horror genre with books like Fugue State. He’s considered both literary and genre. I think it’s really hard to surprise someone, not “shock” them, but surprise them. That’s something I’m always looking for—either with use of language or with unconventional use of plot or lack of plot or structure.

I like that these are two separate questions. It makes a big difference. A genre helps organize a bookstore.  

3.  To what extent has your own writing and art and your own understanding of genre changed by your work with the press?

W/r/t the submissions we receive, our only guideline is to “surprise us.” I didn’t realize how important that was until I re-read what I just wrote above. That really is all that I’m looking for. I don’t want to use words like “new” or “fresh” or “innovative” because they don’t really mean anything as descriptors of text—they’re just words. My understanding of genre has changed over the past couple of years. When I was fifteen my Canon consisted of Brave New World and Watchmen, as I’ve grown older that’s changed a lot—it’s Hemmingway, Murakami, Lutz. The most important thing I’ve done to understand what genre is and how to manipulate or avoid it is to read as much as possible. The more I read the more I understand.

 We wanted to do this thing because we felt that the kind of writing we really loved wasn’t being published by other presses, or that there wasn’t a press out there that represented the writing we respond to. It’s not anything I could readily identify. All of the texts I publish connect deeply with me, like tissue, bones, terror and beauty. I know it when I see it. It’s Sean Kilpatrick. It’s the way memory and sensation works in Ben’s book. The sound of the Megahighway in Jack’s book. It’s language and consciousness. 

So we built a temple.

4)      What’s the relationships between genre and design? Between genre and medium (book, website, chapbook, performance, etc)?  Between genres and materials (recycled materials, pixels, voice, etc)?

Blue Square Press is four people, myself, David Peak, Chi Birmingham, David McNamara, but it’s also every person who either helped us get our feet, find our way or spread the word. I just wrote a terrible paragraph about structure and the need for architecture that makes us feel good about being alive, that makes us not want to kill ourselves when we’re inside all day, but then I deleted it. I don’t know what the point was, or what I was trying to convey.

One of the first conversations we had—Ben and I—when we were discussing putting this press together, was how our books were going to look. We also talked about the dimensions of our books and possible lengths. I love the idea of matching spines (we’d talked about this at length early on and while Birmingham and McNamara were in the very final stages of design, I think 48 hours before the book was going to the prints, David had Birmingham add the 001 onto the spine of Flowing in the Gossamer Fold. Subsequently Boettcher’s Theater-State will be 002 and Kilpatricks fuckscapes will be 003), of uniformity from one release to the next. We knew that we wanted hand-lettering in the titles (that’s Birmingham’s handwriting), high contrast, grayscale.

That visual sense of what our books were going to look like, I bring that to the way I approach text. Some books, I know, would be complemented by our design aesthetic, others wouldn’t. That’s really important to remember when we discuss what we’d like to publish. Birmingham’s color work on the cover is inductive of the text, McNamara’s interior layouts really bring everything home.  

Like old pulpy sci-fi novels rubber-banded in stacks—it’s the best way to read that kind of material.

6)      Anything else you’d like to add?

Our open reading period is the month of August.

Oh, and, thanks. Thanks.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    >the idea that genre might not be inherent in the text but rather an assemblage of author, publisher, materials, readers, other texts.

    On Joyelle’s keen observation above, a notice to Montevidayo readers:

    What may well be THE magnificent, jaw-dropping English-language work (for both the fields of poetry and fiction) of the century so far:

    The Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips (Random House, released last month, on Shakespeare’s birthday, which is, apropos, the birthday of Phillips, too). The second half of the book reproduces, with extensive footnotes, a complete play by WS, from an original 16th century quarto discovered in a Minnesota safe deposit box. As is explained by Phillips in the long, strange, enthralling introduction… Also included are fraught emails between Phillips and real-life executives at Random House, when personal and legal tensions come to burden the whole astonishing matter.

    The book is a deep homage to Pale Fire, and exceeds it, conceptually, in certain ways–even if Nabokov (also born on the same day as Shakespeare and Phillips) as stylist, is singular, of course. And the new play by Shakespeare leaves Shade’s somewhat pale poem in the dust, really.

    Read it and be amazed. It is a major tour de force, if that overused phrase has meaning. Our parlor-game Conceptualists of the moment should take note and reflect on some things.