Montevidayo Survey On Publishers & Genre: Spork Press [concl.]

by on May.05, 2011

[Spork Press is the first featured press in our survey on Publishers & Genre, a survey undertaken to explore the idea that genre might not be inherent in the text but rather an assemblage of author, publisher, materials, readers, other texts. The first part of the Spork survey is here. The next featured press will be Fence.]

Spawn of Spork

3)To what extent has your own writing and art and your own understanding of genre changed by your work with the press?Drew Burk: Prior to working with the press I’m not certain that I considered genre. I understood that there was the idea of genre, and that there were genres of writing, but as I was interested only in the writing of books and not marketing or selling the books I was writing, I always found it much more satisfying to say “This bit’s about sailing along the Panama Canal, an illustration of the impossibility of getting from point a to point b, expressed in math and song…” That it was a book was all I knew, and I was happy to know only that much.

I think answering these questions has affected my understanding of genre more than working with the press has. I feel most comfortable with my pants and dancing understanding.

So I guess my working with the press has brought me to a point where I was asked these questions and have finally been made to consider genre, and to realize as well that I haven’t considered genre really at all in my work except in the grossest of terms, which I’m still saying don’t really fit in the genre of genre but rather, still, things and types of things which require too many identifiers to be easily described in a simplified nonmultiple way, except, of course, in the grossest of terms…

Jamison Crabtree: I avoided using subject matter associated with fantasy, sci-fi, and horror for the longest time because of the stigma attached to each. I’ve always been a dork, so it’s not the social stigma—it’s the way that writers often use the extraordinary as spectacle or out of convenience. It seems lazy when they introduce a dragon or when they blame a cyborg’s actions on its programming, or they let a character go back in time to leave a gun someplace. But it’s not isolated to those genres, it may be easier to spot a scapegoat, but every genre has its own cop-outs. Dickens’ Bleak House has a moment when spontaneous human combustion is a key plot point and while I love the straightforward ridiculousness of that moment, it still feels like a deus-ex-machina sort of thing. Lazy.

When we letterpress the covers, it’s usually one person cranking, one inking, and one placing and it’s monotonous and awesome, but as a result we end up discussing the batman. There’s something about the repetition and reinterpretation of the same basic idea, over and over again, with a thousand variations that’s really fascinating. To work within genre is to work within an obsession, poetry’s very often about that very thing as well— and if we can find hours and hours and hours and hours of things to discuss in regards to batman, then no genre is limited by subject or form, only by the creativity of the artists who approach the genre.

Jake Levine: During my MFA there was this very concrete division between the three genres, like the nonfiction people would have nonfiction dinner parties, and the poets would get drunk on Tuesday nights, and the fiction people refused to read poems because they didn’t understand them and the whole thing was kind of a fucked up mess. The reason I started liking art is because it is emancipatory. I think when you regulate or box things up as things you are willing to like then you limit yourself. That’s the difference between politics and art even though art is political. I get very upset when politicians lie, but I am really excited when artists lie, particularly if they are really good at it. I think writers create constraint as a way of creating, but eventually the constraints are too tight and they break out of them. Like if you work in a mode or a “genre” or a thing and the content breaks the formal or genre or time constraint, then that is when things become most interesting for me as a reader. But if you do that in real life, you go to jail. Like I have a hammer, and within the form of my life and the society in which I live I am not able to beat people with hammers. But if I broke form, took my hammer and threw it into someone’s face, and smashed it all open with blood and goop and shattered bones, then I’d probably go to jail. That would make my mother incredibly sad. So I probably won’t do that.

Obviously there are boundaries though. For instance the film Space Jam where bugs bunny goes into “real” life and brings Michael Jordan into the cartoon world to help the looney tunes beat the evil space monsters in a game of basketball. A movie that did this really well was Roger Rabbit. I still really like Roger Rabbit. It reminds me of a rejection letter I sent to this guy recently, where I told him I didn’t know if his submission was a story trying to be a poem or a poem trying to be a story and that it was creepy and weird and I like all those things. What I didn’t tell him was that it was uninteresting, and even though Space Jam had a cameo with Bill Murray, I’ll never watch it again. So he cried a lot in his email back to me because some people can’t stand rejection when it is personal. They would rather have the formal one, which is like a mask, and creates a buffer zone between the publisher and the author(s) of work. There is very little discussion between publishers and authors when work is rejected. We are trying to create more space for that. We are trying to be honest. Some people dislike that, honestly, because maybe they are unaccustomed to discussing failure. I think failure is a hell of a lot more interesting than success. Our rejection letters are longer than our acceptance ones. I think the rejection letter is a great genre.

As far as my writing goes, I write less poetry and write more rejection letters now. But art has given me a lot in my life, so I feel like making a dignified place for art is like a big giving back.

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)?

Drew Burk: I feel much more comfortable playing with genre in design. When working visually I’m grateful to have the tools to easily and quickly convey an idea through the shorthand of social agreement and simplification. Though I’d say our use of design is more a statement about us as a press than it is about the work we publish. Our current guiding external aesthetic with regard the production of physical things is that of Highlights magazine, intended to convey to those equipped to understand an impression of inbetween spaces (to me they say doctors’ offices, waiting rooms, the things that happen when nothing is happening), and to also simply look cool and visually arresting to those under the age to appreciate the intention. Having said that I think I answered some other question. We employ genre signifiers in our external design choices to quickly convey information that has nothing to do with the work we produce and publish, is what I think I mean. And I’m grateful there for easily dissectible and classifiable nodes of meaning which the viewer can use to make nonwrong generalizations and inferences about us. Andrew probably has other notions about this.

Inside the books we’ve gone with simplicity, though there is an intended dissonance between the genres of our selected fonts.

Handbound/Handmade, as a genre, used to denote superior quality, but now largely seems to mean shoddy, quick, cheap construction of things not intended to last, but instead to maybe help folk get together the funds sufficient to have the robots do it for them. While I know there are lots of people and presses doing handbound/handmade work of superior quality, the social expectations based upon agreed understanding of the genre tend toward the throwaway object. That’s my genre/materials answer, I think.

Genre and medium: We call everything we do a chapbook. We consider it a meaningless term, and use it blissfully.

Jamison Crabtree: I dunno. Earlier I said that genre sets up expectations, design does that as well. Although I’d say that while genre sets up expectations about content, design sets up expectations about quality. We make pretty books because the work we’re publishing deserves to be in a pretty book.
Jake Levine: Bob Holman once told me a bagel is a poem. I don’t know if that’s true, but I believe it.
I think we are interested in making art. I think we are subjective creatures and if that makes us assholes and pretentious because we think what a lot of other people do isn’t art, then fuck it. What a lot of other people are doing isn’t art. I just went to see a Jason Dodge exhibit. I don’t consider it art. I like Jason Dodge, he’s a nice guy, but his installation was just a few lights and some pillows in a big room. What a lot of people consider handbound is laser printed shit on fancy paper stapled together with a belly band. They then charge some nominal fee for this object and call it an art object or chapbook. Whatever. My mom always taught me to have dignity. I think we are trying to make dignified objects. Writers spend tons of time on their project, I think we should reciprocate the love with the physical object.

There’s all these background conversations going on where people are talking shit about people’s shit and we’re just cutting through the smoke and mirrors. Defecation is a unifying trope.

5) “If every one were not so indolent they would realise that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic.”—Gertrude Stein. Discuss.

Jamison Crabtree: “You see what I mean by what I say. But I know you do.” also “There is no use in telling more than you know, no not even if you do not know it.”

Gertrude Stein is neat but I don’t want to think that people are indolent so I will not think that. And I will say it: people are not indolent, everybody’s dealing with their own business and I don’t think I’ve met many lazy people.

If you’re looking for beauty, you’ll probably be able to find it in the most traumatic image (Antichrist was one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen). If you’re looking for trauma, you’ll find it in the most beautiful image and if you want to, you will let it hurt you. People let beauty hurt them too. People are less indolent than they are afraid of finishing something.

Jake Levine: I think this is very much a symptom of the condition of Gypsies in the society where I live. Like I think gypsy culture and gypsies have this incredible culture in Eastern Europe, but they are very much not accepted by the general population and mainstream culture. My friend Andrew Miksys has this ongoing project where he goes to their social events and photographs them. It humanizes a population and culture that is widely considered by this society as degenerate and inhumane. That’s some next level shit.

There’s also this ongoing discussion about accessibility and Billy Collins, and I like Billy Collins, but I find him irritating. Also, I think Dan Beachy Quick is the most irritating poet living today, because he’s doing this lyric thing so well, and he’s posturing himself against people like WCW, but that’s also the reason I love him and his work so much. His was the first chapbook we did, and it annoys me how gracious he is, because he is also the greatest living lyric poet in America. And he just taught at Iowa. My best friend goes to Iowa. Lots of people went to Iowa.

The two times I saw Cole Swensen read, she had the ugliest haircut. That’s all I could think about really, how hair is also a genre and it says a lot about people and their work. I think we live in this capitalist state where we are numbed to the world. Like I know this laptop was built in China by oppressed factory workers and the minerals they use to make the screens are from war torn regions in Africa where warlords enslave children in mines to gather those minerals. It’s pretty numbing. I think anything that stimulates you out of social sedation is useful. Cole Swensen’s hair is very much an art object.

6)Anything else you’d like to add?
Jack Levine: Spork is more like a collective or a family than a press. I think sometimes that we make books as an excuse to hang out. Like we can’t just hang out and talk about our families and batman all day, although I think Drew could. I think Tucson is very much that way. Like if we weren’t doing what we do, I don’t know what we’d be doing. I don’t know how to do anything else. Also, genre is just a marketing tool. We’re pretty bad at the business end of what we do, but we’re working on it. Like we don’t know how to brand or advertise or any of that. So it goes.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. AndrewShuta

    My response to these questions can be found in the design of all SPORK chapbooks. I like to write, but would prefer to speak in pictures, and sometimes, animated gifs. As Eazy-E said: “So you can kiss my black ass, Fuck the white house, it aint my house, So you can burn the mothafucka down for all I care, Cause t-shirts and khakies is all I wear.”

  2. Montevidayo Survey on Publishers & Genre, Specimen 2: Fence - Montevidayo

    […] week's featured press is Fence. Our first featured press was Spork; their answers are here and here.] Meanwhile, in the Fence […]