Publishers On Genre, Specimen One: Spork Press [Part 1]

by on May.03, 2011

Our first specimen is Spork Press.

Spork published a collection of my essays and poems last month in this unbelievably awesome, cheap, and covetable edition, with Eazy-E endpapers!

Motto: Spork Press. Not Dead. Not Sleeping.
Where: Tuscon, Tucson, AZ

What: A fantastic mixed-media and mixed-genre press, Spork makes chapbooks from a collection of down beat materials such as cardboard and scavanged dye, combining punk, recycled aesthetic with high-art processes such as engraving.

3/5 of Spork editors (namely Drew Burk, Jamison Crabtree, and Jake Levine) answered our survey. Answers below.

1)To what degree is your press a host for new genres? What new genres?

Drew Burk: I don’t know that I understand or appreciate the idea of genre enough or in the right way to think that we’re working in or with any genres. We have words on paper, mostly going in a direction, and they sometimes come in one shape, and at other times in other shapes. I’m uncertain whether to attempt to say that any one thing we’ve done functions in any genre. I can say that there’s a wealth of genres expressed in any one piece, but that seems to me to defeat the idea of genre. It seems to lose its usefulness as an identifier when multiple identifiers are needed to attempt to communicate a nonmultiple idea.

Jamison Crabtree: 451°? I feel like genre’s a technique for setting up expectations; the unifying concept behind the chapbook series is that each book is its own, self contained, unique entity which makes it difficult to quantify to what degree we host new genres.
The books we’re publishing are filled with risk—with people trying to create something new without ignoring what’s come before. The end product may sometimes dip into subject matter or utilize forms connected to different genres, but more often than not, they do so to break expectation instead of using genre to support their work.

I’m a huge fan of the old twilight zone episodes but I find most of the outer limits episodes nearly unwatchable. Both shows are umbrellaed under the sci-fi genre, but there’s a formula to each outer limits episode that caters to an audience that already knows exactly what it wants from plot, tone, subject matter, and style (monster shows up, hello monster, the heroes must discover the origin of the monster, they do, they don’t, moralize). I don’t really know the specifics of what I want; if I did I would be inclined to just make it myself.

So genre attached to formula bores the pants off of me.

In comparison, The Twilight Zone episodes were a series of thought-experiments. What if, what if, what if. The world was constantly recreated and destroyed and always done in service to what it meant to be human. The spectacle of sci-fi (or fantasy or horror) took a back seat to the real drama of the show (dealing with subjects that would seem unreliable or melodramatic if approached directly). I feel like that’s what we’re trying to do; we’re Serling it up and wearing our suit and providing a space for something fantastic to happen. Our books aren’t unified by a single particular school or aesthetic or by any type of subject matter—they’re unified by the quality of the writing.

Jake Levine: Whenever I hear the word host, I think of 6th grade biology. I think about where they show you the shadow picture of the cow and the highlighted parasite inside the cow inside the textbook. I guess in that way we are hosts, like we aren’t necessarily actively pursuing “new” or “ genres”, they just kind of infest our body, and then later on someone tells us that they are parasites, and we are like no way! And then they are like, dude you should call a doctor. So you do, and then the doctor says, the parasite had babies and you can’t afford the surgery to get rid of the parasite queen and her babies. So we’re infected and there’s all these babies growing inside our body. I don’t know if they are going to kill us or not, but that’s the exciting part. That’s pretty much the way I interpret what people say when they say creative non-fiction is or prose poetry or flash fiction. I even got an MFA and I still don’t understand what people mean when they say creative non-fiction. There’s all these diagnoses and boxes to check and conversations and I think that’s exciting.

I think the problem really is that the writing community got less tough and the nonfiction people were feeling like the fiction people and the poetry people were making fun of them like they weren’t creative enough, so now they are like look, we are creative too even though we’re nonfiction and because the poets and the fiction people generally like yoga and Buddhism and are real humanists who drink herbal teas, they were like yes, you are very creative nonfiction people. I don’t think Gertrude Stein when she wrote Toklas was like this is a new genre I’m making here and it’s going to be called creative nonfiction, I think she just had a project in mind and she did it. I like her because she thought in projects. We like projects. I think of our body as a project. We are trying to make it a project made of projects. I dislike people who dislike people who say they like things, like it’s too subjective or something. I think subjectivity is sexy. I think I’m from the generation of the simile, very much like liking things.

2)What is genre? What is a genre?

Drew Burk: Genre, I think, is an attempt to come to an agreement upon an oversimplification that can be broadly applied to a type. Type, as it refers to the form and structure of a thing, is a far more useful means of describing a thing without minimizing it. I think in terms of Book:Prose, Book:Poetry, Book:Mixed — and then further, Book:Prose:Melodic:Long or something like Book:Poetry:Prose:Clipped, which give me structural and quantitative information but do not attempt to attach thematic identifiers to the text itself.

And then, also, genre is a useful tool when wanting to create a thing enabled by the shorthand and social expectations of the genre inhabited and employed, with the intent of either staying faithful to the expectations or blasting them all to hell, which then maybe indicates that you’re mad at the idea of genre and though you’re having fun slapping it around, you’d maybe prefer to not deal with it all too often, as playing the game of genre subversion leads to a genre of subversion, which then loses its teeth and keeps making jokes even though nobody’s listening and it never admits to itself that it’s the one buying all the drinks because then it’d have to consider whether maybe it’s not doing it right.

Parachute pants are genre. Freestyle is a thing. You can freestyle in whatever you want, but you put on the pants and everyone waits for you to throw down. And they’re mad when you don’t.

I imagine others at Spork have better and more interesting ideas on this subject.
Jamison Crabtree: Genre is a way of managing reader’s expectations. I’m a lot more excited when the writer plays Houdini and treats genre like a water cabinet—something to be seen through, to be escaped from with the very immediate risk that if you’re not really, really good at what you’re doing that it will kill you.
A genre’s is a subset of constructs (images, artificial languages, ways of moving through narrative, etc) and structures that seem to unify a variety of books by different folks. Here’s a sample of work that I can argue fall under the genre science fiction:
 Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”
 Terminator 2
 Princess Superstar’s album “My Machine”
 the music of Deltron 3030, of Dr. Octagon
 Picasso’s “Massacre in Korea”
 the classic film and (later, tv show) Timecop
 Andrew Joron’s book of poems “Science Fiction”
 Norman Dubie’s poem “The Spirit Tablets of Goa Lake”
 Joss Whedon’s Firefly
It’d be easy to hugify this list but the fact is that all of these disparate things fit into the same category; I’m not sure how that’s useful for talking about the work. It’s an inward/outward sort of thing—starting at genre and trying to delve into it becomes an overwhelming process, however starting with a specific book or movie or painting or album and using that as a lens to examine genre can lead to some really exciting breakthroughs.

Jake Levine: On the website we distinguish between fiction and poetry. We do this because originally Drew liked sentences and Richard liked lines or whatever. Or that is like the way it goes, that some people are like I’m fiction and other people are like I’m a poet. It’s like type A or type B personalities or like the difference between people who like bacon and people who dislike bacon. I think fiction must be the people who like bacon because fiction has a bigger readership. Case in point, Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, sold as fiction because fiction sells more books because fiction smells like bacon. It could be one of the best selling books of poetry ever. I’m Jewish, so I didn’t grow up eating bacon. I guess that’s why I became a poetry editor.
I think these divisions are somewhat arbitrary because we live in this period that is all post-postcolonial and post-postmodern, and it is like whether you wanted to be a goth or a punk in high school as if you had to choose, as if you couldn’t be a sexy cheerleader just because you are a boy. If Walter Benjamin rose from the dead and sent me the arcades project as a docx file through our submissions system under the auspices of “poetry”, then I’d probably want to publish it, but probably couldn’t because it is too big for our hands. It would probably kill our printer. I definitely wouldn’t put it on our website because it wouldn’t look good there.

To be continued!

8 comments for this entry:
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  2. AndrewShuta

    SPORK. BOK!BOK!BOK! I’m glad you like the Easy-E endpages Joyelle.

  3. Jake Levine

    Eazy I think is a reoccurring theme. Thanks for the idea, I think it will be great to see what other publishers say. One thing, minor, it be Tucson, although I like Tuscon. It makes it sound kind of sci-fi, which it kind of is, in that part in Star Wars where the R2D2 and C3PO land on tattooine? heroine? tattooing? Lots of tattooing in Tucson.

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