here on Word Riot, here on Gloom Cupboard, and here on Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. You are encouraged to read the full, long, and in-depth interview where several small press publishers were polled, but for sanity's sake, only Leah's responses are listed here:
“When I heard that Linda Aschbrenner, The God Mother of All Wisconsin Poets, was stepping down from her beloved Free Verse, I felt like a jilted lover. Free Verse was one of my first small press dates. My earliest published poems appeared in Free Verse. And when I decided to try my hand at essays, reviews, and interviews, it was the place I sent my work to first. I recently heard that HazMat Review and Blind Man’s Rainbow were closing shop. Bathtub Gin and Latino Stuff Review are on “hiatus.” The list goes on. Over the ten years I have been active in the independent small press, I have seen many publications come and go. With the effort that goes into creating a magazine being so great and the return being so small, why do little magazines keep popping up? To help me answer this question I invited four small press editor/publishers to guide me work through my separation anxiety. They are: Linda Aschbrenner of Free Verse, Michael Hathaway of Chiron Review, Leah Angstman of Propaganda Press, and Rob Cook of Skidrow Penthouse.
RIES: What is your circulation?
ANGSTMAN: My current circulation is about five-hundred domestic, one-hundred international. I am just starting the second issue of Poiesis as she exists today, due out January 2009. She existed in several forms and other titles before this recent incarnation, but this is her current and future shell. My press, Propaganda Press, started back in 1994, with the very first poetry litzine — ridiculously and appropriately titled Crackrock — being published in 1996. The first issue of Poiesis as she stands now came out in July 2008, and is published twice a year in January and July.
What was your motivation for initially creating your magazine?
Initially, I created Poiesis as an outlet for the enormous amount of poetry I was receiving that was giving my political/societal-/issues-oriented zine, Revolution Calling, too much of a personal, girly slant. Poetry often exists as a separate entity from other kinds of writings, so I tried to create a place where I could keep it apart from the more technical or article-based writing. I guess, in this aspect, that I created the litzine for myself.
There is a second motivation, however, that exists for the poets, and that is that Poiesis has very few guidelines or judgment policies. After receiving rejection letter after rejection letter for my own writing from some places that have stringent rules and opinions, we decided that we just wanted to create a space where you don’t get turned away. This puts veteran poets right alongside the newbs, learning from each other, and letting the readers be the true judges. We all had to start somewhere and learn to perfect our craft, so it might as well be in Poiesis. It is our only outlet where we don’t scrutinize, and, coincidentally, it is also our current best-selling publication. Draw your own conclusions.
What was your greatest disappointment or challenge with your publication? What was your greatest surprise or joy?
The greatest challenge for Poiesis is probably the same with all poetry litzines and that is that poetry is just plain hard to market. People are wary of it, unless they have a history with the purchase of a repeat magazine or author. Various-author collections are not as hard to market as single-author collections, probably because there is a greater possibility that you can take a chance and find at least one poem you like; but they are certainly hard to get into bookstores and distribution outlets — even if you are a “Vendor of record” — they just don’t want to invest in low-key deals or consignment, nor do they want to purchase upfront. So therein lies an ever-present problem: getting the small press to be marketed and valued as highly as major presses.
The joy, however, comes in seeing the poetic newcomers gain confidence and talent. They ask for feedback and criticism and really listen; their second submission is always better than their first, and it’s exciting to watch their growth. It also comes with a secret surprise: not-so-established authors are way more likely to help peddle their wares and bring in tons of book orders in their efforts to become established. Veteran authors are more likely to sit back and let you do all the work. It’s refreshing to have the newbie enthusiasm!
Why are you ending your publication, or beginning it, or beginning it again?
Poiesis is just beginning again, in different form and title. With so much technology happening so quickly, and the Internet being so faceless, I think now, more than ever, people need to remember what it is like to hold a book in their hands, to get back to the purity of poetry and away from the cold glare of computer screens, meaningless blogs, websites, the like. Now is the time to reconnect to our zinester roots.
What is difference between a poet/writer and editor/publisher? How would you describe your fellow publishers? Are they different than poets or writers who only write?
It is very hard for me to tell you the difference between a poet/writer and an editor/publisher, because I am both. I think that most publishers of poetry in the small press are both. Or at least, wish they were. To me, it seems that you kind of have to be; in order to love poetry so much that you are willing to take loss after loss on the selling and creating of small press books, you either had to have read something along the way that really just blew your mind, or you have to be writing it yourself. I think eight out of ten times it’s the latter. Most publishers usually just start out creating an outlet to push their own work. Little by little, they meet and connect with other writers whose work is admirable, and the publishers feel the urge to promote that work, as well. Wa-la! A press is born.
Is there a difference between an editor/publisher and a poet who just writes? Sure. A publisher works harder. Every word a poet writes, an editor reads twenty times, publishes five-hundred, and discusses infinitely.
Is there anything you want to say about the ebb, flow, value, longevity of the small press magazines?
The value of the small press cannot be measured in any amount of dollars or words, which is usually why we editors do not mind shelling a bit out of our own pockets for good material. In the age of print-on-demand, blogs, and the post office doing everything possible to jack up those shipping prices, it is harder than ever to tell those with staying power from the first-time hacks. But, as always, they will separate themselves in time. And the ones with true merit are the root and cap of everything we know and understand about language and literature today, as they will always be into the future, regardless of how technical and faceless our computerized species becomes.
When I reflect on Linda, Michael, Leah, and Rob’s replies to my questions, I can only conclude: they do it for love. We all have our literary loves, and the small press is mine. These are the writers, editors, and publishers I care about. Where can you find greater diversity, talent, community, and wonderful insanity than in the independent small press? God bless the small press!”