Earlier I queried the relationship between time and gender. Here’s one a poet who seems to bend time, or perhaps just use it well. beaulieu uses his time not so much in formulating opinions—though he has those—but in creating and supporting an active literary community that might cohere in Calgary but extends internationally. No Press is beaulieu’s second venture, after putting the first incarnation, housepress to bed a few years ago. Those documents have been purchased by the SFU archives (which must now be quite substantial). This informal Q&A took place over email where derek decides when and how to capitalize.
LH: Derek, you’ve been doing No Press for a few years now, but before that you had housepress. Before we talk about the new one, can you talk about why you ended the first one?
db: sure. i started housepress in 1997 as a means of circulating work of my own and of my colleagues. as i started reading canadian poetry, i was really engaged and excited by what i was hearing in terms of some of the small presses in the 60’s and later—especially bpnichol’s grOnk and ganglia, not to mention later presses which were dedicated to publishing poetry in unusual forms, like damian lopes’s fingerprinting inkoperated and jwcurry’s curved H&z / 1cent / Industrial Sabotage. the more i looked, dug, and read acknowledgments in books of poetry, the more i saw that a great number of the poets i respected (of many different generations) had presses of their own (from darren wershler’s torque to christian bök’s chromium dioxide to natalee caple’s tortoiseshell & black), and this sounded really intriguing. these presses were making some really beautiful books that not only excited my interest in poetry, but also my obsessive collector-mentality (as a kid and adult i have collected a myriad of objects from bottle caps to lego to comic books to small press publications…). housepress was begun in 1997 with the publication of a book i wrote in collaboration with neil hennessy entitled william s. burroughs: ghost of steel which was a series of responses and recollections / responses on the occasion of burroughs’s death.
by 2004 i had continued to publish small press editions of various sorts—pamphlets, broadsheets, chapbooks, books, boxed editions, and even fig newtons stamped with one word poems (in editions ranging from 5 to 125 copies) by a myriad of poets i had encountered or corresponded with—223 different artists, poets and authors. when i shut down housepress in 2004, it had released 286 different editions. but there were problems.
i was finding by 2004 that housepress had become a chore. it was no longer a place where i could participate in a discussion around new work, work i wanted to share with a readership. more and more i felt like there was an expectation that i would continue the press, that i would fulfill a role. when i shut down housepress, i sent out an email (later republished in joe blades’ some stuff on Canadian spoken word & indie publishing (montréal, NCRA/ANREC, 2004):
“The important part to me what the idea of distributing work which i found challenging or unusual, a means of putting people in contact with folks who they might not otherwise know, and getting exposed to work which might be outside of their normal reading patterns. At least that was the idea. Too often it seems though I was publishing work which is greeted by apathy and silence. Print runs of housepress titles were usually between 40 and 100 copies with modest cover prices; it was my hope that the prices were never too high to be prohibitive to any reader, and if anyone showed an interest in seeing a piece but could not afford a copy—or preferred to trade—I rarely declined. But recently (about the last two years), when i announced online and through email that new titles were available, I received a pitiful number of orders (usually between 2 and 5 copies per chapbook) and even fewer inquiries or letters of interest—and in some cases the authors themselves didn’t acknowledge that their titles were published.
it was never about the money or sales with housepress—i was solely interested in getting the work out there in editions that were crafted with care and attention. It is this apathy which has convinced me that housepress no longer serves the function that i hoped for. […] These frustrations have lead me to believe that it’s best that I close housepress […] Its been a good run […] but, unfortunately, it’s no longer fun, and this style of work is supposed to be fun. I continue to be passionate about the small press in Canada, but at this time i can no longer participate as a publisher. Sorry folks.”
shortly after crafting that email, i boxed up everything that housepress had accumulated in my apartment—correspondence, proof copies, artwork, and the only complete run of every publication i had published—and placed the entire archive at simon fraser university as part of its contemporary literature collection. It was finished.
LH: So what made you start the new press?
db: well—that’s the funny thing, isn’t it? by february of 2005 i was really missing making books—i enjoy the craft, and the disappointment over housepress’s end had faded. In the interim (and overlapping with housepress’ run) a lot of other presses in calgary were getting going—the most auspicious in my opinion being ryan fitzpatrick’s MODl—and i was ready to participate again, but i wanted to make sure that it remained fun.
when i started no press (as in “i will run no press ever again.”) i did so anonymously—or pseudo-anonymously anyway—as i didn’t want the press to be about me, i wanted the attention to be on the work. so, with no fanfare, no publicity, no website, and no problems, i started no press so i could play again. i started with a chapbook of mine—of older pieces i wanted to see if could hold their own again—entitled fractals, and over the next few months, no press published jason christie’s 22 Statements about a fear of being alone (or existentialism) in the dark, frances kruk’s markmallen, ryan fitzpatrick’s Social Commodities, nathalie stephens’s The Small Body With It Rises From Under and natalie zina walschots’s Passion Play. it was a start, and it was fun again.
no press continues now, with about a publication every 3 weeks or so, in editions ranging from 9 to 94 copies—each one hand-bound. most no press books are given away, but a few i’ve had to sell in order to recuperate the expense of making the books, though those are rare.
LH: What is your mandate with the press?
db: no press is a press of 1—just me—i basically print work that i like, or that has me challenged, confused or bothered. what that has meant is that no press to date has published fiction, poetry, essays, visual poetry, cartoons and sound poetry scores and performances (on CD). the mandate is defined loosely enough to allow it to reflect my reading, and to reflect what may come in.
LH: I love the Fitterman books, which I’m going to post on at some point when I find time. How did you find out about that project? And can you tell me why you decided to do all three in a bundle?< (see excerpt below)
db: rob fitterman i met quite a few years ago (i cant remember where or when to be honest), and when i was in NYC in july of ’07, he and i had a couple of chances to chat. i greatly respect the work he did with his Metropolis series, and i offered, over a beer, that if he was ever interested in publishing a shorter text that i would be interested. i had published a chapbook of his entitled R E A D I N G through housepress, and was excited abt the possibility of doing so again. he approached me in october of ’07 with the first draft of his THE SUN ALSO ALSO RISES, and we started the process of moving that book ahead.
as we started corresponding abt the book he told me that it was a chapter-by-chapter conceptual response to hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and in particular rob’s first encounter with the book. we devised designing the book to mimic the hemingway edition as a start … then the project ballooned.
rob came to me with 2 additional versions of the text—MY SUN ALSO RISES, in which he had revised his manuscript slightly to make it a record of his moving the NYC in 1981, and nayland blake’s ALSO ALSO ALSO RISES THE SUN, a minimalist response to rob’s book.
how could i resist making all three of those books—and having all of them once again mimic the 1970 edition of hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which started the whole thing? as the books all engage with the idea of originality, rewriting and authority, it made sense to release them as a suite of books, and so … in march ’08 i published 60 copies of each book with a full half of the print run going to nayland and rob. by may, rob had asked if i could reprint the book in an edition of another 25 so that he enough to launch the book in NYC.
LH: Over the ten months of my tenure here, every time I’ve seen you I’ve walked away with a chapbook from you, or someone else. Can you tell me about the notions of gift economy and circulation in Calgary?
db: well—i think calgary has an extremely vibrant writing community, but there are very few presses in calgary. poetically i am very interested by what happens in the publishing process—when the writer takes the means of production and is involved in the design aspect of his or her own work. suddenly there is a tactile awareness of how the piece could work physically—in what colour, at what size? how does it feel? why? calgary has a healthy small press scene (and i believe that natalie walschots is planning a small press fair as part of this year’s BLOW-OUT festival in august), and a group of very generative magazines in filling Station, dANDelion, NoD … but, for the most part, longer manuscripts are published outside the city, in vancouver, toronto, montréal …
in my opinion, the small press gift economy is one that fosters good will within the community. we look to each other as our first readers, our first editors—with a sense of trust and generosity. in terms of no press, i enjoy sharing discoveries i’ve made in my own reading —if i encounter a text which i think should be read, should be shared with a group of writers —i look to my printer, my needle & thread to take the time to present this manuscript in a way which compliments the time the author took in writing it.
the gift economy perhaps in this care is better seen as a trade economy—at its best it is a conversation not a monologue.
LH: Just to follow up on that notion—I read “refusing the prairie: radicality and urbanity in Calgarian poetics” with some interest. As you know I’ve been very curious about the relationship to the concrete/visual avant-garde poetics of the city and its ultra-conservative political dynasty. But what I sense in your essay is more a reaction to aesthetic conservativism, or perhaps even cultural oppression rather than political oppression. For instance you say: “When fitzpatrick does refer to landscape, the vocabulary of reference is unhinged through an alienating context: does a ‘rivat river rival’ geographically drain into, or flow from, a ‘Force serv trict / ducat lake?’” The aural play is wonderful, but again, it’s abstract. I’ve noticed a lot of abstract in my tenure here.
db: i would augment my argument in that paper by suggesting that the use of the abstract is two-fold here. on one hand, i think that instead of concentrating on the concrete, a lot of authors are looking at the thingness of language—which is where i would include visual poetry—treating language as a concrete physical object. also, in such a consumerist, profit-driven city as calgary, to move away from the concrete, away from the consumable object into a discussion which refutes that commodification.
LH: You end your essay with the following: “By favouring the awkward and refusing to ‘Bring Beauty Into The World,’ Scott and fitzpatrick—like many poets currently writing in Calgary—distance themselves from the traditional tropes of ‘prairie,’ finding an ‘articulate expression of [their …] own inarticulateness.’ (Ngai 104) With marketplace-driven culture rampant in Alberta, Scott and fitzpatrick turn with disgust to the ‘negative utterance’ (Ngai 103)—for ‘[h]ow can these institutionalized logics not make stomachs turn?’ (Ngai 98)” I know that filling Station is editing a feature on disgust—can you say something about the difficulty of creating community in such a climate?
db: the position that i’ve taken in that paper, and in a couple of reviews now, is that writing in calgary, because of the city’s conservative nature, is ultimately a culturally political act, even if not an overt one. you’re right to argue that the cultural and aesthetic culture of calgary is oppressive. i’ve lived in calgary for 28 years, and i would say that it is in fact becoming more conservative. i think that creating a community here in calgary has both been quite easy—because like-minded people have had to group together, simply for safety (ha-ha), but those people have had to do so in a series of grass-roots level organizations and structures— reading series, magazines, presses, etc. larger, institutional festivals like wordfest and the calgary international spoken word festival, both concentrate on writers from outside of calgary (for example, last year, of the 50+ writers featured at wordfest, only 2 were from calgary), writers have learned, in my opinion, that creative spaces and venues will only exist if you create, fund and maintain them yourself.
LH: You’ve worked with filling Station for several years, and you are now in your second small press venture, why not a web venture??
db: haha—i like paper and tactility too much.
LH: Yes, but why not both? I know you have chapbooks from other small presses in the US and Europe, and that you publish poets—such as Rob Fitterman—who have no geographic, or tactile relationship with Calgary. And I know that you spend time online, have at least had one blog of your own—why not go the next step and manage some of this work online?
db: i have nothing against the web as a publishing and distribution venue. i would rather spend my time focusing on a side of publishing which i am stronger at—and i think that unless i could do a project as strong and focused as, for example, ubuweb, i would rather stay back from that side of things.
LH: I saw Chains, your recent show at Uppercase Gallery here in Calgary, and loved it. The conglomerations of fonts remind me of how playful your work really is. Does it frustrate you that visual poetry isn’t as understood or critically recognized as lyric or narrative poetry?
db: i tried to address some of that lack of critical discourse around concrete and visual poetry with the afterward to fractal economies by offering not a definitive direction for criticism to move, but a variety of possible discourses around this type of writing. the critical recognition afforded poetry in general is miniscule at best, and for the more unusual forms of poetry (whether that be language-based, visual, conceptual writing, sound, etc) even more so. sure, i’m frustrated, but not really surprised. one thing i do believe is that poets themselves should see criticism and discourse as part of their job description. christian bök often argues that poetry actually celebrates and welcomes failure. poetry that challenges, or works in unfamiliar forms is denigrated as elitist or purposefully alienating (as if poetry didn’t have few enough readers without forcing them away). we don’t dismiss physicists, geneticists or architects working in areas which are radical or unusual, and yet, forms of poetry which could be argued to be as radical can be dismissed as “nonsense” and “Postmodernist. Experimental. Avant-Garde. Call it what you will, our poetry is now a zoo of rampant esotericisms” as carmine starnino recently has.
LH: Your new project, How To Edit, which I posted on earlier, starts with a quote from Walter Benjamin, “But when shall we actually write books like catalogs?” I’m wondering if this impulse to collect and archive is related to your practice as a visual artist, or whether you see any distinction between the two?
db: i think that my catalogue-based texts, like How to Edit and my visual poetry, like Chains, engage with a collector mentality, yes, and also with materiality. in both cases i manipulate the fragments of language—the letters, the sentences, the punctuation—as so much lego. i don’t see any distinction.
Excerpt from Robert Fitterman, The Sun Also Also Rises
I am very much impressed by that. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. I mistrust all frank and simple people. I always had a suspicion. I finally had somebody verify the story. I was his tennis friend. I do not believe that. I first became aware of his lady’s attitude toward him one night after the three of us had dined together. I suggested we fly to Strasbourg. I thought it was accidental. I was kicked again under the table. I was not kicked again. I said good-night and went out. I watched him walk back to the café. I rather liked him.
derek beaulieu’s six books of poetry and conceptual writing all engage with textual production and the way that composition informs comprehension. His first book, with wax, was published by coach house books in 2003, and was followed-up by frogments from the frag pool: haiku after basho (the mercury press, 2005) co-written with gary barwin and fractal economies (talonbooks, 2006). His most recent book is chains (paper kite press, 2008) a collection of non-semantic lettraset-based concrete poetry. beaulieu’s conceptual novel flatland: a romance of many dimensions was published in 2007 in a limited edition by information as material (york, uk). his second conceptual novel, local colour, is forthcoming from ntamo (finland) in 2008. beaulieu lives in calgary where he is a sessional instructor at the university of calgary and a high school teacher.