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New Poetry Press--Birds, LLC

I haven't had a great deal of time lately to surf for new poetry 'stuff,' though it's one of my favorite websurfing pastimes, but I did find a new poetry press doing cool things recently. A group of friends got together and created a press for the purposes of both publishing and self-publishing, not uncommon these days, and probably the way the small press poetry ought to work, optimally. Besides being a great idea, Birds LLC began with a near-nuclear bang, as far as I'm concerned, as their first two books are by folks I greatly admire: Chris Tonelli and Elisa Gabbert. I'll let the interview with Chris stand in for most of what I'd like to say on the topic.

Or not. If you want to publish poems, fuck the contest circuit, stop slavering at the asses of the poets around, under, below and above you, and start a small press. There can never be too many. Your poems will find readers, though not without a lot of work on your part, but you'll end up with the tribe that is right for you eventually. Link to other small presses, buy their chaps, read their books, talk 'em up when you like 'em, and just keep at it.

Shake what your mama gave ya.

Okay, so I had more to say.

I'm sure we'll hear a lot more from these folks before many years pass. This text is swiped from the Constant Conversation, the blog of the Quarterly Conversation, where Carrie Olivia Adams interviews Chris Tonelli of Birds, LLC.

Tell us a little about the history of your press, where the idea came from, and what makes your press unique.
At the AWP conference in Austin a few years back, Sam Starkweather—one of the founders/editors of Birds, LLC—put BIRDS, INC. on his nametag as his affiliation . . . as a joke, and since then we’ve had this theoretical poetry entity called BIRDS, INC. And the more we noticed that there was a lot of poetry out there that we all loved that wasn’t getting anywhere on the contest circuit, the more we wanted to make that entity a book press. At the time, one of the other founders/editors, Justin Marks, had just started Kitchen Press and was putting out chapbooks in this vein, so we knew we had his process experience to lean on. Then, like a lot of things you repetitively joke about, they become real. And at some point last year we started getting serious . . . thinking about the manuscripts, thinking about the website, editing the manuscripts, etc. Sam and Dan Boehl (another founder/editor) figured out the business/financial side of things and we became an official company here in North Carolina. As it turns out, getting incorporated is harder than becoming an LLC, et voila! Birds, LLC. Which we kind of like better . . . sounds even colder and more business-y than Inc. Then Sam and Elisa Gabbert (Birds, LLC author . . .The French Exit) really worked on her book, and Justin and I worked hard on mine (The Trees Around), until we had finished, polished books. Justin got his unreal book designer, Joshua Elliot, on board and then signed on and worked with Friesens, and we had our covers/interiors and our printer. Matt Rasmussen (founder/editor) and I are working on distribution (Amazon, SPD, etc.) so we can get these books out in the world.
We’ll see what makes our press unique . . . I think it’s too early to tell. What we know we offer are good looking books, a real working relationship between an author and an editor, and the support authors need to promote their work. Too often friends of ours would win contests, and their publishers were so uninvolved in the shaping of the manuscript, in getting readings, interviews, reviews—in promotion in general— and too rigid in their approach to book design. All of which is stuff I simply just don’t get. If you love books enough to have a press, why wouldn’t you want to help the author edit them? Why wouldn’t you want to sell as many copies for you and your authors as possible? Why wouldn’t you want them to look terrific? It’s baffling the indifference a lot of presses have towards their own books. I mean, what’s the point?
One of my favorite recent publishing stories also began at that Austin AWP . . . There was this great reading at an outdoor bar, and one of the readers was Zach Schomburg. The thing I remember best was the title line from the title poem of his latest book: “you should say / no scary.” Anyway, afterward, Black Ocean publisher Janaka Stucky approached him about his manuscript. Long story short…we now have The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary. But besides all that, the part I like best is the extensive editorial processes the manuscripts went through. It was the first time I’d heard my contemporaries talk about that . . . having a real back and forth with an editor about the work they wanted to publish. Certainly Black Ocean [This is where I, the interviewer, should note that I help Janaka edit poetry for Black Ocean and Chris was formerly the online marketing manager] is in many ways an ideal publishing model—great books that look fantastic, a concerned and active editorial staff, enthusiastic promotion, etc.
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  1. wondering why you blocked me on facebook? is that some sort of fun game you "literary" types play? because frankly, I am not amused. Might as well stop following my blog..imagine a thumbs up emoticon wherever you want ....


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