NA: Tell me about No Tell Books. How did it begin?
RL: After I started the online magazine No Tell Motel in 2004, publishing books seemed the obvious progression, something I always wanted to do. My trial-run was The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, an anthology I co-edited with Molly Arden. After that I started publishing individual author collections.
NA: I love the name, No Tell Books. How did you think of it?
RL: First came No Tell Motel, a phrase on a t-shirt I bought when I was child (and oblivious to its implications) at mall gift shop called Heaven. No Tell Motel was already a recognizable name by the time No Tell Books started and I only published books by poets who first appeared in the magazine, so another natural extension from the magazine. Everything began with No Tell Motel.
NA: I was hoping you would say a little bit about the authors you have published. Maybe describe a No Tell book. And provide a poem from one of the books.
RL: I’m not sure how I would go about describing a “No Tell” book. Like the magazine, and my personal tastes, the press was fairly eclectic and difficult to categorize. There’s not one particular style or sensibility, but many overlapping, occasionally conflicting.
The authors published during the first year were Bruce Covey, PF Potvin, Rebecca Loudon and Ravi Shankar. In the following years I published books by Jill Alexander Essbaum, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Shafer Hall, Laurel Snyder, Karl Parker, Lea Graham and myself. Some of these authors and their books could be labeled “experimental,” such Bruce Covey’s Elapsing Speedway Organism and Glass is Really a Liquid or Karl Parker’s PERSONATIONSKIN and that might be what I lean towards. Then again the press’ best-selling title, Harlot by Jill Essbaum, is formalist, something I don’t usually go for, yet I loved that book. Harlot was also probably the most obviously “spiritual” book, yet Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s Shy Green Fields, Laurel Snyder’s The Myth of the Simple Machines and my own God Damsel would fall into that category as well. Most of the books are “playful,” like Lea Graham’s Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You or PF Potvin’s The Attention Lesson or Shafer Hall’s Never Cry Woof. Some of the books might be considered dark or wild, like Rebecca Loudon’s Cadaver Dogs. Every title put out by No Tell Books falls into several of these categories.
I could go on coming up with labels to attach. The most accurate way for me to describe a “No Tell” book would be simply to say that it’s the type of book I wanted to read strongly enough that I went through all the trouble getting involved and helping put it into the world so others could read it, i.e. books I felt passionate about.
Perhaps it’s fitting to share the final poem from the last book No Tell Books published, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You by Lea Graham.
Crush Starting with a Line by Jack Gilbert
Desire perishes because it tries to be love
& so, I think, why search or seek it? Entering
its way out the backdoor, calling as Narcissus
himself, curious to himself only—only
this echo. Yet, some days wild turkeys wing clumsy
across windshields, or poets come to town
& language flocks before flying south, before
jubilee, before hush & slack. In chance,
what we flush from beech & oak, or her flush blooming
at a table, remains, persists as flight, or flown:
trace of bird in my eye, balloon drift among sky,
proposing hand, arm. What is not sexual, though
sex is part, catches life en theos. Not love, but its
roaming kin & nonetheless, wonderful alone.
NA: No Tell Books has been on hiatus for several years. Why? Do you plan to start it up again?
RL: No, at least not in its previous inception. I’m pondering ideas for new publishing projects, nothing decided yet. If I do start something new, whatever it may be, it’ll be different than No Tell Motel and No Tell Books. I’m not interested in repeating myself.
No Tell Motel and No Tell Books both had phenomenal runs. I couldn’t be prouder of the work published through both outlets. Everything has its cycle and No Tell’s cycle ran its natural course. The joy and enthusiasm I had in the beginning and middle began to wane due to multiple reasons. Some of it was inevitable frustration with the challenges of independent publishing. Some of it was personal. Some of it was the desire to redirect myself elsewhere. No Tell required a large investment of time, energy and money which took away from my own writing and family. Some people were disappointed when I closed up shop and offered suggestions for how they believed I could (and should) continue, which missed the point. No Tell wasn’t a publishing empire or some kind of legacy to be passed on for someone else to carry on.
Every poem published at No Tell Motel is still online and accessible. Every book published by No Tell Books is still in print (aside from 2 chapbooks which are available as free downloads). The existing books & authors still receive full support from me. Nothing went away. I simply stopped taking on additional publishing commitments.
NA: I am a huge fan of your Bibliomancy Oracle. It’s just brilliant. How did that come about?
RL: This was my first project after No Tell. It came about from having enough time to play around and be creative without the concern of deadlines, results or a budget. I’ve always been interested in oracles of all types and obviously literature. There were already a couple of existing online Bibliomancy generators with very limited and uncurated source material. I didn’t find them useful and figured I could come up with something better, at least for my own purposes.
NA: It’s such a beautiful site. Did you design it yourself? Could you provide a link so everyone can access it? Does it inspire you to write, just working on it?
RL: Thank you. I used a standard Tumblr template and customized it using existing features. http://bibliomancyoracle.tumblr.com
Like any committed writer, I’m regularly reading literary magazines. So whenever I come across lines that I think would make a good “prophecy” I add them to the oracle. New prophecies are added each week. As I write this, there are 2415 prophecies. Next week there will be more.
I use it for a variety of purposes, as a writing prompt, to help interpret dreams or for answer to any random question I might come up with. I would say there’s no wrong way to use it, but I’m sure some Lex Luthor-type could come up with a nefarious use that I wouldn’t approve.
NA: You have a new book called Bombyonder coming out? Could you say a few words about it? Provide an excerpt?
RL: Sure, it’s a novel. In the beginning I called it “Psychic Memoir” but people took that to mean it was a memoir of a psychic’s life. It’s also poetry. Here we go with labels again. Selections from Bombyonder have been published as fiction, novel excepts, poems and hybrid-texts. Whatever the editor wanted to call it, I said OK. But we’re calling the book a novel to lure new readers. Like when you sneak vegetables into a kid’s smoothie without his knowledge. He’s drinking broccoli! Don’t tell him that.
Bombyonder is about a woman who swallows a bomb in pill form (invented by her father) and the psychic fracturing that follows.
The unplanned devised a plan to decide what was important and what was unimportant. Passed out the straws and realized they were one short. By luck or accident this was something that happened all unto itself. Perhaps it was a pregnant plan performing atrocities from bed.
It was about taking a stand.
And about shoes. I lost mine, then stepped on something sharp. On this hill even the grass was sharp and cracked.
Did I bleed?
Did it matter?
Dyeable shoes making do in a shit economy. Drab shoes. Sample shoes. Seasonal. Heeled. Sparkled. Sneaks. Tying on the discounted. Discounts for the hoard. You couldn’t discount how his political process creeped out his guests but nobody wants to be rude to the guy providing the dinner and booze. They all decided to keep things light. This is what they agreed. They will not think about pictures of his penis either angry nor sated.
No penis to see here.
The pregnant carried weight. The pregnant had to go. Wobbly never won a beauty pageant.
Out-of-sight and off the scale.
A cart full of discounts and grimaces making way to higher ground. Maybe there was a flood coming or maybe I was there for the view or maybe I was taking my stand at a very reasonable price, albeit one with blisters.
NA: I’d love to close with another poem from No Tell Books.
From PERSONATIONSKIN by Karl Parker:
A DISCONTINUOUS GIFT
I drive to and from work each day
in a station wagon with fake wooden panels
on either side, half-amused.
My name is Marvin. I refuse to die.
Plastic flowers are real. They endure.
When I was young I wanted to be
a magician, and make things appear
from nothing, like this, just
like that. A rabbit out from behind the found couch.
Feelings from a furnace, into which we push
our clothes. (This area is patrolled by moving lights.)
What I am is in appearance. It is not old.
Soon the radiator next to my knees is not what it was.
For these last recent things, I am untroubled, glad.
Reb Livingston is the author of Bombyonder (Bitter Cherry Books, forthcoming 2014), God Damsel (No Tell Books, 2010) and Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books, 2007). She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son. Find out more about Reb Livingston here.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.