DD: The entry for “American Poetry” in an old edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics reads: “The often idiosyncratic strength, boldness, and ambition of American poetry derives from two interrelated factors: its problematic and often marginalized relationship to American society, and the lack of a defined and established literary class, culture, and audience.” You have published many strong, bold, and ambitious books of poetry in the past twelve years. Can you talk about how Write Bloody Publishing engages these problems of authorship and audience?
DB: Literary class sounds very Princeton, doesn’t it? I imagine it was written over flakey, buttered crumpets and a warm goblet of peasant blood. Write Bloody has an aesthetic and a belief guide for what gets chosen to go out into the world based off my personal taste and sense of boredom. I like people who live their ass off. I like the working class. I don’t believe in the sometimes masturbatory circle of academia lifting up only it’s peers into circles of acclaim. We recognized a problem: many poetry shows were very boring and not very authentic to the power of poetry. Tons of authors were writing about witnessing life’s grandeur and then would drone at a live reading for an hour, slobbering into podium mics like the world’s worst lovers. Their fellow professor’s would hem and haw, proud of the confusion. Poetry is not precious. Guitars shouldn’t only be revered in Opera houses. I found, through travel, there was a tribe of ‘underground’ authors who were writing well on the page and reading well out loud and I thought that this formula, along with the mandate of touring to build a fan base, could send a lightning bolt right through the butthole of the current poetry scene. It worked. It hurt, but it worked.
DD: How did Write Bloody come into being?
DB: It was a lie. I was on a few other small presses and they were all folding. I had my first German tour coming up in 2001 or 2002 and I tried to buy old stock for the tour, but it was destroyed. I was allowed to reprint all my poems and tried to hunt for a printer who would get them rolling for tour. I found one in Ohio that gave discounts to publishers and said, “oh, um, yes. I’m a publisher.” My buddy made a fake website called “write bloody,” which was a Derrick Brown tour t-shirt slogan and I found Buddy Wakefield. He had a book cover and design that I felt wasn’t so hot and I offered to help him too. I went full time with it in 2004.
DD: Write Bloody has published over 111 books and 40 eBooks in the past twelve years. That seems like a breakneck pace! How do you do it? How many books do you publish in an average year?
DB: We published 2 the first year. Then I realized I needed help and I hired two freelancers and we did 6 the following year, and then for a few years we would do 12 -16 and that was a huge mistake, doing 6 per season, or 12 a year because your layout people can reach max burnout. We are back to doing about 4 or 5 a year.
DD: How many books are forthcoming in 2016? Can you tell us about a few of these books?
DB: In 2016 we have Buddy Wakefield’s Stunt Water paperback, a new collection by me tentatively called, The Four Energies of Death. We have a new collection by Tara Hardy and a surprise author.
DD: According to your website, you are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts until, probably, March of 2016. You ask for a sample of 3-5 poems in lieu of a complete manuscript. What tips can you give for prospective authors? What do you look for in a manuscript? What can you tell us about the screening process for these manuscripts?
DB: My tips would be:
- If you are submitting 3-5 poems, make the first one a short, beautiful and not shocking piece. We get a lot of shock and it gets boring.
- Ask why I should care about the piece or subject you are writing about. Does your piece make a reader care?
- Do not submit poems that cover several pages. Reader burn out is a real thing.
- 4. Show range in your submission. 5 tragedy pieces make an author seem like a basket case.
- Have your working world together before submitting. This means, have a website that looks good up and running. The website could have a video of you reading to show that you aren’t super annoying. Have a resume or tour schedule up. Have links to your friends and peers who are authors. Show the press that you are ready to work and are already hitting the ground running, even if you are a first time author.
DD: How many staff members work at Write Bloody?
DB: Just me. And a few beautiful freelancers including our VP of operations Madi Mae Parker, designers Nik Ewing (Local Natives) Matt Maust (Cold War Kids) and editors like Andie Flores.
DD: Once you’ve accepted a manuscript, how involved is the editorial process?
DB: We keep doing a pass back approach with the author. We get the manuscript, then off to editor and then back to author to confirm or deny edits. Then I do my pass on edits and then back to author then off to proofreader, then to layout then upload to printer. We print in the USA.
DD: Your books have beautiful covers and are well designed. Can you tell us about the artists who make your books look so beautiful and so contemporary?
DB: I used to be in a band and I come from the era of the album art being important. I try and hunt for artists who have a musical or album cover feel to their designs.
DD: You have been a paratrooper, a gondolier, a TV weatherman, and a touring poet. How has this unique résumé influenced your work as an editor?
DB: Those jobs were fun. Everyone should do all of those jobs and keep the whiskey business, thriving!
DD: You are the author of five books of poetry and three children’s books. How has helming Write Bloody influenced your work as a poet?
DB: It used to shape my work in a negative way. I learned the wrong way that any project can kill your writing if you let it swallow your time and creative juice jar. I never wanted to be a publisher but I am an organized person and fearlessly naive, but not great at time management. I kept charging forward and produced way less personal work than I should have. Pulling back on submissions was one way I have attempted to reclaim some creative headspace, same with hiring our VP of operations, Madi. One way being a publisher has shaped my writing in a positive way, is that I can spot trends early and avoid them. I can also easily let go of any darling. I also feel for anyone and have tremendous respect for anyone running a small press or zine. Everyone should run a reading a few times and everyone wanting to be published should intern at a small house to see how nutso it can be.
DD: You are currently touring with the poet, Amber Tamblyn. You have performed with rock bands and have been called vaudevillian by some. Write Bloody poets are required to tour as part of their publishing contract. Can you talk about the impact of performance on the written word and vice versa?
DB: Poetry performance is usually the most memorable way to hear a poet but it is often the form that kills poetry for general audiences. If a poet becomes the cartoon, the heady and proud academic, the screaming slam poet with vocal burn, it’s curtains for the spread of poetry. It is rarely the page poem that sends people home saying, “I will never read that preachy, self-righteous, mumbo-jumbo, self-aggrandizing, mega horse shit jerk off again.” But page poetry never had the wildfire impact that live poetry has had. This is why the strange hybrid of poet who can write well and read well is the key to the future, or the popularization of poetry.
Now, there are tours and super fans of poets, lines for poets that I have seen stretch 200 people long waiting to get a book signed or a hand shook (Andrea Gibson, Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani, Taylor Mali, Ernest Cline, etc) A problem arises when folks fall in love with the idea of calling themselves a poet and their writing is usually too self-aware to be of any use to the public. They hang with mostly poets, do shows with mostly only poets and teach or study with mostly poets. I wish they knew that some poems are great for a manuscript, some for your journal to work through your own crud, and some that zing for the audience. Poets who are performers first, actors who smell of desperate perfume, writing shallow monologues with little care for editing or craft are not my cup of blood. I love authors who surprise me, who can be natural onstage, who show range, tell me a story of set-up, those who have killed ‘poetry voice.’ Much performance celebrates poetry voice and it shatters all my remaining vertebrae. I am thankful that there are more and more brilliant journals and presses launching authors who are exciting to see. I do see change. One change is that the slam seems to be a great place now for young people to work out the kinks and build a community and older poets are doing shows with comedians and fiction authors, musicians more. I love that.
DD: Many of the poets on the Write Bloody roster are veteran slam and spoken word artists. What are the unique challenges for a publisher of performance artists?
DB: One challenge is that it seems hard for authors who are performers to get booked at universities unless they have a ‘thing.’ A thing could be “I am an identity poet, I am queer poet, I am a funny pop culture poet, etc.” I think we all wish universities brought folks in just because their book ruled and the author is engaging. Another challenge is stage attire. Many of our authors still don’t know that it is a huge mistake to wear shorts onstage or light colored pants. I have made both mistakes, didn’t shake enough and paid for it. Once our authors get a foot in and are booked once at a book festival, they are usually the festival favorite. The challenge is shaking the spoken word moniker. Saying you are a spoken word poet usually has a curse, like saying you are in a Christian rock band. I tell our authors to pitch themselves as authors, unless it’s a young scene they are headed to. Some colleges only want ‘slam’ poets- which is odd, especially if there is no slam competition that night.
DD: One of my favorite books that you’ve published is Elaina Ellis’s Write about an Empty Birdcage. In many ways, this collection embodies the spirit of your press. Can you talk about what makes this a good example of a Write Bloody book?
DB: It’s muscular writing, right? She hits with no hammers. I think it’s a graceful book, proud, searching and no “fuck you, I know the truth and it’s all sorted out” fraud moments. It is typical in that it is moving, sometimes funny, and gives you that gut check that you long for in poetry. Also, you never feel lost.
DD: You’ve published a number of great anthologies, including the Learn then Burn anthologies. Do you have any new anthologies in the works for 2016 and beyond?
DB: We do not, although an anthology of the most useless blurbs does interest me.
DD: What is the most encouraging experience you have had in the last twelve years as a book publisher?
DB: Getting distribution with SCB Distributors. They had to keep saying no to us because I didn’t keep financial records of growth. It took us three years to get our act together and it changed everything in regards to the dream of having an author’s fan base spread.
DD: What is one thing that American poetry needs more of, in your opinion?
DB: It needs more “unknown”, younger faces on the cover of Poets and Writers. It needs the fire of rage to be coupled with action steps to tackle the uncovered evils of our time. It needs to be on TV in a subtle way, slipped into sitcoms and films. It could use a few conservative voices that don’t suck. It needs poetry shows to embrace wildness.
DD: Some of the poets that Write Bloody has published, like Taylor Mali, have names that ring out in some corners of the poetry world. Of all the poets you have published, who do you feel deserves more recognition than they have received?
DB: Any live show by Idris Goodwin or Buddy Wakefield, The full color art and poetry of The Pocketknife Bible by Anis Mojgani, Glitter In the Blood by Mindy Nettifee, The Year of No Mistakes by Cristin O’keefe Aptowicz, Birthday Girl with Possum by Brendan Constantine, Megan Falley, Racing Hummingbirds by Jeanann Verlee, Floating Brilliant Gone by Franny Choi and Slow Dance with Sasquatch by Jeremy Radin. These books are crushers that have possibly not sold 1000 copies. All our books are inspired but some authors have built something on the page that made me weep or die a little. Most of those authors have no connection to the academic world of writing and deserve cakes all day. I love all the authors we have and they inspire me to keep going but those books tackled me personally
DD: If you could publish any dead poet at Write Bloody, who would it be and why?
DB: Anne Sexton and Frank Stanford. I love dark swampy moods.
DD: Theodore Roethke said “Art undoes the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”
What is your definition of poetry? What responsibility, if any, does a poet have toward her/his audience?
DB: Poetry is a bullet and the novel is a slow strangle.
Derrick Brown is a comedian, poet and storyteller. He is the winner of the 2013 Texas Book of The Year Award for Poetry. He is a former Paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne and is the president of one of what Forbes and Filter Magazine call: “…one of the best independent poetry presses in the country,” Write Bloody Publishing, which has launched over 112 books of poetry. He is the author of five books of poetry and three children’s books. The New York Times calls his work, “…a rekindling of faith in the weird, hilarious, shocking, beautiful power of words.” He is from Austin, TX.
Dante Di Stefano's poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer's Chronicle, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Thayer Fellowship in the Arts, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, The Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, The Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, The Bea González Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize. He earned his PhD in Poetry from Binghamton University and he makes his living as a high school English teacher in Endicott, New York.