AW: Well, to put it bluntly, Les Figues is dedicated to creating conversations between readers, writers, and artists, in particular those engaged in and interested in innovative works. We do this through publishing books as well as curating live performance and other non-print creations. I honestly think our audience would be the best at describing what exactly makes us and our books unique, but I’ll give it a shot from my perspective as an editor. One of the things that I think makes us unique is what I might be pressed to call a conceptual approach to editing and publishing. We see the book-as-object as inherently wedded to (and undifferentiated from) the book-as-text. So each and every aspect of our handling of the book is dedicated to seeing how our choices affect the text, beyond simply what might ‘look good’: what does choosing this font do and mean? what does choosing this trim size do and mean? what does this introduction and description do and mean? This process, which is quite intensive, helps us make books that I believe our authors are proud of and that encourage an active, productive engagement with our readers.
NA: How did Les Figues Press begin, and how long has it been in existence?
AW: In April, we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. When I tell people this, they don’t really believe it. I think a lot of people still think of us as the new kids on the block, or something along those lines. But it’s true! It’s been a decade (almost). The press began out of a series of conversations between Teresa Carmody (the current executive director), Vanessa Place (the current editorial director), Pam Ore (a current board member), and Sara La Borde that resulted in the founding of the press and the launch of our initial series of books, the TrenchArt series. Since the founding, we’ve published over fifty books of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, anthologies, works in translation, drama, and art. I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to join the press in March of 2013.
NA: I love the sense of humor I see in some of your book titles such as The Ants, which looks like a book written from the ants’ perspective? And another book called Cunt Norton. I’d love to see a short excerpt from these books.
AW: Here’s an excerpt from Sawako Nakayasu’s The Ants:
WE THE HEATHENS
We go to have Chinese for dinner and my friend who is visiting from another planet is horrified (and perhaps a little excited also), until I explain to her that we are having Chinese food, not Chinese people. We go to a place that serves not dumpling soup, which I love, but soup dumpling, with which I am unfamiliar. The soup is actually inside of each dumpling, and everyone develops their own system of eating it. As we poke our chopsticks voraciously into the folds of the Crispy Fried Whole Exploded Fish, which is delicious, it becomes clear to me that we would have no right to be shocked or mortified or outraged or even surprised or upset, should some creature from another planet descend upon the earth, pluck our people off the ground and fry us up, tearing away at our flesh with relish.
My friend Morton, a sweet and gentle man, is sitting quietly beside me with his uneaten hamburger. I don’t know how he managed to get himself a hamburger in a Chinese restaurant, but there he sits, and there sits his hamburger, with the top bun off. Morton says he wants live ants on his burger but does not want to go hunting for ants himself, so he is waiting for the ants to come to the burger, at which point he will replace the top bun and eat. I tell him that he will probably have better luck with that outside, and he says that’s a good idea, thanks, and goes outside with his hamburger, and that’s the last I ever see of him.
And here’s an excerpt from Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton:
That thing which everybody feels, when their ravenous ghosts stream out disturbing meals or love, saying fuck me, thy cunt is so huge—we all know that—yet here thou art, begging for “security” from my body, my glassy brooks, thinking unutterable things. Whene’er thou art leafy we nook where the wild branch of the corn waits. Thou speak’st to me in books, and every now and then with the length of thy middle finger. Our prosody is eligible, unless, like Wordsworth, we warm up too quickly. Thou fillest my soil with not-words worthy of thy root, which has two balls behind it. My mighty heart is in a great mood, mitigating an earthy terrain full of disease. I do the best I can when thy thing is hard, a kind of itchy without perceiving. Thy condition, like Coleridge’s, is haunted; the base of thy cock itself is the whole earth of man, a ball of energy bouncing from my clit to thy deuce, a birth. Thy thorn has brains, with a tip more round than most. How many miles the moon might pull from there to my pants, my perfect knowledge boundless as the skies waiting forever for thee, the diffuse feeling in my cunt expanding. Oh she is perfect past parallel—of any groin, bouncing above the cunning powers of Hell, her guardian. Ravenous, she can suck the energy she needs, her minutest motions welling. Touch me. It would be easy for thee to do so. My cunt has virtues nothing earthly could surpass. Involved, I’m wet—give me all thy strength. Thou art perfect but not insipid, the way thou tonguest my understanding—kiss me till it’s soft but thicker, till all is peace and innocence and bliss, broken to black softness. Thy cock, Don José, like a lineal son of Eve, is never lost, his balls in a shriveled bag. He is a mortal of the careless kind, with rivulets and crags seen from the sky, who chooses to go where’er he has a mind, with a readiness I read as desire. My cunt, the center of the world, as usual, is wickedly inclined to send starts in the center of thy chest. Whene’er thou dost o’erturn and whisper “my mistress,” thy heart fibrillates and thou suckest in thy breath. My cunt, Donna Inez, with all the cocks she’s seen, is a little stodgy, but has good qualities. Neglect, indeed, requires thou meetest my brass teeth zipper. My cunt has her moralities; but then she’s a devil.
NA: How does one become a Les Figues Press author?
AW: We read manuscripts through our NOS (not otherwise specified) Contest, which is open every year from June 1 to September 15. The contest, as the name implies, is open to all forms of writing, from fiction to poetry to everything in between and anything else not otherwise specified. We select two manuscripts through the contest, one by the guest judge (Fanny Howe this year) and one by the editors.
NA: You also run an intern program for the press. What does that entail?
AW: We call our internship program the Small Press Plus internship. This kind of vague title reflects the experience we offer our interns: they get involved in all aspects of running a small press, from book production to marketing to release to fulfillment to events and everything else in between. Within that breadth and overview of what it means to run a small press, we try to make sure each intern gets involved in a project that allows for a deeper engagement with a single aspect of the press.
NA: Could you talk about the new books coming out this fall and winter?
AW: We have some really exciting books coming in this fall. We just received copies of derek beaulieu’s Kern, a book of visual poetry that derek handmade using letraset. It’s a really beautiful, remarkable book. I’m also really excited about Colin Winnette’s new novella Coyote, last year’s NOS selection by Aimee Bender, which is currently on a truck headed our way. And then right now, I’m doing production on Sandra Doller’s book of performative poetry, Leave Your Body Behind. I am really excited about all three of these books. Sometimes I have trouble describing our books or “slinging” them (in the parlance of my former days working in a bookstore) because I just genuinely love them so much. Too much, almost. But these three books, I think, represent the breadth of our interests as a publisher, the risks we take, and the innovative and stunning writers we want to support. Over and over at AWP and other book fairs, I end up saying some form of “this book is just wonderful.” And, so, here again: these books are just wonderful. Trust me.
NA: Do you have any new projects or plans for the press?
AW: This year, we launched a new book series, the Global Poetics Series. This series is dedicated to exploring new constructions and theories of literature through the publication of innovative poetry and prose from around the world. The first books in this series are Frank Smith’s Guantanamo, Sawako Nakayasu’s The Ants (excerpted above), and derek beaulieu’s Kern. The next book in the series, forthcoming in 2015, is Amanda Ackerman’s The Book of Feral Flora. We are also working on a new anthology, also forthcoming in 2015, which will be a capstone to our TrenchArt series. We have two new book series in the works, too, which we expect to launch in 2016, so keep your eyes out for those announcements!
NA: You are an accomplished poet and translator yourself. How do you balance your editing and writing interests?
AW: That’s always the difficulty, I think, for all of us who work as editors, teachers, or in non-literary fields. Very few of us ever get the chance, outside of limited grants and fellowships, to have extended time to devote to our writing. So, finding the time and energy for my own work is certainly piecemeal—waking up early, staying up late, giving up weekends, etc. Having an understanding and encouraging partner certainly helps. On top of that, in addition to Les Figues, I’m also a founding editor for the journal The Offending Adam. But I don’t see my editorial and creative interests as being two separate pursuits. One bleeds into the next. The more I read and the more I edit, the more I’m thinking about my own writing. And the more I’m writing, the more I’m thinking about the kind of work I want to edit, promote, and publish. I consider myself lucky that every day I get to devote myself to thinking about and working on literature, whether it’s my own work or one of the remarkable works I get to edit.
NA: Could you say a few words about the transaltions Les Figues Press publishes?
AW: We have published a number of translations, including Myriam Moscona’s Negro Marfil/Ivory Black, translated by Jen Hofer and the recipient of the 2012 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and we continue to seek out and publish translations. It’s a vitally important part of our catalog. Our most recent translation is Frank Smith’s Guantanamo. We also publish writers writing in English who are not based in the United States, including writers based in Canada, Japan, England, and elsewhere.
NA: I’d like to close with a poem from one of your authors.
AW: Let’s end with an excerpt from Divya Victor’s Things To Do With Your Mouth, which we published earlier this year. In his afterword, CA Conrad described Divya’s book as being “not where monsters live but all possible friends in motion, at rest, in the middle of, and even between the middle parts”, and I think this excerpt is exactly that:
As I watched, the tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them, and as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones, then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them, and as I looked on there were sinews on them, and flesh had come over them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. As I looked, I saw that ligaments were on them, muscles were on them, and skin covered them, yet there was no breath in them, but as I looked I saw on them sinews, and flesh that had come up and covered them as skin does and they began to look like men, in the shape of men, and were a body of them.
Andrew Wessels has lived in Houston, Cambridge, and Las Vegas. Currently, he splits his time between Los Angeles and Istanbul. He has held fellowships from Poets & Writers and the Black Mountain Institute. His poems, translations, and collaborations can be found in VOLT, Witness, Fence, Eleven Eleven, and Colorado Review, among others. He is the managing editor of Les Figues Press and edits the poetry and poetics journal The Offending Adam.
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.