Monkeybicycle: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?
Spencer Madsen: I immediately think of Roxane Gay. I think of complaints about not enough people reading or not enough people buying books or too many books being published. I think about the word ‘writerly’ and the distinction of being ‘serious’ literature. I think these classifications serve to make reading books more insular and less exciting for people. The word ‘indie’ always evokes for me a kind of club that you have to join to engage with. I’d like to bypass that by avoiding adjectives or the temptation to define the press in a verbal way. I don’t want Sorry House to be At The Forefront of Independent Literature or The Home Of Avant-Garde Poetry. I want it to be a thing like any other thing. A glass of water doesn’t need an about page. It holds water.
Derek White, publisher of Calamari Press, writes beautifully about the operations of the press in its eighth year.
Karen Lillis is currently serializing a memoir about working at St. Mark’s Bookshop called Bagging The Beats At Midnight: Confessions of an Indie Bookstore Clerk over at Undie Press. Her recent installment, titled “People Who Led Me to Self-Publishing,” discusses the inspiring and energetic figures she encountered, people who took artistic matters into their own hands by making sloppy, lo-fi xeroxed booklets that were sold on a special consignment rack at St. Mark’s. Karen reminds us that writers such as Anais Nin, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Kathy Acker, Gertrude Stein, and others all self-published at one point. There’s a certain magic about it—the immediacy of it, the openness, the way any wing nut or fanatic or obsessive outsider can be given an equal hearing on the consignment rack. No filtration or editorial process—just print, copy, distribute.
In a recent email I sent to Al Burian, I wrote that I was interested in bridging the gap between the small press/indie publishing world and the self-publishing/zine world. Al is kind of a cult figure in the self-publishing world, but is probably virtually unknown to small press and indie lit readers (although he did get some kind of honorable mention in The Best American Nonrequired Reading series one year). I’ve been reading his zines since I was 13 and I’m still totally obsessed with them. Since Al Burian was my favorite zine writer, over the years I let everyone I knew borrow his writings—teachers, friends, family. Some instantly became obsessive fans of his work as well. Since last month Al’s out-of-print collection of early zines, titled Burn Collector, is finally back in print after being republished by PM Press. (You should check it out—I’ve probably read it more times than any other book in my life.) Al’s zine Burn Collector and others like his inspired me to start self-publishing when I was 15.
Wrath of Dynasty is a boutique imprint of fine art objects that was established by Jon Leon halfway through 2010. If you’re not familiar with Leon, the best thing to do is check out his poetry, some of which is available online here. If you want to check out any of his many chapbooks, well, you’re pretty much out of luck, because they’re all out of print. In three days the final title from this season of Wrath of Dynasty, formerly Legacy Pictures, will also be out of print. In fact, in three days, everything Wrath of Dynasty has ever released will be out of print, at least until the next season starts and a new series of unique print objects are brought to light. I have been consistently impressed with Wrath of Dynasty, which has brought to light a lot of exciting and unique work that would undoubtedly be inappropriate for other venues, so I thought I’d send Jon an email and ask him more about it. Check out the interview behind the cut.