Geoffrey C. Gatza is an American editor and publisher of small poetry press BlazeVOX, which is based in Buffalo, Erie County, New York, United States and an award-winning poet
C. Derick Varn: BlazeVOX is known as a publisher of experimental and hybrid literature in prose and poetry. What do you make of the state of experimental writing in contemporary culture, and do you think this is why new models of publishing have been developed?
The state of experimental writing is alive and well in contemporary culture. Our audience has grown stronger, wider and younger so we are consistently hopeful for a fruitful future.
What constitutes the current avant-garde has changed dramatically since I began writing. I have seen things that I will never see again. Writings come and go with the developments of our culture and how we as poets process our surroundings and find them lacking dynamism.
Most of what is considered experimental and hybrid literature is not the basis for a commercial enterprise; we have the wonderful opportunity to experience the joys of failure.
Since we cannot succeed simply by writing better, more commercial materials we succeed by spending our energy embracing what needs to be written. As we say in our mission statement: We seek to publish the innovative works of the greatest minds writing poetry today, from the most respected senior poets to extraordinarily promising young writers. We select for publication only the highest quality of writing on all levels regardless of commercial viability. Through the publication of works of significance, BlazeVOX [books] is committed to the dissemination of knowledge.
Avant-garde publishing has a long and rich history of finding new models for publishing. Growing out of the need to publish materials that are relevant to kindred readers, but will probably not offer a return on the investment of money placed into the project. New models develop from new technology and its ability to offer readers a platform in which they can read the work, be instantly intrigued by the form and want more of it.
About three years ago, BlazeVOX’s funding model became a source of controversy. While reading fees, prize entry fees, and required purchases are often standard for small presses to consider a work, BlazeVOX’s asking for a relatively small buy-in by the author was condemned as self-publishing. It seems now that general opinion is with BlazeVOX after the dust settled. Why do you think this was such a scandal in the poetry community in particular?
It was quite an event for the press and for me personally. I am glad that we have been able to move past being the cause célèbre and continue the work of publishing under-valued poets and prose writers. It is a true joy to work as an independent publisher and I value it more and more as time moves on.
I believe that the scandal blossomed because we choose to do something new. At the time Kickstarter was not an entity yet, as crowdfunding had not been invented. It is always difficult to get the funding needed to publish good books of poetry and we do not offer a fee-based contest, as I am not fond of that model. The money generated by contests makes up lifeblood of many small presses. In many cases these funds generate the operating budget for their whole year. It is one model, but one that I do not fully believe in as an activity that actually promotes the best and brightest work published that year.
This was upsetting for the poetry community because we did not make it completely clear how we applied our offer. In retrospect we should have handled it in a much more efficient manner, and I have learned a great deal from those days. I am very happy that they are in the past.
Do you suspect BlazeVOX was standing in for larger problems in independent publishing right now?
Yes, I do think we were the focal point of a changing playing field for independent publishing. The main problem is the lack of funding. There is frustration from fine writers who want their work to be not only noticed for its artistic qualities but also be compensated for their writings. Books sell slowly and infrequently while funding from traditional generous sources is not what it once was. But now with crowdfunding, this issue is being addressed.
As opposed to finding grants, writing grants and bending one’s goals to meet that particular grant’s requirements, with crowdfunding, one can find funding from likeminded individuals without jumping through hoops. I think the future for independent publishing lies in crowdfunding to benefit the people they serve. That is, until the next big thing comes along.
Back to the more interesting elements, how do you see BlazeVOX’s literary journal working in conjunction with its book press?
The journal is near and dear to my heart. It is the publication we first began with fourteen years ago. BlazeVOX started off as a college project while I was at Daemen College, Amherst, NY in 1998. I wanted to start a creative writing journal but we only had a budget of $300. I used that money and bought a copy of Dreamweaver 3 and learned how to design web pages. It was a great success. In 2000 I started BlazeVOX as the online journal was becoming very popular form. The goal of the journal is as it is today, to present innovative fictions and wide-ranging fields of contemporary poetry. The technology allows for a very low overhead and a worldwide audience. I am now putting together the spring issue of BlazeVOX14 and I am as excited as ever to be reading submissions.
We started to make print on demand books in 2006. Up to that point the technology had been awful, producing very flimsy books. But now it is the norm of the publishing world. To date we have over 375 titles in print and we have the resources on hand to publish another 750 within the next decade.
The journal works hand in hand with our book publishing. In each issue of the journal we include previews of our newest titles so that our journal audience is aware of our new books.
The journal is also a nice way to build an audience for an author; if they are successful in gathering a following we can easily plan a future book with them. And it also helps our book authors to meet the works of newer authors. I hope that it is a cyclical relationship that can build the future of experimental writings.
Do you see the international nature of BlazeVOX becoming more important in the future.
I am very pleased that we receive so many fine manuscripts from so many countries in the world. We are pleased to have published writers from Japan, Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Australia, Kashmir, Russia, India, Canada, and many others that would just be pedantic to include. It is quite exciting that our writers can reach so many readers in so many countries.
We are able to reach readers from around the world through our webpage. Also, our books and ebooks are sold on Amazon, so readers can purchase books from a readers local Amazon and have a book delivered in a relatively short period of time.
I do see the future of BlazeVOX focusing in on gaining more readers from around the world. I would love to be able to sell our books in China. I believe that there would be a wonderful opportunity to bring American poetry to China and to be able to bring Chinese poets’ voices to American audiences. I feel this way about many countries and with luck and the proper funding, we’ll be able to match writers to readers from country to country and language to language.
What series or books do you think will surprise your audience that you are releasing in the near future?
We are always trying to surprise our audience with something new. One such project is John Tranter’s book, Starlight: 150 Poems. John is a major influence on BlazeVOX as he was the founder of the online journal Jacket. Although our the scope of BlazeVOX is not that of Jacket, I was very aware of how much influence, enthusiasm and admiration poets and scholars quickly accepted the online format for a poetry journal. It’s a real pleasure to be working with him on a fascinating book of poems.
Roger Craik’s new book, Down Stranger Roads, might surprise a few of our readers. It is a wonderful book of poems that might be seen as mainstream poems. Craik had a delightful way of telling the truth in a useful way for the reader to understand it, admire it, and then maybe adopt that attitude for use in later life. I see his book as selling well in the mainstream poetry crowd, but also fitting into so many hybrid venues that my hopes is that this is a runaway best seller.
My own book is, Apollo, is coming out in a few weeks. It might be surprising because this one is actually good. It is a large conceptual work based upon Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo, Marcel Duchamp and the game of chess. The whole book is an art object, taking the form of a souvenir program of a ballet performance that never took place. In the proper spirit of the performance, I sent out invitations to the ballet, giving an address and performance space that did not exist. The text of the book needed to move beyond the ordinary form of poetry, so a Stravinsky ballet was chosen to act as the template/stage for the work to happen.
To spread a little love around: are there any presses that you are excited about right now and what kind of thing are you releasing?
The 8th annual Buffalo Small Press Book Fair took place last week and it was a real pleasure to meet so many fine publishers in my hometown. Here are a few presses that are simply astounding!
Run by the wonderful Shanna Compton. Her books, The Failure Age by Amanda Montei and her own title, Brink, are marvelous works. I look forward to seeing more of their books.
Bon Aire Projects
This is a small press run by editors, Amanda Montei & Jon Rutzmoser. They are located in Buffalo, NY. For each project they release a POD book, then as a unique ANALOG (handmade) edition, and finally as a downloadable PDF. For the book Dinner Poems, they created a large dinner plate with the ISBN of the book printed onto the plate.
Troll Thread is Troll Thread, as they post on their About page. It is a wild collective of poets and scholars who are making waves in the world of conceptual poetry. This is fun press making important books.
Dusie is an online poetry journal featuring the work of emerging as well as established poets (or translations of) from around the world. Dusie features what can only be loosely defined as modern poetics with a penchant for the experimental on a somewhat bi-annual basis
Ugly Duckling Presse
Ugly Duckling Presse is a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts, and books by artists. UDP was transformed from a 1990s zine into a Brooklyn-based small press by a volunteer editorial collective that has published more than 200 titles to date. UDP favors emerging, international, and “forgotten” writers, and its books, chapbooks, artist’s books, broadsides, and periodicals often contain handmade elements, calling attention to the labor and history of bookmaking.
Currently we are releasing some amazing books. Here are a few:
Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss
It is a brave effort and feels so long overdue and at the same time perfectly natural—an Israeli poet grapples directly with the Palestinian history, land and literature through an engagement with one of Palestine’s most widely known literary voices. Mahmoud Darwish once warned, ‘This is forgetfulness: that you remember the past / and not remember tomorrow in the story.’ Morani Kornberg-Weiss addresses the other in perfect awareness of history—that there may be no answer, no personal reconciliation. She proceeds anyhow into the thicket of the past not for the sake of settling accounts but to understand the edges of a possible future. One hopes it is only the first of a series of poets making such engagements. —Kazim Ali
THE ELECTRIC AFFINITIES by Wade Stevenson
The Electric Affinities examines the interior lives and motives of six affluent, artistic friends as they struggle to find love and meaning in the summer of 1969, “the year that changed everything.” Set in the Hamptons and New York City, the novel brilliantly captures the decadent, freedom-loving lifestyles of characters trapped in a “prison of opulence.” Andre, a film director with a volatile temper and Robert, a romantic, yet troubled, Vietnam War veteran, are obsessed with the enigmatic Maya, a former Vogue model; free-spirited Carolina, seeks solace in a quest for spiritual transcendence while her own relationship crumbles; French-born Louise sacrifices her own dreams in a self-appointed role as Maya’s protector; and Ben, the older, wildly successful architect, avoids confronting his own loneliness as he fills his Sag Harbor home with lovely, yet broken souls. The paths these characters take mirror the disillusionment inherent in the late ‘60’s, as they turn inward in a quest for self-understanding that presages the attitudes of the “Me Generation” of the 1970s. The Electric Affinities encompasses the excitement of youth, sexual freedom, mistakes, and ultimate losses that lead to the sober awakening from a dreamlike existence to a clear-eyed understanding of the realities of life.
Fantasias in Counting by Sophie Seita
Sophie Seita’s Fantasias in Counting furthers an evolving, intense and remarkable body of work with performative textuality, spatiality and ethics of presence. Her poetry and poetics test the very limits of prosody; her theatrics work the defamiliarised into the known: a fantasia of the writer’s making defaulting into non-ownership. Rhythm and its predications and failures are central to ‘speech’. —John Kinsella
The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood) by Tony Trigilio
Tony Trigilio’s book-length poem The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood) is the first book of a multi-volume experiment in autobiography. For this project, Trigilio is watching all 1,225 episodes of Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966-1971. He is composing one sentence for each episode and shaping the sentences into couplets. Book 1 covers 183 episodes. The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood) is both an autobiographical diary poem and an ode to lost television artifacts. As David Trinidad, author of Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera, writes of the book, “Trigilio manages to create a riveting two-fold narrative—personal and TV-screen ekphrastic—out of piecemeal sentences (one per episode) that honor the most unlikely of poetic subjects: a cheaply produced, blooper-ridden, gothic-horror soap opera.
January Found by Michael Sikkema
January Found is a hallucinary of the contemporary, its poems contemporous wonder rooms filled with the outside noise of our culture. I didn’t even know that January was lost until Michael Sikkema found it for me here, leading the way for the other months looking to speak the future as these poems do: with incision, wit, and an oblique and energetic intelligence. —Gary Barwin
Apollo by Geoffrey Gatza
It has often been said that Marcel Duchamp gave up art for chess. Geoffrey Gatza has reversed the process, and produced a sumptuous “souvenir program” of a performance of Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo, framed by an elaborately-plotted chess game between Duchamp and his female alter-ego, Rose Sélavy. The results are stunning. —John Ashbery