A CONVERSATION WITH: SpringGun Press
A Conversation with: SpringGun Press
SpringGun Press, which hails from Denver, Colorado, has been publishing breathtaking new voices in contemporary poetry since the first issue of its journal in 2009. Each issue features a different interactive format that combines stylish design work with a minimalistic elegance.
These same sensibilities are evident in SpringGun’s 2012 catalog. Featuring books by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy, Lily Ladewig, and more, SpringGun is, in the editors own words, “insane, comical, violent, practical, ingenious, irresponsible, terrifying, vulnerable, and deadly.”
In a recent interview, I got to talk with founders and publishers Erin Costello and Mark Rockswold about restraint in poetry, the future of literature (electronic and otherwise), and what space SpringGun is carving out in the poetic landscape.
I’d like to start off by talking a little bit about politics. You mention on your website that many of the books you publish have a political context. What political resistances or acceptances do you feel like your books offer to a reader?
Erin Costello and Mark Rockswold, founders and publishers: We’re not actively seeking out “political” work in the sense of explicit politically themed or content based poetry. We see the poetry we have published lately (The Container Store in particular), as being political in terms of language and its influence on individuals. We live in a world of contracts, governments, borders, regulations, bureaucracies, languages, etc. The Container Store is directly interested in this, and the agency of the individual in that context. The form and typography is a political statement in that it is a resistance to normalized modes of communication. The book is also dedicated to Occupy Wall Street, so it really is in dialogue with the Situationists and their idea of “exposing the spectacle.” By the way, check out The Container Store’s creative review project on Amazon.com that Joe and Chad have initiated as another layer of protest against The Container Store (the retailer), Amazon itself, and what their existsence and success says about us as a society.
You mention an array of characteristics that a SpringGun possesses. But one word that doesn’t make an appearance is “minimal.” Both the artwork and poetry you publish has certain qualities of restraint. How does silence and whitespace function for you as readers?
EC & MR: That’s a great observation—we think that we would characterize our website and design in general as “minimal.” When we started this we were interested in how to use the internet to make a quality journal that was worth reading, but we also didn’t want to lose the tradition and beauty of print work. It’s important to us to show that even though an online environment can never be a physical book, it still has its own kind of materiality. The internet is a vast world and so we set out to balance this with simple and minimal designs that are often inspired by the physical/non-online world. An actual spring gun – a gun that is rigged on a trip wire, usually in a door frame – is a very minimal concept, but its execution is extreme.
As readers, we are interested in writing that is confident about the balance it strikes between words on the page and the white space those words create. White space and silence are simply materials that in addition to language, are also available to writers. Maybe white space is also language.
What is the most crucial thing you’re looking and listening for when you consider work for publication? What qualities interest you less as you’re reading a piece of writing?
EC & MR: We’re usually looking for some combination of humility and confidence and attention to sound—maybe that “minimalist” quality you describe. Innovation is also important. There are a lot of self-indulgent fads and trends that tend to cycle through the poetry community that we’re not interested in. Be confident in your project and its importance as a piece of art.
You use the word “urgency” to describe the type of work you’re publishing, and I would certainly say that that word fits. What do you define as urgency, and why is that important?
EC & MR: Well, the answer is closely related to question 3. We think that a poem or book should be sure of its own existence and purpose. Why write or make art? Why make a particular type of art in a particular style or aesthetic? To us, art should be something new and important that’s in dialogue with previous artistic traditions. Something is urgent because of that “newness.” Urgency goes hand in hand with in-the-moment significance; this truth has to be said now. Who wants poetry that can wait?
How does the process of making a book happen at SpringGun? What sort of stories can you share about your work as a staff?
EC & MR: We’ve very recently doubled our staff and we pay them in beers, but before that the two of us have done everything from reading and selecting manuscripts, to cover design, layout, and marketing. We tend to share as many tasks as we can but ultimately delegate them based on strengths—for the most part Mark does layout and Erin does design. It was a huge challenge for the two of us to get the three full-lengths ready for print in time for AWP, but a very rewarding one. We believe that publishing in its most productive form should be a collaboration between author and editor. The Silhouettes in particular was a product of much collective back-and-forth work and something the three of us are very proud of. At the end of the day we try to give as much control of the final product over to the author—they always have final say.
We try to create a team environment in everything we take on and cross promote by doing events and issues with other presses when we can. This spring we’re teaming up with Fort Collins based Mudluscious for a book release reading with Lily Ladewig, Joe Hall, Mathias Svalina, Todd Seabrook, and Joanna Ruocco in Denver, for example.
What do you think contemporary poets need to speak to that poets thirty years ago did not need to address? What do you see as unique in the contemporary voices you publish?
EC & MR: We’ve never tried to write our own poetics; rather, we want the work to speak for itself. Every era and generation has its own challenges that poetry takes on. It might be cliche to say that “everything changed after 9/11” but we believe much did, and poetry changed as well. We consider writing poetry as a kind of defiant act and recommended reading Andrew Joron’s essay “What Good is Poetry in a Time Like This?” in his collection Zone Zero from Counterpath Press. It’s the best example we can think of that articulates the post 9/11 artistic world and gets to the core of why we write, publish and value poetry so much in the 21st century.
It’s not necessarily unique to our contemporary moment here in 2012, but more and more we are seeing un-cited found language used in a collage or remix style. If art’s function is to express the present, there’s nothing really surprising about this development. In the words of Mark Amerika, “source material is everywhere.” Language is a writer’s material and in an age where our collective knowledge base lives on servers and can be easily accessed in seconds, the lines between found language and the “genius author” are blurred.
Finally, contemporary electronic literature looks a lot different than the computer poetry that existed 30 years ago, or even ten years ago, and it continues to evolve and become more and more integrated with literature (no “e-”). No one really knows what e-lit is exactly but our guess is that what we call e-lit now will soon be indistinguishable from “traditional” literature.
To speculate wildly a bit, give me a brief description of the poetry landscape in ten years. Where does SpringGun fit in that landscape? What’s next for SpringGun?
EC & MR: As the book dies, text is going to move to the web and devices. The book will stay around for a long time (as it is a perfect technology), but it will eventually become a novelty object that you seek out and collect like a vinyl record. As far as how SpringGun fits into this landscape, we’d like to continue to exist both electronically and in print form as long as possible, while continuing to evolve with art and technology. Erin just finished printing and binding a project called Community Resume by hand and we’d like to try more handmade book projects in the future. Ultimately poetry has a very rich future. We’re excited about the success of the Creative Writing MFA and believe in the small press community as a space where publication and quality dialogue on poetry will continue to advance. Ultimately computer programs die or become obsolete. Bytes don’t last as long as paper. That’s why it’s important to keep print alive, wanted, and thriving while also embracing the inevitable digitalization of our craft.
Erin Costello is a poet, digital artist, and web designer who holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2009 she founded SpringGun Press with Mark Rockswold: a print press for books of poetry, and a bi-annual online journal of poetry, flash fiction, and electronic literature. She has received awards for both her traditional and electronic writing and her work has been featured in various venues and publications. Originally from Northern California, she currently lives in Denver where she enjoys the incredible literary/art scene and works as an online marketer. More at www.erincostello.org
Mark Rockswold holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the co-founder of SpringGun Press and his work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, the Electronic Literature Directory, Titmouse Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and teaches English in Denver.