Monday, January 30, 2012

Best of the Small Press 2011: Last Day

Our last indie publishing recommendations for 2011 come from Marc Bell, who came to Pittsburgh in September when his Pure Pajamas (Drawn & Quarterly) tour joined up with the Big Questions tour of illustrator Anders Nilsen. Based in Ontario, Marc is both a cartoonist and a fine artist whose drawings have been compared to R. Crumb, Kaz, and Philip Guston. In the '90s he rose to underground fame with his self-published mini-comics (aka comic zines). Other readers might know him from the anthology Kramers Ergot or his own retrospective book, Hot Potatoe (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009).

Copacetic Comics
hosted Marc & Anders' Pittsburgh event, as I mentioned on Day 8 of the Best of Small Press 2011. I've already crowed about (more-than-comics) indie bookstore Copacetic a few times on this blog, but I don't think I've mentioned PIX, the new Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo that Copacetic owner, Bill Boichel launched in 2010. From the start, PIX drew an impressive array of small publishers and self-publishers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, DC, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Columbus, Vermont, and numerous other spots in the Northeast and Midwest. In 2011, PIX coincided with SPF, Pittsburgh's literary small press fair.

Thanks again to Marc Bell for offering the final recommendations for Best of the Small Press 2011. Don't miss this long interview with him in The Comics Journal.


1. Rapture, Scott McIntyre & Peter Thompson (self published)
2. Uncle Pork Chop Scrapes Away The Summer, Billy Bert Young, Jason McLean and Peter Thompson (self published)
3. Melatonin Carp Bomb, Mark Connery (self published)
4. One Dollar, Jonathan Petersen (self published)

Recommended by Marc Bell
Author of Pure Pajamas and Hot Potatoe

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 11

Today's small press recommendations come from writer Martha King. Martha has had a long history in the small press: She is the author of numerous books of both prose and poetry on micro-presses like Stop Press, 2 + 2 Press, and Zelot Press; she has worked over many years as an editor (including a former dayjob at Poets & Writers); and she currently co-hosts the Prose Pros reading series in New York. Born in the old South in the 1930s, her bohemian life started with a short stint at Black Mountain College in the 1950s and kept going from there. She's been a part of the New York arts scene since the 1950s and has been writing steadily since the 1970s. From 1983-93 she edited the poetry zine Giants Play Well in the Drizzle and in the mid-90s she published a series called the Northern Lights Poetry Chaplets. I'm looking forward to reading her book of short stories, North & South, about which fiction author Lucia Berlin said, "I like especially how King can nail down class in the USA--from the South to the New York art world."

If you've been following my Best of the Small Press 2011, you know that I have been posting indie press picks mainly from writers who visited Pittsburgh in 2011. Martha has never visited Pittsburgh, but some of her books have, via her most recent publisher, the innovative Spuyten Duyvil. Spuyten Duyvil (Brooklyn) was one of numerous indie publishers who came to Pittsburgh for the annual SPF: Small Press Festival in recent years. Since 2009, SPF has featured literary presses, letterpress publishers, and indie comix from Pittsburgh as well as Detroit, Buffalo, Nashville, Cleveland, New York, Massachusetts, and more. Find them here:


1. Learning to Draw/A History, Basil King (Skylight Press)
2. So Late into the Night, Elinor Nauen (Rain Mountain Press)
3. To be Read in the Dark, Maxine Chernoff (Omnidawn Press)

Recommended by Martha King
Author of North & South (Spuyten Duyvil)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 10.2

Today's next round of small press picks come from Spencer Dew. I've had the pleasure of meeting Spencer, a prolific fiction writer and a whip-smart critic, twice when he's come to Pittsburgh to see a personal friend, and am grateful that he bothered to reach out to a few of us in the lit community while he was here. He's the author of a dark, perceptive collection of short stories, Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), and a deservedly-praised book of criticism, Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Chicago's Another New Calligraphy produced a gorgeous edition of his short narrative in 2010, titled Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres; his first novel, Maintain, is forthcoming from Ampersand Books in just a few months (April 2012).

I realized recently that it's nuts that I've never arranged a reading for Spencer during his travels to Pittsburgh and plan to rectify that the next time he announces a visit. Thinking out loud, I would probably try to get him into the monthly TNY Presents series, or a reading at the soon-to-open downtown location of Awesome Books, or maybe an event at the dive bar Belvedere's. For a local reader, I might pair him up with short story author Damian Dressick, or budding experimentalist Tait McKenzie Johnson, or former Cyberpunk Apocalypse resident, Gunner.


1. The Body is a Little Guilded Cage: A Story in Letters and Fragments, Kristina Marie Darling (Gold Wake Press)

“The cathedral heaves,” and a needle reads a groove, making music, melancholy, in this haunting treasure of fragments, an entrancing Cornell box crafted from bits of HD’s letters. Freud leaves his traces here, too, little statuettes and canopic jars, in a book that manages to mimic the structure of dreams.

2. The Field, Martin Glaz Serup (Les Figues Press)

There a pun, in the original Danish, between the poet’s first name and “Marken” or field, and here, lonely against the white space of the page, we have assorted musings about that field, identityy as a chain of idiosyncrasies, desires. As a fresh and addictive template for autobiography, it will realign how you think about your "self."

3. Sunset at the Temple of Olives, Paul Suntup (Write Bloody Books)

Startlingly motley, every page of this collection of poems jars the reader with unexpected juxtapositions and shimmering turns of the colloquial. Reading this book is as close as most of us will get to an afternoon playing Frogger with actual timber trucks, actual pipe bombs, and pudding after, on a squishy couch that sighs as you sink back into it.

4. Hot Teen Slut, Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz (Write Bloody Books)

Poverty-struck poet lands a cubicle job in the pornography industry, but inexhaustible good humor and a resolute belief in poetry's ability to offer at least a temporary anecdote to the oppressions of the status quo makes this book like one of those little hypos of adrenaline folks carry in case of emergency.

Recommended by Spencer Dew
Author of Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, and the forthcoming novel Maintain

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 10.1

Today's small press recommendations come from poet Randall Mann, who visited Pittsburgh for a reading at Chatham University in October. Mann is the author of two collections of poetry, Breakfast with Thom Gunn (University of Chicago, 2009), shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award and California Book Award; and Complaint in the Garden (Zoo/Orchises, 2004), winner of the 2003 Kenyon Review Prize. Read Mann's poem, "Breakfast with Thom Gunn," here:

Chatham University and its MFA writing program (recently named one of the top Five Innovative/Unique MFA Writing Programs by Atlantic Magazine) offer the Pittsburgh literary scene an expanded forum for excellent events revolving around poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. They host readings by visiting writers of national reputation and by their own talented faculty and alumni, organize writing colloquia such as the Bridges to Other Worlds
Annual Literary Festival, and team up with local entities such as Autumn House Press. The MFA Program also sponsors an off-campus reading series run by grad students, Word Circus, held at the monthly art crawl, Unblurred.


1. A Fast Life, Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books)
2. Sanderlings, Geri Doran (Tupelo Press)
3. Red Clay Weather, Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Recommended by Randall Mann
Author of Breakfast with Thom Gunn (University of Chicago Press) and Complaint in the Garden (Zoo/Orchises).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chapbook Review: Creamsicle Blue by Mike DeCapite

Mike DeCapite, Creamsicle Blue. Brooklyn: Sparkle Street Books, 2011. Prose. 27 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9666592-5-2.

Creamsicle Blue is a spectacular piece of writing. Creamsicle Blue is the name of a new chapbook by Mike DeCapite. It contains 27 pages of prose; it takes place in New York and Cleveland and San Francisco and the road in between them; I am hard-pressed to classify it.

I received Creamsicle Blue in the mail on Friday. Soon after I hung up my coat at the end of my work week, I opened the chapbook, printed handsomely with a letterpress cover. I just wanted to glance at the first paragraph or two to get an upshot of the subject matter. But I was drawn in immediately, and didn't put it down until I finished. DeCapite writes about the end of a troubled relationship, and about the end of his father's life; but more than either, he attempts to write the abyss left (or revealed) by those endings. These losses leave him awake in the middle of the night, literally and figuratively, facing what he is and isn't willing to face, what he is and isn't willing to write.

The same night I finished Creamsicle Blue, I dreamt that some non-existent jacket copy said the book was like a "soulfriend" and that the author had traveled often enough to describe places he saw in a fresh and unjaded way. "Soulfriend"—that certainly describes a particular type of book for me. Not a diverting read, not "an entertainment," but a walk down the path with a writer who is honest (and probing) enough that even a personal, specific story strikes at some deeply-felt, shared realizations and unsentimentalized truths.

I especially like watching as DeCapite does the work of getting past his own resistance to his story; he stays with the story long enough to write around his own blocks. Whether he knows it or not, he writes for me, the reader, naming things I've felt but rarely articulated, because they're unpopular or unacceptable thoughts or tendencies, and I've resisted my own writing in their direction. DeCapite understands this unpopularity; he writes through a similar discomfort. And his writer's labor yields rewards. I felt while reading Creamsicle Blue that I was experiencing the gradual recognitions and awarenesses that come from the folding-together of thinking, feeling, writing, and living. That is, sometimes life and writing can seem like two parallel realms—but writing about one's life with a clean enough motivation (considering life as lived and felt) can change both the life and the writing and become a third realm. The author describes walking through the Met and being struck by a tiny Rembrandt drawing of the artist's mother, and remembering why we bother to try to capture something in art: "…it was done with such directness and precision and honesty, and with such obvious love, for his mother and for the truth of that moment and for the details of the world, that it changed my mood. It elevated me. It was a moment that hadn't escaped—this look that passed across this woman's face nearly 400 years ago—one moment that hadn't gone down the black drain of time. Score one for the artists, against death!" So, too, does DeCapite record with precision some small but vital moments of his life and consciousness, saving them from indifference, nonexistence, or the wash of time.

I'm reminded by Creamsicle Blue of what one art school professor used to say to us, that society pressures us to "hold ourselves together" but the work of an artist is the opposite—to break things apart (even ourselves) and expose their mechanisms. After reading DeCapite's chapbook I didn't feel like I'd watched some characters or scenes the writer painted for my mind's eye, as much as I felt naked. I felt like he'd exposed or unraveled some pieces of me I wasn't entirely comfortable revealing. Not only unraveled parts of me, but showed me how I was trying to hold those parts together, against their will. Though uncomfortable, I also relaxed a little after reading Creamsicle Blue, as if to say, There's no need to strain in that direction anymore.

This chapbook may be the essence of the small press, to my mind. Twenty-seven pages of the author's head, a few months or several years of the author's life, nothing the publisher's marketing department can brand. It's like a delicate, subtle poem by an unknown poet, but without the literary niceties that charm readers into reading even difficult poems. It's not quite an essay, though I think it does some of the mental work that essays do. It doesn't have quite the shape of a story, though it may have the scope of a novel; and I don't think it's what people call Creative Nonfiction, though that genre might choose to claim it. If I decided to call it anything, I might call it a writer's meditation. Following the uncharted, DeCapite forges a path found only by writing in the quietest moments, by paying attention to the silences in between words and events, and by walking around his city, struggling with the unsayable.


Creamsicle Blue is available in Brooklyn at Spoonbill & Sugartown and Book Thug Nation, in Toronto at Volume, and in Cleveland at Mac's Backs and Visible Voice Books. On the web you can buy the book (and read more about the author) at Sparkle Street Books:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview at Sensitive Skin Magazine

Author Bart Plantenga has been busy. He's been systematically interviewing all the small press web hosts who published a chapter of his "simultaneously serialized" web novel, BEER MYSTIC, and running these interviews as a blog called the Beer Mystic Burp. The blog appears at Sensitive Skin Magazine, one of my favorite small press finds in recent years. In fact, Sensitive Skin was a print journal from the early '90s that went on hiatus for a decade and a half, then reappeared in 2010 as a web journal. I love the edgy stance, brazen voice, and high quality of the writing at SS, and I love the way the online mag manages to retain all the gritty flavor of a great print journal of the underground. And now the cycle has come around; the mag is back in print, and also starting to publish print books. In its own words, Sensitive Skin publishes "post-beat, pre-apocalyptic fiction, essays and poetry."

Karen the Small Press Librarian ran one of Bart's densely lovely chapters from Beer Mystic here almost exactly a year ago, and so I had the honor of being interviewed recently for his blog. I really appreciated our conversation and Bart's in-depth questions (in an age of short attention spans, no less). We talked about indie bookstores as American refuge, what got revealed in the St. Mark's Bookshop rent crisis, art vs. activism, Occupy Wall Street and the malleable nature of The 99%, and the place of creative writers in the larger public forum, among other topics. I thank Bart for his kind words and thoughtful inquiries. Please follow the link below to read the interview:

"Books--Increasingly Illegal Intoxicants?"
December 29, 2011
Sensitive Skin Magazine
Bart Plantenga interviews Karen Lillis, aka Karen the Small Press Librarian

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guest Review: Laurie Weeks Reviewed by Kari Larsen

Laurie Weeks, Zipper Mouth. New York: Feminist Press, 2011. Fiction. 144 pages. ISBN: 978-1-55861-755-3.

Laurie Weeks' Zipper Mouth is the story of a girl living in New York. New York is populated by jobs she hates as well as parties that facilitate ecstatic transformation, but the scenery is dwarfed by her unbearable, thunderous desire. This girl, without apprehension, is accessed by her desire on every level she has ever operated - as a child falling wordlessly for celebrities, as a teenager aching to establish a dialogue with Sylvia Plath - and Weeks conducts this chorus with a kind of mastery that is endlessly positive for young girls to see. Her story demonstrates how it is alright and it is beautiful for girls to want hard - for a better job, for love, for recognition, for things they cannot verbalize. While Weeks does come off through her intimate storytelling as the kind of writer young readers will be dying to talk to once this book finds its way to them, a passionate reading and re-reading of this book will serve to reassert that Weeks does everything right, provides all the words about desire for girls who do or did not have them. With this novel, Weeks has nailed it. Any young girl who reads Zipper Mouth will be armed with the reassurance and sense of belonging in her own desires that stories unconcerned with the scope and power of her own person fail to provide her. It is books of such indifference that make up the majority of what girls are prone to reading, and for the sake of teenagers, Zipper Mouth deserves the ubiquity of a series like Gossip Girl.

Recommended for collections of contemporary fiction, small press fiction, New York fiction, feminist fiction, women writing fiction, and queer fiction.

Guest review by Kari Larsen
Editor of Enigma Machine Press
Author of the forthcoming chapbook, Say You're a Fiction from Dancing Girl Press (summer 2012)
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