Trying to find a copy of Michael V. Smith and David Ellingsen’s experimental work Body of Text in any typical Toronto bookstore is much like asking a kinesiology major at a university kegger whether or not he’s read Ulysses. You enter into it with all the hope you can muster, somehow knowing that the outcome will be painfully disappointing. Despite the inherently obscure nature of experimental and conceptual writing in Canada, one small press in Toronto is focusing all its efforts on keeping the avant-garde in print, and expanding the audience for innovative writing.
BookThug, brainchild of Jay MillAr-poet, publisher, editor and familiar face in the Canadian experimental poetry community-has been contributing to the conservation and distribution of experimental poetry and fiction for over six years. Putting out nearly a dozen publications annually since its inception in 2003, BookThug is anticipating a busy 2009, with over 30 separate issues slated for release. With a lineup including 22 Skidoo/SubTractions by Michael Boughn, a collection of poems exploring the world of postmodernity; Talking Masks (Oedipussy) by Adam Seelig, a re-appropriation and mixing of Oedipus and the Tale of Isssac; and Swim by Marianne Apostolides, exploring the physicality of language, BookThug is connecting experimental writers with their audiences, and picking up new readers along the way.
How is BookThug contributing to the preservation and evolution of the experimental tradition in Canada?
Jay MillAr: By publishing totally kick-ass books. Actually, BookThug tries to understand the tradition out of which it came while also thinking ahead and thinking beyond: beyond genre, beyond language, beyond borders. Try to image what it was like for Victor Coleman to work with Raymond Souster to produce New Wave Canada and then carry that aesthetic (founded by The Contact Press and finalized by that publication, which is filled with the poet who would and did “go on”) forward to create The Coach House Press. BookThug was created because I was looking around for it and it wasn’t there. There is a real sense of if-you-build-it-they-will-come behind the press. But understanding the past in order to move forward is an important feature, which is why I created the Department of Reissue. I also created BookThug because I wanted to communicate with others who are interested not only in possibilities in writing, but are also interested in a skewed sense of how to publish and distribute said writing; who are interested in carrying on a discussion, through publishing, of possibilities in writing.
How do BookThug’s distribution methods specifically target audiences for obscure experimental and conceptual writing?
JM: Mainly through the development of a subscription package. Those who wish to see the press succeed can buy a share of the publishing program and get a copy of everything produced over the course of a year. The response to that has been pretty terrific, and many of the available subscription packages for 2009 have already been sold.
As a small press in Toronto, I’m sure your success depends entirely on the dynamic between yourselves and your small team. Who contributes to book design, editing, and the overall success of the press?
JM: The core team consists of Jenny Sampirisi and myself. Most of the design work is done by myself, as is most of the editing, all of which is done in collaboration with the author. I have invaluable help from Jenny and her team of interns, who get the word out, Mark Goldstein for design, Stephen Cain and Margaret Chritakos who have edited some books, Stuart Ross as well, who has helped with both editing and proofreading, and Andrew Ward who works the website. But the success of the press really can be measured by the mounds of interesting work that comes our way i.e. by the poets and writers who I feel have also been looking for a press like BookThug where they can air their wares. And that, I think, speaks for itself.
What visions do you have for BookThug’s growth in 2009, and beyond?
JM: I’d love to get the press out of my house and have a space in which it can operate. That being said, I also like the fact that BookThug is somewhat nebulous and nomadic and can be anywhere and everywhere, which it is!
Would you ever consider publishing a retrospective anthology of BookThug authors with the title “THUG LIFE”?
JM: Maybe in 50 years! I’ve been thinking of producing a more substantial edition of Pissing Ice, the ‘mock’ (though it was deadly serious) anthology Jon Paul Fiorentino and I put out a few years ago-maybe Pissing Ice Too? heh heh.
Fledgling avant-garde press brings substance to the TorLit turf war