Black Bile is Anything but Precious

By Spencer Gordon

Bored by the upper middle class, educated anxieties endlessly detailed in our major literary journals? Tired of bloodless, sexless CanLit fiction that seems to rake in all the major prizes? If so, look no further than Matthew Firth’s Black Bile Press and its chapbook series which puts together stories by past contributors of Firth’s other editorial project: the longstanding and positively heroic litmag, Front&Centre.

Fall 2009 saw the release of three new chapbooks: Men and the Drink by Julie McArthur, Sensational Sherri by BP’s own Nathaniel G. Moore, and Bill Bailey by Tony O’Neill. “The series stands together in some cohesive way,” Firth says. “Like hearing three different bands on the same bill — some commonalities but also different styles and sounds.” He describes McArthur as a straight-ahead storyteller. “She brings a nice balance, as her story centres on how a woman feels about getting fucked over by a man.” Moore he calls an irreverent and more discursive storyteller, “but he gets you somewhere in the end.” And to Firth, O’Neill is a “full-on, guns blazing shit-disturber of a storyteller and he always works in some surprises.”

Firth’s approach to design craft, something which is often so important to micro press publishers, is to create chapbooks that are simple, clean, error-free, and that have a unique feel — something that sucks the reader in right off the bat. “I don’t want the chapbooks to look like they were thrown together without any care, as that is a disservice to the writer and the reader,” he says. “But I also don’t want to create some precious artifact-like chapbook with ribbons and bows, that’s been dipped in wax or anything stupid like that.”

Makes sense, considering Firth is also committed to printing his stuff out of pocket. He has never received assistance from any arts funding agency, and that’s the way he likes it, he says. “I like to call my own shots, do it on my own terms and not rely on having to suck at any publicly-funded tit.”

This year promises yet another batch of books by storytellers definitely left of the mainstream. “A joy of being an editor is finding strong, new voices,” says Firth. In the last Front&Centre, he was the first to publish a story by writer Joel Williams, a man who also happens to be in prison for life in California. Somehow Williams came across Front&Centre and Firth took to his work. “I can see a chapbook from Joel being a possibility in 2010.”

Intrigued? Go to to order the fall lineup from Black Bile Press, sold individually for a miniscule $5 or as a set for $10.