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Thursday, 10 August 2006
Wordplay and Foreplay and a Foreword
Topic: publishing

This is a foreword I just wrote for Storm and Other Poems, a book coming out soon from Dusty Owl. Thought I'd share. The author (Steve Curtis: I covered his launch last fall in Peterborough) will be in town for a reading at Mother Tongue Books on August 19th: stay tuned for more details or ask at Mother Tongue about the QueerAction reading!

Wordplay and foreplay and a foreword

             When I first met S. James Curtis, I thought he wrote gay erotica. Good erotica, where there are personalities, realities, and where the end goal really is, even in this day and age, True Love. But I thought, that's this guy's niche, that's what he does. It didn't take me long to figure out that boy, was I wrong. He's way more than a one trick pony . . . although if you're looking for erotic, don't worry; even the political stuff in this book has its whiff of sweat.

            Curtis has a tendency to surprise you right out of your preconceptions. His porn is tender, his autobiography is psychology, his erudition is foulmouthed, he's looking for a basic hot fuck and a white picket fence at the same time and he knows it, and he's some kind of cyberphilosopher capable of seeing the deeper significance of Super Mario. It's not just that the personal is political here, it's that the personal is public, and in this world everything public becomes political. He's walking firmly in the footsteps of the confessional poets and the Beats, but he's doing it on Myspace with a high-speed connection, a home recording studio and the online sphere of instamatic art.

            He's also a writer who can and does write anywhere, anytime, on the bus, in bars, on scratch pads at work and in the middle of the night. I once watched him paintstakingly scrawling out, letter by letter, the first few paragraphs of a short story on a Palm Pilot in the middle of a karaoke show, because he had an idea. I watched ‘Assembly' get written over bacon and eggs and eight cups of bad coffee in a flyspeck diner.

            There's a show he's putting on - a show where the bars are sordid and he's drunk and horny or drunk and depressed or drunk and sick, where all the decent men are straight or closeted and you get the idea that in his head, hell, they're all closeted, bastards, and the goddamn cabs never stop when you're staggering and just want to get to the poutine stand before you go home.

            But then he turns around and rips right through all that - and straight to your raw guts just when you weren't expecting it - with something like ‘Madeline' or ‘Personal' or ‘Vanilla' or ‘Lower the Flag.' And if you do nothing else, read his stuff out loud, listen to the changes he rings with sound and ideas, something that isn't done enough these days. "I want to make love / I want to build it up from its component parts / Hormones, pheromones / his moans, feral moans / that fill whatever room is / convenient at the time."

Or check this out: "Keep me planted on all fours / You plowing me / and we grow / and grow / and grow / we are human agriculture / animal husbandry / so maybe I am thinking of a kind of marriage..." Not only is this very hot, it's got a half-dozen nifty little wordplays tucked into it.

            And then there's ‘Storm,' the title poem - a grand shout that bows graciously in the direction of its ancestor ‘Howl' and then heads off into the street where the rain becomes a metaphor for connection and inevitability, where the ideas of building storms and power and pressure and release get run through all their connotations - a street that's both messier and more hopeful, in the long run, than Ginsberg's.

            And I think that's one of the things I love about this poetry; it's human, it's hopeful; even at its most despairing, it's exuberant, and it's cold-eyed clear on the complications of wanting love and sex to be the same thing, wanting the world and yourself to wake up and figure out what's important, wanting to be able to change things and yet still wanting the world to leave you alone. "Guess I'm greedy that way," he says in ‘Personal.'

            That, and it's funny and erotic and moving and angry and sonorous and prosaic and poetic, and in this book, it's combined with Curtis's scribbly black-and-white illustrations, which range from doodle-like additions to the page to full-on graphic expressions of the poems (and check out the frowning taxi.) The drawings interact with the poems, helping to convey the rawness that's at the heart of this collection. They work together to bring you an honest book written in barrooms and buses, in diners and lunchrooms, and that's guaranteed to move you, in a lot of different ways, and many times over.

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 12:03 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006 1:00 PM EDT
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Monday, 5 June 2006
DF me Now!
Topic: publishing
Wow - Daniel Cox, an author I've been working with through Dusty Owl Press, has created a blog for his upcoming novella Tattoo This Madness In. Normally I don't want to use this blog to promote Dusty Owl Press or anything, but I like the idea of creating a blog for your book. So check it out. And besides, there's a really fascinating story - this book has already gotten one teenage Jehovah's Witness 'disfellowshipped' - and it's not even in freakin' print yet!

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:37 PM EDT
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Sunday, 6 November 2005
triple take on a doublethought
Now Playing: Rob Zombie
Topic: publishing
I posted the last entry on my online writers group and got this response from my friend Christopher. I really liked it, thought I'd share. I asked him if that was okay.

- triple take on a doublethought -

"Honest publishing comes in all shapes and sizes. from glossy coffee table books, and leather-bound bookshelf filler to a single sheet of paper folded in half. An ISBNumber doesn't make it good. Staples rather than stitching and glue doesn't make it bad. The thing that it is, is honest! You know what you are holding in your hand.

"A self-published zine that looks like some starving artist had something to say and wanted/needed to share it is not 'vanity press'. There is no deception. It is what it is.

"A glossy stitched hardcover book has, by virtue of the production value/cost, gone through several edits and rewrites (if a single piece) or some form of adjudication (if a collection). The annual anthology available from is not such a thing. It is vanity press of the worst kind, as it is not even honest enough to call itself that.

"Putting the Dusty Owl brand on something you don't like, or wouldn't have published without pressure feels dishonest. People who claim to be published, rather than self-published are trying to impress/deceive. (unless they are in fact published and paid for their contribution)...

"I'm thinking as I type so I haven't got it all worked out...but perhaps there are 4 types of publishing.
the contributor is paid/rewarded by the publisher (commercial press)
the publisher is paid/rewarded by the writer (vanity press)
the artist and publisher co-operate without payment (small press- i.e. Dusty Owl)
the artist and publisher are the same person/group (self press)

"I think you are on the right track there at the end K8. Its not how many have you printed - its how many have you sold.

"my two cents"

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 12:07 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2005 12:26 PM EST
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Thursday, 3 November 2005
I'm Doublethinking!
Topic: publishing
I picked up the latest copy of Broken Pencil this evening when I got home, and started flipping through it. I got as far as the in memoriam to Jeff Chapman, AKA "Ninjalicious," the founder and editor of Infiltration, which was touching and in a way inspiring - this was obviously a guy who thought originally and clearly about things, who struck out on his own with confidence, and who managed to do a lot in only 31 years. So I'd managed to read 3 pages, including the opening letters to the editor from passionate zinesters, and I got hung up on the sentence, "Jeff [Ninjalicious] was a true independent in every sense of the word. From his free-thinking spirit to his enthusiasm for self-publishing, Jeff made the world his own..."

Here's my disconnect; I admired that, and I thought of my own friends who self-publish, my efforts at indie publishing, all the fun I had at CanZine being around people who were making their own art and promoting it. And then I hit a mental roadblock; a conversation I had with my father a year or two ago about what constitutes a 'published author,' or, in the context of a poetry competition, a 'previously unpublished poem.' My problem at the time, I think, was that I didn't know - if I put a poem up on my website, have I disqualified it from competition? But we'd scoffed, in probably very superior manner, about people who said, in a CBC interview about How To Get Published, "It's SO easy to get published. I've published a whole BUNCH of poems. You just go on line, get a website, and put them up!" I laughed at those people. I said, "that's not really published." I don't print my own work in Dusty Owl Press, because I don't feel it's quite.... right.... to print my own poems in the zine I edit. And the stories I self-publish are only created for friends. I never intend to sell or distribute them.

I admire the zinesters who are out there creating their own fold-and-staple literature and art, like Paula Belina and Streeteaters in Montreal, or Nekusis Distro here in Ottawa. I really admire the Jim Munroes, Hal Niedzvieckis and Jeff Chapmans of the world, who 'make it' from the springboard of DIY, and stick with the culture instead of going corporate. And yet I joke around with my friends that "self-publication" is our new euphemism for "masturbation." As in, "self-publication in public? Isn't that a crime?..." I get upset with authors who decide that Dusty Owl is a vanity press, use our logo to disguise the fact that they're really self-publishing.

See my problem? I'm stuck, between my academic, hardcover, English-major upbringing, in which you're not published until some governing body has seen you, sniffed you, and deemed you worthy - and the organically growing, ephemeral, beauty-in-the-moment world of indie publishing, where official adjudication = subjugation to the Powers That Be and their Agenda.

Unlike my split between spoken word and page poetry (I think it really helps you cross from one to the other if you stop trying to think of them as the same animal) this one may have to be resolved. It seems clear that some indie books and zines can make it across the divide, get published with a wide enough distribution and publicly-appealing enough design that they can be judged by the opinion of the marketplace. But that usually involves a Canada Council grant, which are tough to get. (Nice work if you can get it though!) And whether or not the book looks 'professional' also starts to jar with the prevailing aesthetic at most zine fairs, where the more scribbled, Scotch-taped and india-ink-blotched a publication is, the less it bows to the pressures of *ahem* Convention (and therefore the more virtuous it is.) Maybe my line is, if you're willing to starve on it, fine, but to live on your work the public's gotta buy it, and for the public to buy it, it helps to have someone In Authority sniff it and pronounce it good.

Maybe the trick is to have the authority come from the sheer fact that people like it, buy it, and recommend it to their friends. "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some... farcical aquatic ceremony!"

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 6:18 PM EST
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