SQF: Why did you start this press?
Owen Vince: Until last year I was co-running a print magazine, HARK, which unfortunately came to an end. I wasn't quite ready to give up on editing and I missed developing my own projects and doing work that “gave back” to poetry. By and by, I know a lot of friends and colleagues in the states and in the UK who are fearlessly committed to putting writing they like out there in the world. I took their beautiful recklessness as a cue and just went for it. And I have a fantastic designer, Penny Elliott, because she is able to solve the myriad problems I manage to create for myself, and has given the pamphlets a very distinctive aesthetic.
Stylistically, I guess I wanted to create a space specifically for younger writers who are doing more experimental work, as there need to be more quality outlets for that in the UK. I also wanted to prioritise good design and to really drive the aesthetics of print. Often, poets are told that they have to be patient and just “wait” for the right time to put physical poems out there. I'm not fond of this attitude, of the gradual drip drip accretion of recognition, because it strengthens the position of gatekeepers and really limits the range of new and alternative poetries. So in that sense, we're about a certain “considered recklessness”. I take a lot of cues from the booming cassette label community, and labels like Sacred Tapes and J&C who are putting out these strange, short run cassettes of just off the wall music, daring music. I wanted to have that for poetry.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
OV: Firstly, I'm interested in specificity; in the almost microscopic analysis of an object or experience in poetry. I look for detail and the clever manipulation of language to describe details.
Secondly, a compelling and engaging theme. We have this “three poem” format because we want poets to examine a single idea in detail, and from different angles. I get really excited about themes related to architecture, the body, the histories of the senses, film. I loved Sophie's pamphlet (Objects of Desire) because she was exploring female sexuality in an adroit and surreal way; our next pamphlet, Tractography by SJ Fowler, is looking at neuroscience. Others are going to look at TV and the Soviet Union, the artist's model, “dirt”, and the Antarctic.
Thirdly, imagery. I want to see a kind of collage rather than look at a narrative, if that makes sense. I want it to be kaleidoscopic.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
OV: Lack of clarity of theme, lack of detail, more often than anything else. I'm not especially interested in poetries about broad concepts such as “memory”, for example, or poems which are really just anecdotes. I really want to emphasise how much I get excited about detail and explicitly experimental languages. But I hate to say what turns me off poetry because it's so specific to each submission.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
OV: It depends. Sometimes a “no” has no formal, communicable “reason” for being a “no”. I just don't like the poems, whereas I'm pretty sure somebody else would. If the poet is particularly new to writing or really asks for some feedback, then I'll give it. I don't personally expect it myself, because I also know how much work it is for editors. I have RSI from typing as it is. Help.
SQF: Who are a few of your favorite poets, and what is it you like about their works?
OV: I am a huge fan of Toby Martinez de las Rivas. He is a sort of linguistic apocalypse - violent, dense, but also extremely expressionistic and lyrical. When I got my hands on Terror (released in 2014 with Faber) I was literally changed by it. Poetry was just a different thing to me after that. Where are you Toby? Poetry needs you!
At the moment, I am reading a lot of Denise Levertov, and CD Wright. Levertov and Wright are just the kind of poets I read and say, “this”. I'm also going to quickly say that Doug Jones (he has a new collection, London and Norfolk Poems out with Veer books) and Katherine Osborne (likewise, with her Fire Sign from Electric Cereal last year) are just at the top of their games and also lovely people.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
OV: Sure - “why do you only publish poets under 30?”.
I'd say that you read a lot of press submission guidelines that say, “must have a track record of publications with Serious literary magazines” (okay I don't know if they actually say 'serious', but they certainly imply it). This view becomes increasingly dominant. Poetry can mature, sure, but imagine looking at a sculptor like Lynn Chadwick and saying, Lynn, we're only going to look at the sculptures you made after you hit 50. What about the early things? His sculptures were different at every stage in his life. And so at each stage in your life you think and live and write differently. So you need a space, an echo chamber, to let those different languages appear and percolate, and it doesn't just have to be online. Otherwise you get these very dense traditional poetic spheres swallowing up these already very crowded, limited stomping grounds. I want people to look at the work of young writers and be challenged and transformed by it. I want you to be as excited as I am!
Thank you, Owen. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.