Sunday, November 01, 2009

Questions by Barbra Jane Reyes

Here are some answers to questions posed by Barbra Jane Reyes for the Harriet Blog:

Question: Why did you start your small press/why did you become an independent publisher? What need was not being met by the existing presses?

Answer (Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney, Action Books): We started the press because we were interested in and engaged with a certain kind of poetry – gothic, influenced by the historical avant-garde and the paraliterary, visceral, grotesque, maximalist – and very few of those books were being published. We knew a lot of other people were reading and writing in this vein, and some of it was being published in journals, but not in books. To a large extent, we felt this had to do with the normative publishing conventions of US publishing (including small press publishing)–this was writing that was “too much,” “excessive,” “in bad taste” (kitsch)– which to our mind copied over the normative reading conventions of workshops and English classes. In particular, we loved our friend Lara Glenum’s manuscript The Hounds of No, but no press dared to publish it. So we thought we would.

We were also frustrated at the lack of engagement with foreign literature and poetry in translation. At the time I had translated a lot of the work of Swedish poet Aase Berg. She’s a very influential young Swedish poet whose poetry – influenced by Surrealism, grotesque tales, Plath and b-movies – is not only very unique but also intricately translingual; that is to say it was not a poetry that feared getting “lost in translation” but a minor poetry, a poetry that deforms and transforms. But it was hard for me to find publishers for my translation. This struck me as insane – here was a young, happening poet from another country whose writing was different from anything published in the US. One would think US publishers would be rabid to publish it! But I was having a hard time finding a publisher for the book of translations, and looking around, I saw very little translated texts published. So we decided to publish Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg and to make our interest in foreign literature become an important element of our press. We don’t think everyone must publish works in translation – but the fact that almost no small press publishes works in translation should at least cause some pause.


Blogger niina said...

(Hi Johannes - we met briefly at &Now - I had a conversation with you about Finnish after your panel.)

I particularly agree with your notes on translation and the poor transfer rate thereof in the US. It's a shame, and it's keeping the grand poetry community woefully in the dark about global trends. And actually the same goes for the fiction community -- talking of "maximalism" and body obsession, this book Wetlands by Charlotte Roche that came up at your panel has been out for nearly two years now and has just about finished causing a stir all over Europe. It was the world's best selling novel in March 2008, yet it only got translated this year and has slipped under the radar somewhat. My colleagues in Finland are surprised when I refer to it as a "new" book.

8:33 AM  

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