A few years ago I was teaching a class on poetry and politics when my students got angry with me. I had just laughed at their stated ambition to make money writing poetry. My laughter, they informed me — in no uncertain terms — meant that I did not take them or their work seriously. That day’s lesson plan fell aside as I told them about the (im)balance sheet of Tinfish Press, about doing one’s life’s work while losing buckets of money at it. And, hardest of all to fathom, why such a thing might be worthwhile.
One summer I talked my way onto a panel at the Hawai`i Book and Music Festival in Honolulu. I was under a tent, up on stage with some other publishers, one of whom began talking about how he’d done a print run of 60,000 books. I heard myself responding that at Tinfish we do print runs of 100 to 300 chapbooks and consider that what we’re doing is pretty important.
The new president of the University of Missouri, Timothy Wolfe, is a businessman by trade (though his parents were college professors, which surely qualifies him for something). Recently, he made one of his first decisions. He is closing the University of Missouri Press. On firing ten employees, who had heard nothing of it beforehand, President Wolfe was quoted as saying that administrators “take seriously our role to be good stewards of public funds, to use those funds to achieve our strategic priorities and re-evaluate those activities that are not central to our core mission.”
Among recent notices on my Facebook feed was one for the new issue of Big Bridge, in particular a feature on “Neo-surrealism,” edited by Adam Cornford. Cornford’s expansive introduction to the feature, which looks back to the history of surrealism and forward to his selection of living poets, includes this definition of his subject: “What defines a Surrealist poetry today, then, is what has defined it from the outset . . . Surrealist poetry can only be ‘a cry of the mind determined to break apart its fetters.’ It must contribute, intentionally or otherwise, to the liberation of the mind ‘and all that resembles it.’” I’m not here to argue against the mind’s liberation, rather to suggest that newer forms of surrealism can be used effectively to record what occurs before the imagined line break in Cornford’s phrase, “the mind determined to break apart / its fetters.” The breaking apart of a mind, most familiar to me as a product (or anti-product) of dementia and Alzheimer’s, can be tracked through what I’ve elsewhere called “documentary surrealism.”
j/j hastain begins “crepuscular,” from the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, (with Eileen Tabios, and hereinafter referred to attreooa) with this simple problem: “The dilemma of belonging. What of that has to do with things exterior to us and what of it has to do with our own regard of exteriors and interiors?” (27). hastain responds to Tabios's sequence of prose poems about orphanhood, in particular those orphans who are older, considered too old to be adopted. The orphan who becomes part of Tabios's family (provenance Colombia, destination California) is doing word problems in algebra. But these problems are more complicated than the math would indicate. Arriving at a reference to walls that “slant at 65-degree angles” the child thinks of “the man you longed to call 'Dad.'” He is not father, but “potential father.” What appears outside the “glass-less window” is “a lucid mountain.” The man has scarred the boy. Their relation is not lucid. Hence, the “answer” to the equation is “'indifference > hatred'?” Equations do not generally end with question marks; this one offers a “resolution” only in ambiguities. Most of us consider indifference to be a thing better than hatred. But an orphan, who needs feeling, an emotional relation, longs for it to be strong, not absent or ambiguous. His regard meets the world's disregard in an equation whose answer is no answer. As hastain writes in “LUCIDITY DISCERNING”: “The desire for a father is not a father” (30).
But Tabios and hastain are most engaged in what happens when relation between persons occurs, or between genders within persons, namely in the TRANS of their “relational elations.” They are fascinated by displacements, yes, but also in “active placements,” whether those are relationships within adoptive families or within individuals whose gender-identities are not normative.
As editor of Tinfish Press, which publishes experimental poetry from the Pacific region, I try to put different Pacific poets and poetries in conversation with each other. After 15 years of editing, I no longer think of myself as someone who simply publishes books. Instead, I offer up fields of books, islands of them. The point is to move between these islands, not to stay fixed in one place. In The Radicant, Nicholas Bourriaud (on whom I’ve blogged elsewhere) describes such a poetics this way: “It is a matter of replacing the question of origin with that of destination.” He writes of the importance of the “itinerary, the path” (55), and of the need for movement. I would like to use this space on Jacket2 to get some of these conversations moving. Many, but not all, will involve Tinfish authors; webs of connection attract across time and space and small press offices.