An interview with Action Books

From the screen to the streets...

I interview Johannes Göransson of Action Books. Here are the questions and the answers. You can read more about Action Books at their website,

a. How did you get the idea for your press, and who started it?

In many ways the most important push for us was realizing that no U.S. press was daring enough to publish my translations of Aase Berg, a major young Swedish woman poet who was writing these wild poems unlike anything that was being published in the U.S. I assumed all U.S. presses would be interested in something new and wild from another culture, but I soon found out that the opposite was true: that’s exactly what U.S. presses did not want to see. I had kind of resigned myself to the state of affairs, accepting oblivion and status quo, but then I met up with Joyelle and she was all, “Why don't we start a press and publish some of these writers?” It was our ludicrous wedding present (our bee box) for each other: to start a press that would give space for the dark and excessive, the gothic and grotesque. It seemed impossible at the time, and it still seems impossible. In some ways it ruined our lives because Action Books has consumed much of our lives over the past 10 years, but that’s the kind of morons we are.

b. What political mission do you think poetry has, and what does this have to do with international writers?

I think poetry is a ridiculous, ruinous scandal in the midst of our society. Flowers are a kind of luxurious evil; it's not men speaking to men, they’re poisonous because they are beautiful, gaudy, corrupt. It infects our language, it saturates our days. There is always “too much” of it according to the guardians of taste. That is also part of its politics. Yes, translation is part of our view. We wanted to bring more of it into a U.S. culture in which, as Lawrence Venuti famously put it, translation is “invisible.” I'm not sure I want to make translation visible, in the sense that I don't want to erase translation's scandals — its challenges to our models of autonomy and authorship, static ideas of “context.” Don Mee Choi said about Kim Hyesoon's poems that they take place in the "blackened space" that has been erased by the censors, but that darkness is the place where they can grow.

c. What do you look for in writers you publish or will eventually publish?

It has to have a strong sense of urgency. We're interested in visionary poetry, poetry that engulfs and bewilders, that saturates, that shatters. Increasingly I’ve noticed the desire to erase and/or vilify “the poetic” in the society at large — whether leaving poetry out of English classes or newspapers leaving out poetry reviews — or in poetry — such as Conceptual poets declaring poetry “dead” and writing it “necrophilic,” or Gregory Orr disciplining young poets that “flowery language” is too luxurious — and I find myself increasingly drawn to the gaudiness of these evil flowers, these corpses that so much of US poetry and society of large want to abject, clean up, save us from. I don't want to be saved, I want to wallow in that anachronistic zone of the outmoded and undead.

d. Who are some of your favorite writers?

Alejandra Pizarnik, Marosa di Giorgio, Cesaire, Artaud, Bataille, Celine, Mishima, Aase Berg, Kim Hyesoon, Hiromi Ito, Kim Yideum, Rimbaud, Stagnelius, Vallejo, Ann Jäderlund, Henry Parland, Jean Genet, Sylvia Plath, all those Jacobean tragedies with wax figures and such, Majakovski, Keats, Vasko Popa, Raul Zurita. Recently I've been reading The Last Books of Hector Viel Temperley, translated by Sutart Krimko, and it's amazing.

e. Do you see the press evolving in the future, and how?

No, we’re opposed to evolution. We’re strictly an impasse press. Like the twin sisters who burn down the village because they love the smell of gasoline.