Interview With Jaded Ibis Press
LIT BRIDGE: What makes a book a Jaded Ibis Press book?
Debra Di Blasi, Founding Publisher / Prose Editor: The unexpected: collisions, chimeras, mutations…the profane and profound. We’re interested in what the book can be rather than what it is. Thus, we look toward the future while retaining what we believe should be saved from the past.
We typically publish all of our books in at least four editions: full color paperback with original art; black-and-white paperback, ebook, and fine art limited edition (by special order only). The print editions are published using Print-on-Demand (POD) to reduce environmental waste (rampant in traditional publishing) and to keep upfront expenses relatively low. Without POD, publishing full-color books would otherwise be cost prohibitive.
We’re beginning to also publish editions in newer technologies, like the iBook and as interactive apps (more on this below).
To each book project, parent company Jaded Ibis Productions assigns renowned or emerging musicians who compose and perform original music responding to (or against) the emotional and/or conceptual essence of the book. For our first CD compilation we’re lucky to have obtained such luminaries as Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, Anna Joy Springer with Rachel Carnes and Tara Jane O’Neil, Yasutoshi Yoshida, Resident Anti-Hero, Megan Boddy, Lisa Dank and OC Notes, Patch Rubin, Kristine Barrett Johnson, Ron Heckert with Betsy Carney and producer Carlos DeLeon, and even original music written and performed by notable poet John Gallaher. We’ve got some big and diverse talents coming for our second compilation, too.
Our list has evolved from the 2008 inception of Jaded Ibis Press, and I trust it will continue to evolve as technological changes and fiscal challenges influence our aesthetic and business decisions. Since only two of us select manuscripts for publishing – I for prose, Sam Witt for poetry – our titles reflect idiosyncratic tastes resulting from decades of reading, writing and teaching literature and writing. In my case, those decades consisted of progressively experimental narrative forms such as architectonic text, mixed media fiction, hyperfiction, hybrids, and multimedia writing. My academic education was in creative writing (poetry and prose), journalism and visual art, and some of my corporate experience involves technology, advertising, art criticism and graphic design – all influencing my aesthetic and business decisions.
As prose editor I’m becoming increasingly more interested in intelligently written books that can manifest as multimedia interactive projects, like Alexandra Chasin’s app-novel Brief, c.vance’s novel We: A Reimagined Family History, and Rick Whitaker’s forthcoming novel, An Honest Ghost, that’s written entirely from sentences appropriated from over 500 works of literature. Per Rick, this book will exist only in digital wherein the reader can touch a sentence to discover it origins. Projects such as these are not about “all the bells and whistles,” as some might imagine, but rather they address technology as it relates to the narrative form (and vice versa) in order to question and comment on contemporary culture now and/or in the near future.
I do recognize that the choices I make in the present have the potential, in fact, to shape what and how we read in the future and feel quite comfortable with the possibility. After all, the Big Six (or is it the Big Five, now that Random House and Penguin merged – and will it eventually be the Big Zero?) continue to homogenize book culture through the corporate decisions they make and the money they invest in one project over the next – typically not the most original projects but those they feel are easily marketable, i.e., not seminal, clearly tethered to redundancy and the bottom line.
Sam Witt, Poetry Editor: What makes a Jaded Ibis book of poetry different from many of the other books of poetry you are likely to find coming out from other presses, principally, is that we don’t adhere to trends, fashionable subject matter, or any one kind of writing. So, if you look at our current and future titles (we just began publishing poetry this year), you ‘ll see a real range of writers, from the internet generated, yet highly lyrical work of Mathew Timmons, in Joyful Noise, to the eerily spare, stripped down and radically imagined poems of Elizabeth J. Colen in Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies. The two books are both fantastic, and they are really nothing alike. So that’s one thing I would mention.
More than that, though, I am looking for a real vision and a singular voice in a book of poetry, one that operates in the no man’s land between poetry that has a connection to the past, but poetry that is bold, brand new, excitingly, formally innovative, not afraid to tackle big subjects. A lot of that is missing in the easy experimentalism that’s promoted by some rather well-known publishers. I’m also looking for a subject, a clarity of ear, music, tenderness, and the sense that the poems originated with a person.
But one thing is for certain: no matter how lyrically or verbally interesting a series of poems is, if the individual poems are not built around some kind of structural integrity, and if the poems don’t build off of that structure to discover something bigger than the individual poems, I don’t see the point. I want a book of poems that knocks me over, that takes the top of my head off, physically, to quote Emily Dickinson, something that’s new and ancient and belonging to the ages all at once.
LIT BRIDGE: What qualities do you crave in writing?
Debra Di Blasi: There are many highly competent writers these days, but competence isn’t enough. The standard workshop format has become a factory, producing writers in the same way that, say, Ford produces different car models: The chassis may vary, but under the hood they’re essentially the same.
Over the past few decades, with MFA and PhD writing students increasingly studying a predictable literary canon guided toward becoming teachers (‘getting a job’) of the same literary canon, what’s becoming lost is an individuality arising from an organic (autodidactic) study of literature as it interconnects with other fields of knowledge like the sciences, fine arts and art history, and world history and politics – plus a fearless exploration of ‘self’ as related to the broader human condition and species. The narrow focus that created a disconnect in and between other areas of specialized research now also dogs literature. I receive a depressing number of manuscripts obviously derived from other literary works, not from the writer having lived an interesting, thoughtful, curious and adventurous life outside of the academy, and as a result exploring how that intersects with language. Or, the writer might indeed have lived an examined life but sadly believe that s/he must write in the fashion of previous ‘book stars’ in order to get published. Gone, it seems, are the days of Faulkner in a southern lumber mill, Stein in an expat-rife Paris, Jean Rhys in the demi-monde, Eliot in a British bank, Conrad on a ship, Jane Bowles in Africa, Hemingway and Hellmann in a Spanish hotel in the middle of a war, Bukowski in a post office… Am I wrong? I want to be wrong.
Some of the more visionary art schools are attempting to alleviate the problem of academic consanguinity by requiring students to study at least one non-arts area of their choice, like entomology, as was the case of a ceramics MFA grad I know. Coincidentally (or not), an architectural design studio taught by the prominent young architect, Marlon Blackwell, also required students to study insects for the duration of the year. These students (now grads) impressed with their ability to overlay conceptual patterns and parameters from one field onto another, and use the physical architectures as transformative metaphors to inspire design of the art. The more information one is exposed to, the more easily and quickly one recognizes patterns; good pattern-recognition leads to more complex pattern recognition. Most important, it leads to the superpower ability to see through bullshit and to question what is accepted as ‘true’. Such abilities are critical for writers who hope to create something original and culturally significant.
It’s easy to recognize the writers who bring an examined life to the table instead of merely an academic degree. Consider these Jaded Ibis writers: Anna Joy Springer, who is a former punk rocker; Janice Lee, who is interested in the relationships between metaphors of consciousness and theoretical neuroscience, and their relationship to experimental narrative; Halvor Aakhus who holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics and also studied music composition in Paris; David Hoenigman who has lived in Tokyo for the past 13 years; Tom Bradley who also lives in Japan, and lived for year in China, too; Patricia Catto, who worked at, yes, Hallmark Cards and studied and taught belly dancing at it relates to ancient and middle-eastern literature; and Rick Whitaker, who worked as a New York City ‘escort’. It’s not that we require such experience but rather that such experience tends to lead to spectacular literature when it’s tucked inside talented heads.
As Jaded Ibis’s reputation grows, we’re receiving more manuscripts like the former, which allows me to select fewer of the latter. Ideally, for me, a great writer must (1) have something significant to say, (2) say it beautifully* and (3) prove that she or he is a thinker and tinkerer (not just a manufacturer) with questions and concerns about the state-of-the-human conjoined with state-of-the-language in the 21st Century. (*”Beautiful” is, to me, writing that understands and utilizes nuances of meaning, music and/or physical structure. Also, I prefer writing that, like a Japanese teacup, leaves a remnant of the human maker; that is, I have little interest in writing that can just as easily be manufactured by a machine – unless, of course, it is an exploration of writing manufactured by a machine.)
Since I crave prose and projects that are provocative and unique, defining my wants beyond our submission guidelines remains difficult. It may help to realize that I began seriously reading, writing and analyzing literature way back in 1975. Imagine the amount and variety of books, journals and magazines in all fields that I’ve read, processed, taught and reprocessed since then. The history I’ve witnessed: assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK; Vietnam-American War and the Cold War; the Race
Riots and Sexual Revolution; Kent State, Watergate and Contragate; the fall of Saigon and the Berlin Wall; CIA-backed coups around the globe; humans on the moon and machines on Mars; pre-AIDS and post-AIDS; a long line (pardon the pun) of drug fads, some in which I partook; black-and-white television through to Youtube…. Ergo, writing that is ‘new’ and ‘worthwhile’ has a lot of competition from my perspective. Furthermore, my own research focuses on the ramifications and trajectory of literary art as it collides with technology, and on its intersection with other aesthetic disciplines like visual, musical/audio and performing arts.
Having said all of the above, a careful reading of Jaded Ibis books and our forthcoming ‘Teaching Guides’ will be highly advantageous to writers and critics trying to understand our aesthetic and intellectual tastes. And we urge writers to recognize in our submission guidelines possibilities rather than limitations. In other words, if you have something valuable you’ve been told is ‘impossible’ to publish, send it to us and, if we love it, we’ll try to find a way to make it happen.
Sam Witt: I crave courage and intelligence in poetry, but also structure, as I mentioned earlier. I want work that is unrecognizable, non-formulaic, bold, and, I am not afraid to say, beautiful. That’s a word a lot of editors and poets are afraid of these days: but in casting aside a moment that’s beautiful, say, or a moment of emotional power, or a strong sense of the world as an ultimate place, and dealing with poetry at the level of pure, academic, language experimentation, as many “avant garde” poets do these days, I feel that the reader loses far more than she gains.
What do I crave in poetry? I crave an overpowering sense of the world, in all its urgencies, that is not tethered solely to the version of the world we all live in. That’s a pretty big distinction from poetry that is randomly generated by machines, say, or created solely by means of verbal play.
I am fine with all the postmodern, language-poetry-inspired, Dadaist inventions—or wherever the latest trend has its provenance—but I want something unified and recognizably real and urgent behind those experiments. Otherwise, it’s really just jerking off while Rome burns, or the Arctic melts, and coastal cities sink into the sea. My point is that some pretty exceptionally scary things are happening, right now, so shouldn’t poetry at least be capable of having some sort of connective tissue to what’s going on in the world? At the same time, I don’t want a series of sonnets that seem as if they were written at the beginning of the last century. Why do we have to be so bifurcated in our poetry, as much so as we are in our politics? Why can’t experimental poets be funny, say, or moving, or as urgent as tomorrow’s headlines, or what’s left out of those headlines? Wallace Stevens once wrote that the greatest poverty is not to live in the physical world, so that’s what I want: a poetry that has sense of shared, eerily reinvented reality.
That’s why I am so taken with Elizabeth J. Colen’s latest title, Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, our latest poetry title from Jaded Ibis Press, because it feels totally new to me, yet I can actually see what’s happening in each poem; they feel spoken by real people, as lived as they are imagined, and they haunt the reader. I also feel a fascinating balance between internet generated music and the hauntingly lyrical lines from Mathew Timmons’ book, Joyful Noise: For Three or More Voices, which really feels like its hectic, cubistic music originated in and ghosts a thousand human bodies.
LIT BRIDGE: It’s clear that you’re very interested in combining the visual arts with writing in unique ways. What are some ways that’s come through in the books you’ve published?
Debra Di Blasi: As a young reader, I was attracted to text + image fiction like Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene and Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School. As a writer who has incorporated image in my own fiction for many years, I knew that I wanted to produce books that were broader expressions of aesthetic perspectives. Also, some of my clearest and dearest memories are of books, like Rumplestiltskin and The Velveteen Rabbit, that I read as a wee child; they teemed with color and the artist’s [re]interpretation of the writer’s story. I wanted to bring that child’s delight back into the adult reader’s life.
Jaded Ibis books now have a spectacular range of text + image combinations, and they’re coming to us in increasingly diverse iterations:
1. TEXT ONLY where we assign a visual artist who reads the prose or poetry manuscript and then responds to the writing’s conceptual or emotional content using their own visual aesthetic rather than merely illustrating the book. Elizabeth J. Colen’s stunning poetry collection, Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, with original art by Guy Benjamin Brookshire, is a good example. Another good example is the color edition of Unfinished: stories finished by Lily Hoang, in which Lily completed unfinished writing donated by 20 authors, and artist Anne Austin Pearce completed unfinished art donated by professional artists like Mary Ann Strandell and Linda Lighton, and 9-year-old artist Ella Norton. The book also contains pages of unfinished art by Pearce and invites the reader to finish them.
2. TEXT + IMAGE by a single writer whose prose or poetry uses images as an integral part of the book. Good examples are Doug Rice’s forthcoming nonfiction, Between Appear and Disappear, which incorporates Doug’s photographs; Roxanne Carter’s Glamorous Freak, and Anna Joy Springer’s fabulist memoir, The Vicious Red Relic, Love, that uses real and faked artifacts to recall the past. (The full-color “Forests” companion to Vicious contains original art by such luminaries as Shelley Jackson, beldAn Sezen, and the Love Art Lab.
3. TEXT + IMAGE by a writer who selects the artist to create the images for the book. For example, Christopher Grimes chose visual artist and poet Scott Zieher (of ZieherSmith Gallery, NYC) to create 182 original artworks for the color edition of The Pornographers. Another example: David Hoenigman chose Japanese Harsh Noise musician and artist, Yasutoshi Yoshida, to create 190 original artworks for his novel, Burn Your Belongings. Yasutoshi also composed and performed the music for the book.
4. TEXT + IMAGE where the writer responds to the art. Tom Bradley’s literally fantastic ekphrastic writing for the novel Family Romance was inspired by the Deviant Art of super-talent Nick Patterson, whose art is published in both the color and blac-and-white editions of the book. We list the artist and writer as co-authors of this book.
5. TEXT + IMAGE collaboration by a writer + artist team. A fine example is poet Matthew Cooperman and visual artist Marius Lehane collaborating on their forthcoming book, Imago for a Fallen World. We’re starting to see more of these collaborations and expect even more in the future, as word gets out.
6. IMAGE + TEXT where we invite writers to either respond to an artist’s body of work or on a related topic. These are essentially fine art portfolios combined with literary anthologies. Examples are Dirty : Dirty, with gorgeous, sexy original art by Mugi Takei, and some very dirty writing by 53 authors. Also, our 2013 Giving Project, The Color of Being Born, edited by Jessi Malatesta, contains paintings by notable artist Michael Cadieux and writings about the environment from notable people in all fields.
7. LIMITED EDITIONS: I also want to point out our fine art limited editions – physical objects based on manifest as the concept of the book. For example, David Hoenigman’s novel, Burn Your Belongings became a 2-foot tall bamboo container holding a 190-foot scroll of the text and images. The cork lid contains a matchbook that reads, ‘Burn Your Belongings.’ The object for Patricia Catto’s hilarious and tender Aunt Pig of Puglia resembles something one might find in the attic of a long-dead Italian ancestor. A secret compartment contains “Tarocco del Porco” (Tarot of Pig) tarot cards with images from the book and poetic “fortunes” by Catto, on the reverse. We’re just now completing the limited edition for Alexandra Chasin’s app-novel, Brief: a 5-inch snow globe containing a miniature easel and ‘snow’ made of the novel’s text. These editions start at $5,000 and go all the way up to $20,000.
8. FREE ART: Finally, about 2-3 weeks before official publication date, we offer people who buy the book a significant discount, plus free, signed and numbered limited edition art. My intent is to allow people who might not be able to afford fine art a chance to become a collector and know what it’s like to wake up every day to look at something whose meaning will change as you change.
LIT BRIDGE: You’ve done a really terrific job of drawing attention from media from all over the spectrum— from “PANK” to “Oprah.” How have you gone about that?
Credit our authors first. Those who believe in the mission and goals of Jaded Ibis work very hard to promote their books and the Press, in general. They reach out to their personal and professional network and suggest people, media, awards and reviewers I can contact for them. The most successful of our authors are the ones who regularly collaborate with me, strategizing and suggesting publicity avenues – and not just during pre-publication but also months or years after publication. I continue to learn from them and enjoy our planning conversations.
Our business model is based on Systems Theory – the interconnections between parts and wholes. Just as ignoring interconnections may cause environmental and organizational destruction (think climate change, extinctions, and banking crises), utilizing them can create tremendous benefits to the individual parts and thereby the whole. By linking literary, visual, musical arts—and the newest technological platforms—we can expand audiences for all participants: Readers and listeners learn a bit more about music; musicians and readers learn a bit more about visual art; and listeners and musicians learn a bit more about literature and its marvelous possibilities. Because artists and musicians are urged to respond to the writing rather than illustrate it, the reader-viewer-listener who explores all aspects of a project receives multiple perspectives on a single theme — a theme that may mutate into larger themes as a result of the aesthetic collision.
We’ve just included an addendum to our contract that details our business model and the level of participation we’ll require from them, and the negative consequences if they do not participate. That may sound harsh, but the publishing world is in flux; business changes monthly. Reading increasingly competes with gaming and social networking and attention spans that have been in decline since the 1980s.
From my position, I spend two to three hours online seven days a week, searching for ways to insert Jaded Ibis into conversations. I send emails. I comment. I disseminate press releases. I’m in touch with my own diverse network. Perhaps most importantly, I have something to say because Jaded Ibis maintains lofty goals far beyond the business of publishing: We’re interested in preserving high culture through aesthetic innovation because we do not believe that civilization will remain neither civilized nor fruitful without the presence of the complexity built into the higher art forms.
We’re interested in education and illumination, and approach publishing as a work of art, using the same conceptual and creative processes used when making a work of literary or visual art. In this day and age of environmental collapse and a relatively rapid shift toward trans-human or post-human culture, we continually beg the questions: What’s the point of literature and art? What’s the point of creating? Why how did it come to be and what benefit does it provide the species. If, after all, with the self-awareness we’ve acquired over hundreds of thousands of years, aesthetic creation is not essentially about becoming a better human being, about evolving the species toward a more compassionate and generous beast, then why do it? When a talented writer approaches narrative from a more generous, humane and, dare I say altruistic position, the result is apt to more interesting and meaningful. And that’s what we hope for every time we start reading a manuscript.
LIT BRIDGE: What is the readership like for Jaded Ibis Press? What do you imagine your typical reader is like?
Our readership, too, is evolving along with our list and our reputation. Certainly, it’s expanding – including more bulk orders from bookstores and for college courses. I won’t venture to define a typical reader except to say that they’re people who are curious and maintain a fascination with the world and its marvelous possibilities; people more interested in questions than answers; people who understand that intellectual pursuits afford one richness unequaled elsewhere.
LIT BRIDGE: What is the next exciting thing happening at Jaded Ibis Press?
We’re building a nice collection of unusual memoir titles, like Cris Mazza’s Something Wrong With Her, a mixed media memoir addressing sexual frigidity, that attack the form from an innovative perspective. Dawn Raffel’s highly praised memoir The Secret Life of Objects, is unusual for its sparseness and “slice-of-life” vignettes that utilize Raffel’s possessions as impetus for remembering. Catto’s Aunt Pig of Puglia is a magic realism memoir that situates the author as a child in Italy, though she was born and raised in Albany, New York. I’ve already talked about Springer’s fabulist memoir, The Vicious Red Relic, Love – and see how it’s beginning to influence the memoir submissions we’re receiving, with increasingly more women and men using fictive elements to get at some truth.
I’ve already talked about our entry into increasingly more interactive digital narratives, like iBook and apps. Some of our newest submissions will be in these categories. And I look forward, literally, to what’s coming down the pike. For the past few years, I’ve been researching technologies like Brain Computer Interface (BCI) and game narratives in order to deduce where we’re heading as a technological society and were, as a result, literature may be heading. BCI allows a user to control a computer or other device (e.g., iPhone) with brain waves. This technology is moving along as a shockingly clipped pace. I watched it go from a prohibitively expensive medical application in 2006 to now a $99 headset to control a variety of applications. As younger generations spend more time in the digital world and less time in the text world, it’s important to make certain we transfer the very best of aesthetics into that realm. To quote myself in a recent press release: “Profound art and intellectual mystery lead to ecstatic experiences and more complex realms of thought embedded in the human condition – a condition built into our physiology. We simply don’t see this level of ontological engagement in the games or virtual worlds being produced now. Goethe said that the decline of literature signifies the decline of a nation. We can’t stop the trajectory of technology’s influence on our lives, but we can give it a more exalted purpose.”
Jaded Ibis has, therefore, created a Think Tank to explore issues surrounding narrative shifts. Members include writers, visual artists, computer scientists, architects and others whose experience and knowledge are necessary in investigating all facets of the topic. We’ll be researching behavioral systems shared not only by most humans but also other species, like bower birds. This is a bottom-up investigation – and unconstrained – built on the most fundamental desire: procreation. As wacky as that may sound, I know that exploring all of what it means to be human remains essential for understanding the role of any narrative form as it relates to human creativity and learning. A section of many of the literature and writing courses I’ve designed and taught in the past address questions surrounding the perpetuation of life forms, human motivation, and the concurrent whys and hows these manifest in works of literary and visual art.
SAM WITT: Coming up in the next couple of year, we have some absolutely stunning projects that are reinventing poetry and are bound to take readers captive. First, I’m excited and happy by Matthew Cooperman’s forthcoming title, due out in the new year, entitled Still: Imago, which confronts the kind of societal chaos I alluded to earlier with rage, humor, cinematic beauty, and particles of artistic chaos in long, Whitmanian lines that ravage the page: “or otherwise: in this great hour of swallowing darkness, what is the mass of the planet’s reel, the particle’s speed, the rain drop’s folly?” As you can see from that line—and alluding to your earlier question—we crave writing that is as beautiful as it is powerful, writing that simply cannot be paraphrased! And there are more books coming in 2013 and 2014 by such astonishing poets as Rosie Jenkins-Ballew, Carol Ciavonne and Yuriy Tarnawski. The funny thing is this: the more rare these qualities seem to be in the work of university and mainstream presses, the more exceptional manuscripts seem to cross our transom at Jaded Ibis Press. It’s a paradox that fuels innovative publishing and writing today. The work is out there, but there is remarkably little space for the kind of poetry that spans both sides of the aisle, so to speak: poetry with real imagination and heart that is not afraid to break the rules.
But the keynote project we’re working on in the next year or so is an anthology of cyborg poetry, with the working title Fear of a Human Planet—The Ecological and Cultural Fate of the Human in a Transhuman World. This is something we feel so strongly about because of the sheer enormity and urgency of its subject matter. We are looking for poetry that springs from and sings from the convergence of technology and humanity that, it seems to us, is coalescing in one broad singularity that promises as much danger and catastrophic consequences as we can imagine. All the chaos and beauty that’s bound to be at the nexus of the new ecosystems our technology is creating, both deliberately and unintentionally, has got to be the signature crisis and artistic opportunity of our time. So we are looking for poems that are born of the intersection of the cyborg future we are hurtling towards and the ecological decay that process is creating—again, insert phantasmagoric vision now, be it New York underwater, or new, unexpected microorganisms and the plague they carry with them.
The point is that this is happening now, and we wouldn’t be able to do this anthology if we didn’t feel that it was prompted by artistic fascination and a categorical imperative to get poets to confront this singularity. So this subject has got to be at the heart of real poetic innovation, if only because poets aren’t blind.
More details will be available very soon on the Jaded Ibis website, and we will be soliciting poets with prompts and considering work to reprint as well as hoping to hear from people we don’t yet know about, because we are going to be seeing this as a place to publish some of the big names in American poetry and to promote exciting, emerging poets as well. So, please, stay tuned!