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Geoffrey Gatza on Focused Smallness

In a feature in Art Voice you talk about the “kooky energy” of being creative and the ways poets see the world a little differently. You also mention elsewhere a strong love for strange poetry. As ex-Marine, chef, poet, and publisher, what do you find provocative and exciting about chapbooks and books of poetry?

Yes this is all true; I do have a strong love of strange poetry, which was mainly influenced by my former lives. I am a war veteran who served in the Marine Corps, I studied at the Culinary Arts Institute in Hyde Park, NY and worked as chef in many fine locations in the US. I now earn my living from this creative energy as a book publisher. Both helped me pay close attention to detail in both a physical drive and creative flow that helped see me to my present self. One of BlazeVOX’s axioms is how we are publishers of weird little books, so I am a firm believer that the strong force that binds all of our books together could be found in the odder experimental side of the literary landscape.

GG, former people interview

There is so much that is exciting about poetry; from its discourses to its execution to its futile utilities. It is the human cost of poetry – the energy in its expression on the page and or the vocalizations that occur in the spoken breathe that provoke me into paying close attention to what is occurring. This is all very broad discursiveness about very specific artistries, but there is always something fascinating and unique in a new project, be it a full-scale book or a chapbook. The focused smallness of a chapbook always excites me, as the author can take an idea and fulfill its scheme over the space of a set of poems. I often feel that readers enjoy chapbooks a bit more than they do a full book of poetry. I believe this to be true because a reader can expend a small amount of energy into the object but it is so often more rewarding a venture, a reader can become closely acquainted to pieces in the smaller book in a way that cannot be found in a full book. I also think this is true because chapbooks come from smaller publishers who take on riskier works that require smaller amounts of operating costs and those works are generally made as a labor of love for a specific audience known to the small press publisher. So the flow of the chapbook can directly make a larger impact, sometimes, than a larger book. I do encourage anyone reading this, that if they have ever had the inclination to become a publisher, do it, you won’t soon regret it.

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You write about cats as well as other animals in Housecat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press, 2009), a woman becoming words and choosing painting over writing in House of Forgetting (BlazeVOX 2012), and a strange singing mechanical bird in the most recent Thanksgiving Menu-Poem series, as well as several topics in other books and sequences that move among genres. Talk about your interest in genre-bending, hybrid, and experimentation?

My work often does focus on genre-bending hybrid, and experimentation, all of which derive from my love of surrealism. I am often told that I am a surrealist misplaced in time. My poetry resolves itself in the resolute natures that fall in between the uncomforting nature of dreamscapes and the often unsettling urgencies of waking reality. I find it important to use extensive metaphoric exercises of the mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision to create juxtapositions to expose a startling praxis. That said, I find it to be more fun, as a writer, to develop long-form ideas and ideals that inhabit our reality but them slowly break free from them.

To talk specifically about the chapbook projects you mention, HouseCat Kung Fu was my first foray into writing for young reader and is akin to the comic verses of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children. House of Forgetting is a set of series poems in honor of two women Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning, both famed surrealist painters. And this years Thanksgiving Menu-Poem was Edwin and the Nightingale, which took its inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story Nattergalen. This was dedicated to my dear friend, Blaze, an orange tabby cat who died in 2015. She is the namesake of the press so it was a fitting tribute to her. The common thread to all of these pieces is change. Change in form, being and makeup morphing from an established shape and identity into another as an attempt to either embrace death or flee from it as a means for the reader to think deeply about what he or she actually believes, believe themselves to be and what other self is there that is eluding them. This is the craft of the hybrid and the experiment, to push forward and further describe and shape our most basic fears of our own being.

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In an interview about her new book The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood said, “All writing is for somebody. People don’t write things down unless they intend a reader.” In her nonfiction collection Dancing at the Edge of the World, Ursula K. Le Guin writes, “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” Talk about the relationship of the reader and the poet/author of the artifact, the thing written, such as the chapbook.

What a fascinating question! I am fond of both Atwood and Le Guin and I believe they are correct. If not for the reader, the writer has no utility, relevance or function. As a writer and publisher I often dwell on what it is that the reader will want to further their desires in continuing their pursuits. Often times we get it wrong, but when we are able to meet the expectations of readers it is a marvelous feeling.

BlazeVox

As a publisher of full sized books and chapbooks we have expended a great deal of time, energy and resources to develop an audience of readers who enjoy experimental works of poetry and fictions that push at the boundaries of the expected. And as it turns out there are a lot of readers open our ‘Weird Little Books,’ which is gratifying. So we always try to choose works that are relevant to these people so as to keep their attentions, keep current with changing trends in tastes as well as to take part in being active both politically as well as socially.

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As a writer, being relevant to ones reader is paramount. A writer has to be active in voice, thoughtfully aware that the reader could stop mid stanza and find another activity, or book, all while trying to be as original as possible in their presentation of materials that has, more than likely, been stated previously by a better writer. But this is all a lot to worry about while attempting to be creative. So I find it best to not worry about such things while on the first or second draft, I try to let ideas and concepts flow from my mind onto the paper. Then in subsequent drafts I look for errors, worry about poor metaphors, and edit ruthlessly so as to present to a reader a fresh well-crafted text. I have developed a mantra that I frequently use, delete what I love best in a new work and see how it stands without out it. Most times my instincts are correct and the texts are better off without it. I do this with the reader in mind because what I love in a writing, is generally not what a reader is looking for, but rather it is a piece blah writing that I needed to express in order to get at the integral quintessence of the text. And this is very important because often a writer does not know what exactly what a reader enjoys. And heavy editing reveals a great deal to both writer and publisher.

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How do you define chapbook? A small, tight collection of poems or prose that work in conjunction with one another, dealing with a similar theme, or ideas or method.

What makes a good chapbook? What makes a good book is never easy pin down, but it is perfectly self evident when one see it. Good writing always wins the day, but cohesiveness among the works in the chapbook is also a deciding factor.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Anything from Bloof Books and Ugly Duckling, They choose great authors to work with and make a finely crafted book.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Anne Waldman, Tristan Tzara, Robert Creeley, Charles Bernstein, CD Wright, Jean Arp, Dorothea Tanning, André Breton, Marianne Moore, Max Ernst.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? There are many aspects on what I look for; mostly I look for a well-crafted collection of texts from an author who is willing to promote their work and play an active part within a larger poetry community.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I receive manuscripts from dozens of fine poets each week. I seek out authors but mainly rely on them sending works to me. So in my reading of submitted materials I try to locate those who are working at the forefront of their art. But I also carefully read manuscripts from those who are not from ivy league schools, top MFA programs etc. as there might be a fine piece of writing that could easily get overlooked.

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What’s next for you? Immediately lunch. Afterwards I am drafting my next novel, I am working on a larger series of poems based upon Church bell ringing systems called Peals, this years Thanksgiving menu-poem, and finally I am finishing up a chapbook of Sherlock Holmes erasure poems.

Current chapbook reading list:

Someone Took They Tongues by Douglas Kearney (Subito Press)

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker (Switchback Books)

Shipbreaking by Robin Beth Schaer (Anhinga Press)

Solar Maximum by Sueyeun Juliette Lee (Futurepoem Books)

Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno by Ed Pavlić (Fence Books)

Poem Without Suffering by Josef Kaplan (Wonder)

Evening Oracle by Brandon Shimoda (Letter Machine Editions)

Fearful Beloved by Khadijah Queen (Argos Books)

Poems by Gerard Legro by Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro (BookThug)

Farther Traveler by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Counterpath Press)

A Crown for Gumecindo by Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan Libre Press)

The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books)

Benediction by Alice Notley (Letter Machine Editions)

Literature for Nonhumans by Gabriel Gudding (Ahsahta Press)

Number of chapbooks you own: Over a thousand, chapbooks are part of the arts gift economy so many are sent to me and I love it!

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: Over three thousand, if not more.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I live my life in and about poetry. I attend readings, read hundreds of manuscript, publish chapbooks and full sized books of poetry and live in the open wonder of what is possible in writing and imagination.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I host readings, publish chapbooks, read chapbooks and encourage poets in their writings.

Your chapbook credo: Be relevant!

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Earnings? I am sure I would spend it on ice cream if there were any. Mostly this is a labor of love and I use other monies for treats!

Your chapbook wish: That I could run away to private seaside home in Costa Rica and have great chapbooks air-dropped into my home on a regular basis.

Residence: Buffalo, NY

Job: Editor and Publisher of BlazeVOX [books]

Chapbook education: I attended the Culinary Institute of America where I learned how to create art. Later I went to Daemen College

Chapbook Bio: Geoffrey Gatza is an award winning editor, publisher and poet. He was named by the Huffington Post as one of the Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry (2013). He is the author many books of poetry, including Apollo (BlazeVOX 2014), Secrets of my Prison House (BlazeVOX 2010), Kenmore: Poem Unlimited (Casa Menendez 2009), and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press 2008). He is also the author of the yearly Thanksgiving Menu-Poem Series, a book length poetic tribute for prominent poets, now in it’s thirteenth year. Most recently his work has appeared in FENCE and Tarpaulin Sky. His play on Marcel Duchamp will be staged in an art installation in Philadelphia this year. He lives in Kenmore, NY with his girlfriend and two beloved cats.

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