Friedrich Kerksieck on Small Fires
Friedrich Kerksieck runs Small Fires Press in Memphis, TN where his resides with his wife and cats, Bela & Bip. He is always eager for the next Nicolas Cage film.
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What is your own personal history with chapbooks? How did they first catch your interest?
While I started my learning process taking a few classes in undergrad and working for the North American Review, which gave me a chance to read a really wide selection of journals including some like Jubilat, Pavement Saw, and Black Warrior Review which were guides for the poetry I wanted to keep looking for and reading. As for chapbooks I still didn't know too much about the independent publishing world—I had a friend Aaron McNally who published work by a few of us in the local community and his staple bound "reverie" was probably the first chapbook I can remember in my hands. I know I got a copy of Nick Moudry's A Poem, a Movie & a Poem (Braincase) right around then too and started getting into Ugly Duckling Presse's catalog as well including Anthony Hawley's Afield and Trey Sager's O New York—all of which fed my interest in poetics. The tactile results of screenprinting, letterpress printing, and using experimental bindings fed what I wanted to hold in my hands as a reader, and later make as a publisher.
What made you first decide to start publishing chapbooks?
Initially I started where I was comfortable—I knew how a literary magazine worked so I made my own version of that with Matchbook Volume 1. I moved to Austin after that for a while and got a chance to hang out a lot with Scott of Effing Press and Dale and Hoa of Skanky Possum— they really included me in their community and gave me a lot of support with my ambitions to write and publish. It wasn't until I got into the University of Alabama's Book Arts program that I actually started publishing chapbooks—the program gave me the time and set a schedule to grow a catalog of chapbooks and artist books.
Could you talk a little bit about your own process of making and publishing chapbooks?
My only real rule is that I try and do something new with each book I publish—a different binding, a new illustrator, all handmade paper, etc. My selection process has followed the same ramble-logic—sometime I've chosen work from a slush pile and sometimes through solicitation. Once I've got a manuscript I do a little bit of preparation editing and in the meantime stick it in the hands of an illustrator to draw from. I work with Cherie Weaver a lot because she's majorly talented and gives me something I can use (and love) every single darn time. After I have the art and the text it's a matter of playing with different shapes and structures until something bears fruit with a form that supports and extends the verse and image.
What is unique about the chapbook form, or why chapbooks and not book-books?
It's more cost effective to make and it takes less time to read. Which means more accessibility as a publisher and for the reader. Letterpress printing and hand binding a whole big book just takes up so much time that it's hard to price for the folks you want to be able to read it.
Do you have recent favorite chapbook from another press?
I've been reading through a stack of the last five issues of 6X6 (UDP) that I neglected keeping up with—and Nate Pritt's Sky Poems from Greying Ghost.