From May 28 until July 8, orders will be processed and shipped only once per week, on Saturdays. Thanks for your patience with this!

From July 9 until August 8 we’ll be closed for our yearly vacation. We’ll be back on August 9 and orders will begin shipping the following Monday.

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LOCALITIES [13]

Molly Sutton Kiefer spoke with us about where she writes and what role her surroundings play in her work. She’s the author of two chapbooks and the recent lyric essay Nestuary, which was published this year by Ricochet Editions (an imprint of Gold Line Press).

Could you tell us about your work in general—what you make, what your making thinks or talks about or performs, what kinds of things you want to or are trying to make? 

I write mostly poems and poem-things.  Little fragments I try to tie together into a whole.  I’ve recently had this strange convergence:  as an undergraduate, I thought I would become a memoirist and then as a graduate student, I studied poetry.  With Nestuary, this, along with other iterations of creative nonfiction, have gotten the chance to smash up and meld. When I’m in my deepest periods of quiet, the ones that give me a panic but I know will always end, I often make other things with my hands:  knit, sew, garden.  I dabble a lot, so you could find me taking an embroidery class or a letterpress class or studying photography.

Maya with manuscript

Do you routinely get to spend time making or focusing only on your creative life? What do you do on a day-to-day level, and how does (or doesn’t) making figure into that? 

There are so many ways one could use motherhood as a comparison to the writing experience:  oh, the long labor and the birth of the book!  Each book is a different baby!  I think, of all these ways we can cross-hatch the two experiences, the comparison of “once you finally get the hang of it, everything changes” is the one that resonates the most with me.  As soon as I find myself having a contented writing routine, it changes, on a whim.  It’s all so different:  when I was working on my thesis manuscript, I would creep downstairs after a late night nursing with my daughter, and I’d write a poem or two, you know, in that confused fog of half-sleep, where poetic connections were loosest.  Nestuary was written in a burst and revised quickly too.  At this very moment, I have this packet of writing notebooks and each notebook, a beautifully decorated Moleskine I’ve either collected from the shop at Minnesota Center for the Book Arts or etsy, represents a different writing project:  the one with the hot air balloon is where I am working on my most urgent manuscript, which is about death and the afterlife and grief; there’s another with a whale splayed open that are my Alaska poems, and on.  Because my daughter is in preschool, I have this space of time in the mornings solo with my newly toddling son, and I’ll maybe watch a documentary on a topic relevant to one of my projects–something on skeletons found in the Sahara or commercial fishing in the Cook Inlet.  I’ll take notes; I’ll see if I can transform those notes into a poem later at night.  I’ll try to capture as much as I can in fragments.  And now that I am a mother, whose arms are often full of diapers or little toys or sixty pounds of offspring, I have learned to work out poems or goals in my head, which is awfully difficult to pin down when I get the chance, but still a good part of the process.  One of my teachers, Oliver de la Paz, said he’ll often spend the first chip of his writing time working on revision–this work can help him enter generating.  For me, it’s often reading a good book of poems–I love it when I finally cannot read another page because I have to scurry away and make too!  I am thankful to those poets, and anything else that can help me cross that bridge from everyday to creating from the everyday.

Tell us about where you work—the city, the neighborhood, your tours around the local geography of your workroom, your desk, your computer, your notebook, your equipment. What’s it feel like?

There’s this little blue room off our dining room–blue, painted by my husband in a color I picked, blue, because Minnesota winters are so grey–and it has a futon (still guest-worthy, but so cramped) and books upon books upon books and my desk, which is always such a mess.  I’m ridiculously lucky in that my husband does understand the need for my own space, though I rarely use it as I should.  More often, you can find me mobile, writing with a babe in my lap, my notebook askew.  I love my poetry dates–museums and wildlife sanctuaries and coffee shops and the like.  Most often, much to my husband’s chagrin, you can find me pecking away at the dining room table.  All of these rooms in our house have books, floor to ceiling, and I think that’s something that brings me comfort.

I’ve become more particular about equipment too; I know most writers can relate to this.  A specific pen–I had used one ink pen for the last, oh, twenty years, and recently, I’ve switched to a specific grey ballpoint.  Ballpoint!  Not long ago I never would have heard of such a thing!  I remember, just before getting married, Carolyn Forche gave me a fountain pen, told me to use it to write poems on my honeymoon.  Before, I could only use narrow-lined notebooks (oh, those fat, wide-ruled pages are my enemy!), but now I prefer lineless entirely, so I can write in the tiniest of handwriting, can doodle, can clip images from magazines that will help keep me in that mental space.

How does your space reflect or inform the work you’re able to do? How does it inform your most recent work?

Nestuary is very much a physical-body oriented piece, and even towards the end, I consciously wrote about where I was while writing:  engorged, pumping, hunched on the floor of our living room, writing the last pages of the manuscript.  It was spring of last year, and winter was very much so on my mind, as the light from the street corner filtered through our window and I thought of Hestia and her hearth. I’m not rooted into my neighborhood and town as I’d like to:  I only worked outside the home here for one year, so most of my time outside our small sphere, like my husband’s, is spent commuting.  I have more writerly connection to the Twin Cities than here, which is fine; I have a drive to work myself into that space.

Maya at deskBut place is crucial to what I do.  It lives inside of me.  When I write of Alaska, the time I spent there rises up.  When I write a poem about my father-in-law’s illness, I am back in those rooms of that house, can feel and smell.  So it isn’t as much about the immediate space, but about the imagined space, about what can grow up around me.  Perhaps this is why so much of my writing happens without the lights on–not to discourage others from approach, but so that it spills into me. So much of my landscape has children in it.  So much is about learning how to work around and with the children.  Being able to give my daughter her own writing notebook so I have the chance to write in mine.  Comparing handwriting.  Pressing flowers in the pages.  My son who has to have a pen of his own.  So much is looking around and seeing them dashing, little streaks across the yard.  And that pull within the center of me, how even when she’s in preschool, my daughter is every part of me.

What would be your ideal spatial configuration for making your work? Is there something you long for in terms of surroundings, something without which it’s hard to get down to the task of making work?

I wish I wrote outdoors more.  I wish I picked up my notebook, waved good-bye to my little family, said I’d be back in a few hours, and sat at the banks of the creek.  Or brought a blanket outside and just existed.  I wish I could shut the distraction of the computer down, but there’s always something on the to-do list that keeps me tethered:  the slush pile, the laundry, weeding the garden, checking Facebook.  I distract so easily.  What would happen if I were dropped off in a forest and told to write?  Just write, I’ll come back for you later.  Just read, just write, just lie on your back and look at the clouds.  It’s the sitting right here that presses in the most distractions.  My husband is always saying, “Why not go to a coffee shop?  Go somewhere–take your work and go.”  And I say, “No, no, I can just go into my room,” but then I don’t and all of a sudden I’m too tired to squeeze anything interesting out any more and can’t we just cuddle in bed and read books for escape?

I do love the view from my writing desk.  It’s our backyard, at the right level, the right framing, that makes it only seem as if it’s our world, that we could exist alone in a sea of dandelions and maple and strawberry blossoms.

 

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If you would like to be featured in our LOCALITIES series, please drop an email to miel.books at gmail.com!

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The Hardest Thing

We’re now deep in our yearly reading period, and there are a good number of manuscripts in the inbox. It feels like birthday mornings to open up Submittable and see what’s appeared overnight (thank you!). But now I remember what the hardest thing is—it’s the fact that all these manuscripts are competent. Many are very strong. Almost all of them that I’ve read so far seem like they are of publishable quality.

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But we have room for maybe three, four, maximum five manuscripts next year. Which means that ‘publishable’ and ‘competent’ and even ‘really good’ aren’t enough; which means that when I send out rejection notes, they don’t mean your work is no good; they mean we just can’t publish everything we like. (That’s a real downer. I get really grabby and wanty when I read your work, building air-castles in which I can publish it all!) It’s hard to read your brilliant work and then to have to be practical about money (what we can afford to pay to print/how well we think the thing will sell compared to that printing cost) and time (how many books we can truly publicize and send for reviews and pack orders of). But it’d be a disservice to you and to our other writers and artists if we weren’t practical like that.

All this to say thanks for sending your work and for making June such an exciting time. I’m aiming to have read all the manuscripts by the end of July, and rejections will start going out in August (it always takes a while as I winnow through everything over and over), with the aim of notifying everyone by September this year. (If there’s a sudden influx of work right at the end of the month, this timing might change a bit.)

Lisa Solomon, whose monograph Hand/Made was published by MIEL in 2013, has this to say about the process of publishing us:

I think all visual artists in their heart of hearts want a monograph published of their work. I think most of us think this is an unattainable pipe dream, but MIEL made it a reality for me. From start to finish all my discussions with the press were so lovely, and they made the process SO easy. In fact almost too easy. Éireann had clear and wonderful ideas about how she wanted the book to look, function and what she wanted it to cover. I trusted her completely as an editor and creative director – and honestly it is not easy for me to relinquish visual control. In the end I’m so glad I was able to trust MIEL’s vision because it is an object in itself that I am honored to hold and have. MIEL helped place my work in a new context and opened my eyes to connections between works, colors, and ideas that were not apparent to me before. In reality I was responsible for almost nothing – mainly supplying images and contacts for people who might write on my work. The requests made of me were so nominal, and done with care – timelines and due dates and edits were so so easy.  The entire time I felt MIEL was invested in my work and was dedicated to making something that we all could be proud of. And that is a most lucky place to be. Do I sound like I’m gushing? Because it should. I am gushing. We need more presses whose tag lines are: difficult, interesting, intelligent, deeply felt.

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Jacob A. Bennett’s WYSIHICKEN [SIC]

Jacob A Bennett Jacob Bennett’s untitled poem (“I cannot say if the nothing I wandered was vast…”) is in 111O/7, and it was a wonderful surprise to get an email from Jacob telling us about his new chapbook, Wysihicken [sic], out from Furniture Press Books. The cover is screenprinted by Jodi Hoover, and the run is only 75 copies. (You can also subscribe to the press’s output.) It looks like a beautiful chapbook, Jacob! Congratulations. Here’s what he has to say about the chapbook:

As far as I can tell, one of the most common questions posed to poets about their work, by poets and non-poets alike, is this: “What is it about?” When people ask what my chapbook Wysihicken [sic] (Furniture Press 2014) is about, I tell them that it’s not “about” the Wissahickon Creek, but that the creek and its surroundings are central to the human and natural history that are the book’s true subjects. I would never have begun writing the poem if I hadn’t seen and smelled and felt the physical space, been inspired, I suppose, by the same natural beauty that Poe admires, noting the “high hills, clothed with noble shrubbery near the water, and crowned at a greater elevation, with some of the most magnificent forest trees of America.” And I never would have continued to shape the poem, transforming it from a descriptive idyll into something more critical, had I not stopped to read the various placards lining Forbidden Drive, a gravel road running along the stretch of the creek that falls within the Philadelphia city limits. One placard describes modern attempts at preservation efforts, another the history of milling along the steep banks, while another connects the dots between industry and public health by explaining why what was once a public drinking fountain, with its extant inscription “PRO BONO PUBLICO ESTO PERPETUA,” is now a bricked-in edifice. And there’s the “Indian” statue that is supposed to stand in memoriam for the decimated Lenape people, but which, revealing the half-earnest sentiment behind the monument, depicts a chief wearing a war bonnet worn by tribes in the Western Plains, far from the banks of the Wissahickon. So, while the creek and the park around it are important as preservation measures, and serve to provide recreation for walkers, runners, hikers, bikers, equestrians, and anglers, the land and its history are tainted by colonial hypocrisy, racial domination, and industrial bottom-lining, and so also serves as a microcosm of American history. And I wanted to capture the mix of awe and anger I felt in response to everything I learned, and hope the poem does some justice to what my emotional and rational minds were processing.

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Publishing with MIEL

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Given that our open reading period is on right now, I thought it might be interesting for you to know what it’s like to publish with MIEL. Of course, every press, large or small, has its own practices. Some are more hands-on, some less. Different presses give writers and artists different kinds of control over the book as it will be. It’s not always a clear path, and understanding up front what your relationship is as a writer to the press that will publish your work can be helpful.

First of all, I’m Éireann. I’m the editor and designer for MIEL. My experience with editing began in undergraduate and MFA workshops; after finishing my MFA in 2006, I’ve done freelance editing for writers from the US and UK. Some feedback is here. I’m also a writer. My writing and editing work intersect at the point of my concern for language and my love of literature.

I take editing seriously, and when I acquire a manuscript for MIEL I read it carefully, with an eye to understanding what the book is trying to do/is doing, independent of my hopes for books-in-general. I try to feel or see or understand what it was that struck me or attracted me to the book in the first place, and to follow that through the manuscript. I flag up questions and places where the book seems to fall short of whatever its intentions appear to me to be. My notes can be extensive; I use track-changes in MS Word, and often fill the whole margin. I also write a letter to you, talking through my understanding of the book and contextualizing my editorial suggestions. (When I got the first feedback and letter from my own editor, I was taken aback and a little defensive—but I can see in hindsight as a writer and as an editor how helpful and perceptive my editor’s feedback really was. I aim to follow in his footsteps: my criticisms are given in good Untitledfaith, and I’m happy to talk about them. Like his were, though, my suggestions are sometimes not up for negotiation. For instance, the manuscript that became Music for Landing Planes By was initially titled [I cringe] The Way to Really Love It. When my editor told me that title wouldn’t sell—and, after all, presses are in business and books need to sellI was upset. But I went back with my other choice of title, and, as you can see, he loved it. Anyway, all that to say: the editorial process at MIEL is involved and incisive, but I promise to read the work openly, to offer any criticism/suggestions in good faith, and to welcome discussion with our writers during that process.)

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So the editing process with MIEL generally plays out over the course of a year, or sometimes a bit longer. I’ll reply to all submissions by December or January, and then it’s likely you won’t hear from me for a while. I won’t have forgotten: I’m just working on other things (we already have books for spring/summer 2015, and those will need my attention from December 2014 onwards). About eight months before your publication date I’ll be in touch with edits (and you’ll have a month to reply). Sometime about five months before publication you’ll see a cover draft. A month or so later, depending on the schedule here, I’ll send another cover draft and galleys. You’ll get another look at the galleys about a month before the publication date.

MIEL’s chapbooks are hand-bound. Production ranges from letterpress to commercial digital printing, but in all cases I choose materials that look and feel good. I produce small commemorative/ promotional objects to coincide with the publication of each chapbook/book: prints, broadsides, small cards. These are sent out with orders (and to our writers) to introduce readers to things we publish that they might not have seen.

UntitledThe MIEL chapbooks and books do have ISBNs, for the most part. Chapbooks in the microseries do not have ISBNs (it’s not fiscally possible: an ISBN adds almost 1/3 of the cost of production again, and it already costs about €3 per book to have these printed. Binding is done by me, so that’s “free”, insofar as I’m not paid for any of my MIEL work).

Our books are held in many collections in the US and EU. Our customers come from all over—North America, Europe, Asia, South America. I promote the books on Twitter, Facebook, here, and in our email newsletters, and I invite writers to contribute posts for this blog—talking about their work, the book MIEL is publishing, or anything else they are interested in. I take the books to book fairs (in London in the fall and winter; I’ll also be at AWP 2015 in Minneapolis). I send copies out for review. I’m happy to work with writers who might have their own networks to get the news about their book out.

MIEL cannot pay money for your work. That’s an important point. I want to pay writers, and at some point in the next few years that will happen. For now, we pay 10-25% of print run to our writers and artists. At the moment, the combination of Belgian tax codes and the fact that it’s rare for one of the books to make much more than the cost of printing and supplies in sales makes it impossible to pay cash. But writers, I want to emphasize: no one in this arrangement gets paid. Any money made selling your books covers printing them, supplies for binding them, packaging for them, postal costs for sending review copies out, and then the leftover rolls over to pay for the next book. I don’t get paid. Jonathan, who occasionally helps me arrange the financial side of things, certainly doesn’t get paid. Our accountant gets paid, but that is c.f. Belgian tax codes.

So that’s how it works here. If it sounds good to you, send me something to read.