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Tuesday, June 22

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Interview Fri Oct 05 2012

Interview: Toby Altman of Damask Press

Damask Press, based in Chicago and Brooklyn, produces handmade poetry chapbooks and broadsheets, along with original art work. The press keeps design simple, with a special focus on attending to writers' vision for their work, and manages to produce thoughtful artifacts with a small staff and equally small budget.

Last week, Damask's newest project, a chapbook by poet Ariana Nadia Nash, was released and just concluded a successful kickstarter campaign. Nash's Our Blood Is Singing, Damask's fifth project, enjoyed typical attention from the press editors who work to make each chapbooks aesthetically appropriate for the work it showcases. damask 2.jpeg

Chicago based editor and co-founder, Toby Altman, took the time to discuss the small press process with us, from fielding solicitations from authors to book design:

Can you talk about your newest publication by Ariana Nash?

The work is sort of this post confessional feminist poetry, and it's really engaged with the questions of motherhood, thinking hard about what that kind of relationship means especially from the mother's point of view. She has a book coming out this fall, but this is work she'd been developing for a while. Ariana approached us with a manuscript and we wanted to support the work she was doing.

How much editing was involved after Damask decided to work with the manuscript?

We worked with Ariana closely for two or three months, giving edits and cutting to tighten it up.

How do you approach the design process as such a small entity?

We try to produce books that are also pieces of art, designed around the author's aesthetic and intellectual concern. There's a strong link between the artifact and the poems it contains. Ariana wanted a press that would pay that kind of special attention to her writing.

Production was very simple for Our Blood is Singing. We only needed about a week to print the books. The design process, though, was quite involved. We pride ourselves on working really closely with the poets. Ariana had a lot of ideas and we wanted to make sure they were reflected in the final product. In total, it took us about a month to do the lay out and bring it the press.

Can you talk about the thought that went into designing some of your other chapbooks?

Jacob Russell's chapbook, Chronic, Chronos, Kairos, consists of set of six unbound cards in a letterpress envelope. It was printed using plates, so each etching is a little bit different, and every card has a drawing and a poem on the back.

The whole chapbook is this kind of long meditation on the ways in which time as we think of it comes unglued, or is originally unglued, so we thought it was important not to bind the poems in any one particular order in which you were forced to read them.

We try to have an art component to the book and always make sure to bring in an artist from outside the press whose work complements the poetry.

How does Damask view the question of making money as a publisher?

Our goal is always to break even--it' never been about making money. We try to get our costs as low as possible and sell all the books we need to cover those costs before we release the book officially.

Many presses will only give ten copies to their writers, but we give contributors a very high percentage of the run to have and sell. We provide the poets with this really nice thing that they can use to promote their work. The poets are the best advocates for their own work, so it's better that they get it out there.

We are not any kind of business. We're trying to figure out how to become a non-profit so we can accept grant money, so for the time being it's just us. We're creative about ways to raise money and keeping costs of books down.

How has your connection to Chicago factored into your desire to become a small publisher?

I've lived most of my life in Chicago, so most of what I know of the poetry world is based on what's happened to me here. My whole interest in doing this, and supporting the work of other poets comes from being a part of this city.

Next year we're going to be publishing at least two and maybe more Chicago poets.

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