Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Discovery: Tinfish Press

Today we introduce Tinfish Press. Meet founder and editor (and poet) Susan Schultz.

You started Tinfish Press in 1995 as “a journal of experimental poetry from the Pacific, including Hawai`i, New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, California, and western Canada.” With the exception of Tinfish, do you find that works for the Pacific region are underrepresented by publishers?

Depends on the publisher, I suppose. There are publishers in the Pacific region, though surely not enough. But there are not many that aim to cross regions, publishing work from Australia and the Pacific Islands, for example, so that it reaches readers on the west or east coasts of the continent. Tinfish's mission, among others, is to bring relevant work to Hawai`i and to send work from Hawai`i out to be read. It's tricky and sometimes frustrating, as every region or community has its provinciality.

What are some defining characteristics of literature from the Pacific region? How is it different, say, from literature stateside, or from Asia, Europe. etc.? And what are some of the challenges of getting it the kind of audience and recognition it deserves?

A lot of what we publish is grounded in histories that have been suppressed and forgotten. I'm thinking of works by Craig Santos Perez, Barbara Jane Reyes, Meg Withers, and a forthcoming book by Kaia Sand, all of which unveil a history that most of us do not know. There's also an explicitly anti-colonial thrust to a lot of our work. And a fascination with languages that have been suppressed, whether Pidgin (Hawai`i Creole English), Hawaiian, Chamorro, or other. We also published Hazel Smith, a British writer living in Australia, who finds herself sometimes lost in the cracks between national literatures. There are so many challenges, from the universal conundrum of marketing and distribution to simply getting people to read work that isn't in their immediate kuleana (or concern, responsibility). One of the challenges for Tinfish is that we are not identity-based. In other words, we don't publish Asian-American writers or Pacific Islanders or white writers as such. Instead, we publish all of them, but as writers who have affinities around these concerns of colonialism, language, and poetic form and practice. It's sometimes hard to break out of the literature of identity, as well.

One of the things I really love about Tinfish is how it uses recycled materials for its books—on your Web site, you list tarpaper, weather maps, proof sheets, and hamburger sleeves as examples of such. How did this come about? What prompted you to use recycled materials with your books?

That was Gaye Chan's influence. She's an artist who works primarily with found materials. When she came on board, she started doing journal issues with recycled materials. The hamburger book came about because someone gave us all the wrappers, and I had to find someone (Steve Carll) to write the chapbook that would fit in the sleeves. We'll probably do fewer recycled projects in the future, for reasons of labor (it takes a LOT of labor to make 500 copies of a journal with recycled covers). And, while originally the recycling saved us money, I'm not so sure any more. In any case, the _concept_ of recycling is crucial to us. The last thing we want is to be a publisher of coffee table books that are gorgeous but unreadable! We want access in terms of materials and the work itself.

In addition to your work with Tinfish, you’re a poet with numerous books under your belt. Along the same lines as question #2, what are some of the challenges for the /individual /poet trying to get recognition for his or her work? Does your experience with Tinfish help you get the word out about your own poetry?

Ah, my belt has expanded a bit. I thought that was middle-age! Same issues, really. Finding a publisher, getting distributed, reviewed, finding people to read the work who will get something from it. Tinfish has helped me join in communities of writers, especially valuable when you're in the mid-Pacific and your own work is not _of_ Hawai`i, even if it's sometimes about it. But I don't consider myself a Tinfish writer necessarily, so I try to keep the two tracks separate. The editorial project is creative, too, and has taught me a lot about poetry, the writing and teaching of it.

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