An Interview with Lisa Flowers, Founder of Vulgar Marsala Press
Can you explain why you named your press Vulgar Marsala?
We’re named for an image in DH Lawrence’s “Medlars and Sorb Apples”, from his seminal/groundbreaking collection “Birds, Beasts, and Flowers”. I toyed with an assortment of names that encompassed a lot of literary and mythological and film references, etc, but ultimately this one stuck…more intuitively/impulsively than intellectually. It’s an eye-catching name…maybe an amusingly misleading one, until you know what its axe is (some have even assumed it’s some kind of sex publication /site, what with the word “vulgar”).
What attracted you to the work of Chad Faries?
I’ve described his work as a trip through Disney through the eyes of Woody Guthrie through the eyes of Ezra Pound, like an ever-overlapping pair of bifocals … that pretty much sums it up! The Book of Knowledge is an utterly brilliant concept. Chad’s a distinctly American poet, in the Paterson sense, and a great chronicler of adolescence, of love, of heartbreak, of the landscape and how it shapes nostalgia. His work’s witty, playful, profound, ingenious, and unexpected.
What is the creative mission of Vulgar Marsala?
Championing the work of unknown or little known artists is our highest priority … and will remain that way, whatever success we may or may not achieve … but aside from that, it’s pretty simple: we’re out to publish the most original and groundbreaking work we can. I don’t mean simply “solid” “or good work, I mean stunningly visual and cinematically arresting work. We have tendencies we like to encourage because you don’t much see them being encouraged: epic poetry of the Miltonesque form is like that … most journals, excepting the American Poetry Review and a handful of others, are not big on longer work … it’s often treated as a deal breaker. Crucially, too, film for me is a passion almost equal to poetry, so I want the work we publish to be in glorious black and white and Technicolor … just as the site says. We want work you can see, that you can splash around in, that you can reach through the screen and put your hands on … and maybe draw them back into realtime covered with exotic pollen or green slime … whatever. It’s been said by so many artists over the years that in art that achieves its purpose, there needn’t be any distinction between mediums … cinema, visual art, music, poetry: all one, like a synesthesian Nabokov thing. There’s this quote by the filmmaker Andrezj Zulawski … I can’t remember specifics, but it has to do with the definition of art … actual art … being no art. It sounds pretentious and empty at first, but it’s actually trickily exact. A true thing achieves itself both through and independent of form. It has to be able to stand on its own no matter what. We would seek to adhere to that philosophy … as we do to the adage about the first rule of anything being never to bore your readers/audience, etc. To sum it up in a crude nutshell, I guess we simply want to publish stuff that doesn’t bore us. We approach things from the POV of a child’s attention span … rather.
Why did you become a publisher?
See above. Too, as a poet, I wanted an outlet for my own work. And I want other writers I believe in to have an outlet for theirs.
Where do you see Vulgar Marsala five years from now?
Infinitely more evolved than it is now, certainly. A relocation to NYC/Brooklyn is going to help immensely. If we can get rolling along with some funding, and establish ourselves in a community honored through the ages for being one of the world’s most coveted homes for artists … in a city I love deeply and that has been incredibly responsive … I’m confident we can blossom into a humble if hopefully well regarded little outfit.
In what ways are you making Vulgar Marsala a financially viable entity?
Haha … well, uh, here’s where it gets tricky. We’re essentially seeking to make it a viable financial entity by way of grants and the like. Support is certainly not going to come from book sales. All our expenses are out of pocket right now. That’s why we’re “slow as the world” to quote Plath … though not also very patient, to paraphrase her. But help is out there; you’ve just got to deliver something that’s worthy of it in the eyes of [grant] committees (etc) and individuals who might hopefully share your tastes.
Name some of your favorite authors and why you read them.
This could go on forever. Roethke, certainly. The great religious poets: Milton, Donne. Epic poets like Hart Crane. The godhead that’s Emily Dickinson … all of them present unique takes on interpretations of immortality. Roethke, in particular, is one of the great poets of reincarnation, especially in Praise to the End! and the like. Whitman has an exhaustible love for life and can show us how to live without fear; when I read him, I’m not afraid to die, which is something I can’t say for any other poet. I like life-affirming work, even … and often especially … when it’s simultaneously nightmarish, and ingenuity and metaphorical wizardry win over the nightmare; poetry of ecstasy and joy, especially when it’s subverted into the bizarre. Ditto for eroticism obscured in the ornate. Obviously Lawrence in the aforementioned Birds/Beasts era, and Ted Hughes … who owes a great deal of his nature poetry to Lawrence. Plath, of course. Poets like James Wright can show us everything we could ever hope to know about beauty and sadness and loss. At the same time, I don’t think doom ever need be unmitigated, and almost anything can be presented with humor, if the author is skillful enough. I’m leaving a lot of people out, and I’ll kick myself for it, but that’s the jist. Robert Graves, Anna Akhmatova, Rilke…etc. John Ashbery is a huge influence on me personally; his labyrinths are endless, and he’s not afraid to go anywhere. Figures like Henry Darger and his Vivian Girls chronicles can show us how to take a hazardous and technically unexplainable journey into the outer stratosphere. Speaking of that, epics like Baum’s Oz series, etc … the most formative books of my life have been works of children’s literature … and adult literature masquerading as children’s literature, like the unabridged Grimms. Quantum physics: books like Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe have been as influential on my writing as any poet or novelist’s.
Speaking of novelists: Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, which presents a dazzling picture of a rouged, pendant curled drag queen sitting up in bed amongst hidden chamber pots and discoursing on Rome burning through the night. Alexander Theroux’s masterpiece Darconville’s Cat (one of Nightwood‘s lovers, along with Tristram Shandy) which presents a pitch-perfect satire and a brilliant range of poetry, children’s fiction, philosophy, and homicidal wrath. Nabokov, as ever…Ada, which I mentioned, Speak, Memory, Pale Fire…
What kind of editorial relationship do you have with authors?
A very open and unassuming one. I trust them to edit their own work, though of course I proof everything obsessively. Editing is a joint effort with a press this small, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, because I like to have complete control over my work and so do the authors/most writers. But the more eyes the better. You can never have too many proofreaders, no matter how good you are.
What challenges do you face as a small press? What advantages do you have versus a larger mainstream press?
The main challenge is having zero initial resources. With big … or even respectably established presses … you get your books designed and printed for you; you get your readings arranged by your publisher, you automatically make valuable connections … and friends … in the publishing world by way of association; you automatically get reviews…good or bad, etc. We’ve gotta do all that ourselves. This is a project of 24/7 hustling, and it’s from the ground up. We have no agents, and we have no clout. Of course, the same is basically true of every press (to a greater or lesser extent) that has gone on to become something: everyone needs to start somewhere. It’s a learning experience.
How do you make your small press stand out in the crowded field of publishing?
By the originality of the work, ideally, in tandem with getting it out there. Scheduling readings, soliciting reviews. But it’s got to be about giving someone something different and unexpected to look at, in terms of (again) the ingenuity of the work as a whole. Anything else is false, just a publicity stunt. And I love publicity stunts, theoretically … rock out with your cock out. That’s how things get noticed/done. But the intention and dedication have to be pure and virtuous and steadfast. It’s just a matter of a lot of hard work. And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of one’s fellows in promotion, etc. Artists have to help each other, whether it’s “sharing” on Facebook or writing a review or making introductions …. nothing, no matter how run-of-the-mill, is inconsequential. We can’t…and more importantly, shouldn’t … do it without each other. I don’t believe in competition. Actually, I find the whole notion of it to be offensive … you can be ambitious and driven without being competitive. This is a community effort that should entail equal give and take.
Visit Vulgar Marsala Press at www.vulgarmarsalapress.com
and Lisa A Flowers’ blog at http://lflowersbloginrealtime.tumblr.com/