Publisher Jess Chandler of Prototype Publishing talks to Magma about publishing poetic collaborations.
Magma: What drew you to publishing collaborations? It’s still unusual in poetry publishing and I hear it can be lousy financially (ahem). What’s your experience been?
Jess Chandler: Some of the first things I published with Test Centre were very interdisciplinary, and involved imagery as well as text. I found that many of the submissions we started to receive were responding to this, and that there was a real demand for a publisher who would take risks with projects which wouldn’t easily find a home elsewhere. We started to take on more collaborative projects because it suited our interest as publishers working across genres and disciplines. We found that poets who would publish their collections with more commercial poetry presses, like Sam Riviere, Rachael Allen or Max Porter, were also working on other more experimental projects, and that we were becoming a place people could work with on these less traditional books. You’re right that interdisciplinary projects pose financial challenges, both because they often entail much higher production costs (if you’re producing things in experimental formats or with lots of colour images, for example), and they do have more limited audiences. Bookshops are understandably reluctant to take things which don’t fit so easily onto bookshelves, or don’t have spines! So we publish these books fairly confident that most sales will go directly through us. I also realised that the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the works was something which made these projects suitable for funding applications, and have now just received a second, hugely important Arts Council grant. I definitely see it as my role as publisher to respond to the unique requirements of any individual piece of work. Perhaps with poetry more than any other literary form, we need to be agile and flexible, even if this means we have to bravely (or foolishly) defy some of the conventions. And I hope that by providing an outlet, poets will feel they can work on projects without any constraints being imposed upon them before the work has even begun. We need writers to be able to have this freedom. Interesting work is also produced in response to constraints, but we need both possibilities to exist.
Magma: Sounds like there’s a good match between you and your poets. Do pieces of work usually come to you fully formed or at the proposal stage, and how much do you shape them?
Jess Chandler: It varies quite a bit. Sometimes it will just be an idea, testing the water, and I’ll work closely with writers and artists to bring the work together into something coherent and complete, both as concept and object. By far the most important input I have as publisher, indirectly, is through the designers I work with: Traven T. Croves (Matthew Stuart and Andrew Walsh-Lister). We have worked together closely for many years and they are essential and integral to nearly everything I publish. When I accept a project for publication, the editorial and design processes will be considered simultaneously, with lots of open discussion and collaboration between all of us. This is the stage at which projects really find their form and shape, and is such an enjoyable part of the process, through which new meanings are found and materialised.
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