Swimmers Club

21st Feb 2017


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Photo Credit: Fonograf Editions

The Subterraneans

Push your shoulders and hands under the surface of the water.


Who: Fonograf Editions
Where: Portland, Oregon
What: Vinyl-only poetry press

Can you tell us a bit about how your press got started?

On a wish and a prayer, mostly. No, just joshing. In actuality it started the same way a lot of presses do - in a bar, talking and thinking out loud. I wrote about the process in more detail in an essay entitled "Bad Business is Good Art", an essay that can be found be over here at The Fanzine.

How did the name come about?

Initially I wanted to call it Phonographh with two hh's; in my mind it was an indirect homage to Aram Saroyan's lighght and also played with the nature of the press's vinyl-fixation. But then, for various reason, the hh's got turned into ff's and the traditional way of spelling phonograph morphed into the shorthand way of hearing it. And Editions because we consider ourselves a press as much as a record label.

What types of publications do you put out?

We put out poetry LPs, on vinyl. Each album comes with a digital download but the vinyl element is key.

Can you tell us a bit about the space where you run your whole operation from? Is it an office space, a kitchen-table/bedroom operation or just from inside a smart-phone or a laptop?

Fonograf is primarily run out of my office-space, an office-space that also doubles as my everything - musical and literary library, clothes closet, bookshelf clutter extravaganza, etc. It's great. It's a mess.

Can you tell us a little bit about the city in which you are based and what influence, if any, it has on your press?

Although I now live in Omaha, Nebraska, Fonograf was birthed in Portland, Oregon. Portland is where the lauded small-press Octopus Books is based and Fonograf is an arm of that larger Octopus. And in terms of influence on Fonograf Portland has definitely had a lot. Because for all the Portlandia flack it might get, PDX really is a bastion of literature, both small press and the bigger (and often, in my opinion, worse) stuff. Powell's, one of the best bookstores in the world, is in Portland (shout out to Kevin Sampsell) and Mother Foucault's, one of the best bookstores in the world, is in Portland and there are too many good presses and reading series' also in Portland.

Another great thing about the city is that there isn't the careerist hustle that there is in other biggish U.S. cities. I have friends who work in coffee shops, who are completely content to work in coffee shops, friends who are better poets than I will ever be, and they don't feel the need to try and constantly publish their work, send it out to every magazine or contest, etc. If someone asks to put it out in the world they'll consent, sure, but it's the creative act that's more important than everything that might come after. That's reassuring to me. It's something to aspire to, I think.

Do you see any commonality with the world of independent record labels and independent presses? I suppose we're thinking about how he two things share an independent spirit, small run fanzines/photocopied magazines, merchandising etc?

I fully see a commonality with independent record labels and independent presses. The bigger the press or record label the more they have to worry about their spread-sheeted bottom line, their market-based professionalism. Not the poems, the work. Remember in the 90's when Rawkus Records' rally cry was "independent as fuck?" Rawkus was one of my favorite labels back in the day. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is one of the best albums ever.

These days every writer can get connected to their own social-media channels and promote and publish their own work, what do you see as the best role for the independent publisher now? Or do you think not that much has changed?

I think the best role for the independent publisher circa 2017 is to stay hungry and do whatever you (the publisher) think is best for the work and the author. But I don't necessarily think that social media bombing is an effective strategy anymore. In the end what it comes down to, I think, is publishing interesting work and accepting the fact that even if you do that you're going to lose money or make very very little of it.

Finally, please tell us a bit about a few of the next things that are due to come out?

Named after the classic Charles Mingus album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Harmony Holiday's LP The Black Saint and the Sinner Man should be out in three or so months, and then we plan to put out a live album by Alice Notley in the fall as well.

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