Small Press Interview Series: ibbetson street press
a conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and director Doug Holder
Erica Charis-Molling: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the press get started?
ISP: It was founded in 1998 in Somerville. I used to meet with a friend Richard Wilhelm at the Bruegger’s Bagel shop in Porter Square. We discussed the possibilities of forming a literary magazine. Finally the magazine was birthed at 33 Ibbetson Street in Somerville—thus the name Ibbetson Street Press. At first my wife Dianne Robitaille and Richard Wilhelm were on board, but over the years we took on new people. We had a friend Linda Conte (Who now is the treasurer for the New England Poetry Club), whose husband Ray worked in high tech at Harvard, develop the website http://ibbetsonpress.com . Linda managed the site. Later I met Steve Glines at Stone Soup Poetry—he became our designer. I met our poetry editor Harris Gardner at a Kerouac Book Festival in Lowell, Ma. Interestingly enough our first poetry editor was Robert K. Johnson, then an English professor at Suffolk University. He saw my flyer on the English Department’s poster board and contacted me. He was and still is a font of wisdom about running a literary magazine, and really helped Ibbetson Street get off the ground. Later through my contact, Professor Dan Sklar, we were able to establish and affiliation with Endicott College in 2010.
We are also pleased to have Lawrence Kessenich on board—who has been our managing editor for a number of years. Kessenich is a well-published poet, a playwright, and a former editor at Houghton Mifflin.
ECM: Tell us a bit about the press. What sets your press apart from other publishers?
ISP: We put out the Ibbetson Street magazine twice a year. We also put out 3 to 4 poetry books a year. For the most part–we publish people who are local and that we know. We use print- on- demand technology to print our books. Before we went to traditional printers, and wound up with more copies than we needed. So with print-on-demand we can order as much or as little we want. Most poetry magazines are digest size. We put out a magazine-size publication. It is hard for people to put in their bookcases—but they are glad that the poems can breathe on the larger page.
ECM: Can you give us a preview of what’s forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what in your current catalog you’re particularly excited about?
ISP: I am very proud of publishing Sam Cornish, the late Boston Poet Laureate’s book of verse “Dead Beats.” We started a Young Writers Series at Endicott College. This is directed by Emily Pineau. I have been privileged to publish a number of talented undergraduates. This spring we published a collection by a young Sudanese poet Kouya Dut. He writes about the refugee camps he fled to with his family, as well as including stunning pieces about nature. I am also proud of publishing a book of verse by State Representative Denise Provost, titled “Curious Peach,” as well as Bridget Seley Galway’s collection “What Moments Yield.” We will be publishing another Young Writers Series book in the fall.
ECM: What are you visions and goals for the press? Where do you see publishing going in general?
ISP: Well I am 64 years old now—so I am not going to do this forever. Eventually I would want to hand it over to someone who has a similar vision to ours, and is eager to keep on keeping on. I think hard copy will always be around, but of course digital presentation is the new frontier. The problem with digital is after the sites close down they don’t leave an archive—so the work is lost.
ECM: Yes, digital preservation is a new frontier! One we discuss quite a bit in the library world, where I currently work. How are you archiving your print catalog if I may ask? (Such a thoughtful thing to consider for your writers!)
ISP: Yes I am. For twenty years I have been sending our books and magazines to the University at Buffalo for archiving. They probably have the best poetry archive in the country, if not the world. I also have some of our books archived at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard, Poets House in NYC, Brown University and Yale University libraries and a few more. I also sent a number of titles to the new Cid Corman Boston Area Small Press Collection at U/Mass Boston, founded by Mark Pawlak. I am also glad to announce that my papers, interviews (audio/videos), etc. will be in a new separate collection at Buffalo. Buffalo has the most complete collection of our work.
ECM: What’s in your reading pile, either from your press and from other presses?
ISP: Currently I am re-reading Dennis Daly’s poetry collection “Custom House” which we published a while back. Also “Walter Howard: Reflections in Moonlight” from the Wilderness House Press. I am also rereading Gloria Mindock’s “Blood Soaked Dresses” which we published years back, and Zvi’s Sesling’s “ King of the Jungle,” not to mention Steve Glines’ novel “Poplar Hill.”
ECM: What advice would you offer someone looking to publish with you?
ISP: The only advice I can offer, and I paraphrase Auden, who wrote, “A good poem makes me cut myself while shaving.” We are not interested in any schools of poetry but simply work that strikes us in some ways.
ECM: Do you currently accept unsolicited submissions? How best would a poet send you their razor-sharp, nick-inducing work?
ISP: Yes, we accept unsolicited submits. Send 2 to 3 poems with a short bio to our poetry editor Harris Gardner: tapestryofvoices at yahoo.com.
ECM: What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting a small press?
ISP: Go to a lot of readings—there you will find your staff—people with the same passion you have for this labor of love—creating a small press. I would subscribe to Poets and Writers magazine as well as Poet’s Digest so you are up to date about the new presses, trends, the craft, etc… Have a party celebrating the formation of the press—I had one and I met a lot of people who have helped me along the way.
Most importantly be persistent—it takes a lot of work and some money to establish a press. But if you keep at it you can have something that you can be proud of for years to come.
Erica Charis-Molling is a creative writing instructor and librarian at the Boston Public Library. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University.