June 21, 2019KR BlogChats

Publisher Spotlight: Geoffrey Gatza of BlazeVOX [books]

Geoffrey Gatza is an award winning editor, publisher and poet. He is the driving force behind BlazeVOX, a small press in Buffalo, NY and was named by the Huffington Post as one of the Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry. He is the author many books of poetry, including A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees, (Mute Canary 2018) Apollo (BlazeVOX 2014) and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage 2009). Most recently his work has appeared in FENCE and Tarpaulin Sky. His play on Marcel Duchamp was staged in Philadelphia and performed in NYC.

Kristina Marie Darling:  How did you come to editing as a career path?

Geoffrey Gatza:  BlazeVOX began life in 1998 as an undergraduate project, while I was studying at Daemen College. I found something in poetry that motivated me to become more active in its creation and production. The first issue of BlazeVOX, an online journal of voice, appeared in the fall of 2000. I had developed a love for coding and designing webpages, which matched my increasing fascination with poetry. I found an importance in contemporary, non-traditional poetry and its ability to speak directly to readers. There is an elusive quality that cements connections and meanings that is at once obvious yet resoundingly fresh and new.

Our goal of the journal was not to escape answers but rather to examine questions. With a minimalistic style, each issue of BlazeVOX focuses on the idea of expression, and more specifically on writings where anyone can express anything at any given moment. The works chosen feature coincidental, accidental and unexpected connections, which make it possible for a subtle diversity and firebreaks to ignite and combust. We consciously make an effort and take chances on works aimed at expanding and questioning the medium of poetry.

To date we have published over 500 books. Our family of writers includes Bill Berkson, Anne Waldman, Clayton Eshleman, Anne Tardos, Tom Clark, Rachel Blau Duplessi, John Tranter, and national book award winner Daniel Borzutzky. We publish 25 to 30 books a year. There is no real logic behind this number except for amount of interesting projects that become available.

Our small press has had a wonderful run for the past nineteen years and we hope to continue to be relevant for many years to come. One of BlazeVOX’s axioms is that we are publishers of weird little books, so I am a firm believer that the strong force that binds all of our books together could be found in the odder experimental side of the literary landscape. There is so much that is exciting about poetry, from its discourses to its execution to its futile utilities. It is the human cost of poetry – the energy in its expression on the page and or the vocalizations that occur in the spoken breath – that provokes – me into paying close attention to what is occurring. This is all very broad discursiveness about very specific artistries, but there is always something fascinating and unique in a new project, be it a full-scale book or a chapbook.

KMD:  What does literary citizenship mean to you and how does it shape your editorial decisions, approach to book publicity, and engagement with the larger community?

GG:  To me, literary citizenship means being engaged with our community of writers by taking on more than the act of writing or a publishing. It means taking an active role in an extended state of mind to support, foster and further reading, writing, and publishing. Our editorial mindset is centered on small press culture. We are located in Buffalo, New York where small presses are considered relevant cultural institutions. Our local audiences have developed and grown over many decades. Michael Basinski, the recently retired curator of The Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo, often says, all poetry is small press poetry, and that certainly seems true. In Buffalo it is easy to be a good literary citizen because we have space to share, discuss and interact, collaborate and promote projects and readings.

At BlazeVOX our fundamental mission is to disseminate innovative poetry, fiction and select non-fiction and literary criticism through print and digital media, both within academic spheres and to society at large. Our outlets of publication strive to enrich cultural and intellectual life, and we are committed to the dissemination of knowledge. We also encourage poetry as a means to express individuality, creativity and activity within the current political climate. We champion the work of poets of color, LGBT+ poets, women poets from around the globe, and poets with disabilities. There are many challenges we face daily, but we do it with a brave face. In poetry failure is built into the system so most of us are prepared for it to happen, and when it does, failure is found to be momentary.

Success for a small press poet is found in a finely written book that is well designed. Everything else is out of our control. We plan and market for a successful publicity campaign. We hope that our literary community will have a conversation about, review and enjoy not only the words but also appreciate the book-shaped box in which the poems arrive. I think that engagement with the larger community will always be a challenge to anyone who publishes poetry, be that today or one hundred years from now. But we don’t find this kind of concern troubling; it is the nature of poetry.

KMD:  Please share one story about your press, your authors, or the books you’ve published that demonstrates this.

GG:  A good story to demonstrate the positive reach of literary citizenship and BlazeVOX would be found in a tiny occurrence, one that is not really out of the ordinary, a simple phone call I received from Travis Cebula. A few years back I was unable to attend AWP Miami. An off-site reading for BlazeVOX had been planned for a long time and it was a genuine disappointment not to be able to go. It was to be a small gathering of BlazeVOX writers set off from a conference full of writers. I was actually going to spend time in real life with the writers I publish. Mostly, I work from my computer at home so I was looking forward to the human connection of a poetry reading.

As the performance was happening in Miami I was in Buffalo, New York doing the work that kept me away from AWP. When I returned home a message blinked on the answering machine. It was Travis calling from the podium of the reading venue. After a few kind words he held up the phone to a loud roomful of thankful cheers and people screaming “hurray!” It is a moment steeped in sentimentality and uncommon kindness but it is a moment that I will not soon forget. It was, for me, a bridge of the human element that comes in the literary world. Kindness and empathy are not always rewarded in the business-side of publishing. Things get lost in business but in poetry humanity is our success.

KMD:  In what ways has your definition of and commitment to literary citizenship changed in the past few years? What sparked these changes?

GG:  My commitment to literary citizenship comes in the understanding of being a poet in an ever-evolving community of poets. There is a real disadvantage in being a poet. Poetry does not sell well and has little cultural capital. So the notion of tangible remuneration as a reward for one’s writing is never the motivating force for being published. Having one’s book of poems published is its own end and for the poet, a job well done. Since we cannot succeed simply by writing better to produce more commercial materials we succeed by spending our energy embracing what needs to be written.

It’s difficult to say exactly what changes are sparking in the literary community today, but it’s definitely something exhilarating. Poetry takes care of itself. Literary communities understand their needs and find a path forward. New small presses begin every year and bring out new and exciting work. Poets follow the publications and new arrangements of familiar forms mature, older poets meet younger poets and they cultivate a conversation, styles develop and poetry grows.

KMD:  Tell us about one forthcoming title from your press that you think will change the world for the better.

GG:  Cris Mazza’s forthcoming novel, Yet To Come, will change the world for the better. It is a novelistic battle between enduring despair and relief found in both imagination and the thinnest of material connections: an occasional postcard. Here is a brief description:

Decades before #metoo, Cal chose his punishment for going too far with a girl he was crazy about: a life-sentence with a woman he could not love, whose frequent rages, untapped spending and ruthless children were his means to distract himself from longing and regret. The girl from his past also condemned him to periodic postcards bearing no return address. Rather than increasing his despair, the postcards helped stoke the imaginary life he maintained with her, including dialogue about his plight, images of her showing up while he plays his sax in a nightclub, and even sex, the very realm that had initiated her retreat from him.

Cris Mazza’s forthcoming novel, Yet To Come will be released in 2020 from BlazeVOX.