It’s no secret that the number of small-independent poetry presses is on the rise. The value is two-fold: the odds of a poet getting a collection published have greatly increased and poetry is getting more exposure in the non-poetry reading world. But if you’re like every other poet, navigating the seas of established and fledgling small presses can be a frightening task. There seems to be a constant struggle to find a press that will, or is, standing the test of time.
So what do these emerging presses look for in poetry? How can we tell if the press is a well-oiled machine? I sat down with Poet Lawrence Eby, who is the owner and editor-in-chief of Orange Monkey Publishing, to discuss the birth of his press, his dedication to his authors’ work, and the balance of being a publisher and poet.
Lawrence Eby lives, writes, and edits in Southern California and is the author of two books, Flight of August (Trio House Press, 2014) which won the 2013 Louise Bogan Award, and Machinist in the Snow, forthcoming in 2015 from ELJ Publications. His work has appeared in Passages North, Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, as well as others. He is a founding member of PoetrIE, a literary non-profit in the Inland Empire of Southern California, and also a recent graduate of Cal State San Bernardino’s MFA program in poetry.
Blue Mesa Review: First off, Blue Mesa Review thanks you for taking some time to speak with us about all things poetry.
Lawrence Eby: I appreciate the opportunity. Poetry is a wonderful thing.
BMR: I want to start with Orange Monkey Publishing. You’re the founder and editor in chief of this fantastic little press, correct?
Lawrence Eby: Yes. It started in May 2012, sort of on an impulse, after I visited the San Francisco scene. With all of the great literary triumphs, I started to look at where I was from (San Bernardino county) and think, why not us? There are great minds here. We can build this.
BMR: For those who aren’t familiar with San Bernardino County, could you describe it in say…five words?
Lawrence Eby: If we are talking about the now, and not its past or potential, I would have to go with: Apocalyptic. Restricted. Porous. Awaiting. The Shadow of LA. I know that last one is cheating a little, but the “shadow” is actually an important part of our culture here. We have a wide array of artists and thinkers that work in that darkness. That darkness is a sort of fuel here, some sort of muse for us, or more likely, a Duende that we wrestle with. It’s a piece of us that LA cannot claim, which is what makes it lovely here.
BMR: Yeah, I hear you. It’s kind of got this beautiful ugly thing going on. Ok, so Orange Monkey is a relatively young press, but with some very explosive titles. The covers are eye-catchingly spectacular. Could you share a little bit about the process of how an Orange Monkey book arrives in its final form?
Lawrence Eby: Like many small presses, we have contests, open reading periods, and sometimes find our authors out in their wild habitat. Some authors we are interested in because we have experienced their work through public readings and literary journals. Others submit to one of our open submission periods and are either picked by our contest judge, which was Matt Hart last year (he picked Bigfoot for Women by Amy Pickworth, releasing Nov. 1st!), or by our editors. We do most our design in-house. Which means I’m mostly designing books. For our newest release, mentioned before, we had the wonderful, award-winning Lucy Hitchcock design the book after Pickworth’s recommendation. We do spend a good amount of time editing. We aren’t a heavy-handed press. But a book that has had every line questioned is almost always a better book. We like the wrestling process with poetry. It’s important to fight with the work and I believe our authors reflect that inner tension.
BMR: It sounds like you run a tight operation, but with ample creative liberty. Is that how you’ve envisioned Orange Monkey Publishing?
Lawrence Eby: I do, yes. Like the art that supports it, we try to be balanced between structure and risk. A lot of the work we look for is balancing on that line, and because of this, it is very innovative and provocative. For instance, S. Marie Clay’s book, Strange Couple from the Land of Dot and Line, is a wild, heartfelt book. She plays with your perceptions and expectations in beautiful ways. It’s quite extraordinary what she can do with a page.
BMR: …which leads to my next question. I agree that Orange Monkey is always finding titles that push boundaries. So, is there a greater importance on finding these titles?
Lawrence Eby: On finding titles that push boundaries vs. more traditional works? Well, I think all contemporary poetry worth its weight is pushing some sort of boundary. Whether that is caught up in the more traditional forms of poetry or not, isn’t necessarily a concern of mine. So far, each book that we have published has some sort of strange reality to it. But that strangeness is exactly what makes this books feel truthful. They are a unique perspective on the world, each book in its own strange way. I wouldn’t say that the most important common theme is “pushing boundaries,” but more so the honesty a book holds within it. These books are vulnerable, tense, and filled with living, breathing reality.
BMR: I like that. So let’s switch gears for a second, apart from starting an independent press, you also have your own book of poetry out, Flight of August on Trio House Press, and another one on the way?
Lawrence Eby: Yes. In March 2014, I published my first book, Flight of August. It was a book I had written during the first year of my MFA program and, on a whim, decided to send it out to a few places. It won Trio House Press’s Louise Bogan Award. It’s a post-apocalyptic collage poem broken into numbered fragments. The forthcoming book is my MFA thesis and it is titled Machinist in the Snow. It’s due out in August 2015 from ELJ Publications. It’s a fragmented, narrative long-poem about self-exile and insanity. That’s one thing I learned about myself during my MFA: a real, deep-seeded insanity.
BMR: That fantastic news. Reaching insanity is always fantastic news. So how does the poetry writing brain interact with the publishing brain of Lawrence Eby?
Lawrence Eby: I’d love to say they work extremely well together. But they are constantly trying to take over each other’s time. There is work to do, real work. I’m often thinking that writing poems is less valuable than piecing together the books of others. That may be true, though writing does help me make sense of my own jumbled mind. So there is value there.
BMR: Ok, so we have just a couple more questions. How do you see the role of small-independent presses in the publishing world? Is Orange Monkey working on any non-book ideas? Lastly, if you could be a bird, any bird that ever existed, would your name still be Lawrence Eby?
Lawrence Eby: Small independent presses are a sort of vine curling around the publishing pillar. It won’t be long until that pillar has disappeared from our view. It is easier now than ever in the history of written language to print books. Also, e-books are becoming more versatile in the way they handle poetry. Before, it was difficult to keep the field from collapsing together. The programming is developing and I wouldn’t be surprised to see e-book specific poetry presses begin to pop up. Orange Monkey is mostly a book press, but I think we may get more into the broadside design. This is something I have been wanting to experiment with for a while. If I could be any bird, I would abandon Lawrence Eby for something more frightening like, “Winged-Spider Serpent Pigeon” or maybe “Birdfluicus Spreadicus.”
BMR: Well, thank you again Lawrence for spending some time with us over here at Blue Mesa Review and we wish you the best on your books, publishing books, and changing your name.
Lawrence Eby: Thank You!
You can find more information about Orange Monkey Publishing at OrangeMonkeyPublishing.net
Aaron Reeder is a first-year MFA candidate in poetry at the University of New Mexico.