Talking Paper Interview Series: Brian Sheffield & Craig Kite

POST(blank) editors Brian Sheffield, Clairette Durand-Gasselin, and Craig Kite

POST(blank) editors Brian Sheffield, Clairette Durand-Gasselin, and Craig Kite

Craig Kite and Brian Sheffield are two of the four members (along with Clairette Durand-Gasselin and Margaux Taleux) of the French-American editorial team for POST(blank), a handmade bilingual word-art publication from MadGleamPress. The magazine's first issue is set for release in September 2016 with a theme of "POST-Paper," and its website describes the content as highlighting "the conjoined strengths of text and image by publishing visual poetic pieces, visual poems, dialogues between artists of the two media, and excerpts of artist books. Besides that, we want to explore in each issue a problem, a term, a fact, a thing or an idea that influences our creativeness through articles, interviews, and/or fiction."

Kite and Sheffield have performed their poetry at several Nomadic Press showcases in Brooklyn, with Kite at Small Press Love Fest in June 2016, Sheffield at Difficult Poetry at Christopher Stout Gallery in March 2016, and both taking part in Dramatic Nomadic at Pine Box in June 2016 and Summer Writes at The Hollows in July 2016. They recently sat for an interview and discussed POST(blank), their favorite literary publications, and publishing a paper object in a digital age. 

On starting MadGleamPress

Brian and Craig at the café where they met

"Brian...sort of struck me as this angelic Neal Cassady kind of character. He's one of those mad people that likes to burn like a roman candle. I was fascinated with him."

Craig: I started living in Monterey, California, where Brian Sheffield's from. I met him in a cafe and we immediately started talking about poetry. He sort of struck me as this angelic Neal Cassady kind of character. He's one of those mad people that likes to burn like a roman candle. I was fascinated with him. So he was starting a poetry scene in Monterey where there wasn't much of one. We became friends and started kicking around the idea of making a chapbook service for some of the poets around the area. So we would get some of the poets, produce chapbooks for them, and sell them in the street market. We wanted to make a name for that service and we spent hours just kicking names back and forth, which was a fun brainstorm, and we settled on MadGleamPress. Then I moved out here, and he moved out here, and our other lovely French counterparts got involved and we decided to make a magazine to get the press kind of propelled and get some participation. The idea is that eventually we would like to actually publish chapbooks as well under the name MadGleamPress. Then POST(blank) was born out of the idea of getting that going.

Craig and Brian in California

Brian: [In Monterey] There was already a whole slam thing going on for like 11 years centered around this guy by the name of Garland Lee Thompson, Jr. His father was a prominent theater actor in New York, and Garland got all into theater, and then he got into poetry, so he travelled all over the place reading and performing poetry. He did this whole thing in New York and Los Angeles with poetry on the subway trains and on the buses where people would just spontaneously start screaming poetry. So this guy starts doing something that's called The Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam. It's just like a poetry slam where everything's scored, but it's not based out of the whole National Poetry Slam situation, so nobody goes on and makes slam teams. It's just its own isolated thing in this case. So first place would win $20, second place would win $10, third place would win a rubber chicken. It was great, and a lot of people actively sought out the rubber chicken prize. I have like six of them. It was insane. So Garland's philosophy behind this was, "Nobody ever remembers the third place winners in these." So he wanted to do something that people would remember. Because everybody remembers first place. A lot of people remember second place. He wanted to make third place memorable. So this was like this isolated thing, and there were always people coming in and doing their own poetry thing. But there was not much of a poetry scene, per se, and I've always been interested in that. I've always been interested in being part of this community of artists. The community of artists in Monterey were less of, say, an active revolutionary force and more people painting beautiful portraits of the sea and the landscapes because Monterey, Carmel, and all of that area is so beautiful. So much of the art was based off of the landscape, mainly for tourists, and I was upset with that because I wanted there to be this bigger forum for young people that was not just isolated to the Monterey Bay. A forum where everybody can sort of be involved in the work, and people who come in and go out could kind of have a stake there. A sense of a voice. So even when I was going through the whole Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam, and it was based out of this place called The East Village Cafeeven then, I had an idea of just putting together a small zine with all the poets who went to East Village Cafe because they all connect, and it's great. So I just wanted to start putting this whole idea together of publishing them, distributing them around the Monterey area, and seeing where that went.

On publishing a bilingual zine

Brian: We'd like the overarching thing to be bilingual because, while Craig and I came up with the name and were like, "Oh yeah, let's do this," the whole idea of the actual magazine and then the push for actual movement towards it was a full collaborative effort. I think without Claire and Margaux, nothing would have really happened because, at least with me, I'm very idealistic. I'm like, "I'd love to do this! I want to do this!" But then I don't actually do it. So that's my problem. Meanwhile, Claire is very action-oriented and is like, "If you're going to do it, fucking do it," and she's gone on and done a lot of phenomenal work. 

Taleux, Durand-Gasselin, Kite, & Sheffield

"We like to put a lot of the poetry and visual pieces on the same page and create a dialogue between it in the same way that we want to have the cultural exchange and the bilingual aspect..."

Craig: I speak Spanish pretty well because I spent time in Mexico and Guatemala when I was doing human rights work. I have written some poetry in Spanish, and I enjoy it because it's different. POST(blank) the magazinereally, part of the niche push there is to have the bilingual aspect and the cultural exchange. We like to put a lot of the poetry and visual pieces on the same page and create a dialogue between it in the same way that we want to have the cultural exchange and the bilingual aspect—also the European aspect with the American aspect from two different cultural hubs of New York and Paris. So just the visual aspect is unique in that way. The entire process has sort of been really influenced by that. Every issue of POST(blank) is also on a theme. The first one is on post-paper. I'll be writing articles and essays for each issue on a theme. So there's space to kind of give a political take to it, too, which is informed by the European and American perspectives coming together. 

Brian: Immediately, by having a bilingual magazine, you spread the readership out (or at least the potential interest) to a wider range of people who may not necessarily have access to that other language. On top of that, New York (specifically, Brooklyn) has an enormous French community. Granted, there are also a lot of other communities out here. But since we speak English and French in this context, we thought that would be a great place to jump off of. I speak very, very little French. I've adopted a phrase "c'est ce que c'est," which is French basically for "it is what it is." It's just another way of saying "c'est la vie," but I like the way it falls off the tongue better. Because I love the phrase "it is what it is." I don't know if I want to say it's a philosophy of mine, but it's just something that I love to say because it seems to make sense to me. I also know how to say, "I am a man." "Je suis un homme," and that's really it.

"... it's less about our own contributions and more about that whole aspect of a global community of artists."

We each have our own pieces and our own work that we're going to contribute, which is important in its own right. But the big thing about it is building on the idea of that community. So it's less about our own work and more about the work of people who submitand beyond that, it's more about creating this coherent narrative within each of the magazines that is generally attached to the theme but also attached to everybody who's submitting from all over the world. We've gotten people from all over the United States and plenty of people from France who've gone on to submit, which is very exciting. So it's less about our own contributions and more about that whole aspect of a global community of artists. Now, granted, it's mainly limited right now to New York and parts of France, but I personally would like to expand on that. 

On issue #1 submissions

"Within the literary arts right now in the digital age, what does it mean to actually do a paper publication? Why do it?"

Craig: Every issue of POST(blank) is going to be "Post" and then another word. So this was post-paper. Within the literary arts right now in the digital age, what does it mean to actually do a paper publication? Why do it? What is it? What are the challenges to doing it? Why do you want to be in a paper publication in that world in this day and age?

The issue is looking like it will probably be about 100 pages, including all the art and poetry and essays and everything involved. So we got a good number of submissions and a lot of really high-quality stuff, which I'm really happy about. We really wanted to create an aesthetic and sort of a curatorial process, rather than just a catalogue. We were looking for something that reflected our sensibilities and our artistic biases, and we got a lot of stuff that is exactly what we were looking for and looks the way we wanted it to look. So we were very selective about what we chose, and we got a good selection. 

On aesthetics

Brian: It's a dialogue between language and the visual aspect, so it's mainly centered around the idea of word art but also around the idea of seeing how words themselves will work with the visual aspect. So you'll have pieces that are themselves poetry, or just essays, but they'll be working in tandem with other visual submissions. Then we're also pushing for submissions of pieces that in themselves mix both language and the visual aspect. So a lot of collages, or a lot of pieces that are playing with, say, font or the way words look on the page with an image.

Craig: We want the literary selections to sort of narrate the visual aspect when we're creating an aesthetic. Claire has this phrase that she uses to describe her work: coherent eclecticism. She's very vocal in the selection process, and that really informs a lot of what we're creating. We want it to be a very dynamic aesthetic, but also be coalescing around a statement which is based on the themethis time being post-paper. Next issue may be post-mortem.

On inspiring publications

Craig: One I'm really digging right now is NYSAI Press literary magazine, which is from Staten Island. A friend of mine, Thomas Fucaloro, is from Staten Island, and there's a really cool arts community out there. It doesn't really make it into the city a lot, but it's very exciting to go out there and see it. There's a lot of creativity. They have a publication called NYSAI literary magazine, and it also has a lot of visual arts along with the poetry that's happening there. I really like how they dialogue with each other. I also really like great weather for MEDIA. The poetry anthologies they put out are really cutting-edge. It's really up my alley, as far as sensibility. I also am excited about Newtown Literary journal. I live in Astoria and Newtown Literary journal is all Queens poets, and they have a really burgeoning literary community in the borough right now.

"When it comes to the actual aesthetic of mixing the language with the art, I think right now it would have to be NYSAI, GAMBAZine, and great weather for MEDIA's anthologies because they do a phenomenal job of that."

Brian: GAMBAZine is a big one. I've always liked Poetry Magazine as well. Poetry Magazine can definitely be a little bit on the side of the established world, though, if you will, which I always kind of have problems with to a certain degree. I think most people in literary presses kind of have issues with the world of the established magazine. I really like Rattle as well. I submitted to them for some of their contests. They'll charge like $15-20. But in response to that, it won't just be like a naked blanket charge. They'll also give you two or three issues of their magazines. I went through that, and I really loved the way it looked and the way it felt and what they were presenting there. Some of the poetry that they have is beautiful and phenomenal. But when it comes to the actual aesthetic of mixing the language with the art, I think right now it would have to be NYSAI, GAMBAZine, and great weather for MEDIA's anthologies because they do a phenomenal job of that.

"I want it to be something that when anybody looks at it, it really looks nice, it really looks contemporary and relevant, and there's this great sense of conversation within the entire piece, both visually and linguistically."

I do also get some influence from The New Yorker. Granted, that's another established thing. But there's some good poetry. They don't do as much poetry as they used to, though. Relatively recently, they did publish this really long poem by Philip Levine after he died, and it was this big, long, beautiful piece. But they have an interesting way of always adding a visual element to their articles and to the writing that they have to sort of keep the page from being just a wall of text, which can be daunting to look at sometimes. You get a magazine and you're not here to read a novel. You're here to take a look at this collaborative effort. So that's kind of what we're doing. We definitely have articles and essays and stories that we want to put in—we don't want it just to be poetry—but we still want it all to have a very visual feel so that, as you're flipping through it, there's this color and this language and this narrative that's being offered to you. We really want it to be this nice object that, when it's finished, you can go through it and you're not just looking for your personal submission and then putting it on the shelf and just being like, "I was published in that." I want it to be something that when anybody looks at it, it really looks nice, it really looks contemporary and relevant, and there's this great sense of conversation within the entire piece, both visually and linguistically.

Brian working the MadGleamPress table at The Paper Box in Brooklyn

On publishing a paper magazine

"We're going into this digital age where everything can be saved and everything's permanent, but there's something about having this piece right there in front of you that is, in its own sense, very temporary because all of these things are eventually going to degrade."

Brian: The last thing I ever want to do is discount Internet publications. Pop Serialthey put on a lot of good quality stuff. Great art. They had this amazing poem by Noah Cicero called "It is Okay to Feel Catastrophic" that I adored. Then there are a lot of other online publications that do great work. But I think at the same time, it's also really important to have something in your hands. Granted, a lot of people may argue, "Oh, it's the nostalgia factor." We're going into this digital age where everything can be saved and everything's permanent, but there's something about having this piece right there in front of you that is, in its own sense, very temporary because all of these things are eventually going to degrade. The GAMBAZine magazine that I have has already been torn apart just by going through it and reading it. I don't have many of the NYSAI magazines that I used to have because they've been torn apart. There's this relationship between yourself and the physical object that is lost in the realm of digital publications. Then on top of the whole tactile thing, there's an absolute consistency in the way that it looks. Because no matter what, every single magazine that you're going to have, the images are always going to be the same. Take a computer screen, though. Your screen could be messy or you may have a slow connection, and it could be a little choppy to look at sometimes. Or maybe it will be this beautiful, clear image. But in a magazine's case, it's consistent. It's always like that. No matter where you are with it, it always looks the same and you can always go back and you can take a look at that piece again and appreciate it in exactly the same way that you appreciated it the first time. Plus, the feel of itto be able to touch the art. Granted, all art is best to look at in its raw form, there in person. But not many people have access to that. So books, or even Internet archives or anything like that, is basically the next best thing. But in this case, it's that sense of consistency and that sense of the relationship between the human and the object that you are interacting with.

"Paper is about touch. The physical relationship with the book sort of translates to the physical relationship with the people who are coming together around that object."

Craig: Paper is about touch. The physical relationship with the book sort of translates to the physical relationship with the people who are coming together around that object. The article I wrote for this issue is called, "Printing Your Own Social Capital: Small Press Publication as a Currency in a Fucking Bad Economy." It's about building a community, and participation. The Internet opens up a lot of access to see a lot of different kinds of art, but to have a physical community around a publication is something that I think is increasingly important. Also, after these submissions are sent in, having a filter in the form of a team of people curating these things and creating a dynamic artistic experience. It's an art unto itself. It's important to bring these communities of artists together in conversation and dialogue on the page. 

On performing with paper

"The feel of how it looks on the pagethat translates to how you perform it. Since I've been reading off the page more in my performances, it's really changed the way that I perform and read my poetry. "

Craig: Sometimes I make the mistake of not having enough time and not getting to print out my poem, and I have to read off the phone, and I hate that. It just feels a lot better, and looks a lot sexier, to be reading off the page. I used to just memorize everything, and I liked the freedom to be able to flow around and dance and do my poem off of my dome. But the way it is on the page comes out in the way you say it. The feel of how it looks on the pagethat translates to how you perform it. Since I've been reading off the page more in my performances, it's really changed the way that I perform and read my poetry. 

Brian: Poetry inherently has a visual element to it in the way that it's constructed. Where the line breaks are, how you work the punctuation in terms of the rhythm, or even dissect that rhythm with, say, a period in the middle of a line that will create a sense of tension. So there's always this very physical and visual element to poetry to begin with. Normally, I love performing. So normally I would prefer to memorize my pieces because then I get this great freedom to move my body about, and it becomes a relationship between the language and the body. But when I print it out, there's always something weird going on. There will be all caps in certain areas where I'm supposed to yell, because I fucking love yelling. There will be weird line breaks in pieces where I'm supposed to just fall into a place or stop and then move into another area. So the way that the poem looks sort of guides the way that I read it. 

Brian and Craig performing

You can do certain things with the paper that can make it seem more dramatic as a reading because there's a lot of drama in poetry—there really is. So I don't do this very often, but I have done it where I'm reading the piece, and it's 2, 3, 4 pages long, and after I finish a page I just kind of throw it out and continue going or just wrinkle it up and throw it. There's a clear relationship between you and the paper and the words. Because it's so easy to sit down and read a poem in front of an audience off of the page and just be blank when you're reading it and hope that the audience absorbs nothing but the words. But as poets, we're also performers. We go up there and read our poems, and we are at that point performers. Kind of like entertainers in a way. If you'll bring it down to the most banal point, you're an entertainer.

"When I have paper in front of me, I try to create this clear relationship between me, my paper, my words, and the actual performance. So there's all these things happening at once that I'm trying to convey."

So people go there to hear poetry and to hear profound stuff, or listen to how this person speaks and what this person is thinking that they are not saying in their everyday speech. So there's this interesting entertainment factor to it. But beyond that, when you perform with the paper in mind, then the paper becomes extremely important. When you read and the paper is there, and you're just trying to do the language, then the paper is irrelevant. When I have paper in front of me, I try to create this clear relationship between me, my paper, my words, and the actual performance. So there's all these things happening at once that I'm trying to convey. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don't. But overall, you work with what you have. No matter what, when you have things, you use them all. The paper is not just supposed to sit there. Everything has to be used.