25th Trillium Award

rob mclennan's 12 or 20 Questions, with Vincent Ponka

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Vincent Ponka

In rob mclennan's latest 12 or 20 Questions interview, Vincent Ponka tells us about his publishing house, Emmerson Street Press, and the press's most recent titles.

1. When did Emmerson Street Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Emmerson Street Press started in May 2010.

I think my goals have stayed on track over the past year. I still want to bring out beautiful books that showcase the finest writers from Canada and around the world. I have learned that there are so many talented writers out there, which gives me all the more conviction that starting a literary press is an important thing to do. It keeps me motivated to get all of the work done!

2. What first brought you to publishing?

I always liked the idea of starting a publishing house, but after graduating from university I started working in the film biz and that was my life for 15 years. I managed to put out a few chapbooks of my poetry over the years and I wanted to do more! Last year my wife and I moved back to Thunder Bay after having twins (who recently turned two), and I suddenly found myself with the time.

3. What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

To bring out books of the highest literary quality.

4. What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

Our books are designed with a focus on esthetics and are hand-bound and printed on gorgeous bond paper. We want people to see our books as beautiful objects they?d love to own. I consider the design component of ESP books will separate them from others on the bookstore shelves.

5. What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?

Print them and make them available at a reasonable fee. Have readings and launches and make them available to the reading public.

6. How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

I am mostly hands-off. I see myself as a writer first and editor second, so I have a lot of respect for every writer. We had hundreds of submissions and by the time I got down to the four books we are releasing, there wasn?t much editorial work to be done.

That being said? I have made the occasional suggestion to our writers, or asked them to clarify something. Then we have a conversation about it and decide what to do.

7. How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We are going to print between 350-500 copies. Distribution will be an interesting challenge, as it is for every new independent publisher, but we feel online sales directly from our website, or from one of the major bookstore?s sites, will allow us to reach a national audience.

8. How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

My wife, sk, has been a huge part of this enterprise. She is the designer and has does great work. She also has a PhD from the London School of Economics and her head for numbers and the business side of things has been invaluable.

9. How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

It makes me want to get started on a large writing project! Seeing the great work being written by my peers is inspiring. I plan to make some time to write this summer. I have a craving to write a book about jazz?.

10. How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press? editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

When I read previous editions of your interviews I was always interested to read what other editors said about this, as I was debating that exact issue. I have manuscripts that I am extremely proud of and would love to put out there? but I did have reservations. I was concerned that ESP could be mistaken as a self-serving venture if I put out a book of my own when I only had four books being released.

Is it an issue I still debate with myself, but at this moment I am willing to say I might put out something of my own next year. Not sure?.

11. How do you see Emmerson Street Press evolving?

I am looking forward to putting out our reprint classics collection this fall which will feature classic works with new introductions and/or translations by Canadian academics. Very cool.

12. What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

When I think about where we were a year ago and now we are in the process of releasing our first line of books? the learning curve has been incredibly steep and extremely exhilarating.

13. Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

Pushkin Press and Black Sparrow Books. I loved the class and simplicity in the design of these books. With Pushkin, I also liked the mix of the modern and the classic. BookThug is also a model that I followed and learned from.

14. How does Emmerson Street Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Emmerson Street Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

Our goal was to publish at least one work from Northwestern Ontario and we?ve done that this year with Douglas Livingston?s poetry collection Myoclonus. Jay MillAr at BookThug offered me some great advice early on, and it helped me immensely. Plus he puts out great books. Having conversations with people doing the same thing is essential.

15. Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

We will be holding a launch here in Thunder Bay (date TBD?) and I am looking forward to it. Whether we will launch in other cities as well, which we?d love to do, is also to be determined? .

16. How do you utilize the Internet, if at all, to further your goals?

I want to use the Internet to sell books directly to the public. Soon we will also have e-books available to download. The Internet is an essential part of our business and our website is the best way for us to connect with our customers and to get our books to them.

17. Do you take submissions? If so, what aren?t you looking for?

We definitely take submissions. Here?s the nice blurb from our guidelines:

Emmerson Street Press is eager to read the work of the vibrant creative people that we know are out there; writers who are proud to be a part of the centuries old literary tradition; writers who have been looking for a place to have their work welcomed.

18. Tell me about three of your most recent titles and why they?re special.

How about four titles?

We are putting out four literary books this year and I would hate to leave one of them out?

  1. Nothing Could Be Further, thirty stories by Tim Conley.

    I love this book of short stories. Literary, intelligent, witty, oh rob, I could gush and gush. I was thrilled to read it and within a few pages I knew I wanted to work with Tim. He is very well-published and a scholar and is just the sort of skilled writer I was hoping to publish. The range of his writing is extraordinary.

  2. Animal Magnet, a novel by Gary Anderson

    This novel reminds me of John Barth. Don?t you love John Barth? Those big rich novels that deal with life and character on a grand scale?

    Animal Magnet is epic and ambitiuous and raunchy and clever and when I first read it I thought: Man, can this Gary Anderson write!! (That?s right: my thought had two exclamation marks.) I am thrilled to be releasing this book.

    Animal Magnet begins with a forbidden love affair in the 18th century and ends three centuries years later in a futuristic L.A.

  3. The Lake Diary, poetry by Arthur Bull

    This book of poems was the first book I said yes too. I loved it from the start. Arthur lives in Nova Scotia, which is the setting for a lot of the book, but his long poem, "The Lake Diary," spoke to me as a northerner, as someone who loves to be on the shore of one of the lakes that occupy my life: Superior, Two Island and Shebandewon. These are person quiet poems that echo the East. Beautiful poetry. Arthur is an interesting guy: he is not only a poet, but a guitarist who plays improvised avant-garde music. His love of jazz is reflected in this book as well.

  4. Myoclonus, poetry by Douglas Livingson

    Douglas dropped off a typed manuscript at my door one afternoon and it didn?t take me long to realize that it was a special book of poems. He says that it is elements of French surrealism tempered with the Beats and I can see that?. These are very interesting poems with wonderful imagery and I look forward to seeing the reaction that the reading public has to them.

Emmerson Street Press: We believe a book is a beautiful thing.

Emmerson Street Press books are hand made with a focus on esthetics combined with responsible design. Because we are committed to sustainable practices, we print on carbon neutral paper manufactured with wind power.

Words are beautiful too. We aim to publish literature that reflects components of the beauty found in every day life that is too easily overlooked.


Vincent Ponka: As a writer he has been published in Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament, The Toronto Quarterly (issue 5), Otoliths (issue 10), The First Hay(na)ku Anthology, Common Sky: Canadian Writers Against the War, Kiss Machine, Peter O'Toole and Broken Pencil magazine. He was the arts editor of his university paper years ago and the desire to get back to editing never left him. He took courses at Ryerson and George Brown to update his skills and last year began soliciting submissions for his new publishing house Emmerson Street Press. The first four books will be released soon and he couldn?t be more excited.

For a complete list of rob's 12 or 20 Questions interviews, please visit http://robmclennansindex.blogspot.com/2009/06/12-or-20-questions-second-series.html

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