Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interview with Michelle Detorie, Publisher of Hex Presse

1. When did you start publishing and how did you become interested in publishing?

When I was in high school and college, I became interested in zine culture. I loved that it was messy and cheap. I read a lot of zines and worked on a few with friends. The first time I worked on a publication devoted to poetry was in 1995. I’d become friends with a fellow poet, and our shared energy and enthusiasm for all things related to poetry inspired us to begin a flyer campaign in the name of poetry. We posted lines of poetry all over campus, and we also created cryptic messages promoting poetry (Things like “While you were out, poetry called. Call it back!” and “Poetry Emergency!”). We had a lot of fun, and I learned that there is something very special and empowering about collaborating with friends to make something. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 2005, that I felt moved to begin another publishing venture. At that point I had become very excited by the work many writers were doing online. A number of poets who I admire had begun online magazine and little presses, and I was inspired by their work and felt compelled to participate. After briefly attending the bookfair at AWP (it was in Austin that year), I decided that I wanted to work on an online magazine that featured the work of writers who self-identify as women. So I started Womb Poetry ( in 2006 and the first issue went live in January 2007. A few months later I began working on Hex Presse, the 3-d companion to Womb, and published the first Hex Presse chapbook in November 2007.

2. Did you get much of your own writing published before publishing other writers' works? What kind of writing did/do you do?

I’m primarily a poet, though I also work with prose and multi-media. I published several poems in zines when I was in high school and college, but my first publication in a literary journal wasn’t until 2004. When I first started working on WOMB, I was submitting and publishing my own work more regularly.

3. What are some of the difficulties and problems you encounter while publishing? Do you think it is more difficult to be a publisher of a small press rather than a publisher of a larger press?

I have two jobs, so the primary difficulty is scheduling enough time to complete projects. And of course funding is an issue, since I lose money on each publication. I’d love to have more resources to devote to WOMB and Hex Presse. As it is, I usually have to wait for a gap in my regular schedule to have time for the journal and press. I suppose larger presses have funding and staff, but I’ve never worked within a large publishing model, so I don’t really know if that makes things easier. I do feel very committed to all of the work I’ve published, and that makes the work – despite its difficulties—incredibly fulfilling.

4. Is there anything specific that you look for when deciding to publish a writer's piece? Do you look for unique structure/form or do you mainly look for something that is aesthetically pleasing and moves you?

I’m attracted to liveliness, experiments in syntax and form, writing that engages visual and spatial elements, and politically motivated writing. I’ve also noticed that there tends to be a sort of generosity in the work I admire and publish.

5. Do you have other publishers help you read submissions and make decisions whether or not to publish something?

I haven’t done this, but it is something that I would be interested in doing if Womb or Hex ever has an extended open reading period. It would certainly allow me to consider more submissions.

6. I understand that many writers feel it is important to belong to a larger community of writers. Do you feel like there is a sort of separate community for publishers, or do you feel connected to a larger community of the literary world in general?

It is true that many of my poet-friends are also involved in publishing activities, but I do not think of it as a community that is separate in any way. Most of the publishers I know are interested in building communities and that spirit has certainly allowed me to feel connected to other writers, artists, and readers.

7. I love how you create different ways for readers to participate and engage in poetry. What kinds of spool poems have you published? Are there specific topics or themes that the writers tend to use?

So far, I’ve only published one of my own poems as a spool poem, “Gloss.” The spools are incredibly labor intensive because of the pyrography on the wooden spool itself and the hand lettering on the ribbon. If I make a mistake, I have to start all over! That said, I asked the poet Kristy Bowen for a poem to put on a spool, and I do plan on making that once I have the time and materials. Kristy’s poem definitely lends itself to “unwinding.” I am obsessed with exploring different ways to experience or engage the act of “reading.” I probably have a pretty radical definition of reading. It doesn’t have to involve words or meaning: it’s more of a “making sense” – experiencing letters, words, glyphs, objects, colors. I find it such a tremendous source of pleasure.

8. Your poetry jewelry is absolutely beautiful. Do you make the jewelry yourself? How did you come up with the idea for poetry jewelry? What are your inspirations?

Thanks! I do make the jewelry myself. The first piece of jewelry that I wanted to make was a “locketbook.” I used to love charm necklaces and charm bracelets when I was kid, and I was often grateful to have the little charms to play with and look at when I was bored. I also enjoy the tactile feel of beads and the tiny tinkly chimes made by glass on metal. Even though I do make some of my poetry jewelry available through the Hex Presse shop, it is hard for me to think of the pieces as anything other than gifts.

I am inspired by the poetry I love; almost all of the jewelry is inspired by the work of various women writers. I usually condense or excise language from a larger text to create the poetry jewelry (and puzzles and cleromancy games). Sometimes I use a process to select the words (divination by rolling a die or something similar; I also tend to do a lot of things with the number 6, aka “hex”), and other times I select the words that feel most “charming.” I’m also interested in how the process of condensing a text creates multiple texts, and how words and letters can form a sort of syntax with beads and hoops and charms.

9. I've never heard of poetry puzzles before. Can you explain what can be done with them and what you think people can or should learn from the puzzles?

I call them puzzles, but there is not one singular “solution.” I definitely like to play, and so I hope the puzzles inspire a sense of playfulness for the people who engage with them. Each puzzle is inspired by a specific poem by a women writer. I select six words from the poem, and spell out each of those words with colorful letter beads. Then I gather additional, tiny materials -- matches, beads, feathers, candy, aspirin, thread, bells, plastic babies – that seem as though they could be part of the world of the poem (the plastic baby went into a puzzle inspired by Sylvia Plath’s “Fever 103°”). I also try to include materials that will inspire each of the senses. I collect all the letters for the six words and all the other little materials in a glass jar. The contents of the jar can be removed and sorted, touched, arranged, constructed, deconstructed – it is really up to the reader/participant how she would like to engage the materials. There is the idea that one can “solve” the puzzle by spelling out the six words, but I also imagine that people create new words and anagrams.

My main hope is that people are delighted and inspired by the puzzles. I do think engaging with the puzzle can offer new insight into the poem, but the puzzle itself isn’t meant to be overly didactic.

I think the primary inspiration for the poetry puzzles come from the “letter boxes” that I encountered when I was working at a Montessori school. The “letter boxes” were part of the language arts curriculum for very young children (2-3 years, usually). Each clear, plastic box related to a letter/ phonetic sound and contained a variety of miniature objects that began with that sound. For example, the “B” box could contain a tiny bat, a bone, a button, a bird, a ball, and a boat. The children loved exploring these boxes and saying the names of the objects as they spread them out on a table of a rug. As the children progressed, they sometimes worked with multiple boxes, and sorted a gathering of objects into their various boxes. There seemed to be something meditative and almost ritualistic about this activity, and it is something I’ve thought about often over the past years.

10. Who are your favorite poets from the past? What about more recent, less recognized poets?

Emily Dickinson is probably the poet I return to most frequently. I also return to Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Langston Hughes, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorine Niedecker, George Herbert, and H.D. As far as contemporary writers go, I’m a fan of Harryette Mullen, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Fanny Howe, Rae Armentrout, Bernadette Mayer, and Alice Notley. Some of the newer writers I’m interested in include Anne Boyer, Jessica Smith, K. Lorraine Graham, Laura Goldstein, Susana Gardner, Juliet Cook, Amanda Ackerman, Harold Abramowitz, Julia Drescher, CJ Martin, Helen White, Alixandra Bamford, and Michalle Gould. I’m sure I’ve left many writers off of the list.

11. How did you come up with the name "Hex" for you press? How does the word relate to the works that you publish and the jewelry and puzzles you create?

I love the letter “x” and I love the word “hex.” I must admit that I sometimes have a fetishistic attitude toward certain letters, letter combinations, words, and sounds. I think of it as a mild form of synesthesia. I’ve also done some writing experiments that are based on spells or inspired by various forms of divination. I also like hexagons and hex signs. I like the multiple meanings of “hex.”

12. Is there anything else you would like to share about your passions, Hex, the publishing world, etc.? Any advice for how a young person can get into publishing?

I’m so excited by young, enthusiastic, optimistic writers and artists who just *do* the thing they want to do. I encourage anybody who has the inclination to publish, make books, and share texts to find a way to do it. You don’t have to wait for anybody’s permission.

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