This is, what I hope to be, a first in a series of interviews and conversations with poets and publishers about chapbooks and... other things! To begin, I interviewed Maria Miranda Maloney, the founder and publisher of Mouthfeel Press. What a treat! She was kind enough to take some time out of her incredibly busy schedule as a publisher, poet, mom, wife, and gardener extraordinaire!
|The lovely Maria Miranda Maloney!|
First off, maybe you can tell me a little bit about Mouthfeel Press. I mean, I love Mouthfeel (I think every one of my blog readers already know that) but maybe give us a general idea about your team and your projects. How did it all get started, anyway?
Katie, thank you so much for including MFP. I love MFP. I love the name. I love the publishing mission. I love the authors that have courageously placed their work and faith into my hands. Mouthfeel Press started as a seed idea many years ago while I was working in journalism and public relations. That was before husband and children, and my own poetry training. Back then I was reading poets and writers like Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chávez, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gloria Anzaldúa, and many other Chicana canon writers, but I always felt there were never enough women writers or poets to go around, or writers that a young Chicana like myself could relate to. Books were not being published fast enough, or not at all, to sustain me and my friends’ hunger for authors. At some point in my life, I returned to school to become a fiction writer and it was there that the idea of MFP solidified. I also learned about the underrepresented of the publishing world pertaining to women, latina/o, and regional writing. However, not all was dark and gloomy, and thanks to professors like poets Rosa Alcalá and Sasha Pimentel Chacón, I was introduced to the works of women-of-color outside of the chicana canon. I fell in love with the work of Henrietta Mullen, Rita Dove, and Barabara Jane Reyes, to name a few. I discovered poets like Emmy Pérez, Dolores Dorantes, and Laura Solórzano. I breathlessly embraced the experimental and conceptual works of Mónica de la Torre, Juliana Spahr, Bernadette Mayer, and so on. It was at this time that MFP began to take shape in my mind. I honestly thought MFP would concentrate solely on publishing women; however, I’m not one to hear only one side of the story, and I don’t like to be pigeon-holed-- there’s no freedom in that as a writer and publisher. There are so many male poets producing exciting work out there! By the end of grad school, I knew I was going to launch the press.
|Visit Mouthfeel Press for more information!|
And I’m so grateful that you did! I think our world needed a press like Mouthfeel, and you’re filling a niche in the publishing community that long needed to be filled. Bravo! On the Mouthfeel website, I see that the mission is to promote the poetry of the borderlands. Can you expand on this mission? Why do you think promoting the borderland voice is important, and how are the chapbooks your publishing helping you to do this?
The idea is to publish as much work from local and regional authors. And while that will remain MFP’s priority, it is evolving as I receive more and more manuscripts from writers from all over the U.S. and abroad. For me, “borderlands” does not necessarily signify a geography, a specific place. That would narrow its definition too much. A more liberal definition would be a point or space of rupture from pre-determined and predictable roles and circumstances, a point of deconstruction, and a space that Emma Pérez references in her book, The Decolonial Imaginary, as going “into the margins, to argue or expose that which no one will risk.” MFP’s mission recognizes this space and embraces this rupture through poetry. Having said that, however, it is no secret that a region as large as the TX-NM-AZ-CA is seriously lacking in presses that embrace the language and culture of the region. Again, we return to the underrepresented voices from this region in the publishing world. I want to make sure MFP fills in some of the gap. Furthermore, the act of publishing, for me, is political. A stance against the likes of folks from Arizona and anyone else, whose racism extends to our literature, our stories, our language, our culture, our way of life, as if the U.S. is composed only of one history and one people. The chapbook becomes a powerful voice to help promote our literature in a quick and efficient way. While not all writers submit work that is intended to be political, most writers' work selected for publication fall into the category of a borderland.
|Photo by Rosalba Miranda|
I know Mouthfeel puts out some wonderful full length collections, but the majority of the publications are chapbooks. Why chapbooks? What makes them appealing to you as a publisher?
The chapbook is easy to produce and it is affordable. As I mentioned, it is a powerful and efficient way to help promote literature. As a lover of books, I am especially interested in the earthy aspects of producing a chap. I love the hands-on aspect of it, watching the book take shape from start to finish. I love to select the paper, to hold it in my hands and feel the texture, to fold it, to see it to fruition. I try to stay true to its original form-- handmade, although I don’t hand-bind mine for lack of manpower, so a machine does if for me. As chapbooks have picked up new breath in the poetry world, many are now being softbound, making it more attractive for bookstores to carry.
|Post Pardon by Arisa White, one of Mouthfeel's recent chapbook releases|
From a literary perspective, the chap challenges an author to produce a tight collection of poetry. Every poem that goes in a chap needs to be strong. I love to pick up a chapbook that is so tight that I feel its grip. Such a chap demands to be read in one sitting. I have a collection of chaps in many shapes and sizes, from many authors and publishers from across the U.S., and I love to read them over and over. These have become my favorite books.
|passwords_ by Juan Manuel Portillo, another recent chapbook release|
I agree with you, Maria, about the best chaps being read in one sitting! I find myself immersed in them. I think a chapbook is a good opportunity to explore poetic obsessions! Anyway, I’m just curious – you must get a lot of submissions, right? Since Mouthfeel does not charge a reading fee like many presses do, what makes a chapbook submission stand out from the rest? What do you look for when sifting through the submissions?
Submissions have increased in the past year. MFP is a relatively new press, and I have not addressed the idea of charging a reading fee. I think a reading fee becomes burdensome for many authors. I know it did and still does for me, and yet, I understand why a reading fee is necessary-- to help pay the readers. It makes sense! In the meantime, the manuscript is at the mercy of my time. Right now it’s taking anywhere between four to six months, and sometimes longer, to read and respond, and much longer to publish. So, if you submitted a manuscript and have not heard from me, please email me a reminder. I promise the waiting period is about to change as Laura Cesarco Eglin joins MFP as editor. Katie, I wanted to get this information out because I know that as an author it is frustrating to be waiting for a publishers’ response, and I do apologize for that.
|Laura Cesarco Eglin, new editor to join Mouthfeel Press|
Returning to your question about what makes a manuscript stand out, I look at titles first. If a title is engaging and strong, I am more likely to open up the manuscript immediately and start reading. The first poem is the most important poem of the manuscript-- it sets the pace and voice of the collection. It is the bait that will determine the bite. Another thing that makes a submission stand out is when the author takes the time to address the publisher--a brief introduction will suffice-- and how well a manuscript is put together: Does it include contact information, table of contents, page numbers, one attachments versus a slew of pages?
Have you ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a chapbook manuscript (could be from another press, too)? If so, what do you think makes you feel that way?
I fall in love all the time! I’m more susceptible to chapbooks with textural qualities--surprising syntax, forms that swerve across the page, metaphors that are fresh, fragments intertwined, concrete images, unpredictable line breaks-- all of these within the themes embraced by MFP’s mission. I love to feel freedom in a poet’s work. I love to see manuscripts that go beyond traditional forms, or that use traditional forms in new ways like the sonnets by Bernadette Mayer. In other words, I like a little avant garde.
Have you ever had to turn down a chapbook manuscript you loved? Maybe because it wasn’t right for MFP, or any other reason?
Absolutely, and sadly. There are many wonderful writers that have submitted whose work does not fit with the mission and aesthetic of MFP. I think it happens to every publisher out there. I think it happens to every author.
What direction do you see Mouthfeel going in the future? Do you plan to continue publishing chapbooks? With the fast changing publishing industry, do you ever think about publishing ebooks, or maybe branching out into fiction, or publishing an ejournal (or maybe a paper journal, too!). I know I heard something about changing the chapbook formatting. Anyway, long story short – where is Mouthfeel heading, oh fearless leader?
I’m very excited to announce that Laura Cesarco Eglin will be joining MFP as editor. Laura’s editorial eye is brilliant and uncanny, and she embraces wholeheartedly the mission and aesthetic of MFP. I feel so much lighter knowing she’ll be part of MFP. The next few months will be busy months for MFP as we plan to release full-length collections by Robin Scofield (Sunflower Cantos), Amalio Madueño (Spider Road), and Gabriel Gómez (The Seed Bank)-- all before the end of the year. Four chapbooks are still pending for release. In 2013, we’ll be releasing a bilingual children’s book by Alejandrina Drew, as well as a collection of bilingual short stories by Xánath Caraza, and a poetry book by Carolina Monsiváis. I’m also looking at a new book distribution and marketing plan. In other words, MFP is getting an overhaul. I’m not yet opening the press to short fiction until after I publish Caraza’s book. I don’t want to take on too much, but I think it’s a good start. E-journals are not my priority at this time.
|And the Ass Saw the Angel by Robin Scofield|
I think what you’ve got on your plate is absolutely plenty. I can’t wait to read the new titles, and I know Mouthfeel Press has been growing and has even begun winning awards! So many start-up presses don’t make it, but it seems like Mouthfeel is doing just fine, three years into setting up shop. What do you think is the key to Mouthfeel’s success?
I think the key to a small press is to take it slow, and to acknowledge your limitations. I don’t have the manpower, and I’m a for-profit press, which means I don’t have access to grants. For-profit, sole-proprietorship basically means doing all the work without paying myself, contrary to the popular notion of private ownership. It takes about five years for a business to get established, and I’m assuming it will take longer for a small press. Much of what I do now is purely out of love for poetry, purely out of hope. I’ve had the fortune to work with authors, like yourself and Ire’ne Lara Silva, Elisa Garza, Laura Cesarco Eglin, Robin Scofield, Nancy Green, Carolina Monsiváis, Juan Manuel Portillo, and other MFP authors, who understand the limitations of a small press but feel as passionate about writing and poetry as I do, and are willing to go the distance to make this work.
|The Mouthfeel Press and BorderSenese team at AWP 2012|
Also, having a focused mission statement is key to success. It may sound rather simplistic but the mission of the press is the pulse of the press. I know it sounds cliché, but I can’t emphasize it enough.
Any advice for the hopeful poet putting together her first chapbook?
A chapbook is an author’s calling card into the great world of publishing. Whatever happens after the chapbook is up to the author, as you well know Katie. Thus, it behooves an author to put as much effort into it as he or she would put into writing a full-length collection. This includes a tight, focused collection, a great title, a manuscript devoid of spelling and grammatical errors, and a good, professional presentation. A small press is just as likely to look at the latter as any large press.
And finally, Maria, I know you’re not just a publisher, but a poet as well. Care to talk about your current writing projects? Are YOU planning on publishing another chapbook in the future? Or maybe you can tell us a bit about your experiences with The City I Love?
Of lately, Katie, I’m mostly a reader and a publisher. As much as I love writing, I love publishing even more. Does that make sense? I think some of us were born to be poets, some of us were born to be publishers, combining both can be taxing, as I am quickly finding out. And I’m also a mother, wife, and gardener, and while that is no excuse not to write, I have to admit sometimes my own manuscript ends up on the back-burner. Nevertheless, I am putting a second full-length manuscript of prose poetry that I hope to finish by the end of the year. It’s been in the works for almost a year. I’m hoping to submit an excerpt to a couple of chapbook presses I admire in the next couple of months.
|Photo by Maria Miranda Maloney|
Maria Miranda Maloney is the publisher of Mouthfeel Press in El Paso, Texas. She received her MFA from the University of Texas El Paso. Her work has recently appeared in Xispas: The Journal of Chicano Art, Culture and Politics, Mezcla: Art & Writings from the Tumblewords Project, and BorderSenses. She is a contributor to the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum, and is a board member of BorderSenses Literary Journal. She is the author of a poetry chapbook titled The City I Love, which was published by Ranchos Press.
Do YOU have something to say about chapbooks? Join in the conversation! Email me at email@example.com, or leave a comment below!