The past few mornings and nights I have been writing an essay for a forthcoming ILSSA publication. The essay is about “hand/mind.” (This is a part of a small series of essays by multiple people—the other subjects are “old/new,” “work/play,” and “time/money.”) Below is the opening paragraph (as it stands, here, now, this morning):

Look hard was the dictum of the class. We were attempting to make accurate, representational, still-life paintings of white on white tableaus—eggs and white ceramic ware against white backgrounds. One thing that became almost immediately clear was that the idea of white—pure, bright, disembodied, unmodulated—did not map well against white-in-the-world—never pure, wrapped around objects and/or embodied in pigments, and always appearing in shades of gray mixed with reflected and projected color. This fact became apparent to this group of struggling students very soon, but it became apparent not in the abstract of language (as it does in this essay) but in the actual practice of painting that we were engaged in. The linked act(s) of looking and making were de-verbalized, connected in the building of moments, and existed as concrete moves and the testing of procedures. We were studying representational painting. We were studying the mechanics of representational painting, and the knowledge that we were developing existed in the circuits between hand and mind. Only later, during class discussions, did we attempt to represent that knowledge in language; but our understanding of each other’s comments was always filtered through the work of our own hands. Knowledge is always connected to practice.



This will be the last post documenting the layering and building of the covers of Kyle Schlesinger’s What You Will, because them covers are done gloriously done.

This is a good way to preview the book in its entirety, because the book is reprinted, in its entirety & exactly in position, on the cover. You are seeing the entire book collapsed. This is what time looks like.

I am intrigued by the surface of the printed areas, by how the ink and (non)color built up, and by how the edges and impression of the different plates left different marks. There is something in these covers that can be expanded into future books—an approach, an idea, an insistence on the physicality of the printed object. Books are for handling, after all. These covers are like oil paintings that you get to play with, finally.

Only the jackets remain to be printed. Only 24 more runs. It won’t be long now. This is how time stands as a wall against our bending backs.



And one thing that had made me very uncomfortable last week was the reactivation of my Facebook account and the creation of a page for NewLights. One concrete issue that the BlazeVOX discussion brought to my attention is that I could/should be doing more to get the word out about the books. The NewLights Facebook page is a start to that. “Like” NewLights and then you’ll get to watch me figure out how to use that page as an effective way to communicate, in painfully slow, discontinuous, and awkward “real” time. I know that sounds enticing. It will also be a good way to get news if you don’t like this blog. Or to get news easily separated from the rest of this mess. Or something. Anyway, here’s the link, one more time, who doesn’t want to like and be liked:


Any other small presses out there, I would love to be pointed to your pages as well.

And there will probably be a Twitter account in the future too. Yikes.



You can see the initial post about this book here.



For Rodchenko/For Travis:
Working Notes Toward The Heads

NewLights Press: A. Cohick, et al
3 digital books, 96 pages each, 9” x 12” (open)
Pure RGB colors
Edition determined as viewed



In the last post on this topic I wrote: “For a person to set up as a publisher and declare themselves an editor without any socioeconomic vetting by an acknowledged institution of authority (one with money & power) is a subversive act.” I’d like to explore that statement a little more, grounded in a particular experience.

Many years ago now, when I was living in Baltimore, I was acting as the “Project Coordinator” of the Dolphin Press, which was a fine press run out of the Printmaking Dept. at the Maryland Institute College of Art. NewLights had been started by then too. Running Dolphin was a volunteer position—a stopgap measure to keep the press producing during a time of little/no funding. The Dolphin Press, in any official sense, did not exist. But I figured it was good “professional” experience—and it was.

I put “professional” in quotes, because, back then, even more so than now, I really had no idea what I was doing or what I was supposed to do. But enough background—this post is supposed to be about the subverting of institutional authority.

At some point during my time at Dolphin, one of the other departments at MICA purchased a book from the press, and, naturally, asked for an invoice/receipt. Of course nothing like that existed, so I had to make one. I kept thinking something along the lines of: I’m just some normal jerk, I can’t make or issue an invoice. I don’t have the authority to do this. I did it anyway, of course. I made an invoice for a transaction between two academic departments—one of which was imaginary.

The small press world, though, as a whole, is imaginary. Imaginary despite the aching muscles, the bottomed-out bank accounts, and the stacks of wonderful books. Our imagination will tear us apart from the inside.

A year or two down the road, when it became time to design an invoice for NewLights (when actual businesses (bookstores) and other institutions (libraries) started buying things), I realized that the detritus of the institution (“the institution” in the general sense)—its forms, invoices, documents, correspondence, paperwork—is one of the major things that constitute its identity outside of its local time & place. Thus the strange looking invoices, correspondence forms, inspection slips, etc. that NewLights uses. Such things are the flimsy foundation on which this imaginary institution rests.

What makes a press “real” and what makes it “imaginary?” Is it a physical location? Is it money? The things that it publishes? Its paperwork? Its tax forms? Its ISBN numbers? Its authors? Its publishing practices? How all of those things congeal into an image of “the press” in the mind of the public?



The image above shows the covers of Kyle Schlesinger’s What You Will as they now stand, to change again tomorrow. The versos now have all of the poems, 12 of them, printed (the white rectangle on the left side). There will be five more plates printed on that side, from the title sequence. & one run of scoring and the covers are complete.

The images below show the jackets with the first two runs on them. Please excuse the colors on these images—the lighting in the studio is awful for photos. The last image is the most accurate, color-wise.



I remember reading a comment on an HTMLGiant post a few months ago (I have no idea which post) where the commenter was talking about how anyone can set up a small press or journal and declare themselves an editor, despite any actual qualifications and/or experience they may or may not have. And I think that’s an accurate observation—when I started NewLights I had no idea what it meant to be an editor, how to be an editor, what an editor actually did, etc. I still don’t, really, which is one of the reasons why I am interested in this conversation.

What is it that we actually do?

For a person to set up as a publisher and declare themselves an editor without any socioeconomic vetting by an acknowledged institution of authority (one with money & power) is a subversive act. It is a usurpation, a move against power bestowed, a move for power built up from the ground. Built up from the ground in the sense that the self-appointed small press editor openly acknowledges their lack of institutional approval, but declares, through their actions, that “I/we will learn this, figure this out, build this up.”

I started the NewLights Press in May of 2000. All I had was access to a print studio (I was in school), a copy of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, and a need to make books. I certainly did not have a clue. I didn’t know of any other small presses operating in Baltimore at that time (there were some). Websites for such operations were becoming more and more common, but for a 20 year-old still seemed very exotic. This is not a “let me tell you how hard it was back in my day” passage—it’s an attempt to establish the fact that the social/cultural context in which small presses begin and operate now is radically different than what is was just 11 years ago. The closeness of the community and the long reach of small presses now is a consequence of electronic communication and the ever-accessible “storefronts” of our websites. And this context continues to change—we will see how digital books and e-readers play out. Almost every day we read about how big publishers are struggling. Almost every day we read about another small press that has started up.

Publishing/running a press is, like just about anything, a process. And it’s not a straight climb towards ‘better” work or more sales and more secure financial foundations. It fluctuates, sometimes with astonishing rapidity. If small presses gave up because they could not figure out a way to make a profit or at least break even, then almost all of them would close down after a year or two, or five or seven years down the road when things got rough. And no matter how promising a start, things will get rough.

The higher the profile of a press, the more “anonymous” its operations become—it begins to attract an audience and potential authors outside of an immediate, local community. And thus the press needs to become more “professional”—more like a large publisher. With that comes accountability and transparency.

NewLights, despite being the same age as BlazeVOX, has remained a much smaller operation, with a different (but overlapping) set of goals and interests. And because of that I really don’t think too many people would give a damn if I started asking authors for money. Some people wouldn’t like it, for sure, but there would be no big outcry. And any discussion/argument that might ensue about it would happen under very different terms, because NewLights operates under very different terms.

There is a fine line to walk between asking small presses to operate under certain community-approved standards and hollowing out their identities and practices. One of the things that make small presses great is the fact that their practices are person to person. When they begin to detach from that local, personal interaction without being able to predict and account for the consequences, nasty messes can ensue.



The first digital version of a NewLights Press book (The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (first iteration)) is now here and available for your reading pleasure. More out-of-print (and probably some in-print) titles will be added as the days get shorter.



A week has passed since the initial furor of the BlazeVOX incident. I am trying to continue using the event as a springboard for an analysis (a haphazard one, to be sure). As time goes on this is less about the specifics of what happened and more about the conditions that allowed it to happen (or produced the event), and an attempt to string together something productive in the aftermath. I am trying to pay my attention.

If there’s one consolation that Geoffrey Gatza (the editor/founder of BlazeVOX) can take from the whole controversy about his publishing practices, it’s that people in the small press community care about what BlazeVOX is doing, and that the press has become a major force in the scene (it actually has been for awhile now).

And of course, in the sense of “any publicity is good publicity,” even more people know about the press now.

But in the exchange we saw the cost of that high profile. It raises the bar for what people expect from a press. And it seems like the small press world, whether we like it or not, is becoming more professionalized, and the presses that operate in this world are becoming more institutionalized, more public. Sometimes, they are becoming more business-like—even if that business continues to lose money.

Changing technology has helped to increase the public profile of small presses. Websites and internet publishing and sales have been around for awhile now. Public sites where discussion is an active part, like blogs, are more recent but very widely used. Social networking sites as a means of promotion are also thoroughly integrated into how we work. Another more recent trend has been book trailers—video ads for books meant to be posted and shared. And there are ad spaces on websites as well. All of these things are good things—they help to get more books out into the world and help to bring sales to authors & presses.

Writing is generally thought of as a solitary activity, and for the most part, it is. Publishing has been, historically, always a group/public activity, utilizing different people and businesses with different areas of expertise. A press like NewLights, where I can take a book from initial concept to final distribution, is an exception, not the rule. Publishing is, in one aspect, the construction of a channel through which artworks can be disseminated—publishing is public, both in “intent” and “structure.” But at the same time, the process of bringing together a book, for a small press, is often a very intimate affair, involving a fair amount of work done in solitude, or with a very small group of collaborators. This small group is often just editor and author, as the editor tends to do most jobs at the press. The experience of bringing a book together is not that different from the experience of writing a text—it involves a closeness with the work, it is mediated by technology, the decisions made are aesthetic as well as practical, and it is done with a potential audience in mind. Publishing is a creative act, productive in and of itself, and is not simply, as stated above, “the construction of a channel through which artworks can be disseminated.”

We could say that the identity of the press is constructed within and by the interactions of the object that it produces with its audience. In this formulation the press is an always still-forming social entity. It is social and political.

We could say that the identity of the press is constructed in the process of production (before a publication’s public life), in the interactions of its constituent parts: author, editor, designer, printer, etc. In this formulation the press makes finished things that are then distributed after the fact. It is authorial.

We could say that the identity of the press is constructed in the reach of its publications, in the reputation of its authors, and in the dollar amount of its sales. It is economic.

We could add more. None will be correct.

More soon.



Curses—it looks like I’ve spent most of my blog writing/coffee drinking time reading, trying to catch up on recent conversations on the BlazeVOX controversy. Much good discussion continues. A few quick questions have sprung to mind:

1) What is the role or job of an editor/publisher? Are an editor and publisher the same thing? Are a “role” and a “job” the same thing? What are the images of the small press editor/publisher being constructed in this debate? How do those images map to actual experience?

2) And parallel to that, was is the role or job of a writer in the small press community? What images of the writer and her/his role are being constructed? How do those images correspond with our lived experience?

3) What specific publishing practices are being marked as illegitimate? What practices are being marked as ones to emulate? How do presses identify which practices are best for them?

4) What does the general call for transparency in publishing practices tell us about the how we view or exist in our community? Does a move toward transparency signal a shift in the development of the community’s professional identity?

5) Am I any good at what I do? How can I do it better? What are my priorities as a publisher? How do my priorities match up with what other members of the small press community believe they should be? Should I care?

6) What makes a small press successful? What makes a small press legitimate?

7) Is there something productive, and I mean that in the sense of an actual product (I always return to making), that can come from this?



[It occurred to me this morning that I forgot a perhaps important part of the disclosure in the first post about this. Not only do I know several people who have been published by BlazeVOX, but the NewLights and BlazeVOX list of authors overlap slightly. This has since been amended in part 1 as well.]

Over the summer and now into the fall (soon, closer every chilly morning) I’ve been reading The Nature of the Book, by Adrian Johns (University of Chicago Press, 1998). It’s a work on the history of printing, focusing specifically on printing in early modern London, from roughly 1500-1800. It describes how printing, as an idea and as a practice, was constructed in that time and place, how the players involved (authors, printers, binders, booksellers, the state, the crown) actively created the discourse surrounding and fueling the new craft. The book demonstrates how everything that we take for granted about printed books (their fixity, their reliability, etc.) were not always givens and had to be developed over time through a complex array of discussions and the implementation of various regulatory practices, both informal and formal. It’s a very interesting book.

The reason that I mention it is because the BlazeVOX controversy is, essentially, exactly the same historical process being described in the book—this time happening in and around small press publishing, here and now. This process has been going on for a long time, outside of the current BlazeVOX discussion, but its recent intensity, coupled with my current reading, has finally made the process visible to my often belated perception of such things.

The parallels between the functioning of the small press world, bound together now by digital media, and the public discourse of early modern London (and other European and colonial cities & countries) are many. Blogs are the equivalents of early pamphlets: short, printed texts about current subjects, distributed widely and cheaply. And the comments section of the blogs and social media sites are the equivalents of the coffeehouse or tavern. And the stakes here are real, just as they were then, even though they are being played for outside of any legal system. The financially precarious world of bookmaking and selling in early modern London was based largely on reputation, and by extension of that, credit. The reputation of a major small press publisher of innovative poetry is being contested now. And in this world in this time, the reputation of a press remains one of the most valuable things that it can possess.

In McLuhanish terms, the “global village” inaugurated by the new media of the mid-twentieth century is being hybridized, through contemporary digital media, with the rowdy city of the “typographic man.”

The BlazeVOX controversy is a spontaneous, collective, public disciplining of the small press world, particularly of the publishers. [My hope is that it will help us change our practices for the better. I think it will.] Small press publishing, especially publishing focusing on avant-garde poetry/fiction/non-fiction, has been, historically, a practice almost entirely regulated by social (not legal) norms and interactions, often unspoken and intuited through “regular” social interactions. Almost entirely—the US government did get involved in prosecuting some publishers (City Lights, Grove) for obscenity. But those cases were in a sense not just about small press publishing, as they had bearing on the entire literary community in the US and other countries. But for the most part, the practices of small press publishing have been constructed outside of any official legal setting. And because of that they have been very unruly, uneven, haphazard, criminal at their worst, heroic at their best—messy. Wonderfully messy.

We have found ourselves in the midst of a particularly messy part right now. I’m sure that the fiery parts of this controversy are over, and many people will want to forget about it (if they even wanted to pay attention in the first place), but I want to continue this series of posts in the hope that something productive can be elaborated out of this “crisis.” What that something is, I’m not sure. But I do believe this is an important process and discussion. And I imagine the NewLights contribution to it being just as uneven and haphazard, undisciplined, as the discourse in the community as a whole. And I don’t want to pretend that NewLights is outside of this discourse either. Because we are all in this together.

More soon.



One thing that I thought it was important to add: the BlazeVOX controversy really doesn’t affect how I feel about the work that they publish, and I don’t really give a damn if the authors helped to subsidize their books, as far as the work is concerned. As has been said elsewhere, BlazeVOX is not a “vanity press,” and the stigma that usually comes along with work put out by such presses does not apply here. The work being published is good. I don’t see any reason to doubt that.

In the midst of all these opinions about the “author donation” practice is a struggle for/questioning of legitimacy in the small press world.


Yesterday there was an event of no small controversy in the small press world. It all started with a blog post, written by Brett Ortler about BlazeVOX [books] and their submission/publishing policy. After Mr. Ortler’s manuscript had been accepted by BlazeVOX, he was asked to chip in $250 towards the publication of the book. Mr. Ortler was surprised and disappointed by this (it’s best to read his entire post, as I can’t adequately describe his reaction here), and wrote a blog post about it, calling out the questionable practice and publicly calling “for Mr. Gatza to amend his submission guidelines and website to include information about this policy, the amounts he’ll expect of other authors, and the like.”

And so the event began, spreading through blogs and other social media. Some questioning the practice:


Others defending BlazeVOX and the editor/proprietor Geoffrey Gatza:


And some have been reflecting on what this all means:


And the official BlazeVOX response:


And as I get to the Internet this morning I can see that a bunch of people have been writing about this, of course, and already it all feels overwhelming. But I did write (most of) this post already & I feel compelled to participate as well, but probably more in the third category—trying to figure out what can be learned from this, not just in a moral sense, but also as way to investigate the small press world and its growing pains.

But first a disclosure: I do not know Geoffrey Gatza, have never corresponded with him, and have never submitted a manuscript to BlazeVOX. I do, however, have several close friends who have had books published by BlazeVOX. The BlazeVOX and NewLights list of authors overlap slightly. There is a BlazeVOX book that recently arrived in the mail sitting on my desk right beside me as I write this. BlazeVOX has been operating for a long time, and puts out many books every year, and probably just about everybody in the small press world knows someone who has been published by BlazeVOX, if they haven’t themselves. That’s actually important, I think, to this discussion—or at least to this version of it.

All I have to say in terms of an opinion about the BlazeVOX co-op approach is this: In 2006 I borrowed $100 from Justin Sirois in order to complete silver standard. It wasn’t a question of whether or not the book would be published, as I was already in the middle of production. The book was literally half-finished, in pieces all over my studio. I probably needed the money to buy another toner cartridge, or more magnets maybe. Justin is a good friend and we had worked together many times, so I felt comfortable asking him—I was, in essence, reaching out to a friend for help, the one with the most vested interest in the project. I actually don’t remember if I paid him back. But he did get lots of copies of the book, and they sold quickly. That was the only time that I have ever asked an author for money. Will it be the last? (I hope so.)

Whenever I find myself working with a new author/artist, I always tell them up front, in the first letter detailing the publication process, that there is no money to be made and that I can’t pay them. (Hopefully that will change in the future.) But I do give them copies of the book (so many for free, plus more at a discount) to do with what they choose—give them away, sell them, burn them, whatever. This approach has worked so far, probably because the NewLights books are different and exist/circulate under different circumstances than most books. But this very informal, contingent approach might not work all the time.

Because I think that one thing that we are seeing with this BlazeVOX incident is that the small press world has gotten perhaps uncomfortably public, and that small presses that have been successful (in the sense of longevity & profile, not money) are becoming institutions in the eyes of their writing/reading public. And people are now, naturally, demanding accountability and transparency in the operation of these institutions. Wait a second are we—gulp—asking ourselves to professionalize?

Other than the immediate controversy around this controversy, it seems that there is more to be talked about here. To be continued.



that I found interesting on the Internet lately. The first is the work of Dafi Kühne, a designer and printer in Zurich. Not only does he produce interesting designs, but he prints them himself, often using constructed matrices—collagraph/relief, from contact paper, laser cut acrylic, cardboard, and even some wood type that he had fabricated. I thought these posters were particularly gorgeous:

They were printed from letters cut out of contact paper and stuck to a sheet of OSB. You can see more images on Mr. Kühne’s website. Thanks to the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts for bringing that to my attention. They are doing some great exhibitions and programming there lately.

And then I would take the hell out of this class: Graphic Texts: Looking at Text and Image Combined. And there are some great links in the post, which is probably the main reason I wanted to repost it.