The Creation of a Poetry Anthology: An Interview with Michael Tager

Michael Tager, managing editor, and Ian Anderson, editor in chief, run the Baltimore small publishing house, Mason Jar Press.  The press is committed to displaying unique, diverse voices and publishing pieces that challenge contributors on both professional and personal levels. Their recent poetry anthology Not Without Our Laughter:Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality, edited by celeste doaks, is the focus of the following interview, giving us insight into what it takes to select poems and work through the process of publishing a chapbook. The Black Ladies Brunch Collective has an interview in LPR’s Winter 2018 issue and each member also contributed a poem.  Enjoy!unnamed-2.jpg

 

Little Patuxent Review: What inspired the idea to publish Not Without Our Laughter?

Michael Tager: Ian and I had worked with celeste Doaks before, when we hosted her for Writers & Words, a reading series we used to run together. She read from her book Cornrows and Cornfields and we (Ian especially) were blown away. What I really liked about celeste was her attitude—friendly, engaging, professional and amusing.  In short, the kind of person I like working with. When Ian broached the idea of approaching celeste and seeing if she had a concept ready for publication, I was about it.

We assumed celeste would have a manuscript of some kind, but she pitched us a different idea: an anthology of black women poets inspired by Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter.  Ian and I definitely weren’t expecting it, but it was such a great idea that we couldn’t possibly say no. Anthologies are such different animals, mixing of forms and styles and imagery. We’d never done one before, but we welcomed the challenge, and the mission inspired us to greater efforts.

LPR: What was the most challenging part of publishing the anthology?

Tager: Between the six members of The Black Ladies Brunch Collective (BLBC), Ian, and myself, we were incorporating eight different artists’ ideas into one cohesive product, and I would say that was the most challenging part of publishing Not Without Our Laughter. Poets can seem to operate on a different wavelength than the rest of us, and sometimes even amongst themselves. It was no different here. The women of the BLBC are brilliant, talented, passionate women, and theyhave their own ideas about how their art will be created and showcased. Valid concerns, too, since the book would have their name on it. Making sure we honored everyone’s voice and vision was an issue which Ian and I kept in mind throughout the project.

Working with a group creates a difficulty that doesn’t appear when it’s one poet and a publisher because the authors have their own idea of what art needs to be, and Ian and I have our own spin. Not to say that the editing or creative process was particularly contentious, because it simply wasn’t. It took more coordination and communication to be sure. For example, there was a series of emails, and meetings, and phone calls about—wait for it—line breaks. Because line breaks in poetry matter.  The book was going to be a certain width, and some poems might need to be adjusted. Normally we can try to shape a book to a poet’s style, but that wasn’t going to be an option with six poets. Adjusting line breaks might not sound like a big deal, but it required thinking, adjusting, and compromise. Luckily, as grown folks who know how to communicate without hurting feelings, we were able to work through the necessary changes. That’s just one example, but you can imagine the complexity.   It was challenging ,but ultimately incredibly rewarding.

Michael Tager

LPR: What are the most prominent themes in Not Without Out Laughter?

Tager: The book is broken into sections because certain themes arose. There were initially 10 or so sections which were combined and reorganized into seven sections. The BLBC are very different poets, of different ages and places in their lives, so, of course, each poet’s voice is distinctive. But there are certain commonalities that you’ll find in any friend-group, or in any human-group. We all love Prince, for example, (and anyone who doesn’t is lying) so there’s a couple of poems about Prince (and Zeppelin) in “Our Divine Chords.”  There are also sections on mood and food, the body, sex, and lists and litanies. Really, I think the sub-title of the anthology is indicative of the themes: Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality.

LPR:  Why does Mason Jar Press publish chapbooks?

Tager: Well, first, I’m not sure that Not Without Our Laughter is technically a chapbook. It’s around 70 pages and 30+ poems, which is past the parameters to meet the definition of chapbooks, which are generally much shorter. Before NWOL, we published a book of nonfiction by Michelle Junot–Notes From My Phone–which was well over 200 pages, and we’re about to publish our first book of fiction which is 250 pages. But we have published chapbooks in the past and may continue to do so. Chapbooks function differently and live in the world differently. At Mason Jar Press, we’re interested in whatever is weird and out-of-place, but still accessible. If a writer comes across our way with an incredible chapbook, we’ll publish it. We aren’t held to strictly one venue or another.

LPR: How did you select the pieces?

celeste selected the pieces with minimal input from us, which is why she’s credited as the editor. The BLBC isn’t just a clever name; they’re a legit brunch group, as in they meet over brunch and talk about poems, books, and the people in their lives. The poems came out of that association, so we didn’t see all the poems that celeste did. We had our opinions on the pieces that came our way, though, and we asked for edits, for poems to be moved around and—perhaps our biggest ask—we requested that the ladies write response poems as a way to tie the collection more firmly together. Initially, it felt like the poems were dancing around a larger unity, but the response poems tied all the authors and voices together a little tighter.

When I say response poems, one example is Katy responding to one of Anya’s pieces and coming up with a different poem that speaks to it, as in the first two poems “Leaving the House” and “Depression Insists We Stay In” or celeste riffing off of Teri’s Prince poem. The response poems are lovely additions to the collection, but are rooted in the amazing work already present.

Ian Anderson

LPR: What can we expect next from Mason Jar Press?

Tager: Well, we’re in the final stages of Dave K’s wild novel, The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado. It’s the first novel we’ve done, and it’s been a good time. It’s a weird, weird book and really dark and cynical. We’re into that, just as we’re into poems about Prince and depression. So it’s not a total pivot from Not Without Our Laughter, because Dave has poetry in his soul, but it’s definitely different. We just sent that to print (yesterday!) and we’ll be releasing it in November. Our venue and date is 90% concrete, but we can’t quite announce it yet since everything is subject to change. But we’ll be putting it on our website as soon as we lock it in.

We’re also cooking up some other ideas, some of which I can’t really get into, because, similarly to David’s upcoming event, who knows what iterations our projects will see. I can say that we’re looking to bring some new people on board to help since Ian and I are at capacity with projects and workload. We’re looking for a media person right now, for example. Some other positions (unpaid, sadly) will also be opening up in the near future.

In addition to Bong-Ripping Brides and general expansion, our first open submissions period ended in June and we’re sorting through 250 manuscripts that we’ve received from all over the country—and the world! There’s some dynamite stuff in there. This effort will be our first foray into working with a wholly new author (we’ve known all of our authors to one extent or another), and that’s going to be a lot of fun and a new kind of challenge. Now, what we’re going to pick I couldn’t tell you, but we have some ideas of how to expand the Mason Jar Press brand. We hope to announce the manuscript(s) by the end of August, but it might be a little later.

In other words, it’s an exciting time. We couldn’t be more stoked about it all. It’s a lot of hard work, but we enjoy it so much that it doesn’t always feel like it.

Bio: Michael B. Tager is the Managing Editor of Mason Jar Press, the Book Reviews Editor of Atticus Review and the writer of many stories, essays and poems.

 

Bio: Ian Anderson is a writer and designer living in Baltimore, MD.  He earned an MFA in Creative Writing Publishing arts from the University of Baltimore in 2014.

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Introducing Julia Gerhardt: LPR’s New Online Editor

The LPR staff and board are happy to welcome Julia Gerhardt as our new online editor. Julia worked as an intern for us and volunteered as a poetry reader from August 2016 to May 2017.  Desiree Magney, our co-publisher,  and I met her when we all worked at the AWP conference in February of this year. We’re all looking forward to Julia’s contributions and the fresh energy she’ll bring to the LPR blog. Welcome, Julia.

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Julia Gerhardt

Dear LPR Readers,

Hello there! My name is Julia Gerhardt, and it is with great pleasure that I write to you as LPR’s new online editor. I’ve noticed that whenever I want to speak honestly with a family member, friend, or beloved, I find myself bent over my desk writing a letter on my old Betty Boop-themed stationary. Now, while I cannot address a letter to every single one of you, the readers, consider this online blog post my personal, open letter to all of you.

Like all the LPR staff, I too, love reading and writing, although my relationship to literature had a fairly tumultuous start. When I was in first grade, I refused to read and write. I have a sister who is five-and-a-half years older than I and was getting straight A’s at the time, so the bar in my family was set pretty high. Instead of trying to reach for it, I gave up thinking that I would never be as smart as her (completely unaware that I would ever get any older and smarter). So, after refusing to read and write, it was either repeating another year or attending summer school. Summer school it was, and I abhorred it. My teacher was tough, the workload was heavy, (for a five-year-old that is) and the summer was hot. Yet, it was that tough-love attitude of my teacher that finally got me to start reading. Her stature may have been short, but her big, frizzy, gray curls, commanding voice, and piercing brown eyes always made her presence known in a room. The best way to avoid that eye contact was planting my face in a book, and so I did, again and again and again until I loved it.

My love for reading and writing continued into Goucher College where I received my bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Prior to entering college, my only editors were my mother and my sister who were the equivalent of the good cop, bad cop dynamic of writing. My mom was in constant praise of my work (even when undeserving), and my sister would take a literary knife to my essays until they bled red ink, always holding me to a higher standard. In all honesty, while I’m grateful for both types of feedback, my sister prepared me for only half the critiques I would get in college.

I wrote my first short story for a beginning fiction class my freshman year of college. It was a stream-of-consciousness piece from the perspective of an eight-year-old British boy. Friendly reminder: I had never been to England at that time, and all the British vernacular that I used I found on the internet. Needless to say, it was not a success story, and my classmates’ responses were clear on that score. While devastating to my freshman ego, that failed attempt at a story was the best thing to happen to my writing process. I realized that the more people critiqued my writing, the more they cared. After four years of people caring, I’ve grown a tough hide to criticism, but an open heart to feedback. My efforts resulted in my first short story being published during my junior year in a magazine called Sun & Sandstone.

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Since graduating college, I took the opportunity to travel and backpack through Europe alone. I should mention that I am so geographically inept, I once got lost in my own city for over an hour. However, this extended trip was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could trust my instincts and my intuition a little more. While abroad, I traveled throughout England, Scotland, and Italy. In the United Kingdom I visited various friends; however, while in Italy, I worked as a farmer for an organic vineyard through the World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF) network. I earned a fellowship from Goucher College to write a short story based on my experiences working in a vineyard and learning more about Italian wine culture. Now that I am safely back in the United States, I’m happy to report that I have not gotten lost in the city.

So there you have it—my troubled writing past and my hopeful writing endeavors for the future. While navigating post-grad life as a young writer isn’t easy, I’m grateful to be writing and learning the way with you.

Yours truly,

Julia Gerhardt

10th Anniversary: Voices of his past: an interview with Michael Ratcliffe

This essay was originally published on June 19, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Mike Ratcliffe is the kind of man one loves to spend the afternoon with, whether biking or hiking the rolling hills of Central Maryland or – as in my case – meeting over coffee, grown cold, as we discussed everything from poetry to how people identify with place. His bottle brush hair, brown, is shot with gray as is his goatee. Smile lines frame both his piercing blue eyes and his wide mouth. It’s easy to feel comfortable in his company, and sink into the depths of weighty conversation.

Michael Ratcliffe

Michael Ratcliffe, 2015.

Born in 1962, Mike grew up keenly interested in people. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in geography before heading to Oxford to earn a master’s degree at St. Antony’s College. His day job as an Assistant Division Chief at the Census Bureau may seem at odds with his poetic leanings. But the intersection of people, landscape, and meaning – the backbone of geography – aligns perfectly with Mike’s love of words.

LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan introduced me to Mike via email several months ago, saying our shared interests in genealogy and history were two sure-fire conversation starters. Mike sent me a draft of his chapbook, along with links to his previously published works, and I devoured it all. An email correspondence began. We met in person one sunny Sunday in late April at a noisy, crowded coffee shop in Fulton, Maryland to talk about his forthcoming chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Shards of Blue, which is based on his genealogical and historical research and focuses on two ancestors: John and Mary Ratcliff.

 NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 18:  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/18-summer-2015/

10th Anniversary: How to listen so writers will talk

This essay was originally published on July 25, 2013. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Susan at the Music issue launch, for which she interview Marie Howe. (Photo: E. Q. Tennant)

Susan at the Music issue launch, for which she interview Marie Howe. (Photo: E. Q. Tennant)

As a child, I rode everywhere on trains – Chicago, New York, even San Francisco, and that’s a darn long time on a train. My father worked for Amtrak; we rode for free. Train tracks run through back yards full of creaky swing sets, shaggy dogs and flapping rainbows of laundry – the back doors of houses, which seem much more intimate than the face the houses prepare for the faces they meet through the front door.

Watching out those windows for hours on end, I noticed there were so many lives, just as full as mine, which seemed like a revelation to me as a child. I was so curious about all of them. I also read obsessively – my mother used to beg: “Please, at least take the book outside” – for trips through other people’s heads.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 12: Audacity. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/12-summer-2012/

10th Anniversary: Once You’re Inside

This interview was originally published on September 11, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

prison wallsNote: All the men’s names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

I didn’t know what to expect when Linda Moghadam and I visited the men’s writing group at the Patuxent Institute. I had a clue as to the motivation and tenor of the men from reading a brochure Linda had given me about the creative group. Working together, the members had this to say about the purpose of forming a group and the power of the arts:

“The group wants to have a positive impact on people involved with the street culture, prisons, and policy makers who can re-introduce educational programs into the prison systems.…


NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 13: Doubt. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/13-winter-2013/

10th Anniversary: An Interview with Grace Cavalieri

This interview was originally published on October 30, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

A Memoir from Grace Cavalieri

A Memoir from Grace Cavalieri

Grace Cavalieri is just as comfortable in the kitchen making gnocchi with spinach and mushrooms as she is in the radio studio interviewing, Juan Felipe Herrera, the new Poet Laureate of the United States. When I talked with Grace about the role of myth in her life and work, she moved easily between making me tea with honey and sharing her latest poetry reviews for the Washington Independent Review of Books—a labor she performs faithfully every month.

During the interview, we talked about her home life, her life as a Navy wife, and her early years as a writer when she was raising her four children. Here’s a brief teaser from a section in Grace’s memoir, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, where she explores the function of work in our lives:

“The workplace is a laboratory for the human spirit that allows us to overcome the obstacles we need to overcome to find what we want. The ‘wall’ people put up for us is a perfect way to find what we want on the other side. It focuses. Desire is made better by the wall. I never said it was easy.”

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 8: Spirituality. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/current/

10th Anniversary: An interview with Naomi Thiers

This essay was originally published on May 14, 2016. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Naomi Theirs

Naomi Theirs

I met Naomi Thiers at The Nora School last February when we both participated in a reading. Naomi’s poetry spoke powerfully as she read her stories about women and girls who are marginalized and forgotten, as well as her poems about her grandparents. Her gift lies in getting beneath the surface to reveal and then polish the tales that so many people never get to tell.

Naomi is one of the featured poets in a new anthology, Veils, Halos, and Shackles (Kasva Press) edited by Charles Ades Fishman and Smita Sahay,  which features the works of international poets addressing the topics of  women and sexual abuse. I spoke with Naomi recently about the anthology, her work, and her hopes for abused women.

 

 

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 11: Social Justice https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/