Anne Waldman (Rail): What is your ethos as publishers? Your collective mission statement in these dark times, when the book arts need support and even institutional protection? How do you face the enemies of the book? Is this even of concern?
Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP): Our mission is fairly specific: to publish translations, performance texts, “forgotten” literature, investigative writing, books by artists, and contemporary poetry that would have a hard time being placed at another publishing house. We publish what we want to read, what we want to exist in this world, so that this world might be a more hospitable, examined, inspired place.
As an editorial collective, we tend to work very collaboratively—with each other, with our authors and translators, our interns and apprentices—and we still do most everything ourselves: from acquiring and developing book projects to editing, designing, typesetting, printing covers. Intertwined with our identity as a publisher is our complicated identity as a non-profit. Beyond publishing books, we organize dozens of events, host seminars and conversations in our studio, and work with scores of volunteers, interns and, more recently, apprentices.
As for the enemies of the book, we're not terribly concerned. We face them by making books. And by making books that aren't books. And sometimes even by not making books.
Rail: Can you talk about specific readership and recent projects that demonstrate your enormous span of text, culture, poetics, and translation?
UDP: Through the range of our projects, we're always hoping to engage different readerships while trying to cross-pollinate those readerships as best we can. For example, putting Emergency INDEX, an annual compendium of contemporary performance, into the hands of readers who are more used to contemporary American poetry or the Russian avant-garde. In 2016, our list includes five books of poetry by contemporary U.S.-based writers; five books of hybrid writing that most closely resemble essays; an experimental novel; six collections of poetry in translation from recent and “forgotten” Russian, Argentinian, Uruguayan, Japanese, Brazilian, and Greek writers; an anthology of essays on post-conceptual writing; a performance text based on an algorithmically-reconfigured Hamlet; an anthology of poetry from the Siege of Leningrad; two chapbooks by contemporary Argentine writers (part of our new “Señal” series, a collaboration with BOMB magazine and Libros Antena that focuses on translations of contemporary Latin American writing); and the first entry in UDPR, a new series for collaborations in music and poetry on vinyl. We hope the eclecticism of our interests surprises and delights our readers and subscribers, who may discover connections between varied fields of creative activity, past and present, so often fenced off from each other. New dialogs emerge when disparate paths of inquiry are invited to convene at one messy, celebratory table.
Rail: How can we as artists, poets, publishers, be most contemporary with our time? It’s a kind of dark age.
UDP: We’re fairly skeptical of the light/dark dichotomy, and of contemporaneity as well. We're often interested in questioning, refuting, or ignoring the commonplaces used to fix our present moment, and we're unabashed lovers of the anachronistic. In our humble beginnings as juvenile delinquents, the dark was a delight, where there was groping and giggling and relying on touch and smell and crawling around in stacks of textured paper and making things with our hands without the illumination and legitimacy of the Great Enlightenment. Though the scope and scale of UDP has changed some over the years, that spirit of making things among friends, in obscurity, continues to animate our operations.