Back at the beginning of this century Michael Brennan invited me to guest-edit four poetry chapbooks in Vagabond Press's Rare Objects series. I asked Australian poets Ken Bolton, Lidija Cvetkovic, Ted Nielsen & Samuel Wagan Watson to participate. Working on that project with the poets & with Vagabonds Liz Allen & Jane Gibian, Kay Orchison & Michael Brennan was a real buzz. Earlier this year Vagabond published its 100th Rare Object chapbook which marked the end of the series. Not long after that Michael revved the press up again with various projects. He asked me if I was interested in editing another selection. This time it would be ten booklets of poetry to be called the 'deciBels' series. Of course, I could have invited dozens of poets to be in it but without much difficulty I accepted being constrained to ten.
I've chosen poets from several different places whose work I've read and liked for various reasons. There's no other way to choose really. Some of them have been my friends-in-poetry for some time now & some are newer to me. I see these poets as system-changers - each in a unique way. They are a diverse group. I was curious & excited to see what new work each of them would come up with.
Anselm Berrigan is from New York City in the USA. I've read several books by Anselm & always find his shrewd repertoire of playful language astonishing. Last year I read Anselm's long poem 'Notes from Irrelevance' (Wave Books) & its ease of movement & plethora of language-stimulants blew me away. I was very pleased when he accepted the invitation to participate in the dB series.
Korean-born Don Mee Choi lives & works in Seattle in Washington State in USA. I encountered her work initially via her translations of Korean poetry. I had become a fan of the Korean feminist poet Kim Hyesoon whose poetry Don Mee has worked tirelessly to present to the English language poetry realm. I read some of Don Mee's poems online and then noticed that she had published a full length collection called The Morning News Is Exciting. Don Mee's overtly political poetry was a revelation to read in this materialist and largely apolitical or depoliticised era. We had exchanged emails &, when I enquired, Don Mee willingly accepted the idea of making a book of her own with Vagabond.
Stephanie Christie lives in Hamilton in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I heard Stephanie present a clever, abstracted vocal performance with composer/musician Alex Taylor at the 'short takes on long poems' symposium at Auckland University in March 2012. Some time later, poet & scholar Tim Wright recommended her book Luce Cannon to me. She was writing as 'Will' Christie. The poems in that book subtly undermine convention - nothing in it is levelled by reason but everything is oddly reasonable. It had a kind of canny urban attitude. When the opportunity came up I decided to invite her to the deciBels project.
Toby Fitch is a Sydneysider who organises a monthly poetry reading at Sappho's Bookshop in Glebe. It has become THE place to go to hear contemporary poetry in Sydney. Toby's first book Rawshock was a series of almost-caligrammatical poems arranged in the shapes of Rorschach inkblots. They were meticulously composed. Toby also gave an illuminating presentation (on Rawshock) at the 'short takes on long poems' symposium in Auckland in 2012. His work in this series takes another turn. This time he applies his alterations in a response to a historical letter that has come to be regarded as the well-known Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly's manifesto.
Angela Gardner was born in & is still closely connected with Wales in the UK. She lives in Brisbane, Queensland. She is the founding editor of a diverse & fresh online journal foam:e. She also has a publishing imprint, lighttrappress. I first encountered Angela when we participated in a discussion list called 'poetry espresso'. She is a visual artist - a printmaker as well as a poet. I'd read her collections of poetry and have been particularly interested in the way her art practise intersects with her writing - the interconnections. It's a pleasure to include her new poems in this series.
Jaimie Gusman lives in Honolulu in Hawai'i where she works at a university. I had read Jaimie's chapbook One Petal Row in the Tinfish Press Retro series & corresponded with her when I was co-editor of Jacket online magazine. In her poems she offers explorations of 'possibility' - an enlivening pursuit. It was good news when she agreed to be part of this venture. For the deciBels series book Jaimie reimagines aspects of the life of the iconic modernist writer Gertrude Stein.
Rachel Loden has been a long term investigator of the faulty right wing of American politics. When I encountered Rachel's work it was heartening to read poetry that engaged with politics in a totally non-didactic manner. Her complex & clever poetry occupies a realm outside conventional or institutional influence. I knew when I invited Rachel to send some work that it would be somehow offbeat. She told me about a diary she had written as a teenager at a poetry conference attended by various major North American poets. Would we be interested in that? The answer is obvious. I am honoured to be involved in presenting her new work in the deciBels series. Rachel lives in Palo Alto, California in USA.
Susan M. Schultz lives in Kane'ohe on the island of O'ahu in Hawai'i. She has been writing on memory for many years. I have been following her writing & have been to seminars & symposiums where Susan has presented her engaging work. Her context is always a social one. She writes both critically & creatively. Her writing on memory & then on Alzheimer's disease (eventually 'documenting' her own involvement in her mother's experience when the disease overcame her) is important & often provocative. Susan's poetry has a dry wit that can be a useful quality when addressing adversity. Via her independent press, Tinfish, Susan introduced me to the poetry of Jaimie Gusman who I've mentioned above. I am very pleased to have another part of the 'Memory Cards' project included in this series.
Ann Vickery lives in Melbourne, Victoria. She has been encouraging the work of others in her scholarly, editorial & academic life for a long time now & she has also been writing critical literary history. Ann's incommensurable poetry deviates from convention in always unexpected ways. The work makes twists & détournements & keeps the reader on her toes at every turn. Over some years, I have heard Ann's presentations on diverse aspects of writing, often concerned deeply & crucially with the work & lives of writing women. I am exceedingly happy to be involved in presenting her first collection of poems in this series.
Maged Zaher is an Egyptian living & working in Seattle, Washington State in USA. I have been reading his work since he first sent me a poem for Jacket magazine where I was co-editor. Subsequently Maged & I collaborated on a book of poems and that experience endeared me to his particularly original slant on contemporary poetry and its usefulness to readers. His quotidian is a universal one. His questions are all-encompassing in the context of how to live (& live well) in this wrecked world.
Chris Edwards has typeset and designed the books. I wanted the series to look distinctive, fresh and kind of 'pop'. I talked to Michael Brennan about having small square format booklets and using text and colour rather than images for their covers. Michael and I met with Chris and gradually settled on a size and then it was up to Chris and myself to experiment with the design. Chris is a poet who also makes extraordinary collage works (both cut & paste and computerised). He is well known as the designer of books for various Australian publishers including Vagabond. His colour and text choices were tailored to suit each poet's content. It was sheer pleasure working with Chris - his meticulous and thoughtful process was absolutely invaluable to the project.
Visit the deciBels page.