Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reader Meet Author

Reb Livingston with very dear friends Bruce Covey and Jill Alexander Essbaum

Reb Livingston

Connections in life, as in business, are always valuable, but for the creative mind these relationships may be even more valuable. These connections can be formed in many ways, but the quality connections are formed through mutual interests and promotion. The ability to help an artist along by spreading the word, publishing their work, or simply giving acknowledgement is vital in forming connections. It is through interactions that inspiration maybe found, opportunities may open up, and "success" will follow.

One poet who has successfully helped and been helped is Pittsburgh native Reb Livingston. As the co-editor of the literary journal No Tell Motel, Reb has helped many writers find their outlet and audience, and in return she has found an ever growing audience for her personal work. Her latest collection Your Ten Favorite Words was recently published by Coconut Books, and aside from being an editor, publisher, blogger, and mother, she doesn't have a lot going on.

Recently, Reb was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): What can you tell us about your latest collection, Your Ten Favorite Words?
Reb Livingston (RL): It was recently published by Coconut Books and is available for purchase at online retailers or orderable at most bookstores!

I can also tell you that there were about 30 different titles for it before I settled on Your Ten Favorite Words. At one time it was called Charm's Vandalism, Uncommon Concubine, The Miser(able) Kiss from an Uncommon Concubine, Shiver Closet, A Wince in Need of Gesture, Yet Exactly You, Trouble to Kiss, Conjured in a Closet and so on . . . I couldn't make a decision. I kept sending ideas to my editor Bruce Covey and dear friend Jill Alexander Essbaum and they'd shoot them down or push for the ones I liked least. Then in August 2006 I gave a reading (and this is where I really start to name drop) at Soon Productions in Ithaca, NY. My dear friend and former teacher David Lehman attended and said afterwards "Those were my ten favorite words!" and Karl Parker (another dear friend, oh I just have so very many) said "Your Ten Favorite Words! That's a great name for a book." And I agreed and it was decided. Then David invited Karl, Ivy Kleinbart and Theo Hummer back to his house to see his etchings (for real --and there were watercolors too!) and he mixed us yummy drinks like Manhattans and served berries sprinkled with powdered sugar he purchased earlier that day from a local farmers' market.

The reason David mentioned "favorite words" is because my poems use a lot of repetition. See, I have to constantly repeat myself in everyday life, cause nobody listens to me unless I make a big nutty scene and say something over and over again with the follow-up "Were you even listening?" My "favorite" phrase to my 3 year-old son these days is "What did I just say?" and to my 35 year-old husband "I TOLD you . . ." so it's only natural for this condition to permeate my work. My next book is nutastic repetition, I think there's a total of 15 unique words in the whole book. I got something to say and you WILL understand, oh yes, you will.

In Your Ten Favorite Words, a word like "cabbage" appears in four or five different poems. I don't care for cabbages, once tried the cabbage soup diet, but it was a failure cause I couldn't eat the wretched-stank cabbage soup. I settled on cabbage because one time someone called me his "petite chou chou" and I had to look it up on Babel Fish cause I took four years of Spanish in high school and don't know a lick of French. Well, Babel Fish told me it meant "cabbage" so I was all "Who you calling a cabbage, jackass?" and this guy was like, "It's a term of endearment used in Paris, hello ninny!"

OA: You have your hand in many different projects while still maintaining an active personal output. How much time each day do you spend writing each day?
RL: See that's the problem. I'm not writing everyday -- cause I'm too busy publishing other poets in my online magazine No Tell Motel or in The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series or somebody's book at my micropress No Tell Books. In 2006 and 2007 I published a total of 10 books. That was a mixture of lunacy and dumbassery so I'm scaling back in 2008 and 2009. No Tell Books is doing 2 titles in 2008 and probably 2 or 3 in 2009.

I believe every "serious" poet should, in some way, assist and cultivate other poets. Poetry is a gift economy, nobody is making much/any money off her work. Some make livings teaching or editing at mid-sized to large publishing houses, sometimes poets get paid to speak, most make their living (or the bulk of it) doing something completely unrelated to poetry. Almost nobody is surviving on royalties and poetry book sales. So one must remember that every publication, every invitation to read, every review -- those are all gifts. Do you want to be the asshole who shows up to every Christmas empty-handed and leaves with a bag full of presents? I don't. I pride myself in being a completely different kind of asshole.You don't need much or any money to support other poets. It's easy to request free review copies and once you write a few reviews,review copies show up in your mailbox almost like magic. One doesn't need money to start a reading series in the community. One can spend very little money (or even do it for free) starting an online magazine. And with print-on-demand technology or other DIY means, one can publish a book for a few hundred dollars -- and in regard to POD, that includes an ISBN and distribution (i.e. you're available on Amazon, orderable in bookstores, etc.). One can discuss and promote other poets and books on her blog, speaking at conferences, during her own readings -- there's all kinds of ways to contribute back to the general poetry community. One's greatest gift is her time, energy and passion.

OA: As fellow parent, how are you currently passing on your love for the written word on to your son?
RL: I haven't been too successful yet. My son is 3 and he's heavily into the pictures. Sometimes he covers my mouth when I try to "read" to him. It's like my voice ruins the experience. In fact, I believe I turned him off to words all together. He's expressive speech delayed and usually refuses to talk. He'll say a word, just so I know he can say it and then he never says it again. He prefers to have me psychically read his mind and pamper his every need. My pediatrician says it's his Y chromosome, the Y chromosome stands for lazY.

OA: What type of impact has "new media" (i.e. blogs, myspace, youtube, on-line journals, etc) had on you as a writer and publisher?
RL: Huge -- without it there'd be no No Tell Motel, no No Tell Books, no online sales and very likely I'd still be smashing my pretty skull against the doors of the many print publications who were quite slow in embracing my work. New media has made it possible for me to get my poems out there, to a wide (in poetry terms) audience. Without new media, I'd only know a fraction of the poets I know now and even if I had a bazillion dollars to publish a magazine and press the old-fashioned way, I very likely wouldn't have connected with poets like Rebecca Loudon, Bruce Covey, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Laurel Snyder, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Shafer Hall -- and the hundreds of poets who have appeared at No Tell Motel. I wouldn't have bothered to ask a friend to introduce me to Ravi Shankar at AWP, if Ravi hadn't published an essay of mine in his online journal, Drunken Boat years before. And if we hadn't met, we never would have written our collaborative chapbook, Wanton Textiles. And it never would have occurred to me that I could use my own press to publish my own work, if it wasn't for reading blogs and connecting with other DIYers like Shanna Compton of Bloof Books and Scott Pierce of Effing Press.

I never would have been able to become a publisher while living in a DC suburb, raising a small child -- if I couldn't do everything from my laptop at home.My work, my perceptions, my opportunities, my entire life is dramatically different because of this freaky new media.

OA: As an independent publisher through No Tell Books, what is your opinion of the current state of the small press? Why isn't poetry more marketable, and what can the poet do to make themselves more marketable?
RL: In my neck of the woods, the state of small presses is very good, at least for presses receptive to the new opportunities created by "new media." The opportunities to become a publisher have vastly increased over the past ten years. Of course, distribution and warehousing can be crushing -- and good luck getting into bookstores that are using less and less floor space for books. But the majority of my press' sales are online and in-person sales. My distribution was arranged by my printer ( with Ingram (who would have never dealt with my teeny press directly). I pay $100 for and ISBN and distribution per book. No warehousing costs or returns because it's print-on-demand. Bargain.

Poets shouldn't worry about marketability. If you wanna be marketable, write something people want to read like a novel or memoir. Seriously. Oprah is not inviting you on her show. We turn to poetry because we care about poetry. Poetry isn't supposed to be marketable. That said, if you want people to read your poetry, first accept the numbers are going to be small and then get off your snobby, prissy ass and promote yourself, your work and (gasp) other poets and *their* work. Don't expect somebody else to take up your book's cause. It's your baby, now be a good mama and nurture that needy little fucker. There's no correct one way to do it-- but generally it involves "making connections" with other poets, it doesn't *have* to, but generally that's how it's going to happen --and I'm not talking about hobnobbing at expensive conferences or enrolling yourself in an MFA program. I'm talking about contributing to the poetry community, what I mentioned above. It's like complaining about your community and school sucking, but never attending a neighborhood watch, or a PTA meeting, or baking those cupcakes for the bake sale, or buying those girl scout cookies, or voting, or even paying your taxes. Other publishers, reading series curators, reviewers -- i.e., other POETS who are already doing the work, they don't give two craps if you have an MFA, or waited tables at Bread loaf or whatever. They'll be much more interested in you and giving your work a chance if they see you're doing your part. Cause guess what? They ain't cha hos! It's karma. I'm much more likely to take your kid to school in my carpool, if you feed my cat when I'm away on vacation. It doesn't guarantee I'll drive your kid around.I mean he could be the kind of kid who picks his nose and flicks it.If that's the case, there's nothing you can do to convince me to let him in my car.

Sometimes I come across poets who explain that they are just *too busy* to contribute anything to the poetry community other than their own very important poems. Yes, they have time to write their own poems, mass submit them and follow up with editors who hold their work a week longer than the submission guidelines stated, but they have other priorities too. They have jobs, children, spouses, schoolwork, household chores, sick parents, dentist appointments --they don't live in lollipop gardens, cruise around in pumpkin Hummers, like the all the other poets who find time to contribute. It's my firm opinion that if you do not live in a Lollipop garden and top your vehicle with Cool Whip, you have no right to expect others to promote your poetry on your behalf.

OA: What's next for Reb Livingston?
RL: God Damsel! That's the name of my next book that'll be out from Coconut Books -- in the not too distant future. I'm still writing it. Maybe I'll find another few words to put into it. Or maybe I'll just stick with the 15 I already came up with. They're really good words.

No Tell Books is publishing Personations by Karl Parker in the Spring, Cadaver Dogs by Rebecca Loudon in late Summer/early Fall and in early 2009, Bruce Covey's Glass is Really a Liquid.

Also, in late 2009 No Tell Books will release an anthology, an introduction to contemporary poetry geared for youngish people (high school/college aged). Charlie Jensen and I will be co-editing that.

Bonus Questions:

OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
RL: Hell no. Sometimes on the weekends my house reeks of it when my husband is home. I tolerate the smell for the sake of my marriage. But make no mistake, I do not like it.

OA: Some feel music and poetry are closely related. What type of music do you enjoy? Does music ever inform your work in anyway?
RL: Cyndi Lauper informed some of the poems in Your Ten Favorite Words.

For more information on Reb Livingston please visit her website, and don't forget to check No Tell Motel.


shanna said...

this interview kicks ass.

Nobius said...

Wow Jason. You've done it again.

Nice work, I'll make sure to mention this on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I would appreciate if you took a look at my poetry site I created, and post the link on your blog if you think it is good enough. Thanks, Peace

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