Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Previous Exploits of a Rogue Writer and Publisher

     I thought it’d be a good idea to recap some of the things I’ve done while following the writer’s path. It’s not something I normally write about, but I guess the backstory couldn’t hurt. I began experimenting with publishing and binding as soon as I was left alone in a room with computers and printers. I created chapbooks, and enjoyed it very much. I always felt very creative and inspired when I thought up projects; the medium was very liberating. In 2005, however, I self-published a collection of poetry with a contracted printer and ensued on a book reading across the southwestern United States. I was 21. The collection was called Sad Height and was published under the pseudonym “Jacob Gray.” Don’t ask why I used a pseudonym; I don’t remember. Sad Height was a worthy exploit. It encapsulated my earlier poetry, and also included an early version of my epic-influenced poem, The Winter King. The collection itself had an austere tone, and someone remarked they felt it had science fiction elements to it. You’d have to read it for yourself, I guess. The book tour was a personal highlight for me, and was something I had always wanted to do. I am prone to a variety of public engagement, so was delighted at the opportunity. While it wasn’t an extensive tour, I had readings in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Phoenix, Tempe, Orange and Los Angeles. Public reading in the San Antonio and Austin areas were typical then. And I continued writing, releasing a new chapbook of poetry called Limbo. Limbo rekindled my passions with chapbook publishing. When I released Sad Height, actually even before I released Sad Height, I created a publishing press to house my publications. The independent press was named Virgogray. Virgogray’s first release came in 2004 with a chapbook called November 2nd. This was poetry I’d published when first experimenting with my nom de plum. It was experimental with an activist slant. So I used Virgogray in this way for a few years, until 2008 when I put out the call to other poets interested in sharing their work under the roof of Virgogray Press. My ultimate goal with the press was to create an organic library of modern indie poets, and though I was open to all varieties, I received mostly writing with a beat flavor and attitude. A true independent spirit. It is a collection I am proud to be a part of in gathering, sharing and archiving. The first writers to step up were Chris D’Errico, a man I’ve met many times, and his previous instructor, Marc Olmsted. 2008 saw the release of Vegas Implosions by Chris D’Errico, and 2009 birthed Fresh Lotus Rehab by Marc Olmsted. I also published two additional chapbooks of my own work, Ghost Roads in 2008 and The Terrorist in 2009. The mix of our work as a whole provided a good balance for Virgogray and future releases would only get better.
     About this time I also became an active board member of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and was able to vouch for Marc Olmsted to visit as a featured poet during the festival. Marc came to Austin and was gracious enough to host both a reading and a workshop, as well as read and attend other events during the program. I worked on the board for two seasons, though continued to work with the festival and the committee off and on for years. In 2010, I founded the Austin Salon Poetic, a weekly poetry reading held in a dive bar in downtown Ausitn, TX. It was a peculiar place to hold a poetry reading, and I was truly grateful to the venue owners and crew for having us. It was a ragtag group of poets drinking ginger beer and reading to ourselves, but there were times, too, when we packed the house, and had features and readers galore. The salon was a standard reading: a featured poet and a round robin. We highlighted local talent, and brought in regional and national acts, and, yes, even hosted events for the Austin International Poetry Festival. These were great times. To see the raw talent of so many was a true gift. And the diligent, it goes without saying, are the backbones of the community.
     As per writing and publishing, 2009-2010 saw Virgogray steamrolling out poetry chapbook after poetry chapbook. Between 2008 and 2014 Virgogray Press released nearly 50 publications. These included chapbooks, which between the years 2008 and 2010 were all handmade by yours truly, and moved into soft bound publications and anthologies. Marc and I got back together again to 2010 to release a chapbook anthology called Dear Bela. It included work of several California area poets and was edited by Carlye Archibique and Marc Olmsted. The cover of the anthology featured a portrait of Bela Lugosi painted by the infamous Gray Morrow. The premise to the anthology was a gathering of poets listening to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus and writing poetry in the apartment where Bela Lugosi died. We celebrated the release of the anthology with a live reading at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California.
     In 2009 I also started the poetry journal Carcinogenic Poetry. The journal, an online publication was published by Virgogray Press and was their flagship poetry publication. Carcinogenic Poetry consistently inconsistently published poetry on a rolling basis from hundreds of poets around the world. Carcinogenic Poetry also anthologized annually. To date, there are only two published volumes, but I promise the release of the remaining volumes is coming. I created other periodicals. Nothing. No One. Nowhere. was a print journal I created that featured literature and other culture items like fiction, art, photography, interviews, music reviews and book reviews. I always enjoyed producing this mag, but it was a lot of work to create. Nothing. No One. Nowhere. has yet to release a new publication since 2015’s Volume Two, Issue One. The Occupy Poetry Project was a poetry blog, and featured activist and political writing. The blog really saw its popularity in 2011 amid the heightened political climate in the country, but I was unable to maintain the project long.
     I released a new collection of poetry in 2011 and traveled out again to read. This time I went to Las Vegas. I moved Virgogray from hand bound chapbooks to soft back publications, and re-released Vegas Implosions. The combined force of Chris D’Errico, myself, and Peter Magliocco, whose publication, Nude Poetry Garage Sale had been released by Virgogray Press the previous year, could be felt if but for a few hours at the Las Vegas Valley Book Festival and later that evening at the Arts Factory for a poetry reading. Vegas was a fun time. I returned and visited Chris and Peter from time to time. After 2013, the Austin Salon Poetic closed its doors when its host venue was shut down. But I continued in the public mainly hosting workshops and lectures on self-publishing and independent publishing. I didn’t attend many open mic readings, but was happy to see Virgogray Press poet, Donna Snyder in Austin, TX at the local Book Woman bookstore in support of her book Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Greif and Renewal. For reasons I may explore later, I became slightly disillusioned by the open mic crowd, and the direction of spoken word. So poetry became a back burner.
     By 2015, poetry and the press had totally slowed, if not stopped all together. My focus had gone to fiction. My first writing endeavors were in story telling. I had been quietly working on a novel and only began to ruminate on it during the editorial and revision processes. The Distance To The End brought to paper my ability to complete a lengthier piece of work. Albeit, the novel is about forty-four thousand words, around the same count as, say, Slaughter House Five, it is an installment in a series of works featuring Nicholas Duke. I have at least three more stories I’d like to tell, and I’ll see where it goes from there. The Distance To The End was released by Serasac Press in June 2016, and was received well by readers and critics alike, and was even featured in a spotlight in Publisher’s Weekly. I am currently writing the sequel to The Distance… and a forthcoming poetry project, too. That pretty much brings us up to date. There are other things too, like a radio show I hosted, television appearances and audio poetry recordings, but I think all I’ve said is enough. Thanks for reading. 

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