Not only are indie publishers the ones putting great and exciting books out there and on our bedside tables, but they are also truly passionate and fascinating people themselves. Each one of them has their own story, both moving and thrilling, full of plot twists and unforeseen challenges, and as riveting as the best of the works they publish every single day. To let you find out for yourself, we’re posting a series of interviews with indie publishers who keep the publishing industry relevant, vibrant, and, above all, alive.
Today, we introduce you to Tayve Neese, a poet and publisher.
Tayve Neese’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies around the county and abroad, including The Paris Review (online edition), Comstock Review, Fourteen Hills, and Diode. She was longlisted for the 2019 University of Canberra Vice Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize in Australia. Her work has been translated into Vietnamese, and Blood to Fruit, her full-length collection of poems, was published in 2015. Locust, her second collection of poems, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in Ireland. She is the Co-executive Editor of Trio House Press, and was interviewed by The Best American Poetry in 2018. A member of the Concord Poetry Center in Massachusetts, Neese currently resides on a barrier island in Fernandina Beach.
We caught up with her to talk about being a publisher in this hectic day and age.
The Nonconformist: What prompted you to become a publisher?
Tayve Neese: Books. I love writing them, reading them, and making them. It’s such an intimate experience to be part of the creative process of bringing a book out into the world. I think most writers experience that Zen-spot of being completely in the moment when they write. I experience this when I edit as well. What I find so wonderful about being a publisher of full-length collections of poems is that it’s one of my greatest pleasures to sit down and read a whole collection by one single poet. I’m the kind of reader that, if a poem makes me shudder, I want to get my hands on everything that person has written and learn what their obsessions are, learn how they craft their lines, and understand how they do what they do and how their usage of language somehow makes me feel more whole and human. It’s amazing that I get to work with poets and hold up that lantern so that they can better see their work. That’s my job — to help support the vision of the poet.
It’s amazing that I get to work with poets and hold up that lantern so that they can better see their work. That’s my job — to help support the vision of the poet.
NC: You’re the Executive Editor and Co-founder of Trio House Press. What were its origins?
TN: In 2011 I was part of a great group of poets who exchanged poems for critique. This included Dorinda Wegener, Lisa Sisler, Sara Lefsyk, and Terry Lucas. We were diligent about sending out our work, and we lamented that while there were so many new literary journals, there just weren’t as many new presses. I called Dorinda from Florida one morning and said, “Want to start a press?” She and I spent a good part of the year researching and building the press. I wrote to the executors of Louise Bogan’s estate to inquire about naming one of our awards after her, and after being given permission, off we went to the 2012 AWP in Chicago to find poets who would consider THP as a publisher, even though we’d never published a thing.
Terry Lucas led the way with our marketing strategies, and the press was so fortunate that Ross Gay and Michael Waters agreed to act as our first judges. Our table at AWP that year was covered with their books, Elizabeth Frank’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Louise Bogan: A Portrait, and candy. We handed out a lot of candy, and we talked to anyone who would listen to us about our mission. We met so many poets and writers from all over the country, and when those manuscripts came in that first year, it was wonderful. That year David Groff’s Clay was selected by Michael Waters as the Bogan Award winner, Iris Dunkle’s Gold Passage was selected by Ross Gay as the Trio Award winner, and we editors selected Matt Mauch’s If You’re Lucky is a Theory of Mine for our open reading period. David Groff’s book was a finalist for the Lambda Award that year, and we were over the moon. I’m so happy David, Iris, and Matt took a gamble on THP. Those three poets set the tone for all that’s followed. Just this past month, Matt Mauch came aboard as a Co-executive editor. Matt, Sara, and I have edited work together in the past, and he has a keen editing instinct. Sara Lefsyk and I both agreed that if we’re going to grow the press, Matt’s the person best suited to help make that happen.
I think most writers experience that Zen-spot of being completely in the moment when they write. I experience this when I edit as well.
NC: How would you describe your mission as a publisher?
TN: When we founded the press, the mission of Trio House Presswas to publish distinct and innovative voices in American poetry. What’s changed for THP is that we’re now borderless. It’s not just American voices we’re looking for anymore. If a collection is written in English and it’s powerful and beautiful and raw, we want a chance to consider it. The current political climate was a catalyst for us to ask ourselves, what is our role when our government is rejecting our interconnectedness? The best of what language and poetry do is to connect us to one another as human beings. So, we want to consider work from all poets writing in English and dissolve the idea of boundaries. We want new voices, overlooked voices, and even established voices. We want well-crafted collections, no matter the aesthetic leaning. There are such vast differences between our titles! Sandy Longhorn’s The Alchemy of My Mortal Form is so different from Carolyn Hembree’s Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague, but both are so expertly written that you tremble. That’s the whole reason why we bring in judges from such diverse aesthetic backgrounds to help select collections for our Lousie Bogan Award and Trio Award. It keeps our press fresh and vibrant rather than on one stale note.
NC: What is it like to be a small press publisher? How do you find a balance between your everyday life and publishing duties?
TN: I don’t think I have ever found that balance. When we first started the press, it was an eat, sleep, dream it full-time gig. I was all adrenaline while learning the ropes. As life zigged and zagged, and since I’m not in higher ed, I’ve worked at a number of different jobs to keep things ticking along. The administration and business side of the press has become an early morning or late-night venture with the serious work of editing happening on weekends. My youngest daughter is about to launch, and I’m considering dismantling my life and heading to Micanopy or back to the St. John’s River where I can recede, run the press, and write for a while. Maybe then I’d find that balance.
Social media has pros and cons just like any other invention. I’ve found poets online who I never would have found any other way.
NC: Let’s talk about your influences. Who inspires you as a poet and who is your role model as a publisher?
TN: Emily Dickinson is essential, and I admire Louise Bogan and her work. Other poets I go back to over and over again are Carol Frost, Joan Houlihan, James Dickey, and Galway Kinnell. That’s way more than one poet, but it takes a village. As far as publishers go, Salmon Poetry in Ireland is a press I deeply admire. They’ve been around since the early ’80s, have their own bookstore, and Jessie Lendennie and Siobhan Hutson have done so much for poetry in Ireland, the States, and globally. I’m so honored that I have a book, Locust, forthcoming from Salmon. They’ve been my dream-press for so many years, and my hope is that THP has the same longevity and gravitas. Having a bookstore wouldn’t be bad either.
NC: How would you describe the current state of the publishing industry from the perspective of a small press publisher?
TN: While I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what other publishers are doing, I live on an island — literally. I often rely on social media to keep me in the loop. So much in the small publishing is currently in flux. I’ve heard about a number of really strong presses or journals that closed their doors recently. That’s heartbreaking. With all the government cuts for funding to the arts and education, it’s hard for those presses tied to universities or grant money to keep afloat. The bottom line is that being a small press publisher can be challenging.
As an independent press, we’ve had to flex and bend when sales just didn’t happen as we’d projected, and I’m always exceptionally cautious about overextending ourselves. Most people know that the average book of poetry sells only between 250–500 copies and that most poetry publishers are not in it for the money. But the industry isn’t all doom and gloom. Just like social media has its place in this morphing literary world, so do new models of printing and distribution. Print-on-demand used to be a dirty word, but if you look and inquire, you’ll see that so many long-time presses and journals have made the switch silently. At first, THP printed hundreds of books for a first press run, and when I moved across the country from Colorado back to Florida, I took over a thousand Trio House Press books with me. Now, we still use the same printer and distributor, but there is absolutely no need to bury a press financially with unsustainable print runs of books that may never sell. It’s an unnecessary financial risk for a press, and to boot, it’s environmentally wasteful. Why produce something that may not be consumed or appreciated?
As a working poet, I know the drill of opening up emails every single day waiting for an editor’s reply.
NC: Optimists claim that poetry is enjoying an unexpected renaissance these days, and that both Facebook and Twitter are perfect for publishing and sharing poems. What’s your opinion on this?
TN: A renaissance of poetry, no matter the medium of dispersing well-crafted work, should be celebrated. While I love the whole tactile experience of paper, from its lingering between the fingers before you flip the page, to that crisp scent of paper, I’ve had amazing reading experiences via social media. Why pretend to be so high-brow when this is just the way we human beings communicate now? Social media has pros and cons just like any other invention. I’ve found poets online who I never would have found any other way. Manglesh Dabral springs to mind. I learned of his work by way of Facebook when someone shared one of his published poems, and then I had to track down This Number Does Not Exist published by BOA. The book is gorgeous, with both English and Hindi versions of poems. Regarding posting unpublished work on social media, if someone is comfortable with this venue, then that’s their bag of tricks. After all, we built THP through grassroots marketing by way of nationwide social media pushes. We never could have achieved our vision without these platforms, and our poets have more exposure and better opportunity to get their work into people’s hands because of social media. It’s a new frontier for everyone in publishing, and that’s exciting!
NC: Which current and forthcoming titles from your catalog should find their way to our bookcases?
TN: I always like to shout-out our newest titles. Poet Jeff Friedman selected Waiting for the Wreck to Burn by Michele Battiste as the most recent Louise Bogan Award winner. Battiste’s work explores borders in the town of Ruination and borders that evolve between spouses as a marriage collapses. I love this book! Artress Bethany White’s My America was the recent Trio Award winner, and her collection is a chisel and hammer that uncovers racism in our society and within families. Last year we also solicited the work of Tamara J. Madison, Threed, This Road Not Damascus, in which a mythic three-breasted woman takes on King James. Her work is rich, melodic, and fierce! I also adore Darren C. Demaree’s Two Towns Over, selected by Campbell McGrath as another recent Bogan winner. Demaree takes on the opioid crisis from a personal and sociological perspective in these poetic vignettes.
As far as our forthcoming titles, every year the editors at THP participate in selecting a title for our open reading period. It’s a democratic process and we all discuss, pitch, and vote for a title we’d love to bring on board. I’m thrilled that we are able to bring on the voice of Madeleine Barnes. Her forthcoming title, You Do Not Have to Be Good, well, we don’t have another voice like hers. Her imagery and lines — Technicolor, rhythmic, stellar. Our poets are amazing. Their books, damn!
If you start a small press, make it about the people. Make it about the poets.
NC: If it’s not a secret, what are your upcoming projects and plans for the future?
TN: We’d love to publish more titles each year. It’s painful to turn away manuscripts for lack of funding and resources, especially manuscripts that have been semi-finalists or finalists. Each year after we’ve selected someone to publish, we celebrate when the contract is secured. Then, I walk around for a few days with a knot in my stomach having to send out those rejections to folks whose work is so deserving of publication. As a working poet, I know the drill of opening up emails every single day waiting for an editor’s reply. It’s not a sexy topic, but fundraising for THP is a high priority. We haven’t quite sunk our teeth into this apple yet, but it’s so necessary so that we have the resources to publish more great work.
NC: What advice can you give to those dreaming of setting up their own small press?
TN: Every morning before sun-up I sit down with my coffee at my desk. Right in front of me on my bookshelf, I see this rainbow of the Trio House Press spines and titles, and every morning I think about the poets as much as the contents of their books. I hope their families are well, that their writing lives are thriving, and that their poems are doing the good work that they were written to do. If you start a small press, make it about the people. Make it about the poets.
Trio House Press
Trio House Press is an independent literary press publishing three or more collections of poems annually. We offer two annual poetry awards: the Trio Award for First of Second Book for emerging poets, and the Louise Bogan Award for Artistic Merit and Excellence for a book of poems contributing in an innovative and distinct way to American poetry. We also offer an annual open reading period for manuscript publication.
Photo: Courtesy of Tayve Neese