Small Press Beat: An Interview with Emily Pettit


Nestled between Amherst and Northampton, where the cornfields rustle in the summer air just as they did when Dickinson lived, is the small town of Hadley. This area around UMass, where poetry has thrived for ages, is home to a burgeoning community of writers, instructors, and small presses. Standing in the center of this important locale is Emily Pettit, the accomplished editor of the lit mag jubilat, and founding member of Flying Object, an experimental art space.

It is a perfect time to be talking with Emily, as her first full-length book, Goat in the Snow, was recently published by Bird LLC and is receiving some much-deserved praise.

DS: When I think of Amherst poetry, even East Coast poetry, Flying Object is where I begin. You seem to have a poetry tradition behind you with James Tate and Dara Weir, amongst so many others at UMass. When I was at Flying Object this summer, I saw a signed copy of John Ashbery’s Flow Chart, among a perfect sales room of small press gems. Jesus! From the West Coast, this seems like a poetry paradise. Do you feel like your amidst such a poetry legacy?

EP: I do feel that I am living in an amazing poetry community! An amazing poetry community composed of poets from the past and poets making poems today. Poets making marvelous poems today—Peter Gizzi, James Tate, and Dara Weir—the UMass MFA program poetry faculty—are phenomenal forces of poetry. Past and present UMass MFA students makeup many other fierce and friendly and forward pushing forces! When one looks at the number of incredible poems and books written by people living in the area or who have in the past lived in the area—it is oh so remarkable! Emily Dickinson did her thing in this place. I repeat, Emily Dickinson did her thing in this place.

When one looks at the presses and journals that began or are now being run or helped run by past and present Umass MFA students or people living in the area—it is awe inspiring—for example AgnesFoxPress, BateauPress, BraveMenPress, Flowers & CreamPress, MinutesBooks, PilotBooks, SlopeEditions, TheSongCave, WaveBooks. Journals I might think of include— Conduit, GlitterPony, InvisibleEar, JellyfishMagazine,, TheMassachusettsReview, ModelHomes, NOOJournal, notnostrums, RainTaxi, SKEIN, and Verse. And I am missing many things right now!

DS: What are your favorite readings or events that you’ve hosted at Flying Object? Is there a memorable poet that read, and you thought, wow, this is magic?

EP: One event that particularly sticks out in my mind is not an event I threw, but one organized by Ben Kopel—a Leonard Cohen Tribute Night of Music. It was magical. Many people who are great writers are also great musicians and the music was magical. Another night that I will never forget—Flying Object’s Opening—October 1st, 2010. If one wanted magic it was there. It was in Amanda Nadelberg and Uljana Wolf’s poems. Christian Hawkey was handing it to us with his work, as was Eugene Ostashevsky and Jono Tosch. It was a wonderful beginning to what has become an ever-evolving imaginative event machine.

DS: Flying Object really is an experimental space for writers, designers and book making. You have a letter press, host workshops, and have a baller storefront. Who makes it happen? How are day to day operations organized?

EP: Flying Object is a space for independent publishing, art and the book. It is a space. It is a collective of people. Flying Object is a gathering space for artists and writers. For doing work. For encountering work. There is a gallery. There is a letterpress studio. There is a kitchen. There are magical readings, book launches, magazine celebrations, art openings and phenomenal music—going on and going on!

People who run events at Flying Object include, but are not limited to—The Boys Upstairs run by the boys who live above Flying Object; CELAN SALON run by Nathaniel Otting; THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF HADLEY FOR IMPROVING NATURAL KNOWLEDGE run by Heather Christle & Don Blair; LOOT run by Elaine Kahn and Bill Nace; and THE WHENEVER WE FEEL LIKE IT READING SERIES run by Michelle Taransky and myself. Workshops taught at Flying Object include Creative Writing with Rachel B. Glaser, Poets & Poems with Emily Pettit, and Bookmaking for Writers, Small Press Publishers, and Dabblers
with Betsy Wheeler (and sometimes when we are lucky, a Pickling Workshop taught by Jono Tosch is offered!).

Day to day operations at Flying Object are organized and run by GuyPettit—my brother. Guy is magic and has made a magic space in the space that is Flying Object. Originally the building that Flying Object occupies, was the town of Hadley’s Police and Fire Station. Then it became apartments. Then Guy invented Flying Object. Guy is the most amazing inventor.

Something wonderful that has recently taken place is that members of Flying Object volunteer to put in hours each month helping to run the space. Helping Guy is an amazing group of people ranging from members of the co-op, to interns, to friends.

DS: You help run Factory Hallow Press as well. Mark Leidner’s book Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me is hands down my favorite book of poetry of the year. Best title, best cover, and it’s so damn funny. Frances McCue’s Bled won The Grub Street National Book Prize in Boston and the Washington State Book Award. I could name more. What is Factory Hollow’s process of taking books? And your titles get out there, to the reading world. Can you tell Tin House readers how you distribute? And what are you looking for in a manuscript? How do you work with the writer in the production of a book? Who is reading your books?

EP: Factory Hollow Press has published both full-length titles and chapbooks of authors with whose work we have been in love with and watching for years. The books and chapbooks we are publishing are by people we love. When people you love are making work that you love–it is a great and moving thing to get to be a part of helping to share this work with the world. And the world is big and the world is small. Some things FHP publishes are reaching places all around the world. Other things that FHP publishes are beloved particularly in a particular place. When I am thinking about work I want to publish, I am thinking about work that I love and have loved and keep loving and work that I know other people that I know will love.

I’ve been reading and loving MarkLeidners poems for five years. Old poems, new poems—whenever I encounter them—they spark and sting me and spring me! Again and again. I have read BEAUTY WAS THE CASE THAT THEY GAVE ME again and again and again. Again and again it is good and it makes me have more thoughts and feelings with each reading. Crash Dome by Alex Phillips, the first full-length book that FHP published is also a book that I’d been looking at for years and loving for years. EXPERIEMENTS I SHOULD LIKE TRIED AT MY OWN DEATH by Caryl Pagel and SIGN, YOU WERE MISTAKEN by SethLandman are two books that FHP will be publishing next year, both of which are books that I’ve been reading and loving for years. When a book keeps being wonderful with reading after reading of it, when each reading engages more discovery, when I want to read something again and again and again and again—that’s when I know it is work that FHP could or should be helping to get into the hands of other people for whom this work will mean so much.

As for working with a writer on the production of his or her book, it is my most great desire to help each author to publish the book or chapbook that each author respectively wants and loves. This is a thing that can be done. Some authors have visions regarding how they’d like their work to appear in the physical form that is the book or chapbook. Some authors like and want to work with us to help them find forms for the physical presentation of their work. I want the authors to be happy. That’s what I want the most.

DS: Then there’s notnostrums, a super fresh online literary journal, and Whenever We Feel Like It, a seemingly occasional reading series. These things being under a couple of umbrella agencies, The Committee of Vigilance and The Meeteetzee Institute. Can you explain them?

EP: notnostrums is an online literary journal run by Committee of Vigilance members Luke Bloomfield, Guy Pettit, and myself. The Committee of Vigilance is a subdivision of Sleepy Lemur Quality Enterprises, which is the production division of The Meeteetzee Institute. There are bricks that mention these things. They are near Emily Dickinson’s house.

The Whenever We Feel Like It Reading Series, has outposts in Philadelphia, PA and Hadley, MA, and is put on by Committee of Vigilance members Michelle Taransky and myself. The Committee of Vigilance is a subdivision of Sleepy Lemur Quality Enterprises, which is the production division of The Meeteetzee Institute. There are bricks that mention these things. They are near Emily Dickinson’s house.

I will also say that The Meeteetzee Intsitute is interested in lemurs. The Meeteetzee Institute loves lemurs.

Then I love too love lemurs.

Imprints upon imprints. All surrounding where Emily Dickinson – the great inventor – dwelt in seclusion. It is still amazing to me that all of these endeavors that Pettit is a part of can be seen and read from all cities, all places, but what stands out is the beauty and design of the book as the flying object.-DS