Interview: MC Hyland (DoubleCross Press)

Interview with MC Hyland of DoubleCross Press
by Matt Broach and Jill Foster

MB and JF: We’ve enjoyed going through the posts on your website, but there’s very little information about the genesis of DoubleCross press: by the time of your first post, it seems like the project was already up and running.  Could you talk a little about the origin of DoubleCross?  What is your own background, and what made you want to start the press?

MCH: In some ways, the project was up and running when I started the (very infrequently-updated) blog for the press, and in some ways, it made a radical shift then. I went to grad school at the University of Alabama from 2003-2007 for poetry, but I started taking classes in their MFA program in book arts almost as soon as I got there. I’d fallen in love with book arts years before, when I saw my first show of handmade books, at the University of the Arts in Philly while I was an undergrad–probably in 1996 or 7. I’d always been interested in zine culture, but too shy to make zines myself. The book arts show opened up this whole other world of bookmaking: sculptural books, literary-looking books, altered books, books that I couldn’t believe were made by hand.

Alabama’s is a very traditional book arts program, based in a library school and invested in historical (mostly Western) approaches to the book: papermaking (primarily western-style), bookbinding (which follows a sequence of one-semester classes in non-adhesive bindings, case bindings, quarter- and half-leather bindings, and full-leather binding–basically, nothing after the first semester that I’m likely to use again!), and letterpress printing on a Vandercook press. Very fine-press oriented: my first friend in the book arts program would always lecture me about how I shouldn’t underprice my books and broadsides, because they were Art Objects. When I took my second semester of letterpress (in spring 2005), I needed to come up with a press name–it was an actual assignment! I really wanted to use Palimpsest Press, but it was already taken, so a friend recommended I pick something geographical (a tried and true fine press name strategy). I started printing things under the name Ponkapoag Press (named for a bog near where I grew up in the Boston suburbs). While I was in Alabama, I probably printed about 20-30 broadsides for student and visiting writer readings, but made only one book–a very traditional-looking pamphlet of my own older poems, for my Letterpress 2 class.

I stayed in Alabama for another year to finish the coursework for an MFA in book arts, but was pretty disillusioned with the fine press approach to bookmaking. I’d started, but not finished, a couple of larger book projects, but I wasn’t excited about producing things for the fine-press economy: I’m a writer, and I wanted to make books that people would read, not ones that were too precious to be touched without gloves. At some point that last year in Tuscaloosa, I changed the press name to DoubleCross Press: it was a name suggested by one of the (still-unfinished) fine press books I was working on, which was poems from Ashley McWaters’ book Whitework (later published by Fairy Tale Review Press). When I moved to Minneapolis (with a still-unfinished book arts degree) in the fall of 2008, I brought the press name with me, and, being out of the fine-press-dominated studio space of that program, started making the kind of books that I wanted to make–books that used more inexpensive/less archival materials (or offcuts from earlier projects), that were quicker to produce, but that still benefited from my training in fine-press technique. I put out a call, and got a small, but wonderful, response. Those first manuscripts were the books that became the Single Sheet Series.

MB and JF: One of the things that immediately jumped out about the DoubleCross books we read was the care that went into the construction of the books themselves.  It has been interesting, as we delve into the world of tiny presses, to see the range approaches that presses take to the book objects.  This past week we looked at Belladonna’s chapbooks, which are in some ways the polar opposite of DoubleCross’s: simple cardstock covers, each with exactly the same size and graphic design, varying only by color.  This approach, of course, has the advantage of giving the press a recognizable visual identity.  DoubleCross, on the other hand, seems to craft each book to the particular needs of its contents.  This raises a number of interesting questions about your process: how much is the book design a collaboration with the poet/s?  For those books that are collaborations with visual artists (such as Sextuplets are not that Heavy), how are those collaborations structured?  What would you say is the overarching aesthetic of the presses, if there is one?

MCH: I actually just gave a talk on collaboration between book artists and writers this week! Which is funny, because that’s not entirely how I conceptualize the work that I do as a bookmaker–I think of it as publishing. However, the books in the Single Sheet Series were so responsive to their texts that I can see how they could be described as collaborations.

The Single Sheet Series books started with a formal constraint: could I make a whole book of which the text could be printed at once, in one or two runs through a Vandercook press? Though I departed a bit from that project by adding other printed elements (covers, printed endsheets, or even, as in the case of Sextuplets, a second sheet containing the book’s illustrations), that’s the thread that joins the series. The formal constraint as generative principle is something I take from my writing life.

The structure of We Are So Happy To Know Something is my favorite longer-book binding (a simplified variant of the coptic stitch), in the exact size of the Projective Industries chapbooks. That will stay the same from year to year, though we’re trying to streamline the process a bit (we’ve been talking about printing the title and press logos directly on the cover next year, instead of wrapping boards again, because preparing the covers is so, so slow).

The visual artist I collaborate with most is my boyfriend, Jeff Peterson, who’s become a really indispensable part of the press. He’s fun to work with, because he really enjoys (and is good at!) image-making (he made and printed the linocut for Sextuplets, and the cover image for Lily Brown’s Museum Armor), which, as a process, doesn’t really do a lot for me. I’m all about the type and the structure in my bookmaking. I basically give him the text and a mockup of the book’s size and structure, and he goes from there.

I think the aesthetic of the press is a bit of a moving target. I recently bought a laser printer, and that’s opening up a lot of possibilities in terms of book production. It took me 3 years to make the 6 books of the Single Sheet Series, plus the two issues of WASHTKS. I want to find a way to keep doing the things I love (typesetting, some occasional papermaking), while also producing a few more books per year. I have a couple of ideas for chapbook series where the text blocks will be printed on the laser printer and the covers letterpressed, or screenprinted, or printed with whatever technology is most easily available to me. I don’t feel like I couldn’t make books if I didn’t have access to the equipment I’m lucky enough to work with now (letterpress and papermaking studios).

As for the aesthetics in terms of the writing, I often tell the people that I solicit for WASHTKS that Stephanie (from PI) and I tend toward either minimalist or maximalist writing. I think that’s very true of the DoubleCross aesthetic in general, though the typesetting aspect of the Single Sheet Series made me tend more toward the minimalist.

MB and JF: The landscape of publishing has shifted radically over the past few years – we read more and more about authors who choose to publish entirely in digital formats.  Indeed, even a number of the small presses we’re looking at this semester are primarily digital.  Since so much care has clearly gone into the crafting of each individual book, what do they see as the importance of the book-as-artifact an increasingly digital world?  As DoubleCross to focus entirely on poetry, what is the relationship particularly between the book object and poetry?

MCH: I see chapbooks as little shrines, and though I appreciate the accessibility of online chapbooks (I especially love stumbling on someone’s work in a magazine and being able to turn up a whole chapbook right away with just a google search!), there’s something really precious about a little book of poems, especially if you can tell the book has been lovingly handmade. It makes sense to me that poetry-culture is a branch (? tributary?) of maker-culture. Because poetry is (I think) a means/form of paying attention, it’s a pretty hard-to-sell item within the mainstream capitalist culture, and I think that means it needs to have its own economy. I love the culture of poetry bookmakers: they put their time and money into sending words they love out to other people who love words. When I pick up a handmade poetry chapbook, I get a real sense of connection to its maker, which is soemthing that’s harder to come by in traditional (or online) publishing.

MB and JF: As to a more specific question of construction – you mention, in an early post, your own weakness for transparent paper (Brandon Shimoda’s book uses transparent paper, and if we’re reading the website correctly, so did your first three books).  This is particularly interesting, given the broad, popular vision of poetry (particularly modern poetry) as being opaque.  Is the translucent paper merely an aesthetic choice, or does it also carry a conceptual basis?

MCH: Ooh, this is an interesting question! I think that the translucent paper often (but not always) does carry some meaning-content. But that content is different from case to case. In Sextuplets, for example, I think it was important for the imagery (depicting a “place”) to be separate from the text, but also in a way contiguous with it. The poem is interested in place on one level, but it’s more a point of departure than as an essential quality. The transparency in The Grave on the Wall, on the other hand, is a bit more functional, allowing Brandon’s amazing drawings and poems to co-exist–he originally sent the manuscript with the drawings and poems on the same page (one drawing per poem).

While it’s true that poetry can often be accused of opacity, I actually find writing that calls attention to the constructedness of its language to, in some ways, ultimately make that language feel more window-like–but the window is actually on the writer, her/his intentions and obsessions and whatnot.

MB and JF: We are so Happy to Know Something was a collaboration with Projective Industries – another press we’ll be looking at the same week we discuss DoubleCross.  That cross-press collaboration is interesting, and also raises a number of questions: what pushes for the merger, at what times, for what projects? Is it according to the needs of individual projects and if so, what are those needs? Also, on that note, considering their occasional merging, why do they remain separate entities?

MCH: We collaborate on the magazine because we’re friends, and it’s fun to do so (and, honestly, because I think magazine editing is more effective when there are more people working on it–it helps to have someone else help me decide when I’m being too lenient with my friends or too harsh with strangers). But Stephanie and I each feel really strongly tied to the models of our individual presses, so I think that DoubleCross and Projective Industries will stay separate as long as they’re around.