Interview: Noel Black (Angry Dog Midget Editions)

1. I have compiled some questions from my classmates and from me, about DIY bookmaking, publishing and more specifically the Angry Dog Midget Editions chapbook series. We are all dying to know, how did you arrive at the name Angry Dog Midget Editions?

Good question! I used to do a really crappy poetry comic called “Angry Dog and Tina” that wasn’t really about anything other than this neurotic woman who was into BDSM and her dog. When I started a “press” to publish some chapbooks back in the late-90s, I just liked the name. The Midget Editions were the last project I did on the press, and they were all these little books—midgets. I wish it were a better story!

2. In the introduction and notes about the series, you speak about your frustrations with the chapbook project (in a way that had us all laughing and nodding along with you, as we are in the final stages of assembling our own books) and that you “mistakenly thought [the project] would be ‘a lot of fun to put together.’” We often talk about what we are willing to sacrifice when the project becomes too large for our own capabilities. For the Angry Dog Midget Editions, were there any sacrifices that had to be made to the original project plan, or can you respond to the question we have been asking ourselves, “what are you willing to sacrifice when a project becomes much bigger than you are able to handle”?

I’d say the biggest sacrifice was time. Much moreso than money. I’d wanted to get the whole project done in a couple years, send all the boxes out, do some readings, then wash my hands of it. But it stretched out into 4 years, and then I never really finished it once-and-for-all until right before AWP in 2014, which is where I met Jen! Ugh. It weighed on my mind for years. There was some money lost, too, but not enough to be significant. I guess I didn’t fully understand what a labor publishing is no matter how you go about it. Still, it’s wonderful to make books. Printing the covers was always my favorite part.

3. In our class, our conversations about presses, publications, projects, etc. almost always arrive at a discussion about form and content and how the two relate. I’m wondering if you can speak to how you consider the form and content of the Angry Dog Midget Editions chapbooks to be related to each chapbook itself and to one another as a collective series? And, further, can you speak about why the books arrived at the form/shape/size they are in?

OK, so, there are a few ways that I could talk about this: 1). I’ve always like small, pocket-sized things; 2). The GOCCO press that I did most of the covers on is really small; 3). It saved money; 4). I saw the box of Midget Editions as a kind of anthology of poets and artists that I liked — a coterie in a box?; 5). Publishing is often a way to jump yourself into the gang of poetry. Older poets are often happy to take part in projects by younger poets who’re interested in their work because they’ve all been publishers before and they don’t want to ever do it again! (LOL) And they’re so flattered that you like their work that How could they say no?

4. How much involvement did the writers have in the creative process of The Angry Dog Midget Editions beyond their written contributions?

There were a few divas who wanted a fair amount of say in the books, but it was mostly me.

5. In learning about tiny presses, and incorporating the book exchange into the curriculum, our class has often expressed that the books feel more like gifts. The Angry Dog Midget Editions especially had this feel, even more so when were able to see the box set. We’ve had many conversations about how tiny presses relate to larger structures of capital, and about paying writers for their valuable work. These conversations often lead into discussions about creating alternative/anti economies and raise questions about the boundaries around art and capital. I am wondering if you can respond to this notion of compensation as an artist.

I decided many years ago that I wasn’t going to even try to make a living as a poet. That said, I have a great day job as a radio producer, which feels very close to the spirit of poetry. I get to tell stories and talk to amazing people and produce these wonderful shows/podcasts about life in and around Colorado Springs where I grew up. It feels like important work in the same way poetry does, and with a significantly larger audience. That said, poetry will always be my avocation, and the Angry Dog Midget editions were very much a gift and/or a kind of rite of passage that continues to be a kind of calling card for meeting other amazing poets and publishers like Jen Hofer. I think that especially because I’ve made my life so far away from the big poetry cities it’s also been great to have the books as a way to connect.

6. Can you describe the relationship between being a writer, publisher and curator and if it has affected your work? And do you have any advice for anyone interested in starting their own press?

Yeah, I think the realization that you can publish your own work and the work of others gives you an enormous sense of your own power and what the work of publishing is really all about. It also gives you empathy for your publishers and editors if and when you do have a book published by an outside press. In the small-press poetry “community” (it’s a big place with many many disagreements, as it were), which I wasn’t really a part of until after 2011 after not really participating in poetry life for the years when my first son was young, publishing is a way of being a poet. In many ways it has more social caché than just being a poet, which is odd, and can be hard to swallow when you realize it. It’s a kind of power to be a publisher and you have to be aware of it and aware of your own motives. We all want to be recognized and published and feel like what we’re doing is important. But there can be lots of ego, careerism, petty squabbles, etc. My advice is to do it—find out if it’s for you, even you just do runs of 25 books or mags that you share with your friends. If it’s not, you’ll at least know what it’s all about. And don’t be afraid of gossip. Gossip is the glue of community, and you don’t talk about people you don’t care about. Just don’t use it for personal gain.

7. Finally, I am interested in hearing about any projects you are currently working on or anticipating, or anything you are excited about right now!

I just got done blogging for the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, and it was exhausting. Writing is almost always hard work, even when it’s for something as seemingly insignificant as a blog post. I also started a .pdf press called The New Heave-Ho where I’m publishing chapbooks, but online only. I just don’t have the time anymore with my kids and my job to make the commitment it takes to enter into that kind of relationship with a project and an author. So I’m excited about that, but it’s STILL a ton of work. I’m excited about translating, too. I’ve only done one translation project with a Puerto Rican poet named Mara Pastor and I’d like to do more. I’m sick of my own writing!

Thanks for asking me to be a part of this. Go forward and don’t forget to pass the baton when you’re as famous as Jen and I are! ; )