Cameron Anstee runs Apt. 9 Press
Cameron Anstee singlehandedly runs Apt. 9 Press in Ottawa, Ontario. His poetry chapbook, Consider Each Possibility, was released by Baseline Press in October 2015. Apt. 9’s current books in print can be purchased through Anstee’s Etsy shop.
Sean Lamb: Apt. 9 Press has built up quite a catalogue since 2009; you’ve gone on to publish over 30 chapbooks, including Five, Apt. 9’s first book with a spine, last year. In an interview back in 2010 with rob mclennan, when asked about your goals as a publisher, you mentioned you hadn’t been at it long enough to comment on your changing goals as a publisher. Five years later, in the latter portion of your PhD, I’d like to put the question to you again: have your goals as a publisher shifted over the years? And if so, how?
Cameron Anstee: Six years still feels like an absurdly small period of time to have been doing this. I was just at Meet the Presses last weekend, sitting near tables that go back three or four decades! When I began Apt. 9, I wanted to push myself as a maker of books (as in the literal book-objects), and to publish writing that I believed in enough to commit the hours of labour to producing. Those goals certainly haven’t changed. My own reading has become increasingly varied with every year, and I think that the Apt. 9 list reflects that. I hope it does, anyway. I’ll be putting the press on hiatus in 2016 so that I can at last complete my doctoral dissertation. When the press returns sometime in 2017, I’ll have had the better part of a year (or maybe more) to reflect further on what I want out of doing the work, and I’m curious to see what the press might look like when it is resurrected. The goal will always be interesting writing published in interesting ways that I believe in enough to produce by hand. I think there is a lot of freedom to move around inside that frame, and I hope that the press will find an interested audience for many years to come!
Sean Lamb: I appreciate the enthusiasm you have not only for the design of books, but also the means of production. It’s a pleasure to read blog posts like this describing printing tools you’ve found. I’m wondering if you could speak to the act of making. Are there particular techniques, tools, or materialities you’re drawn to when printing and binding by hand? How do you decide on, say, a saddle stitch versus a side stitch for a given project? Are there things you’d like to try that you haven’t?
Cameron Anstee: I’m trying to push myself with each project these days. For example, the most recent title—Michael e. Casteels’s solarpowered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth, a collection of minimalist typewriter poems—was built as a set of loose sheets gathered in a sleeve that I made myself. I had never glued envelopes before and I’m thrilled with the results. I love a Japanese stab binding, I love saddle stitch. I’m trying to become better at finding a shape and form for a book that works effectively with the writing contained therein. I don’t know that I was conscious enough of that relationship in the first few years of the press (there was a “house style” with a uniform size, layout, and aesthetic). I have no proper training in any of this, but I approach it all with enthusiasm and a willingness to try and fail at as many ways of doing things as I can come up with.
I’ve got a long-dormant tabletop letterpress in the basement that I would like to learn enough about to start using. I’ve also got a little rubber stamp rotary press that I want to play with. I would love to learn how to make boxes and slipcases for projects. I’d love to make a hardcover by hand. I’m creating original linocuts for more covers than I used to.
Sean Lamb: I’d like to know about the interplay between your interests in the physicality of books and your poetry. The chapbook reviews on your blog show a reading of chapbooks as objects unto themselves rather than just designed containers for writing; and when discussing your own work, you don’t stop at the poem itself: you write, of an old published piece, “I think the layout has held up more strongly than the poems.” Reading through Consider Each Possibility, I couldn’t help but think that these poems fit snugly in the chapbook format. Does your understanding of publishing and design influence your writing process? Do you have a conception of how a poem should be physically represented as you are working on it?
Apt. 9 Press publishes handmade chapbooks
Cameron Anstee: Consider Each Possibility was published by Karen Schindler through her really wonderful Baseline Press. My experience with Baseline was fantastic. Karen works with her writers at every step: we chose the paper together, worked on the layout together, discussed cover designs and potential sizes for the pages. I feel like that chapbook works well as a complete object, the poems make sense on the page size, as you say. All credit there goes to Karen and her open approach to publishing!
I’m always captivated by good and interesting design. There are books on my shelves that I love for their writing, and there are books that I loved for the contours and details of their existence as objects in the world. Ideally, the two work together. As a publisher, I always receive a manuscript that is more or less complete and I work towards a design based on that. I think that it has to operate in that direction with Apt. 9.
That being said, the materials you use when writing will always influence the terms of a piece as it develops: the size of notebook you’re writing in and whether you’re typing on a computer or a typewriter or using a pencil. Do you compose in your head as you walk? Do you gather fragments of things and try to piece them together later? This stuff dictates form whether consciously or not. I try to respect the particulars of a manuscript when I move it from manuscript to book.
I have been consciously trying to write smaller poems in the last few years, and I’m actively seeking out work of that sort. There is an amazing range of ways that such work can be presented—a smaller page for a smaller poem, a larger page with the poem filling very little of it, loose sheets, small handouts, tiny objects of all sorts. I’m always curious how trade books handle that kind of work. I’ve always got ideas for things to make with the poems I’m sitting on, it’s just a matter of finding the time to see some of it through.
Sean Lamb: Finally, I’m curious about what you’re working on. Consider Each Possibility is, among many things, concise. The shortest poem, “An Unwelcome Generosity,” comes in at six words:
You’ve written that Consider Each Possibility is a step toward a “properly minimalist manuscript” you’ve got in the works. Can you share a bit about it? Does this proper minimalism differ from the minimalism in Consider Each Possibility?
Cameron Anstee: Haha, six words! I’ve gotten down to three in at least one case, four in a few. Six is a good length, I think. There are a few one-word poems too. Consider Each Possibility is a manuscript that goes back about two years now. Reading through the book now with a bit of distance from the initial composition, I can see a progression from a brief lyric to something more minimal. The first poem in the book has about 50 words, the last poem six. I’m definitely writing more poems closer to six than to 50 these days. I think that manuscript gave me permission in a way to keep moving towards smaller and smaller work. Reading the “longer” pieces in the chapbook, I can imagine minimalist shadow versions of them if they were being written or rewritten today.
The larger manuscript (a few poems from Consider Each Possibility have survived in it, so far anyway) is, in some ways, a series of attempts to write minimalist poems in a bunch of ways. It is much more consciously minimal, whereas I think the chapbook was simply short (and shorter) poems. In the full manuscript, some restrict the number of elements, some work with a fixed number of words or lines and explore ways of reusing those elements, and some use particular models and forms (haiku, erasure, found, list). These efforts, like all poems, respond to my changing reading patterns. Nelson Ball, Robert Lax, Lorine Niedecker, Aram Saroyan, Phyllis Webb, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Mark Truscott, jwcurry, and scores of others live inside these poems somewhere (I hope in ways that are more interesting than simply, “oh, he must have been reading whomever when he wrote this …”).
I’ve been editing these poems more aggressively than anything I’ve written before. When there are only a few words in a poem, each really needs to justify its continued presence! And of course the entire poem needs to justify its existence too. It’s really easy to dismiss a minimalist work as silly or frivolous or not worth continued and repeated attention. I’m always astonished when just a few words can hold my attention the first time and the tenth time and the 50th time. I can’t say if any of these are interesting enough yet, but I’m working at it anyway.
Cameron Anstee lives in Ottawa, ON, where he runs the one-man operation Apt. 9 Press and is pursuing a PhD studying Canadian literature at the University of Ottawa. His latest chapbook of poetry, Consider Each Possibility, was recently published by Baseline Press.