THE WORK FEBRUARY 2010
An interview with Derek Fenner of Bootstrap Press
Derek Fenner (left) with Ryan Gallagher
co-founders of Bootstrap Press
Derek Fenner, a Kentucky Colonel, lives in Lowell, MA. A co-founder of Bootstrap Press (http://bootstrapproductions.org), he is also the project director of Unlocking the Light: Integrating the Arts in Juvenile Justice Education, a program he helped design to incorporate art in the professional development of the Department of Youth Services in Massachusetts. In addition, he founded an art mentorship program and taught art to juveniles in a maximum security lock-down facility for the State of Massachusetts.
Derek is also a talented writer and visual artist whose recent publications include Wild Schemes (Lew Gallery 2010), I No Longer Believe in the Sun: Love Letters to Katie Couric (Bootstrap 2009), and My Favorite Color is Red (Bootstrap 2006).
I No Longer Believe in the Sun is one of the most inventive, demented books I have ever read. A possibly semi-autobiographical chronicle of its author’s obsession with news anchor Katie Couric, this book will haunt and amaze you. It is unique in its intentional blurring of the line between a literary expression of reverence and borderline criminal behavior.
Next month I will post an interview with Ryan Gallagher, Derek’s partner in Bootstrap Press and the author of a superb new translation of Catullus.
Full disclosure: Derek and I were classmates at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and his press has published both my poetry (in the @tached document) as well as Literal Motion, a book which contains three interviews with the filmmaker Stan Brakhage.
Christopher Luna: How do you fund your publishing projects?
Derek Fenner: We bootstrap them. In the beginning we had some very kind donations to the cause from friends including the owner of a used car lot in Eastlake, Ohio and Big Ray, a southern gentleman. We also relied heavily on the sale of our visual art to fund projects, which usually happened at a fundraising event in some sort of bar, where my cousin from Kentucky, D. Fener (note the 1 ‘n’ spelling) did live auctions to the highest bidder (http://bootstrapproductions.blogspot.com/2009/02/back-when-boots-were-boots.html). Occasionally enough money builds up in the coffers from sales to support a project. A lot of times, we dig into our own pockets to cover the printing costs associated with a specific book.
Please tell us the history of Bootstrap. How did you envision it? What mistakes have you made? How has it changed?
It started late at night in a warehouse on N. Broadway in Boulder, CO, where I was illegally living and making my art. Jeff Chester lived down the hallway and it was through our long discursive late night meanderings that we really got down to the original intentions of publishing—this was our attempt at community-making. We started out by publishing a short-lived literary journal, the @tached document, made possible mostly by coffee with fellow Naropite, Todd McCarty.
Bootstrap HQ, North Boulder, CO.
Jeff Chester and Derek Fenner, circa 1999.
(Note 1st Bootstrap logo on floor)
1st Bootstrap Logo
Around the time of the second issue of the @tached document, Ryan Gallagher joined the team and he and I started to focus on a run of limited edition chapbooks and a first book of poems by Steven Taylor. This was, I think around 2001. In the summer of 2002 we relocated to the Boston are and are now situated in Lowell, MA, where we publish our books. It’s interesting looking back at the first logo we did, it kind of looks like the shape of Massachusetts. I’m sure there are other Bootstrap histories out there (http://bootstrapproductions.blogspot.com/2008/04/thoughts-on-small-press-publishing-from.html), and if you sit us down with a bottle of bourbon, we’d recollect even more light on the story.
“Surgo--rise up, surge. Insurgo--rise up, raise oneself up. A bootstrap operation. A goodbye to that wretched parody of the karmic round, historical revolutionary futility.” Hakim Bey
Recently, you threatened to put together a chapbook entitled "How Not to Get Published." Would you care to elaborate on the incident(s) that inspired this bold claim?
It’s not really an incident—many months we get more manuscript submissions than we do sales. And it’s not that complicated. Get to know us and/or our publications. Be a part of our community. Show us how you have envisioned your work to be seen, that you have taken the effort to publish yourself, before sending us a chain letter.
How did the Katie Couric book begin? Has she seen it? Did she respond?
In the beginning were the words, Dear Katie. No, it actually started out as a performance art bit, where I read all of these really over-the-top love odes about my love for Ms. Couric. At that time I also began doing some drawings of her.
Me and Katie
by Derek Fenner
Me on the Today Show
by Derek Fenner
The reactions I received from the art and literary community were great, but it was the visceral and emotional reactions I was seeing in my friends and family, that led me to believe I was on to something. I got plenty of negative reactions to singling out Ms. Couric, so Derek Fenner, the protagonist, was born. His daydreams became more and more obsessive in both his letters to Ms. Couric, and in the drawings as well.
The letters (fictional) and drawings all became I NO LONGER BELIEVE IN THE SUN: LOVE LETTERS TO KATIE COURIC. I’m very happy with the book and its reception in the world. My favorite review, thus far, is by Steven Fama, over at the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica (http://stevenfama.blogspot.com/). He said “the letter-poems reflect an id-egoic male tight-twisted sex-religion-TV-celebrity-fetish-terror-apocalypse is clarity-fantasy, amen.”
Has Ms. Couric seen the book?
I google myself all the time.
Katie and the Others
by Derek Fenner
What are your goals for the press/nonprofit? How many of your original goals have you reached?
We never really set goals. We didn’t know what we were doing, and still don’t. We just act and react to the world around us. We hope that we get the writers work we publish into as many hands as we can. We hope that young artists and writers out there stop waiting around for galleries to show their work and for publishers to print their texts and that they start their own spaces and publish themselves and their fellow artists and writers.
How did the two books you did for John Wieners come about? Tell me about the process of putting the books together.
Ever since we saw the publication of 707 Scott Street and while we were still at Naropa we often daydreamed about publishing a John Wieners manuscript. His work continues to leave an impressionable mark on our psyches. When Michael Carr approached us in 2006 at James Dunn’s encouragement, we were excited to know that he had transcribed and edited a journal that John Wieners wrote in 1970-1972, when he was 36 years old. The opening poem was titled, “2007,” and we knew right then that we had to find a way to publish the book.
There have been many great reviews of A BOOK OF PROPHECIES. Kevin Killian, in his Amazon review of the book (http://www.amazon.com/Book-Prophecies-John-Wieners/dp/0977997545), talked about the San Francisco celebration saying, “The other night there was a launch for this book at New College here in San Francisco, and as reader after reader took the stage to read from this book, we were struck by how many of these poems, which we had never heard before, had the force and the "click" of what amounts to instant classics. They were new to us, and yet we felt we had known them forever.” That book was a landmark book for Bootstrap and this year’s A NEW BOOK FROM ROME is continuing in that same vein, of becoming an instant classic.
James Dunn and Charley Shively brought us ROME a year and a half ago, and we’ve done everything we can to produce this book in a way that honors the treasures found within. Instead of a wide soft cover release we decided to do something infinitely and intimately smaller, and are printing this book in a limited edition hardcover (http://www.scribd.com/doc/23956640/Rome-Release-John-Wieners). Bill Berkson, Duncan McNaughton, and Charley Shively all wrote in the afterword of this book and we are, with Dunn’s help, creating an exciting array of ephemera to include with the book’s publication. The book is slated for release on the 8th anniversary of author’s passing on March 1, 2010. We’ve created a video advertisement for this book that you can watch over at our blog. The video includes an excerpt of Wieners reading, “Supplication,” included in both NERVES and A NEW BOOK FROM ROME:
PROPHECIES cover spread
ROME cover prototype
I am very interested in the series of portraits of artists you did for My Favorite Color is Red. How do you execute these images? When did you first conceive of this approach? Do you begin with a photograph?
You’re talking about my series, “100 People You Should Know.” This set of portraits began with space issues. I was living in an apartment in Somerville, MA with two roommates and didn’t have any real ‘studio’ space outside of my bedroom, so I had to work small and on paper. I retreated to drawing and forced myself back into that mindset by copying some famous self-portraits by other visual artists. It was in working on a portrait of Max Beckmann, that I hit on something of an aesthetic awakening in the process. I thought back to my days in art school and in preparing woodblocks for relief printmaking, and the way we drew our art as a guide to cut away the negative space from the image. My process for drawing these portraits is in the book. In short: I work from photographs. I make notations and begin the process of rendering the person as if going for a realistic finish, only shading a degree or two of detail to capture both the shadow and linear qualities of the portrait. I then begin to simplify the image by working with the photograph placed under a bright light in a dark room and I squint at both it and my rendering making connections on just one plane. I map together the connecting points of the portrait and get what’s often referred to as “a Warhol effect”. Or in the Obama Era, “the Shepard Fairey effect.” I originally intended to make all 100 woodcuts, but got lost in the drawing and never set out along that path.
(Top to Bottom)
Bernadette Mayer, Willem DeKooning, H.D.
by Derek Fenner
Why do 100? I wanted a project that was mammoth in attempting, but also with some kind of finite end to work toward. I was also looking at the portraits as a sort of personal essay of my influences. Which is why in the book, a quote from the artist or writer is included as a sort of annotated bibliography of what was shaping my art in the years 2002-2005.
Prints of the first 50 in an exhibit, 2004.
Discuss your influences. Who are the visual artists and writers who continue to inspire your work?
I could really answer this question with images. The portraits are a way for me to acknowledge the forces in my life as a reader, viewer, and human. But for sake of brevity, I’ll touch in on some milestones in three categories. Influence for me is what sticks, what gets me out of bed in the morning, and in front of the canvas or page. My friends, often bootstrappers themselves, are a first line of influence, many of them talented writers or artists themselves. Ryan Gallagher, my fellow bootstrapper, constantly keeps me on my toes, with both his quenching and overwhelming literary output, as well as his visual work as a painter and collagist.
As far as visual artists, I’m constantly asking myself if I lack the strength of Caravaggio, the wit of Duchamp, the dark-quiet of Witkin, the tender surface of Peyton, or the chaos of Spare and the West Coast Assemblage artists of the 50’s and 60’s never stray too far—Berman, Conner, Herms, and Jess.
In prose, Vollmann, Thompson, and Kerouac stick hard.
For poetry there’s far too many to get into the naming, but Naropa (http://naropa.edu/) put a lot of oxygen in my veins. Lisa Jarnot as a poet (http://www.angelfire.com/poetry/lisajarnot/blog/), field-guide, and friend got me into fields that were open and magickal.
What I’m reading right now: Gerrit Lansing, The Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth,Vik Muniz, Reflex, Joscelyn Godwin, Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World, Carl Jung, The Red Book, Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Monro, and the latest Lew Gallery editions: (http://bluepressbooks.blogspot.com/2010/01/rave-on-by-john-sakkis-wild-schemes-by.html)!
What does Bootstrap have in the works? Are there any forthcoming books that you are very excited about which are worth mentioning?
A NEW BOOK FROM ROME, by John Wieners
PALM TO PINE, by Sunnylyn Thibodeaux