What books do you return to? Which books influenced you the most of your early life?
There are so many books that I read over and over again that inspire me. Here are some of them: “Concerning the Angels” by Raphael Alberti, ” “Pencil Letters” by Irina Ratushinskaya, “The Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry” edited by Charles Simic, “Trilce” by Vallejo, “The Fourth Dimension” by Yannis Ritsos, “Elegy for Departure” by Zbigniew Herbert, “Duino Eligies” by Rilke, “Foamy Sky” by Radnotti, and “My Dream has Red Fingers” by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu. These books never get old for me. Each time I read them, I feel like it is the first time.
In my early life, I was influenced by Keats, Shelly, and Matthew Arnold. I loved their poetry. I still feel the same about their work but now I am mostly influenced by Eastern European poetry. Another influence in my early life was the art books in my parents library. I learned about Monet, Chagal, Van Gogh, and Degas. My favorite growing up was the ballet paintings by Degas. Yes, I spent time studying ballet and suffering on toe shoes but I loved it. I guess that is why I liked his paintings so much.
I also think of a children’s book I read in the fourth grade called, “Black Storm.” (I still have this book.) It is about the love between a horse, Black Storm, and his owner. They are separated because of bad men but are reunited in the end. This book is special to me because I grew up riding horses.
What do you find exciting about the current internet landscape for publishers and writers? What do you find challenging?
The internet has brought me in touch with so many editors of small presses. It has been wonderful because we share information with each other about various things. As a writer, it is good to be able to search out magazines and online journals to send work to. I find that submissions are quicker as well as the responses, and contact is great with many supportive writers.
The most challenging part of the internet is when I see my name or Cervena Barva Press mentioned on Google with something that has nothing to do with writing. I’ve seen my name listed under car dealerships and Cervena Barva Press listed under vacation spots. This is very frustrating.
What brought you to found Cervena Barva Press? How did the press evolve?
I founded Cervena Barva Press in April, 2005. I can’t believe that the press will be celebrating its five year anniversary in a few weeks. I started the press because of my love for publishing writers. From 1984-1994, I co-founded the Boston Literary Review/BluR. We published poetry and fiction. I had five Assistant Editors which was a luxury. They were Catherine Sasanov, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Gary Duehr, Mark Fleckenstein, and Carl Phillips. It was a wonderful time while it lasted. In 1994, we ceased publication. For the next eleven years, I concentrated on my own writing but I really missed publishing and finding new unique voices. I kept telling my friends that I was going to start a press. I think they were getting sick of me talking about it. Finally, in 2005, I took the plunge and started Cervena Barva Press. The name of the press means “red color” in Czech. I am influenced by Eastern European poetry so I wanted a foreign name. Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, was a big influence on me because of what he did for that country leading up to the Velvet Revolution and because of the plays he wrote. Some of them are extremely weird and really take liberties with the characters and the language.
In 2005, I published 21 poetry postcards by poets that I knew and have published before in the Boston Literary Review/BluR. It was really exciting to design these postcards. Some of the poets were Simon Perchik, David Ray, Eric Pankey, Michael Burkard, and John Minczewski. There were 20 poets in this project. Since 2006, we have published 48 chapbooks, 18 books, and 5 e-books. We publish mostly poetry but publish fiction, plays, memoir, and some non-fiction. This year we have many books and chapbooks that will be published. I keep telling myself to slow down but I keep finding work that I just have to publish! The press would not be possible without my partner William J. Kelle. He designs the covers for me and does the layout for the chapbooks. He also does the the website for Cervena Barva Press, our newsletter, and bookstore, The Lost Bookshelf. The bookstore sells Cervena Barva Press books but we also sell books on consignment for authors and publishers. We believe in being another outlet for writers to get their books out there.
I have had 6 interns and will have another intern for the summer. Most of them have been getting college credit for helping me.
The press is finally starting to get more recognition. These past few years, I have been speaking on panels about the press and guest lecturing at colleges/universities about the press and my own work. This summer, I am on two panels in June. One is at the Joiner Center/Umass and the other is at Marymount College/Manhattan. Recently, the press won a SUR Translation Book Grant from Buenos Aires, Argentina to publish a translation of poetry by Luis Raul Calvo with translation by Flavia Cosma. I am so excited about this. I believe there is not enough translations being published so I am trying to bring in more work from overseas to the USA.
What are your favorite websites?
Hmm…my favorite websites. This is really difficult to answer. I visit so many websites and blogs. It is really fun to discover new sites and what others are doing. With working full-time and publishing books, sometimes my time is limited. When I was invited by one of my favorite writers, Susan Tepper, to join Fictionaut, I was leary and didn’t know what to expect. Well, the experience has been absolutely wonderful and everyone is really supportive. It is really a great community of writers. I am really enjoying reading the work posted and commenting. I try to visit the site everyday. I also am on Facebook daily. I keep in contact with some writers/editors on the site but am always careful of what I post for privacy reasons. Another website I am on daily and that I love is a blog called, Tim’s El Salvador Blog. Here I find news about what is going on in El Salvador. Since my first book was about the atrocities during the civil war there and my new manuscript is about El Salvador today, I am a regular. I also like Ron Silliman’s blog.
What are the things you enjoy most (the greatest rewards) about your work?
The greatest reward for me is seeing my poetry published in magazines, online and in book form.
One of the best things to happen to me and a dream come true is having my poetry published in magazines in Romania and Argentina. Flavia Cosma has translated so much of my work. I have a book forthcoming in Romania called La Porţile Raiului.
I feel one of the biggest rewards for me was when “Blood Soaked Dresses” was published. In the early 1980’s I worked with El Salvadoran refugees. They fled the civil war in El Salvador which lasted from 1980-1992. They shared with me what was happening in their country and the atrocities committed. Currently, I am finishing a manuscript about El Salvador today and the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia. I write about the atrocities to be a voice for the people. I don’t want the world to forget. I feel like it is my calling.
Another reward for me is that my new book, “Nothing Divine Here” was just released. I am so excited about it! My writing is for the most part on the dark side. This book is difficult to describe. I guess you could say it is about the death of everything from relationships, myself, and others. You name it, I kill it. Yes, it is heavy but there are some humorous spots. This book is real closure for me. I sent it out years ago and only had a few bites but they fell through. I put it aside to collect dust. Finally, I gave it another shot and sent it to a foreign press and it was accepted. I was on cloud nine and still am!
I will end with saying one last thing. When I am able to share my work at readings with an audience, there is nothing like it. It is really thrilling when my books are bought. I think, oh my God, someone is reading my work. Wow! This is pure heaven for me.
Even though I speak about my work and the rewards that I get from it or the things that have happened to me, I share it with much humbleness. I am so grateful for the journey my writing has taken me on and the people I have met. It is a gift from them that I have been given. I will continue to be a voice for those who can’t speak.
Thank you so much Meg for interviewing me. I am so appreciative. It was really nice to be able to share about the press and about what makes me tick. Thank you!
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.