Guest Interview: Jennifer Flescher Talks With Adam Deutsch of Cooper Dillon Books

Jennifer Flescher, the editor of Tuesday; An Art Project, kindly volunteered to participate in the Celebration of Indie & Small Press Month with an interview of Adam Deutsch of Cooper Dillon Books.  This press is based in San Diego and has a number of books headed to the market, including Pretty Rooster by Clay Matthews.

Without further ado, please welcome Jennifer and Adam.

This is a great blog project – it is important to celebrate small presses and the very exciting projects they produce! I’m not, on the other hand, a writer of reviews . . . I was trained as a journalist and prefer to keep my opinions out of the conversation – I think by exploring motivations and stories we have a better in road to discovering new experiences and voices.

Cooper Dillon Books, a new poetry press out of San Diego, and their book, Pretty, Rooster, are just the kind of projects worth talking about. The book, third out of five titles for the press, is a collection of sonnets, interspersed with cartoons, including a flip-book of a clucking rooster. I was interested to hear about what the motivation behind this endeavor of the traditional and non-traditional.

So I offer for you an interview with the editor/publisher of Cooper Dillon Books, Adam Deutsch.

JSF: It’s a very cool book — tell me a little bit about how you see the creation of this book in relation to the creation of the press, if that makes sense . . .

AD: Clay Matthews’ Pretty, Rooster is very much a reflection of he intention that helped create the press.  We decided, before we even had our first title, that we would approach artists for covers rather than use stock art, or work in the public domain.  We never wanted to see an image from one of our books also printed on a copy of a coffee table book, or on a billboard for an erectile dysfunction drug.  Just as the press involved a number of like minds coming together, so does this particular title–poems by Matthews, comics by Shannon Wheeler and Micah Farritor, a flipbook and section breaks designed by Max Xiantu, and a cover photograph by Misha M. Johnson of a sculpture by Spencer Little.  The press was developed with the idea of art and community in mind, and Pretty, Rooster is a communal effort.

JSF: How important was the art to you?

AD: Working on the art was great fun. Clay had mentioned that, because it was a collection of sonnets, it might be fun to add something that could interact with the 14-line shape on every page.  He had a chapbook that came out with a little horse in the corner.  He told us he loved that horse.  Max was in a flippy mood, and made the strutting bird to put in the corner. Meanwhile, I know Micah Farritor (The Living and the Dead) from days in the Midwest, and had just met Shannon Wheeler at ComicCon, and got to talking with him because I use a Too Much Coffee Man Lunchbox.  It didn’t take much to talk either one into picking a sonnet and drawing a little 2-page comic.  Their styles are so different, and they chose poems with such different energy, and they worked beautifully as end caps to the collection.  The cover was just the topper–Taylor Katz keeps a wire rooster sculpture from Spencer Little in her kitchen, and Misha Johnson photographed it in front of a fence in their yard.  Considering the flipbook and the larger section breaks, we didn’t feel the need to have another entire rooster on the cover, so we just decided to show a little leg.

Art is always important.  The cliche about judging a book by a cover is just a poor philosophy if you’re trying to draw people to a book that is supposed to share art. Any publisher is taking a collection of poems they have fallen in love with; why dress it up in rags?  The idea is to make a cover interesting, inviting, and have it visually capture something that relates to the atmosphere inside the collection.  So many collection of poetry come out every year with covers that are poorly designed–sometimes straight ugly–and we’re not sure why this happens.  I leave the visual design to Max (a successful artist) because he understands details about composition and color and the process of printing color that I’m only just learning.  We also don’t print a single thing unless the poet love the way his or her own book looks.

JSF: How do you see those elements fitting together with a collection of sonnets?

AD: Jason Schneiderman (Striking Surface) writes, “The sonnet was invented as a vehicle for self-examination, and Matthews takes that literally, driving each one like it had a manual transmission.”  The sonnets are full of scenes and living things in motion.  But it’s a book for form, and with form comes a shape on the page that doesn’t vary much over the course of 72 pages. For Pretty, Rooster, the art is somewhat of a companion while you travel through the pages.

JSF: How did you choose the manuscript — was it solicited? did you fall in love at first pass?

AD:  It was kind of solicited, but not really.  In our first reading period, Clay had sent in a full-length manuscript, and it really kicked us, but something about it didn’t knock us over. I’d seen his work around in journals for years, and told him that I’d love to see something else, and didn’t hear anything until the next reading period.  He could have just emailed me with an attachment, but Clay Matthews is such a humble guy, so respectful and easy going, he simply submitted according to the guidelines the next year with Pretty, Rooster.

And I did fall in love at first pass. I read through it, and immediately emailed, asking if anyone else was considering it.  I wanted to take some time with it, but I also knew that it was a magical collection, and I didn’t want it to slip through our fingers.  Turns out he’d sent it to Cooper Dillon, exclusively.  I must have read it 5 times in a few days, then made an offer.

JSF: How has it been received?

AD:  We release our books, typically, in the fall/winter, so AWP becomes something of a coming-out party for our titles. People were drawn Pretty, Rooster, and once they saw the comics, they got really excited.  People are enjoying it.  We don’t set out to make giant splashes with our books–we believe the poems we’re publishing are timeless.  With that in mind, we like to let the buzz swell in its own time.  When people are excited about a book, they tell their friends, and they share it with classmates and loved ones, and that’s a process that needs to breathe.  Some presses insist that their authors line up readings, and use a lot of resources to get the word out. Sometimes it can be pretty forceful.  But we don’t demand anything from our authors. We just want them to love their own books.

Besides, we don’t do contents.  We don’t want $25 dollars from anyone to read a manuscript in the reading period, and we hope we can take two full-length books, and two chapbooks each year.  Rather, we ask poets who submit to buy a book (or pay $10) as a reading fee.  I think a number of people who are excited to pick up Pretty, Rooster, or any of our other books, are waiting for that submission period to open on April 1st, so they can order the book, and send us their manuscript.

JSF:  What did Matthews think of all the animation?

AD:  He loved the flipbook.  The little bird has made a lot of friends.

JSF: What did you learn from this book?

AD:  If you would have asked me when we started the press if we’d be interested in a collection of sonnets, I would have politely smiled and thought, probably not.  Every book that’s come in and really excited us has been something that’s challenged my perception of what I think I love in poem.  Each one has shown me something I didn’t think would do anything for me.  It’s like when I discovered the chocolate shake, only about a year and a half ago.  I had tried one as a kid, and didn’t like it, so I thought I didn’t like chocolate milkshakes.  Then I had one down at Hodad’s in Ocean Beach, and thought, “Holy cow!”  I’ve learned to fall in love with the sonnet–all over again, really–because of Pretty, Rooster.

It’s a healthy thing to let your mind change, and to discover new joys, and to let go of what we think we know.  Some of us insist that we won’t be interested this or that.  In poetry, I’ve heard people say, “I hate form,” and “I hate prose poems!”  They use the word “hate.”  They almost build an identity around the insistence and resistance to the decisions some artists make.  Not only does it keep them away from so many wonderful pieces of beauty and art, but it stifles their growth as writers because they aggressively fight against trying new things, and experimenting with their own creativity.

JSF: Why did you want to start a poetry press?

Cooper Dillon Books came from the same inspiration as many small presses do–we read all these books, and we’re always searching for a kind of craft or experience or event, but there are small voids out there.  It seemed like the poems I wanted to read weren’t available to me.  I wanted to produce books of poems that embraced certain values that I found when reading some of my favorite contemporary poets, but, more so, turned toward a certain transcendentalism.  We (Colleen Ryor, Max Xiantu, and I) boiled those values down to “joy in aesthetic, beauty, honesty, and intimacy.”  We also felt that there is always room in the community for people looking to make positive contributions, and we’ve been embraced by so many good people.

Cooper Dillon does not receive grants, government funding, endowments, or donations. We do not publish (select, print, advertise, etc.) at the expense of our authors. We earn money by selling books we believe in, in service of art and community. To buy Pretty, Rooster and to look at other titles please visit the website CooperDillon.com

About Tuesday: An Art Project Publisher/Editor:

Jennifer S. Flescher is publisher/editor of Tuesday: An Art Project. Her publications include Lit, The Harvard Review, Jubilat, Agni-online and The Boston Globe. She has an MFA in poetry and an MsJ in journalism. She teaches writing and editing to college students.

About the Publisher/Editor of Cooper Dillon Books:

Adam Deutsch was born on Long Island, New York and has his M.A. from Hofstra University (2005) and M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2008). He’s been on the editorial staff of a number of presses and journals, including Ninth Letter and Barn Owl Review. He presently teaches at community college, and keeps a fairly active blog over atadamdeutsch.blogspot.com. He lives in San Diego.

About the Author of Pretty, Rooster:

Clay Matthews has published two previous full-length collections: Superfecta (Ghost Road Press, 2008) and Runoff (BlazeVox Books, 2009). He’s also published a couple chapbooks, and a handful of poems and etc. in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Willow Springs, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. He completed his Ph.D. in creative writing at Oklahoma State in 2008, and he’s now teaching at Tusculum College outside of Greeneville, TN, where he also edits poetry for The Tusculum Review. He’s got some poems floating around out there in the internet he’d love for you to look up and introduce yourself to, and he always enjoys hearing from folks.


Thanks to Jennifer and Adam for participating in this month’s celebration of Indie & Small Presses.