This past AWP, Magic Helicopter Press released its newest collection, Jordan Stempleman’s Wallop, on “a dirty Southwestern blanket that a spider fell out of.” MHP is a small press full of exploding spider energy that focuses on print books, eBooks, chapbooks, multimedia poetry, and reading tours (also check out NOO Journal). I had the pleasure of talking to Mike Young about MHP and the direction of the press. And as a poet himself, be sure to check out his most recent collection, Sprezzatura (Publishing Genius, 2014).
How did you start MHP? Where does the name come from?
With making things, my history has tended toward some imaginary “leveling up.” Okay, you started a magazine where you publish one thing at a time by someone. What about publishing a little book by them? Now what about a big book? That’s the best answer for “how” I started MHP, as opposed to the boring logistics of where/when. My publishing impulse has always been about grabbing a cool blanket stashed behind the couch and being like “You’ve got to see this. I found it in New Mexico.” Throwing a house party and inviting strangers. Recreating childhood experiences of PCGamer, little booklets that came with computer games, and Star Trek paperbacks.
The name Magic Helicopter Press comes from a weird mechanized interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s quote about poetry taking the top of your head off. Like a further modeling of that bladed process. Plus I’ve always been fond of helicopters, the way individual rotors can spin so fast they create a blurred disc.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, we’re blustering the horns about Jordan Stempleman’s fabulous new collection Wallop. The attention of the poetry world can tend to seesaw between first books and career twilights without a lot of attention to the slow hike between, and I think that’s kind of a bummer, because then you miss out on books like Wallop. It’s a sober, sad, bite-your-lip-till-it-bleeds collection.
The love it speaks of is the love that’s gone, humming from joke to dark, car to gym, chainsaws and milkweed, bathroom faucets that fall apart in your hands, history private and public, men shaving in the public water fountain.
We’re going to make some little movies for it. I hope in one movie to have a lot of police or people dressed like police walking slowly into a river and then lying facedown.
Next up in the queue is Mike Krutel’s chapbook Fogland, which I’m excited to toot more about soon. The cover art is being done by Evan Bryson, who did the cover art for Carrie Lorig’s nods, which featured the best horse-stuck-inside-Tron-on-mushrooms in the history of book covers.
Tell me a bit about your authors!
It’s fun to think about them in the aggregate like that! We have teachers, parents, soldiers, UPS workers, accordion players, translators, and more. They live in Mississippi, Massachusetts, Canada, Florida, Texas, Illinois, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Oregon, Georgia, San Francisco, and down the street from the Scientology headquarters.
It’s actually hard for me to say what unites them—it’s exciting to think that maybe some of them wouldn’t be friends with each other, at least immediately. But I do think there are uniting factors, and I think it has to do with a certain unblinking quality. None of them are interested in leaving a cloud unnamed. They’re all good listeners and squinters as much or more than they’re lavish speakers.
One thing I said way back when about Jack Christian’s chapbook Let’s Collaborate was that it was about “the ecstatic and the intimate taking every meal together.” And there’s a line in that chapbook about the “parts unknowable and so impossible to tame.” Both of those things apply to the whole catalog of MHP books and authors, I think.
What is the relationship between publishing and writing poetry for you?
Each is good for renewing the energy the other might sap. It’s exciting to help someone else’s work take its twirl in the world. It makes you feel better about work and the world in general. And you take that freshness back to your own writing.
What are other small presses you admire and why?
Too many to name! Instead of naming them all, it’s fun trying to make one giant almost technically cohesive noun phrase out of all the ones I can name. Like Fewer and Further Hollow Octopus Future Small Flight Genius Coconut Horseless Luck Bird Caketrain Oceans. Weird how many Fs there are in small presses I admire.
Oh my favorite new-ish small press—judging by my AWP 2015 purchases—is The Song Cave!
I admire people who juggle and caress and have their own vision. People who are good at going to the post office. One time someone asked me what goes into a small press, and I think my answer to that is my answer to what I admire in other small presses: “financing, editing, soothing, schmoozing, pleading, cajoling, smiling, designing, plunging, risking, gabbing, organizing, trusting, standard-holding, knowing when to collaborate and when to smudge the glass with your thumbprints, box lifting, taping, scissoring, trying as hard as possible to be timely and efficient, trying as hard as possible to be a graceful and diligent and humble and passionate bullhorn for very talented bawlers and brawlers.”
Other things I admire are when people do the best job possible for the right number of projects, not a Swiss cheese job for a lot of projects. And lemme amend what I said about vision: I admire when people realize their vision is a work-in-progress, and the press excitingly reflects the journey of that vision.
Can you talk more about publishing across different platforms and media (paper and eBooks)?
I just think it’s interesting to pay attention to an object or medium’s own ness of itself. Paper’s paperness. The Web’s webness. A giraffe’s girafeness. Ness of itself sounds like nest of itself. It’s good to treat a medium like a nest instead of one of those moving walkways at the airport.
What are your future plans for MHP?
We have some exciting things afoot! We’re going to be putting out a novel I’m very excited about that I can’t announce yet, and we’re going to have our first open reading period ever, which I also will talk more about soon.
One exclusive thing I can announce is that we’re going to be putting out a book by Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner called Only Love Can Bring You Peace: Selected Lyrics 1990–2014. Simon has been a longtime musical hero of mine, so the chance to release this book is like a lake suddenly turning from blue to pink.
Simon is a pillar of all that’s come out of the classically fruitful scene down there in Omaha, as well as a longstanding figure in interesting up-and-down-the-country music in general. His lyrics are one of the biggest things that first drew me to his work, and his wine-bottle-full-of-sand voice. One time he wrote the line “I danced on a knife all my life because I thought it was honest,” which is in the song “Nocturne,” and it’s one of the best lines in any song I’ve ever heard. And there are a lot more lines where that rises from, and I think it’s a beautiful idea to collect those lines in a book, to have that particular way of those lines passing through the world alongside the passage they make in the songs themselves.
This book will feature a handsome, focused collection of Simon’s lyrics, an introductory essay by Dennis Callaci, and some other surprises. We’re working with my friends at Flying Object in Hadley, Massachusetts, on some broadsides, and we’re hoping to have some of those on hand with us in the Book Tent at the Pitchfork Music Festival in July.
Stay tuned for more!
Can you draw me an otter?
Alas, I am a terrible artist, but here’s one of my favorite websites: http://discourseontheotter.tumblr.com/.
Jane Wong’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2015, The Volta, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other places. Her most recent chapbook is Impossible Map (Fact-Simile). She teaches at the Hugo House and the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.