Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Who remembers the ditto machine? On Saturday, I listened to San Francisco’s Susan Terris read her wonderful poems about the ditto and other bygone machines. Machines that were the envy of their time. Then on Sunday, I read an interview with Robert Hass, in which he talked about the mimeograph, and about how changes in technology have changed our ability to access poetry.

He said, “The difference I'm aware of is that young poets and would-be poets, through the Internet, have immediate access to a whole range of possibilities they didn't before. When I was a kid in San Francisco, I could find my way to City Lights Bookstore and mimeograph poetry magazines. If you were growing up in Worcester, Mass., you were out of luck.”

Hearing Ms. Terris and reading Mr. Hass over the weekend prompted me to reread a recent interview with Cantara Christopher on Monday. The interview is timely and provocative and may be of interest to readers of the Great American Pinup. Her small press provides an example of the changing landscape of publishing and how technology is “increasing our range of possibilities.”

Here’s a quick sketch. Ms. Christopher co-founded Cantarabooks and the literary magazine Cantaraville with Michael Matheny. When they found themselves at loggerheads with the mainstream publishing world, they decided to strike out on their own. The result is an innovative blend of the new and the old publishing paradigms. Ebooks, paperbacks, and a literary magazine that is only available as a pdf file. Here’s how she described their venture to David Herrle in the Sutbletea interview.

“From the outset we decided not to operate like the more established small presses. Recent innovations in technology had created a New Paradigm, a new book world where it was possible for anyone at all to be published by for less than ten dollars; where an enterprising author could self-publish her novel, aggressively market it and make the New York Times bestseller list, like M.J. Rose with Lip Service; where a farsighted publishing company could make its fortune selling instantly downloadable ebooks of erotic fiction to women in the Midwest, like Ellora’s Cave. If anyone can write and publish a book, why publish under someone else’s imprint?”

Ms. Christopher answers her own question.

“The missing element has been editorial presence: the opportunity to collaborate with disinterested professionals possessing the skills to help shape and clarify a work; to gain prestige by being published by professionals with high standards of excellence. To participate in the eons-old Literary Dialogue, in other words. Until about twenty years ago, before the age of bottom-line gatekeepers, an author could submit directly to St. Martin’s or other independent press in the certainty that someone there would at least seriously read and consider his work. When the foreign conglomerates started buying up our country’s largest publishing houses and mandating them to concentrate foremost on profits, we were robbed of the aesthetic guidance those houses had traditionally provided.”

If you’d like to read more, follow the link to the complete interview.

And follow the link below to read my 2006 review of Stephen Gyllenhaal’s Claptrap: Notes from Hollywood, from Cantarabooks.

As for the “tiny fists” in the title of this posting, it refers to Cantarabooks’ motto: “Beating Our Tiny Fists on the Big Hairy Chests of the Corporate Literary World.” Check them out at

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