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Karen Schindler is the publisher of Baseline Press, a micro-press now in its tenth year of publishing Canadian poets in hand-sewn chapbooks. Karen also served over ten years as a managing director of the Poetry London Reading Series. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in journals including The Malahat Review, Vallum, Canthius, and The Fiddlehead. Prior to her literary endeavours, she worked as a chemical engineer, a systems analyst, and a high-school mathematics teacher.
Tell us a bit about your press. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
I began publishing poetry chapbooks in 2011, after being inspired by some JackPine chapbooks that another writer brought to a Banff workshop I was attending. I was so taken by the idea that a book could also be an art object! Leading up to 2011, I’d spent several years involved in the local poetry scene in London, in various administrative roles. I saw starting a small press as another way to support the poetry community. While the passion for poetry was already there, the book-making part of it was new to me. But it’s become something that I really love (the design decisions, the paper shopping…). My mission continues to be to create beautiful homes for poets’ words. I also recognize the responsibility that comes with any kind of publishing work. I’m still actively learning about that accountability, and finding ways to better support a range of voices.
What about small press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I’m excited by the inexhaustible energy in the small press community—both from the well-established presses, and also the slew of new ones that I’ve seen start up over the last few years. Londoner Kevin Heslop (with the Poetry London Reading Series) has started a video-interview series this year called “Talking with the Presses.” They’re excellent conversations, with Rahila’s Ghost, 845 Press, JackPine, Gap Riot…. Check them out. You can’t help but be impressed by the vigor of this community and all the good work being published.
How does your press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
I believe that this level of publishing is as robust as it is because of how small presses embrace their communities, both local and national. My mandate from the beginning has been to include at least one London poet on the roster every year, but that’s just one in a list of ways that Baseline is very grounded in its local community. Baseline wouldn’t be what it is without the collaborations that I’ve been involved with over the last 10 years: from co-launching with other local presses, to the long list of venues and bookstores who have supported the chapbooks, to artwork and design provided by London artists, to the funding from our municipal arts council, to the general sense that the whole local literary community is at my back. As well as local partnerships, there have been all sorts of other artistic interactions that I’ve been privileged to be part of: working with poets and visual artists from across the country, exchanging resources with other bookmakers, participating in national bookfairs and festivals, and simply all of the give-and-take that exists between Canadian small presses.
Tell us about three of your publications. What makes them special, needed, and/or unique?
This fall, Baseline will be launching four titles: two by poets working towards their first full length collections, and two by mid-career poets whom I’ve long admired.
In addition to the books presented below, New Year Letter by A.H. Jernigan, a stunning long poem written after Auden’s of the same name, rounds out a banner line-up.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the press?
The health and social crises of this year did present challenges to Baseline’s 2020 creative timeline (as was the case for every artist I know). When I think of all the different directions my authors were being pulled, I’m just so incredibly grateful for their commitment and perseverance.
This past summer also saw some big restructuring decisions for Baseline Press—exciting things are in the works! In 2021, Baseline will be embarking on a new partnership with the recently restructured Insomniac Press, becoming its poetry chapbook imprint. I’ve been pondering the possibility of a merger for some time, and 2020 certainly brought a more urgent focus to the question of how Baseline might better support a comprehensive roster of poets’ voices. Insomniac Press, now headed up by publisher Andy Verboom, has set up a spectacular new editorial board, along with a reinvigorated mandate and vision. It’s exactly the kind of direction and commitment that, moving forward, I would like to support and contribute to. I’ll still be making the same chapbooks, under the same name. But handing over curation decisions to an editorial board will be a way to extend Baseline’s scope and be part of a broader family. I couldn’t be more honoured that Insomniac is game to explore this partnership, and I can’t wait to see what this next chapter brings.
Rock Salt is a first chapbook for Montreal poet Olive Andrews. By every definition, this collection is a burst of colour: “spritzy-lemon-lime porch house and neon-clementine windowsill house / pass secrets across the driveway / then the garbage truck Christmas parade / their lights flash orange and blue” (from “wisdom tooth soup”). Olive choose a gorgeous currant-pink coverstock from the St. Armand Papeterie, which turned out to be the perfect backdrop for the sweet little house illustration by fellow-Montrealer Cole Timlick. Olive also encouraged me to hunt around for bright red binding thread (a challenge during a pandemic lockdown, but we found some!).
The poems in Natalie Hanna’s Infinite Redress are held together by the theme of grief. Stemming from a conversation with a friend, Natalie’s poems explore a kindness towards our sorrows: “i am on the train / that is passing through your town / each evening / are you on the porch listening? / will you see me travelling / in the opposite direction / of my griefs?” (from “transit”). I first read Natalie’s work in the chapbook Dark Ecologies, published by above ground press in 2017—a collection of prose poems that knocked me out. It’s been an honour to provide another space for her voice to sing.
The Great Fire of Main-à-Dieu
Anita Lahey & Pauline Conley
The Great Fire of Main-à-Dieu is a beautifully illustrated joint project between Anita Lahey and visual artist Pauline Conley, and a precursor to their upcoming graphic novel-in-verse.