Elisha May Rubacha is the founder, editor, and designer of bird, buried press. She was a finalist for Peterborough’s Outstanding Emerging Artist Award (2018), and shortlisted for the PRISM International Creative Non-fiction Contest (2016). Her chapbook too much nothing was published by Apt. 9 Press (2018).
Justin Million is the co-founder, and poetry editor of bird, buried press. His first trade book Ejecta: The Uncollected KEYBOARDS! Poems was published by Apt. 9 Press in 2020. He is also the curator of the Show & Tell Poetry Series.
Tell us a bit about your press. How did you start? Who are your influences, in Canada and beyond? What is your mission?
bird, buried press publishes writers and artists from or living in Ontario, creating chapbooks that are assembled by hand, and often include one-of-a-kind features.
After years of publishing and selling zines, it was a natural progression to start publishing the work of others, especially after earning an otherwise fairly impractical BA in English literature (no offense intended toward my amazing professors at Trent). That said, the press likely would never have happened if I hadn’t met my partner Justin Million, whose influence made me start taking my work as a writer and artist seriously.
Through Justin and the small press community, I have had the good fortune to meet Cameron Anstee of Apt. 9 Press, and Michael e. Casteels of Puddles of Sky Press. Their work is my biggest competition, but also my biggest inspiration. They create impeccable books, and it’s always a pleasure to be in the same room as them at small press fairs. Both of them have published my own work, and I am delighted to be a part of their collections.
In the early years of bird, buried press, the mission was to support Ontario’s literary ecosystem by providing feedback. As the slush pile grew, this became less and less manageable, and eventually between getting a full-time day job, and the number of books we had lined up, I had to close submissions. They have been closed for quite some time now, and I’m still not quite caught up on all the books I’d like to publish.
In order to better stay on top of the workload, at least while my circumstances remain as they are, I suspect we will be operating with a solicitation model, as much as it pains me to abandon giving feedback to everyone who submits.
What about small press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I believe the small press chapbook is a vital stepping stone into the world of literary success. We need a lot of little opportunities as writers before we can be taken seriously for anything major. One of our goals at bird, buried press has been to pay our artists, so that they may become eligible for grants. We can’t offer big money to anyone, but any amount of money changing hands gets writers a step closer to getting that first OAC Recommender Grant, or whatever grant they want to go after. Being a part of that journey is exciting, and it’s been amazing to see so many of our writers move on to trade books.
How does your press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large?
bird, buried press strives to make connections both in our home city of Peterborough, as well as the broader Ontario community. As we shift towards solicitation, I suspect more and more of our publications will be from Peterborough-based writers and artists, though we will still consider soliciting from folks from or living in Ontario more generally.
Here in Peterborough, we have tried to engage directly with Trent University in several ways, including taking on an intern at one point, and giving the odd talk. In fact, we are looking forward to making a virtual appearance with the Public Texts MA students in December of this year.
That said, we are much more tied in with the downtown arts scene than we are with the school. We’ve found ourselves to be particularly fond of the theatre folks who work out of The Theatre on King (TTOK). bird, buried press had the amazing opportunity to do an installation about the invisible labour of book-making during the first Precarious Festival in 2017 – organized by Kate Story and Ryan Kerr of TTOK – which I think put us on the map locally. Kate also asked us to publish a book as part of a theatre production based on some short stories by Joe Davies. This was her sneaky way of roping us into being stagehands and giving us a little more up close and personal theatre experience. This obviously worked, because I wrote a play last year, and it was directed by Kate at the second Precarious Festival.
Artspace has also been really great to us, not just by providing a vending opportunity at their annual Book + Zine Fest, but by having us in to give a talk, and offering us the opportunity to make next year’s poster – if there is a next year.
How have the current multiple global crises impacted your work with the press?
The biggest crisis for the press is the lack of sales opportunities as a result of the pandemic. We do much better in person than we do online, which I’m hoping might change as I stare down the fall publishing season and wonder whether it’s worth producing something. Having the chance to talk to folks about the books is better than any amount of online promotion I could do. I need a room full of readers, and the chance to make a big visual impact to really move stock.
The other struggle on that front started before the pandemic, and that is transportation. As someone who doesn’t drive, I’ve relied on Greyhound to get me to small press fairs in other cities (specifically Ottawa and once to Toronto). They have been reducing their schedules for some time now, and it’s had a big impact on my ability to get around. Instead of being able to get up at an absurd hour on a Saturday before dawn and make it to my destination before the press fair setup time, I have to go on the Friday and find a place to spend the night. The commuter trips have been eliminated, and now I have to take a day away from my paying work just to sell books. It hasn’t made nearly as much sense for me to travel, so I’m especially grateful for the Artspace Book + Zine Fest here in Peterborough.
Kill Your Way North
Our most recent book is poetry editor Justin Million’s Kill Your Way North, a narrative poem that imagines how we (Justin, myself, and our dog Nutmeg) would survive an unnamed apocalypse. It came out just before the pandemic, which has turned out to be a much sleepier apocalypse than the book predicts. I’m particularly fond of my design for this book, which features a single wooden match. – Not an image of a match, but an actual three-dimensional match affixed to the cover. There are still a few copies of this book available on the Etsy, and Justin’s new trade book is available through Apt. 9 Press.
Our Cyborg History
Our Cyborg History came out in 2017, the golden year of bird, buried press, and has long been sold out. Justin and I immediately loved the concept for this book. The text is made up of existing poems, revised to acknowledge and celebrate the lives of cyborgs and robots, which have been extinguished by a devastating solar flare in Lindsay’s imagined world. Their longer work The Cyborg Anthology, is now available from Brick Books.
Ben Robinson’s Mayami also came out in 2017, and features one of my best covers. The title poem of the collection describes the “pastel paradise” of a legendary sunken city, so I took those colours and used them to hand-paint the covers. Each cover was subtly different as a result of this technique. That one-of-a-kind aspect is what sells best in my experience. There is an exclusivity that is a huge part of the appeal for my customers. They want to have something that is uniquely theirs, while also feeling connected to the work, and the handful of other people who have a copy.