https://freelinespress.weeblysite.com/[Image credits: Tania Bies; "A Surreal Journey" by Pensiero is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Tania Bies, founder of Free Lines Press, sat down with our founder, Shawnie Hamer, for an interview about all things publishing and writing, including details about Tania's forthcoming book, View From the Moon, co-authored with Freddie Bruhin-Price.
Shawnie Hamer (SH): Where did the idea for Free Lines Press come from? Tell us how it was born.
Tania Bies (TB): Well, it’s very much related to something I read in your manifesto, about (de)constructing the current state of art, and of many other aspects of our society… I had been writing poetry, and a lot of it was ephemeral; it would be part of a performance, or an improvisation piece, and we had no cameras, everything wasn’t being filmed by a smartphone… Or probably it was, it’s not so long ago… Some would be chalk poems on stairs, or things we’d scream during a theatre play, ‘post-its’ in the subway… So even though art that disappears is so beautiful, it is important to document art, to concretize what an artist is writing and saying. There’s nothing quite like connecting with that moment when the writer was finding the words and being transported through those lines… To me it’s such a mystical experience. So more than an idea, it felt more like a necessity…
I was just discouraged by the way things work in the publishing world, and my friends were too… And in the human world in general, obviously. So, it was necessary. There should be alternatives, and publishers who are open to at least look at your work and consider it, especially if it doesn’t fit the mold. We needed a publisher. I knew mainstream publishers weren’t an option, I knew we needed options for writers like us, who had work and ideas… So it was both this very personal search and the feeling that what I do should be meaningful. This would be our publishing home and it would also support other artists, it was just time to create Free Lines Press.
SH: What kind of submissions excite you? What kind of work do you hope to celebrate at Free Lines?
TB: We are looking for work that helps us to imagine the art of the future… Work that is free from established doctrines… We want art that makes us question ourselves and the way things are now. Manuscripts that implement contemporary philosophies and movements, like ‘make it new’, cut-up, Dada, the Absurd, Language Poetry, Asemic writing… which aren’t that new really, but these are all great tools for getting out of linear thinking, and they still aren’t published enough… We aren’t sufficiently exposed to contemporary poetry, and we would love to help to change or stimulate that… It’s been a while since poets like William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein for example, opened the doors and still today so many people are more familiar with Shakespeare than with their poetry, or that of Sylvia Plath, or Jean-Michel Basquiat... Or Benjamin Zephaniah or Saul Williams, who are alive now…
We want to celebrate the artists of today who both embrace contemporary poetry and experiment with it, and take it further. We want to celebrate the sense in the nonsense, the nonsense in all that supposedly makes sense, the experimentation that still has feelings and isn’t apocalyptic or sarcastic or robotic… Or that imagines robotic feelings that are more exciting than our own. Or that explores the absence of feeling, our void as a new presence, as the presence of an absence. As a spiritual presence even. Anything’s possible, and as Saul Williams said recently, “the goal is to feed the imagination, to challenge apathy and normative thinking”.
SH: Tell us about View from the Moon, your forthcoming book co-authored with Freddie Bruhin-Price. How did it come to fruition?
TB: These were our university poems, and I guess that we were both longing for unity… We were classmates in a contemporary poetry class, taught by Nikolai Duffy, whose poems are great, and we read each other’s work and thought it was cool… You know, I realized this yesterday I think, 4 years into the work, that Freddie is a guy from Manchester who co-wrote a book with a woman, with a Latina woman, with a Brown-skinned Latina woman. I thought “that’s cool”. I realized how cool this is, I’m probably not able to express this. I thought, it’s a cool thing to do, uniting in this way… Man, it’s what we need… This is hilarious to me because what I mean is we were completely unaware of our ‘differences’, our physical bodies, who we “are socially”… We were just two kids writing poems… Forget the identities…
Collaborative art is just so powerful, there’s this power in unity, in united artists across time, like the Beats, Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, the Dadaists at cabaret Voltaire, all of the artists who united at the Harlem Festival of 1969, Marina Abramovic and Ulay… There are so many examples, and we’re both inspired by that. But, back in 2016 we just thought, well, shouldn’t we do something together… These poems have been waiting for the press to take off, for us to figure things out, to curate the books… In the meantime we both have continued writing, but these poems are special because we were just discovering our voices. Discovering even that we had one and what that even means.
SH: What was your writing process for this book? Tell us about your rituals.
TB: Well, we need to ask this question to Freddie cause I’d love to know more about his rituals… He writes a lot of lyric poetry that goes well with music because he’s a musician—and I have a lot of favorites. There's actually a poem of his that I covered with my duet to get a feeling of connection with his voice, that was a bit of a ritual… Because I knew I had to connect with Freddie’s words deeply if I was going to put our books together… Then there are the poems we wrote together, sometimes we’d do that on social media chat, just replying the next line to each other, that was fun.
We also wrote a poem when a friend of his passed away, and it was intense; I think that we tend to enter a ritual state of mind when something like that happens… I grew up in Mexico, where a lot of the art comes from death and dying. We have this connection to the world beyond, the world of the dead, who obviously aren’t really dead unless we all disappear because there’s something more ethereal in memory and even physically. And his friend’s passing was a moment that united us with all that, in my experience…
My own writing process is very different in each poem… I am someone who writes as a way to question and transmute my frustrations into something more useful, so whenever something really makes me mad I’ll sit and explore it, and instead of complaining about that thing that makes me mad I deconstruct it, and make fun of it, or play with why I think it’s absurd… Other poems I wrote while meditating in India, others I wrote in the hospital or just before falling asleep— I think it’s so interesting to write when you’re halfway in the ‘dream dimension’.
Another thing that happened was the discovery, after a few years writing together, that both our mothers had passed away, both of us young. It was this coincidence that gave us depth, a myth aspect, something almost from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel or a Jim Jarmusch movie. I think he said “we are both half orphans” and I said “I feel more like I’m three-quarters orphan”, then he said “me too…”, so we were the three-quarter orphans… The book opens with a song about poetry from Hikuri, the god of Peyote, to the 3/4 orphans.
SH: If you could impart one piece of advice to our collective members writing a book or submitting it to publication, what would it be?
TB: Make it universal. Let anyone relate with your subject and themes. De-dogmatize everything… Get out of your comfort zone; by that I mean, don’t write your own opinions or thoughts, explore them, challenge yourself, ask questions in ways you haven’t before… Don’t just look at the world now, look into the future, it’s all a spiraling vortex. And send a good proposal. Take your application process seriously, include a great blurb, and reviews by artist friends, be inventive.
SH: What do you know about the publishing world/process now that you didn’t know before?
TB: I didn’t know anything about publishing… I have learned so much in the past 4 years developing Free Lines… From book titles, to editing, formatting, designing a cover, the book as a concept, the book as a vessel, the book as a product—which is challenging because I always think of the book as an art piece, I only think about the concept… I’ve learned that I can’t satisfy everyone, especially myself. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can try my best. And I’ve also learned to listen, listen, listen. That it’s important to make mistakes an ice-cream cake because they’re part of the process. To think about the creative ideas that I disagree with… I remember saying in one of our meetings “I want a book cover to be a concept in itself, I want it to be crazy so that people have to figure it out, even figure out how to read it”, and someone would say, “most people wouldn’t get this”, “most people wouldn’t understand”… And I’d say “that’s good isn’t it?”… But minimalists, who I adore, tend to think less is more when it comes to covers and everything else, that covers need to be clear, and simple…
It’s interesting to me, that there is such a thing as “too experimental” in publishing, and it’s true, I understood that, and I saw the difference in how people reacted to a book with no title and then something more understandable. People in general react so differently to something that challenges the model. So, that’s why I like working with others because I have ideas that come from ultra conceptual art that are just not accepted in the publishing world yet, and sometimes we need to think about the book as our “child” and do what’s best for it. However, I do think it’s something that needs to be explored… So that was a nice discovery, that we need to be more open in the way that we see books, and more open to experimentation, and that there’s so much to be done, and conversations to be had…
SH: What’s next for you and Free Lines?
TB: Well, we’re publishing a book of poems titled Surfacing, by Amber Ridenour Walker, who is extremely talented; so I’d love to invite everyone to check it out. And we’re looking forward to continuing to publish other artists. We welcome pretty much any medium that can be printed as a book, so, who knows? We may publish art décor or performance art photography, or hybrid work… We plan to publish 4 to 6 books per year and we’re really looking forward to discovering new contemporary artists.
There’s also the second book Freddie and I wrote together, which we will announce someday; and I’ve been working on a collection of more experimental poems that are very different from things I’ve written before… And I’m excited and nervous for those to form a book together. We will also be publishing two experimental visual artists who are currently curating their books. Free Lines is all about alternatives and we read every single proposal with an open mind. We do have certain criteria, but we’re always curious, and intrigued by innovation and authenticity.
About the Contributor
Tania Bies has written and shared ephemeral poetry for several years, and published her first paperback book in 2021. She created Free Lines Press, an alternative not-for-profit publisher of contemporary and experimental poetry and other art forms. Passionate about the possibilities of creative writing as a multidisciplinary art, her writing combines DADA, Found, cut-up, Language poetry and free verse, at times blending hints of playwriting and experimental music. In her poems we find humour, a longing for alternatives, and reflections on limited thinking. She has participated in plays in Mexico and the Netherlands as an actress, and studied English literature, applied linguistics and creative writing.
In the SoundCloud recording below, collective.aporia founder Shawnie Hamer gives a reading of today's Aquarius full moon in Leo, a tarot reading, and reads from CA Conrad's While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books).
Tarot Reading | 5 of Swords Rev. & 6 of Swords
Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
Mary El Tarot
About the Author
Shawnie Hamer (she/her) was born in the heat & dust of Bakersfield, CA. Her first book, the stove is off at home (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) is an experimental art & poetry book curated through a community ritual that focused on the identification & exorcism of trauma. Hamer is the founder of collective.aporia, & a co-conspirator of the off.collective. She proudly received her MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University where she was able to befriend the most inspiring group of artists she's ever met. Her writing can most recently be found in publications such as More Revolutionary Letters: A Tribute to Diane de Prima, Entropy Mag, South Broadway Ghost Society & Tiny Spoon Lit Mag.
Close, bond, hold. What do you think of when you hear these words? What positions do you picture your body taking? Or perhaps, how do you picture another body in relation to your own? These are each words that have to do with ways that we move our bodies. In investigating histories of enclosure of common land, I became curious about a series of words in English which speak to many scales of proximity, from the position of our bodies through to actions of the state.
Enclosure can be defined as, “the action of converting pieces of common land into private property.” Close is a Middle English word which came from Old French and Latin, meaning, "Of proximity in space, time, form or state. The primary notion is that of having intervening space or spaces closed up, whereby the parts are in immediate contact with each other or near each other" (A.II.). This is a word that has to do with how bodies move and are positioned.
I love this next definition, which has a poetic quality. This is straight from the Oxford English Dictionary: "As near as can be, very near. Especially with stand, sit, lie, stick, cling, keep, hold, press, etc. or with verbs of motion, as come, bring, etc." (B.1.). In Scottish, close has been used to mean constantly (ie. close in time), another proximity between a place and a time word.
A ‘close’ as a noun has also been used to describe delineated, confined land (n.1). When we look at the history of close as a verb, to enclose becomes a very different side of this grouping of meanings. "To shut up in a building; to seclude, imprison" (v.2.a.), to restrict movement, to come to an end, to encompass, shut up (3.a.). The very first definition of close as a verb, I. 1. a., "To stop up (an opening or channel) so that it ceased to be open or to allow of passage. Where the opening is provided with a gate, door or lid, turning on hinges or sliding, to close the opening."
This word circles connections in English between divisions in space and divisions in time. To close is a conclusion, termination; closing of a speech/ argument, conclusion of a musical phrase, setting in of darkness/ night (n.2.). I'm fascinated by all these intersections between this word which has connotations of intimacy and proximity, and also connotations of being 'bound' (v.4).
That led me directly to another word that likewise straddles meanings between intimacy in English and boundary: the word ‘bond.’ One of the most recent definitions added to the dictionary in 1993 defines uses in psychology in the 1970s: 7.b. "To form an emotional or psychological bond with a person (especially one's child) or social group." A much earlier definition of bond, which this social and psychological definition draws from metaphorically, is "To bind or connect together (bricks, stones, or different parts of a structure) by making one overlap and hold to another, so as to give solidity to the whole" (n.1.a). As a noun, some minor meanings are a covenant between two or more persons (n.8.b.), in English law: a deed which binds the obligor to pay a sum of money (III.9.a.), and it's also used as "A metallic connection between conductors forming part of an electric circuit" (n.13.d.). This sense of affiliation, and a sense of completion through connection.
Again, when we go to the primary meaning of this noun, we find the oldest usage of all. "Anything with which one's body or limbs are bound in restraint of personal liberty; a shackle, chain, fetter, manacle" (n.1. I. 1. a.). An 1804 book, Animal Biography, included the line, "As soon as the parts of the animal, within the shell of the chrysalis, have acquired strength sufficient to break the bonds that surround it." Bond becomes this natural or unnatural casing and restraint— confinement, imprisonment, custody. In Milton's 1667 Paradise Lost, there's a line "to endure Exile...or bonds, or pain," bond taking a parallel construction to pain.
In a figurative sense, bond is "any circumstance that trammels or takes away freedom of action; a force which enslaves the mind through the affections or passion" (n.II.5.) and at the same time is "A uniting or cementing force or influence by which a union of any kind is maintained" (n.II.7.a.). I think this is essential to our understanding of how English has been used and formed as a language of conquest. Each of these words is indicating a fissure within language. Words relating to intimacy and interdependence take the same shape within our mouths as words relating to confinement, and the imperative of separation.
In 1690, John Locke wrote in an Essay Concerning Human Understanding: "Speech being the great Bond that holds Society together." In this sense, what I hear is speech as this bond, this intimacy, this closeness, and possible conveyance, as well as this enclosure and limitation that is used as a mechanism of restraint.
It's within this territory that I hear certain contemporary documentary poets working, through engaging techniques that identify language-enclosures, hearing underlying doublings, and re-ordering proximities. Poet Layli Long Soldier describes the poem Whereas, which redacts and intervenes the 2009 Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans: "I removed from that national document...its hold on our spiritual life, our beliefs" (quoted in Susan Briante’s Defacing the Monument). Here, another word arises in the mode of close and bond— the hold.
Bond, bondage, and hold are words that have deep roots in the US nation state as being utilized to describe many forms of confinement. As David Neimon says in a Between the Covers interview with Long Soldier, her work is making "a space in language for unlanguageable things,” and indicating ways in which words held in the wrong spaces and the wrong mouths can be appropriated violently. Documentary poetry offers ways into and beyond noticing these language-enclosures, in seeking means of holding words differently, removing them from a hold.
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