Seven Rooms: a conversation with Jess Chandler & Dominic J. Jaeckle

Micaela Brinsley & Eponine Howarth

The title of the book you edited together is called Seven Rooms, but houses 49. In honour of the guiding structure of hotels (a permanent structure for temporary residents), would each of you mind sharing an experience you've had at a hotel that’s changed your perspective about your life or creative work in some capacity?

Jess Chandler: I spent a strange but memorable month living in a hotel in Morecambe, in a previous life where I worked as a researcher on historical TV documentaries. I shared a room with another researcher, and each morning we got up painfully early, and ate a breakfast consisting of either Alpen with full-fat creamy milk, or eggs, sausage and beans with oily toast, before walking along the seafront to our filming location. The owner of the hotel was always there, chatting away, thrilled to have a BBC crew staying with him. It was a different world entirely. Back in London, my on-the-side publishing projects were underway and it was impossible to juggle both as I was on set with my walkie-talkie all day, back late every evening, and I realised I had to make a decision. It wasn’t feasible to do both. I lay in my hotel bed every night feeling anxious, and torn, and realising this was not the life I wanted. Soon after that, my contract ended, and I decided to commit to publishing (with a few slips back in order to earn money), and that was the starting point of the life I’m continuing to build.

Dominic J. Jaeckle: In my early twenties, I’d briefly had an editorial job in Dharamsala (the ‘little Lhasa’ of Northern India)—a small city in the western Himalayas—working within the exiled Tibetan community, helping organise the archives of a nursery for the children of second-generation refugees. Once the day’s paperwork was attended to, evening after evening, I was repeatedly and rapidly beaten at a hand of cards by a Danish gentleman who seemed as enamoured of the idea of a quick victory as he was Buddhist tradition, the Kagyu lineage, and the ways in which you could effectively drain the glycerol preservative from a bottle of beer without embarrassment (and in so doing, perform some kind of a shaman-like ritual to circumvent the inevitable sour headedness of the morning that’d follow). We were commonly flanked by an older American who, although of professorial stature—and coated in claims he was living off of a prestigious advance—never communicated exactly what he was working on nor how long he’d been living off of this particular financial imperative. The American knew a great deal about Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the San Francisco poets and would monologue extensively and elaborately—roving through Gysin, Burroughs, the Tangier ‘tradition’ of the author in self-imposed exile, the kernel and urgency and vitality of translation and the poet’s craft—and we’d talk repeatedly about the practice of publication, self-publication, authorship… The dance and dissemination of second-hand paperbacks. These conversations proved formative, and I still have a note inherited from a fortune cookie cracked in two over the course of one of these long evenings …

Jaeckle's own, talisman, circa 2011.

This note has remained on my desk ever since; a talisman to a certain kind of exchange, or to the importance of exchange itself. To consider how a thatch of perspectives proves the persuasive thing is to most accurately memorialise the vitality of the American’s interruptions, some of which continue to behave as freighted footnotes to my thinking.

It is that kind of a picture of conversation, of argument (in the best and most openhearted sense of the word) that informed and energised a want to sit publishing as a central part of my practice. 

We’re curious, as two people also involved in editing and collaborative efforts, how your separate publishing projects came to be, and how you began to work with each other. Dominic, would you be willing to share the origin stories of Hotel and Tenement Press, and Jess, would you mind disclosing how you developed Prototype into what it is today? What made you decide to collaborate, and what did you have in mind starting this partnership?

JC: My first experiences of publishing were based entirely on collaboration, and that’s always been the most crucial and rewarding part of my work. Before Prototype, I co-ran a small publishing project called Test Centre. My friend Will Shutes and I were both working out what we wanted to do post-university, writing a bit, doing various freelance jobs, and decided to start publishing things together. Initially spoken-word vinyl LPs, which soon morphed into DIY poetry magazines, then pamphlets, then books with spines and barcodes that made their way into shops and started to sell quite well. It started to become a challenge to juggle the work with other full-time jobs, and soon after I had my first child, we decided to pursue different paths, and I started Prototype on my own, but only thanks to the support of Test Centre authors who put their trust in me and were happy to follow me into this new venture. I wanted to see if I could make it into something sustainable, and realised that was something I needed to do on my own, as it was too tightly intertwined with every aspect of my life. Though I run Prototype alone, every book is a process of collaboration with authors and designers; decisions and ideas always start as open conversations.

Dominic and I got to know each other initially during the Test Centre / Hotel days, and his support of our books and authors was always so important, so supportive and generous. We’d spoken for some time about collaborating on a book, and the idea of bringing together the Hotel archive seemed the ideal project. It overlaps so perfectly with Prototype’s own output, and with our interest in publishing anthologies, and we even work with the same graphic designers, so it happened naturally. We operate in an ecology of mutual support and collaboration, and this is an extension of that.

DJ: My work on Hotel was preceded by a palmful of experiments with print and publication. I’d been writing and singing songs more than I had been thinking on any kind of a literary undertaking but—on landing in London—I’d partnered with an old friend from Bristol, an artist with a flair for book design, and we’d set up a happily amateur (and extremely short-lived) undertaking called Faithless Arm (named for the opening lines of W.H. Auden’s ‘Lullaby’ … ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love, / Human on my faithless arm’). We’d produced just the one edition via the Arm’s activities—a slim volume called Entomologies—that collated a series of commissioned poems that, on publication, were printed with neither title nor author attribution so as the various parts and verses coalesced to form one long many-headed and many-voiced piece of writing. ‘Entomology’ being the study of insects and invertebrates, the book was intended to be a brief and germinal act of creative antagonism that’d toy with the absence of a single author’s signature on the book’s spine. The work numbered contributions from friends, familiars, first-time authors and authors I’d admired; verses by Billy Childish, Michael Rosen, and the Times ‘walking correspondent’ Christopher Somerville meshed and merged with those penned by folks who’d never published previously. Significantly more effort was poured into the making of the book than its marketing (indeed, on moving on from some ten years in London, I’d left a shoebox loaded with copies at an Oxfam door in the hopes they’d eventually find readers), but Entomologies gave shape to a train of thought that’d eventually feed and foster Hotel’s beginnings, particularly in its want to build a merger of experiment and play around an axis of collaboration and a renunciation of control.

In London, I’d collided with some likeminded readers (spirited enthusiasts and comrades all, Jon Auman, Niall Reynolds, Thomas Chadwick, and John Dunn), and we’d set about engineering a project that’d give maximal freedom to contributors, maintain only a light touch editorial (ever bell hops, never gatekeepers), and champion conversation and collaboration throughout. The ‘hotel’ organically became a kind of an active metaphor; an explanatory device for the project. We’d invite our contributors by asking that they used their ‘room’ in this imagined building as they would a hotel (i.e., that the room employed was in service to a life lived outside of the confines the hotel’s architecture and thus defined by a freedom of approach), and the bliss of the project as a whole was the myriad number of active conversations and creativity of approach it supported and nurtured. 

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Jeffrey Vallance, ‘The Eyes of the Guadalupe’ (1998), © 1998

Tenement inherited a great deal from the deliberately wide-ranging and multi-form works and works-in-progress that Hotel sought to champion and provide some kind of a scaffold for. The game was ever to see how the philosophical backbone of Hotel’s doings would look were it bought to bear on book-length experiments, and particularly works that aimed antagonise formal and intellectual complacencies per the shape and scope of 'accepted' ideas in historical or contemporary terms. I’d been collaborating with Victoria Brown and Richard Brammer of Dostoyevsky Wannabe on several titles around the time of Tenement’s inception, and their encouragement of a kind of ex niliho form of publishing—toying with an ownership of the means of production via print-on-demand platforms, not ceding control to any financialization of the literary sphere, and a want to see what happened were you to counter the odds stacked against small press activity with enthusiasm—these were ideas that helped gestate Tenement’s first movements, and safeguard the degree of free-form liberty as defines Tenement’s catalogue. (I’ve come to think of the standard 'yellow' of our catalogue as an effort to win the colour back from cowardice as its staple connotation.)

My comradeship with Jess evolved over the course of Hotel’s seven issue run. Test Centre—and Prototype thereafter—had pioneered a ‘something’ I wasn’t able to sufficiently articulate at the time, and her editorial spoke volumes to me in a moment when I was more voraciously looking for the right words (the 'soft voice,' to again page back to that fortune cookie’s mantra) and continues to do so. Hotel was unfunded for the duration of its seven-issue run, but conversation and creative co-operation represented a far more vivid economy to me. In the wash of such a circulation of ideas, Jess’s support and kinship was a constant—I had hoped to work on a title of some shape or form with her from day dot—and the collision of our philosophies organically set Seven Rooms in motion… 

As much as it is a testimony to Hotel’s project, Seven Rooms represents a living and logical continuation of a conversation Jess and I were already engaged in and, happily muddy in its ratiocinations, reflects a spirited faith in the kind of experiment that emerges from deeply felt collaboration.  

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Aram Saroyan, ‘Paris 1959,’ © 2023

Each of the writers and artists in Seven Rooms are very different from each other and as editors, you give such freedom for each inhabitant of your literary experiment to furnish their rooms as they please. What kinds of criteria did you have in mind when selecting the pieces to publish as part of this project? Had all of them been published by at least one of you before, or not necessarily? Would you share a few examples of how you came to choose a writer, a piece, and decide on what room number they should inhabit?

JC: I think this is a question I need to hand over primarily to Dom, as his editorial decisions shaped the book, as they did Hotel. The room numbers, perhaps disappointingly, are arbitrary, though Dom may be able to shed light on the ordering of the contributions, which is what determined the room numbers.

DJ: Key to the structure of each issue of the ‘paper hotel’ was that it would not privilege any kind of hierarchy between the pieces involved in each instalment. Some authors would be more familiar than others, inescapably—more feted or celebrated either via recent or, in some cases, historic publication—but the aim was to arrange the works by virtue of a process I’d often refer to as ‘editorial accident’ or the want for a conceptual rhyme. 

Oftentimes, in the case of the ‘paper hotel,’ certain ideas or echoes would develop in the spaces between entries that, owing to the ways in which works were either solicited or submitted, would emerge entirely of their own accord. See the fourth instalment of Hotel, for instance, wherein the idea of ‘God’ or various forms of beatification and saint-making accidentally staked centre stage. A poem by Rebecca Tamás, ‘St Joan in Idaho,’ fed into a work of creative appropriation by Lucy Sante titled ‘Dear Messiah,’ which would then sculpt the space for our receipt of a set of fragments by John Yau on spectral voices and visitations. Yau’s poetry would in turn precede a work by David Kishik on the Calvinist qualities of an algorithm, only to then buck heads with an excerpt from a novel-in-progress by Scott McClanahan that details the burning of a bible, to then culminate in a discussion of the photographs of Jason Shulman and these accidental effigies of shape and colour that’d emerge were you to photograph a ‘film’ and set the camera’s exposure to the duration of the film photographed. 

Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), as photographed by Jason Shulman, © 2020

The frisson between these pieces was entirely accidental, met without anticipation, and the editorial play behind each instalment in the ‘paper hotel’ as a series was to allow such an overlap, bleed, and tide of ideas to emerge clearly in the negative space between the works themselves. 

Any anthologising of word and image from across the Hotel series needed to call for the same kind of a logic or editorial precedent and, indeed, there are myriad iterations of Seven Rooms as a volume as could’ve emerged in the place of this book of threads we’ve published. Lighting out for a workable means of teeing off our editorship of Seven Rooms, and as Seven Rooms needed both stand as a logical punctuation mark that’d conclude the seven years of Hotel’s lifespan and recognise the seven instalments of the ‘paper hotel’ published, the book begins with the piece that’d conclude Hotel #1 in 2016—Jess Cotton’s ‘Notes on the Pink Hotel’—and ends with the work that’d curtain Hotel #7 in 2021—an excerpt from David Grubbs’ then work-in-progress, a feature-length incantatory poem on the stage musician’s labour(s) called ‘Goodnight the pleasure was ours.’ Between that catalyst point and culmination, I’d then paged through the catalogue of works published in Hotel to seek out a bleed of ideas between pieces with a view to facilitating the same kind of coincidental harmony as Hotel had always aimed to allow for as a central, structural device. The hope and effort would run in conjunction: an aim to minimise any editorial intervention or exterior element outside of the works themselves; to picture a book defined by a multitude that was aiming to envisage its own suite of conceptual rhymes, associations, and ricochet of thoughts. All of the works included in Seven Rooms had previously appeared in Hotel (in variation, in some cases), bar the contribution of Gareth Evans’ curtain call of an afterword—an extrapolative slide down a slope of definitions as incarnate in the politics and poetry incumbent in the very word, ‘room.’ 

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Erica Baum, ‘Alchemy,’ courtesy of the artist and Bureau (New York, NY), Baum, © 2009.

In your respective first answers, Jess you narrated an experience staying in a hotel for work purposes, describing it as a site of personal reckoning while Dominic, you invoked a more temporary residence, a place of encounters and conversations. Dominic, you also suggested the idea of building a ‘paper hotel’ in your third answer, which is also the subtitle of Seven Rooms. What, for each of you, constitutes the tone of a piece of writing that inhabits that sensibility or notion of ‘paper hotel’?

JC: For me, this idea of residence, encounter and conversation is about community, and about offering a home for outsiders, or for work which doesn't neatly slot into the shapes of the building blocks around it. The paper hotel is a space, a blank canvas without restrictions as to how it should be filled in, surrounded by other sheets of paper which together form something solid, fitting together in unexpected ways to form something beautiful and lasting.

DJ: The ‘paper hotel’ was a term of endearment initially conjured up for the print wing of Hotel’s activities, and is borrowed wholesale from Leonard Cohen and his 1977 song ‘Paper Thin Hotel.’ Cohen’s song is a ‘wink’ of a work, a love letter to the nocturnal movements overheard in an anonymous hotel, and the 'endearment' of the term felt a nice way to play on the kind of endangerment invoked by creative engagement. Speaking for all involved in Hotel as a project, there was a precariousness to all we were engaged in; be it work, play, study, all was underwritten by the increasing sense of impossibility that’d underpin time living in a city and an effort to involve ourselves fully in the practice of book building. To echo Jess entirely, for me, the 'paper hotel' came to terminologically stand in for a kind of unencumbered creativity that’d prove irrevocably free, transnational, and would always invite and incite further conversation. An imagined space designed to combat the various enemies of an hour open enough to accommodate creative play. 

The joy of a ‘hotel’ as a practical metaphor for the ambitions of a literary magazine is the accidental sense of community it builds by definition. You take a room for your own means and reasons, sure, but to do so automatically sits you alongside a myriad number of neighbours who—irrespective of the different routes they’ve taken—have all ended up strolling through the same proverbial swing doors. In terms of the kind of work that inhabits such a sensibility, the aim was ever to seek out work that felt porous enough to court conversation and generous enough for it to feel as though ideas could haphazardly meet in an imaginary hallway and inform a third and new idea in so doing. It was from this basis that we’d always endeavoured to encourage Hotel to exist as a kind of a sketchbook; a rough notebook that could accommodate both works-in-progress, unfinished ideas, and finessed and final iterations of thought side-by-side. 

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Jonathan Chandler, a pen and ink still from Robert Bresson’s Le diable probablement / The Devil, Probably (1977), © 2018

Dominic, the way you described selecting some of the pieces for the book sounded as if it was both fluid and organic. How did visitors come to book a room in the first place? Did either you or Jess begin the projects with certain goals or constraints in mind, for making the selections? And, once each visitor agreed to check into your Paper Hotel, what was the timeline, from checking in to publication?

JC: think I'll leave this mainly to Dominic, which perhaps he partly covered in the last questions, and as the curation was all his.

DJ: Hotel’s curation was ever one defined as much by happenstance as it was by careful thought, but correspondence and conversation was ever at the bedrock and foundation of the project. When we were at work on the magazine series itself, a few pieces were solicited with which to build an initial germ and from which a resulting issue could grow. These preliminary texts were always the product of conversation or coincidence—be it a reading, an exhibition, an enthusiastic reaction to a publication, or simply a chance encounter—and, thereafter, a submissions window would follow in which we would seek out works that correspond to this first 'germ' in an angular or perpendicular fashion. The want was to light out for simpatico, rather than contradiction or argument; to let the arrangement of the texts begin to build an identity of its own rather than conform to the strictures of theme or a particular conceptual drive, per our editorial. The want, in that way, was to allow the magazine to behave as does a Hotel, and our masthead looked to summarise that theoretical position in brief—'A hotel is defined by its inhabitants'—the building’s structure may remain rigid and fixed, but the dynamics of its personality shifts by dint of who may happen to take a room on any given night.

The arrangement of works in Seven Rooms was informed by an effort to distill this kind of editorial philosophy into a single volume; Jess and I were keen that the collection feel more like a reaction to Hotel’s activities than a direct inheritor.

As Hotel was unfunded throughout its lifespan, timeline was always (happily) irregular. The ‘paper hotel’ was ever an occasional publication, and the project’s engine was oiled by enthusiasm—defined by care, rather than capital—and thus each issue in Hotel’s seven volume run would percolate at its own, unique pace of development with sales dictating the extent of any subsequent print run for following issues.

Both of you described the development of your respective publishing ventures through a series of multiform, multidisciplinary creative endeavours. It's evident in 'Forethoughts' that both of you conceive of publishing as an act of creation and curation—not just a business. How has your thinking about your respective roles in the publishing industries evolved since you began your first independent projects? In parallel, what are your own creative endeavours aside from your role as editors and publishers?

JC: This question of business vs. creation and curation is something I think about all the time. My aim for Prototype is for it to be both, as I don't think it's possible to sustain years of unpaid creativity, without it becoming a burden and a strain. I want Prototype to survive as a business that can pay everyone properly, without compromising its aesthetic and commitment to publishing unconventional work. I believe strongly that this is possible, but it takes time, and I'm committed to seeing it through, as I know the appetite for it is there; we just have to keep going, against so many odds. I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year for the first time and realised how hugely wealthy the publishing industry is. I was both horrified and motivated by that realisation. We might need to fight for new ways of collaborating and co-existing, for new models of funding and distribution, but seeing publishers from all over the world succeeding made things feel possible, and not as crazy as it sometimes seems. I no longer want to publish things just in my spare time, alongside other jobs; I want this to be my job, and my life, which means I can't ignore the business aspect, even if I wish I could. But I do believe it's possible to be both things, and to maintain the values you started with.

DJ: I’d totally echo Jess, here. The gulf between the big publishing houses and the work of small press organisations is interplanetary in its scale, and precarity needs be countered by a co-built sense of optimism and solidarity.

An aspect of the initial employment of 'Hotel' as a moniker for this project was to riff on the simpatico between publishing and architecture—an antique idea that can be traced back to Roman efforts to invent new readers for the new art and marketplace defined by the publisher’s practice and that whistles through to Allen Lane’s utilitarian paperback and on to Jeff Bezos, the 'everything' ambitions of Amazon, and his efforts to diminish the place of a publisher and an editor as any kind of a gatekeeper. To consider the praxis of book building, the design, composure, and atmosphere of a book—how we enter and exit a shared space—finds its graded echo in the architect’s doings.

In our collective ‘Forethoughts’ to Seven Rooms, Jess and I both allude to a renegade and radical approach to the act of publication explicitly; a distinctly international and transhistorical tradition that, by definition, forgoes the distinction between creation and curation and the more mercantile aspect of publishing. In its simplest terms, at its core, publication is about rendering the dynamics of an idea; ensuring an image, line, or poem—a slither of prose—can traffic from one pair of hands to another and, in so doing, propagate a response. A reaction. In its movement, the idea becomes moving, and enabling that traffic of thought is as much a part of the practice as the first seeded thought that underpins a book’s building and being. To consider a separation of the business and financialist aspect of publishing—to render the publisher’s work as entirely separate from the forms of creativity you sought to scaffold in the first instance—is to undermine a respect for the work, in end, and incidentally and inadvertently gift power to the bigger houses that control the marketplace and, as such, the conversation.

It’s a gift to live in an age whereby we’re able to subvert our means of production, even if the idea of an 'ownership' of such means (punk’s spot-lit rock of ages) proves a more slippery domain, and to consider a book’s reach when you’re writing from the margins, to think how it may make contact with a stranger, is key. 

This is fundamental to the thread of architectural metaphor that underpins my own work as a publisher—the shift from a hotel to a tenement building—in which the emphasis is better placed on the life lived within a shared space as opposed to the qualities and character of the building itself as any isolated point of enquiry. This is equally true, to my mind, if we consider the variety of experiment championed via Jess’s work under the ‘Prototype’ banner … the idea in play is ever in development, ever changing, energetic in its experiment and aware of the degree of care and integrity called for in the trial and error of an author’s activities. I’ve always considered the practice of publication to be as significant an aspect of my creative work as I would do my writing—it’s a practical testimony to the vitality of conversation, a natural extension of the act of reading, and a means with which to situate a work, an idea, within the world (and to underline its will to move).

Stephen King, when called upon to testify per the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, would argue against the case, stating that 'consolidation is bad for competition.' His stance on competition is curious, as it feels a more nefarious means of thinking through the value in publishing as a play with an endless number of actors. A means of arguing against a control of the marketplace through an employment of its own vocabulary. Our collaboration, this co-publication, couldn’t be further removed from the idea of competition—such language is outlawed here—and our collaboration speaks instead to the vitality of cooperation and alliance in moments such as ours when creativity feels so beset by bad odds, as Jess rightly pins it. To reassess a sense of the survivalism inherent to small press publication by building books that aim to live and stride around in spite of all (and any) existential threat(s) to their being is ever the aim. To not give way to the political landslide ever gliding downhill here in the UK and find ways to ensure an idea can be made public against chance.

Lastly, as an aside, if the number of rooms is random, why is the title 'Seven Rooms'? Is it because 7x7 is 49, the number of rooms in your Paper Hotel?

JC: You've spotted a pattern we hadn't even noticed! The seven rooms are the number of issues of Hotel. 49 is the random number of contributions, but clearly we unconsciously had a 7x7 pattern in mind! I love this.

DJ: Indeed! An editorial accident par excellence. The 'seven' of our title was initially owing to the seven instalments in the Hotel series—the seven years that’ve shuttled on since Hotel #1—and it’s beautiful indeed that such thinking seems to have surreptitiously secreted itself in the very mechanisms of this volume.

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Stephen Watts, ‘Drawn Poem (Uncertainty as to whether a tree is a person or vice versa, or not at all,’ © 2023

We adore that the title unintentionally aligned with the square root of the number of contributions. In response to what you said Dominic about the process of curating the selections, where do each of you see the utility of randomness and surprise in the act of artmaking & publishing?

JC: Perhaps the most interesting and satisfying aspect in both of your discovery of this pattern, and of the idea of randomness and surprise more generally in the act of publishing, is that which relates to interpretation and the discovery of meaning for the reader or viewer. In order to create the space for this to happen, there needs to be a degree of openness, so that we're not instructing or determining how something should be read but allowing each individual to receive each piece of writing, every book, every image, in their own way.

DJ: Completely. The seven-square room is the happiest of accidents and speaks to the way order secrets itself in the wash and things leave themselves open to be upturned. I’d previously mentioned an aim ever being to seek out what I call conceptual rhymes where we can, looking for the harmony point between ideas, but—equally—accident and chance are always key, and I’d lean on those terms rather than randomness, per se. Random feels too brutal a term, perhaps. I totally agree with Jess that, from the purview of a publisher, the idea of determinacy needs be subtle and never about building too rigid a frame for an idea. A part of the vividness of book building, the beauty of composing an image or a line in language—of forming an argument or a narrative, sentence by sentence—is that you’re pouring energy into a fixed page that’s designed to be misdirected. A book travels, or hopes to, and a good book will always stand in counterpoint with whatever room it sits in. I always like to think of this as a kind of angular creativity; in embracing chance as a means of encouraging someone to respond to the varied slant of an idea, you’re encouraging someone to correspond with a book, argue with it, keep a rigid thing dynamic. I love that image in Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Postscript’ when, in describing the need to ‘Some time take some time,’ he pictures a road west into County Clare and a moment ‘in September or October, when the wind / And the light are working off each other.’ An anticipation of such elements—a never knowing what will catalyse what—fuels my optimism as a reader, and as a publisher by proxy.

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Lucy Sante, ‘Phantom Car,’ © 2020

Jess, you mentioned how you've been reflecting, since attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, on the need to ‘fight for new ways of collaborating and co-existing, for new models of funding and distribution.’ As a magazine, we also share those interests! As cuts to the arts snowball in the UK and US in particular, would both of you mind being more specific about how you envision pursuing these goals, and expanding your projects in breadth and scope?

JC: My feeling about this all-important question fluctuates, depending on my mood, and how tired I'm feeling, but on days where I feel motivated, and unwavering in my conviction that there's a need for publishers like us to exist, I believe we need to be bold and brave in asking for support from organisations or individuals with the capacity to help. And there are many of them out there, if we can just find the right way of appealing to their passions, and making a case for why it matters, so that it becomes hard to refuse. Part of me believes that we should just be able to survive as a business which is financially viable and sustainable, but in the current climate, I'm just not sure if that's possible. And state funding is so incredibly hard to come by, and comes with so many strings attached, that I believe now we need to turn elsewhere; a new era of philanthropy, as long as we do our due diligence... 

DJ: The endangerment involved in what we do is entirely transnational—not delimited to the US and UK—and the kind of sequestering of arts to the bureaucratic and managerial demands of present funding models is limiting to say the least or, worse still, finger-paints a certain portrayal of creativity as something that needs perform more as a form of problem-solving than any form of free expression. One that sees finance as a means of both consoling and consolidating an idea. It’s shifted the whole vocabulary, the kinds of expectations involved in making. I’ve riffed before on Tenement being a kind of ex nihilo creativity—and Hotel was no different—wherein there was never enough money to buoy a project or publication through to reality. ‘Care rather than capital’ was (and is) the confidence game (and such confidence would often find itself a little weathered). I’d agree with Jess that new forms of philanthropy are called for, a strange redefinition of the very word, perhaps. Although the idea feels a little regressive in its articulation, perhaps the culture hasn’t moved on enough for antique ideas not to feel pertinent again. New unions, new forms of collaboration are needed as we find ourselves caught between new paradigms. A solidarity is necessary—the fight for co-existence and cooperation Jess names is key, and it’s ever a shared fight—but it’s also an atmosphere fundamental to Seven Rooms, the piece of co-work as underpins our conversations here. Seven Rooms is a many-headed building of a book—that was its permanent aim as a project and is, in a way, it’s punctum—and it’s thus a happy thing that, as editors, it’s a mixt and mixed feeling to speak for a book as deliberately polyphonic as this. 

My personal feeling is that literary activity is so often dogged by its own sense of impossibility that we can lose sight of the vivid idea that pushed language onto the page in the first instance, turning the idea of our ‘breaking even’ into as much an intellectual exercise as it is a slice of economic jargon. The impulse to make public an idea is mercantile in a way, but we’re fortunate enough that new forms of print and dissemination accessible to us now means that risks can be taken without compromise. Ever sharpening that sense of faith is key to publishing.

Dominic, you mentioned how in Forethoughts you and Jess reference a ‘renegade and radical approach to the act of publication explicitly; a distinctly international and transhistorical tradition that, by definition, forgoes the distinction between creation and curation and the more mercantile aspect of publishing.’ At LPB, we also believe that the greatest literature transcends borders of nation states, artistic forms, and contests many of our inherited myths about collaboration. Would each of you mind sharing a little bit about how you hope writers & publishers nourish the continuation of this tradition? To be slightly sentimental, what are your dreams for contemporary literature, as both artists and publishers?

JC: A big question, and one it's too easy to forget while caught up in the day-to-day running of a company. My dream is for borders to continue to break down—geographical, cultural, artistic, literary—and for us to help build a society in which artists and writers are valued and supported, both in terms of the respect their craft if given, and offered a way of living which allows time and space to create; not as a luxury, but as an absolute necessity of our collective wellbeing. 

DJ: I’ll take the bait and follow your lead, per sentimentality. Literature is a slow form, but a brave medium, to my mind. Institutional caveats commonly aim cook the form down to something less brilliant, something more medial (a book existing as a kind of prescriptive throughline from passive observation to action, for instance; the currency and straight contemporaneity of an idea or argument being a diktat of its quality and market value). But—at its core—a book calls for your commitment to its body and basis of thought. To let that sense of commitment and conviction continue to percolate—to boil beneath the activities of a reader, writer, or publisher—is all I could ask for.

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A translation of a one line poem, Joan Brossa, as translated from the Catalan by Cameron Griffiths (see the Tenement Press publication of Griffiths' translation of Brossa's El saltamartí / The Tumbler, 2021).

cc: Robin Christian

Jess Chandler founded Prototype in 2019. She was a co-founder of Test Centre, which ran from 2011 to 2018, publishing innovative works of poetry and fiction. She also co-runs, with Gareth Evans, the imprint House Sparrow Press, and was the Digital Editor of Poetry London for 5 years. She has worked as an editor at Reaktion Books, and used to work as a researcher and producer on factual television programmes. Jess has extensive experience editing and publishing a range of books, from fiction and poetry to illustrated art books, literary biography, history and philosophy, specialising in poetry and hybrid, multidisciplinary works. Jess has been invited to give talks and seminars at institutions including Glasgow School of Art, Birkbeck and the Royal College of Art, and has been a tutor at the Poetry School.

Dominic J. Jaeckle is a publisher, author, and founder of the independent publications project, Tenement Press. From 2016 to 2023, Jaeckle ran Hotel—'a temporary home for otherwise homeless ideas'—a magazine for experimental literatures, both in print and online, that hosted works and works-in-progress by some five hundred authors and makers over the course of its duration. Recent publications include, with Jess Chandler, Seven Rooms (Tenement Press & Prototype Publishing, 2023) and, forthcoming, 36 Exposures, 'a bastardised roll of film' (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2021; Tenement Press / John Cassavetes, 2024) and Magnolia or Redbud (Flowers for Laura Lee), a collection of 'cut-ups' and appropriated verses in dedication to the mother of William S. Burroughs (Tenement Press / John Cassavetes, 2024). Via Tenement, Jaeckle has published works by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Benedetti, Dolors Miquel, and Reza Baraheni, amongst others.

Micaela Brinsley & Eponine Howarth

Micaela Brinsley and Eponine Howarth are co-editors-in-chief of La Piccioletta Barca.

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