interview // Lin Stone
photo // Louis Maistros
Ben Aleshire, Robert McKay, Edie Rhoads, Estefania Puerta, Annie Doran, Nicholas Spengler, Jon Turner, Liza and Frances Cannon, Raychel Severance, Stephen Callahan, and a host of volunteers.
“Honeybee Press is a loose cooperative of poets who formed a publishing initiative in order to empower authors through the book arts. The press publishes The Salon, a bi-annual magazine of poems, fiction, plays, interviews, criticism, and art. The books are hand-sewn with handmade paper covers pulped from recycled fabric and then letter-pressed with lead and wood type. The cover art is printed from carvings commissioned from local artists.
“The aesthetic is defined by inclusiveness to the many literary tribes, and by aggressively seeking an audience for poetry, something that is unusual for magazines. By aggressive, I mean donating subscriptions to libraries and institutions participating in myriad community events, and appearing in places not typically considered literary venues, like farmers’ markets and in the street.
“The techniques are traditional book arts. It’s like the slow food movement: slow art. We can teach anybody to garden or to make a handmade book. We slow down to teach the ancient art of traditional bookmaking to empower writers to make their own books and to create a sense of community. Instead of sitting alone somewhere and uploading files on a computer, we gather writers, artists, woodblocks, letterpress, fabric, and we make poems, paper, art, books by hand: we sit and sew – stitching everything together like a quilting bee.”
“The Salon is a literary magazine that I hope bridges the gap between the ‘gutter and the ivory tower.’ By that reference, I mean building a causeway between what I see as two opposing poles of literature: the young, scrappy, unknown, avant-garde writers and the successful, usually older, usually academic writers. These two poles tend to ignore each other, but personally, I think they have much to learn from one another. You won’t see academics caught dead at a weird bohemian reading, and the bohemians are far too lazy to go see the wonderful readings that are free and available on school campuses.
“The Honeybee Press table at farmers’ markets has two goals: to sell our authors’ work and to literally build an audience for poetry through the spontaneous typewritten poems. Most people consider poetry to be something that is either boring or about nature, or too convoluted to understand without a degree, which, unfortunately, is often true. When someone can watch a poet write something just for them, right on the spot – and that they can pay whatever they think it’s worth – to their surprise and delight they enjoy the poem because now it connects with them personally…that has a huge effect: people weep, people frame them. I think that because all this takes place without electricity, without internet, cellphones, or laptops – there is a degree of authenticity or directness that is, frankly, hard to get from surfing literary blogs or authors’ websites, or Facebook newsfeeds, etc.
“Human touch and immediacy doesn’t readily exist in the literary world. There aren’t many opportunities to be face-to-face with the writer. I see the Farmers’ Markets poems like the street artists in Montmartre: perhaps rare nowadays, but there have been long traditions of street artists in subway stations, outdoor markets, or parks in LA, San Francisco, and Paris.
“I learned to do this from my poet friend and Honeybee co-founder Robert McKay. I saw him do on-the-spot composing at a reading. I was scared to do it. I only broke through the fear barrier when my ex-girlfriend goaded me to write a poem about the moon, and she said, “What are you … scared?’ So I did it. Much to my surprise, it turned out well and removed that barrier of fear. That self-doubt is, I think, reinforced by our collective image of anguished writers with crumpled papers at their feet sweating Hemingway bullets and filled with neurotic self-analysis and doubt.
“However, I think if I simply wrote stream of consciousness thoughts, it would just be a rough sketch or outline; it wouldn’t be finished or good. I apply enough rules to provide the words and ideas with structure, arc, and flow. The time constraint of immediacy creates pressure and this is good: there is no time to worry. I find it liberating. It’s literary theatre and when it’s good, I get butterflies.”
“Tattoo” by Ben Aleshire
You make a garden of your body:
the carrot on your forearm.
You seek permanence, I can tell —
is it there to remind you
of the things you love?
Are you amnesiac?
Or sadistic – All you want
is to adorn yourself
with fruit you will never taste
birds that will never fly
mountains that aren’t there
water that isn’t wet —
Your skin a cage of objects.
These dreams come pricked
with ink & pain – tell me,
are they more real than mine,
which are given to me so freely,
yet vanish upon waking?