Burnside books and chapbooks are cleanly designed with artful illustrations, and Burnside authors are delightfully distinct. There are the sharp and simple poems of Andrew Michael Roberts in the full-length collection Good Beast, the dark and wistful work of Alexandra van de Kamp in her chapbook Dear Jean Seberg, and the wry chapbook Daphne and Jim, by Laurel Snyder, whose subtitle gives you just a small hint of what’s in store: “A Choose Your Own Adventure Biography in Verse: Being a Close Examination of Linear Narrative, Unexpected Detail, and the Forgotten Art of Context Clues.”
Founder and editor Sid Miller shares with Ploughshares readers the history behind Burnside Review Press, how he finds his authors, and what keeps the press and review going after ten plus years.
KF: What was your motivation for beginning Burnside Review Press? What’s been your most satisfying accomplishment since starting the press? Your greatest challenge?
SM: In 2004, Portland was a very different place. There were only a few local poetry publishers, and most of them were academic. We thought that there was possibly a place for us, for our aesthetic and voice. But we had no idea what we were doing. None of us had ever worked on a literary journal. Finding work for the issue was a challenge. This was well before the time of NewPages, and websites of the sort. We begged friends, we taped flyers on college campuses across the country. When we finally had enough poems, we laid the first issue out in Word! But there was a place for us; even though the first issue looked like crap, the community immediately embraced us. I guess that’s the most satisfying thing—where we began to where we are now. Even though we are a 501(c)3 , we don’t really apply for grants, and we’ve never had a benefactor write us a fat check. Everything thing we’ve done, every step up the staircase, has been accomplished because of the amazing staff I’ve had over the years and our loyal readers.
KF: What are the differences between running a contest to publish your chapbooks and full-length collections and editing the Burnside Review? How do you choose your contest judges? Do their choices ever surprise you?
SM: The journal and the books/chapbooks are really entirely separate. We have 100% control of what goes into the journal, a combination of what comes in through the submission manager and a few solicitations. We can shape an issue to some degree. The books/chapbooks are a different beast all together. We’re limited to what entries come in during the reading period and then by the judge’s decision. We pick judges whose work we admire and whose voice is somewhat akin to the voice of the press. But there are always surprises. There are times that I’ve guessed right, and there are times I’ve guessed dead wrong. But we are the ones who submit the finalists to the judge, so we’re always fond of the work.
KF: The illustrations and design of Burnside publications is distinct. How would you describe your vision and how it connects with the texts?
SM: I wish I can say that I have something to do with this, but my good friend, Regina Godfrey, has 100% control over all our art work and design. She has been with us almost from the start and I can say with complete confidence that it’s her work, more than any other one aspect, that is responsible for the success of the press. She is a curator of images, and has an unbelievable ability to read/study work, absorb it, and find the perfect image to pair with it. Our authors do not work in collaboration with Regina. In their contracts they give over control of the cover design. But we’ve had more than one author say, after seeing their completed cover for the first time, that it is what they had envisioned or had seen in a dream.
KF: Considering the time and financial obligations of running an independent press, it’s quite an achievement that Burnside has run strong for more than 10 years. What’s your secret? And what’s your forecast for the future?
SM: The secret is simple; running a press is not an art project, it’s a business, and needs to be treated like one if you want to last. While there’s certainly more to a press than a bottom line, that line always needs to be considered if you want to make it year to year. As for the future; a few years ago, I talked myself into satisfaction. I own a bar here in Portland, have a small farm, a beautiful wife and five-year-old twin boys. Life is good. In a given year, Burnside Review puts out about one issue of the journal, a chapbook, and 2-3 full length collections. That’s enough. What we create has intentionality. It’s cared for inside and out. I just want to continue to do what we do.