Indie Spotlight: Seven Kitchens Press
Poet Ron Mohring began Seven Kitchens Press in the fall of 2007, and to date the press has produced more than 75 poetry chapbooks through a range of contests and series. Their Robin Becker Chapbook Prize invites manuscripts from writers identifying as LGBTQ, and the Keystone Chapbook Prize (currently considering manuscripts until September 16, 2016), publishes chapbooks by poets from Pennsylvania or with Pennsylvania ties. There are no reading fees for either contest.
Seven Kitchens’ other series include the Rane Arroyo Series, which welcomes manuscripts in English or English and Spanish beginning in November 1, 2016; the Summer Kitchen Series, which publishes three to five limited-edition chapbooks in summertime; the ReBound Series, which republishes worthy out-of-print chapbooks; and the Editor’s Series, whose goal is to publish solicited manuscripts as well as contenders that did not win first prize in Seven Kitchens contests.
All chapbooks by Seven Kitchens are limited editions, published on high quality paper with hand-tied bindings; their scrupulous editorial and production standards are particularly notable considering their press is entirely financed by book sales and donations rather than reading fees.
Just a few noteworthy Seven Kitchens titles include Slow to Burn by Collin Kelley, intimate poems with sharp metaphors and keen culture references; Six Poems from the Codex Mojaodicus by Steven Alvarez, whose work reflects his “hyphenated American identity” as a child of Mexican immigrants growing up in southern Arizona; and Talking About the Weather by Liz Ahl, a delightful collection as accessible as it is introspective.
For the Ploughshares blog, Ron Mohring shares why he started Seven Kitchens, his secret to running the press on a shoestring, and what Seven Kitchens writers he can’t wait readers to discover next.
KF: Could you explain the name Seven Kitchens and your “Pie for Everyone” slogan?
RM: My late partner Randy and I were having dinner at our friend Deirdre’s house. Actually, she was in an odd, long-term kind of house-sitting arrangement, and we got to telling house-sitting tales around the table, which led to the categorization of such tales—the Pet Disaster, the Unintended Fire, the Locksmith, the Liquor Cabinet, and so on—and suddenly Randy said, “You should publish these!” Which we actually tried to do, sending out a call for submissions and trying to find a publisher for what we thought was going to be a brilliant anthology (I remain convinced that it could be).
The name Seven Kitchens is an homage to kitchen parties, where (everyone knows) all the best ideas are hatched, and also to kitchen tables everywhere which double as creative work space. At least half the chapbooks I make are edited, folded, trimmed, and sewn at my kitchen table.
My late partner David’s father used to say “A round table always has room for one more,” and I’m sure this expression influenced the “Pie for Everyone” slogan, which traces back to my brief (ten-year) career teaching poetry and writing at the college level. Everyone belongs at the poetry table. It’s sometimes a hard slogan to live up to, because we all have preferences in terms of style.
For example, I took a good hard look at the Editor’s Series after realizing the first volume consisted mainly of male poets. Of course, these twelve chapbooks represent a wide aesthetic range, but I dug deeper into how I read on the page to consider what aspects of their work had edged out other, equally strong voices. The whole point of the Editor’s Series, after all, was to publish work that missed landing on top in series competition but that clearly deserved publication. I try very hard to keep the doors wide open.
KF: In an interview you gave prior to establishing Seven Kitchens, you describe a chapbook as “a one-act play, as opposed to a play in three acts: you get the voice, the situation, and a tight arc of narrative or juxtaposition, elements linking or playing off one another. The best chapbooks are complete, but leave you wanting to read more.” How did this specific vision play out as you launched your press and as you review manuscripts today?
RM: That interview has to be at least ten years old, but I think I’d still agree with this statement for the most part. A one-act play is still a play. A chapbook, I believe, is still a book. Others may disagree, insisting that a chapbook doesn’t allow enough space for certain dynamics to develop, or that only a full-length book can properly be called a book.
Perhaps the “leave you wanting to read more” is misleading: I didn’t (and don’t) mean that the chapbook provides in any way an incomplete reading experience (though some do, of course, but not because of the length), but that chapbooks can be a great introduction to a writer’s language, themes, style, or vision—all of these—and therefore an invitation to read more of the writer’s work.
Quite simply, chapbooks are manageable: as a publisher on a minuscule budget, I’ve never had the time or resources to publish longer works. When I started Seven Kitchens, I had just ended a run as fiction editor for West Branch and had several writers in mind (both poets and fiction writers) whose work I imagined might eventually lead to chapbooks. My friend Betsy Wheeler had recently launched Pilot Books, and after several conversations, she urged me to just take the leap. I started with the Keystone Series because I was familiar with the work of many Pennsylvania poets through West Branch (which, I hasten to say, is not a regional publication, though of course many poets of the region sent their work to the journal), and I figured I could get the word out pretty well and find support for a series that showcased the great range of poetry written by Pennsylvania writers.
It was a thrill to have Harry Humes selected as the first winner of the Keystone Prize: Harry is a terrific poet, and Underground Singing remains one of my favorites of all chapbooks I’ve published.
The next series to come about was named for Robin Becker, who gave her blessing as we talked over breakfast one day in Lewisburg about my vision for the press, and who judged the competition that first year (I invite a different judge each year to read and select winners in both these series). How lucky was it to get such a great manuscript from Judith Barrington!
KF: Seven Kitchens, while small, has a lovely range of titles through its various series and contests. What chapbooks can readers look forward to in the immediate future? And while I’m sure maintaining the status quo at Seven Kitchens is enough of a job by itself, I have to ask if you have plans for creating additional series or any “Pie for Everyone” in-the-sky ideas should your money or time miraculously increase.
RM: The Summer Kitchen Series is back after a few years’ hiatus, with titles from Mary Meriam, Justin Sherwood, John Keene, and Kat Black due out in a couple weeks. These are very limited-edition, with only 24 copies of each title available from the press. Two titles that have languished on the back burner for a very long time are Erin Bertram’s From The Vanishing of Camille Claudel and JeFF Stumpo’s bilingual El oceano y la serpiente/The Ocean and the Serpent; both are due out soon. You mentioned Liz Ahl’s chapbook earlier; I’m super happy to bring out her new collection, Home Economics.
Seven Kitchens has published a number of Pittsburgh writers, including Jeff Oaks, Ellen McGrath Smith, Celeste Gainey, Sheila Squillante, and Alison Taverna; later this summer we’ll add Dakota Garilli’s Call It Something Different to that lineup (Pittsburgh reading, anyone?). And I’m very much looking forward to bringing out the next two titles in the Rane Arroyo Series, two beautiful chapbooks by Sierra Golden and Rodney Gomez that extend and heighten that series in ways that excite me and make me feel truly grateful to be a champion of their poems.