INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES NEVSIMAL
Editor & Otherwise
P.O. Box 170322
Milwaukee, WI 53217-8026
I had finished my reading at Milwaukee's venerated Woodland Pattern Book Center's Poetry Marathon, when a twenty-something guy carrying a camcorder and tape deck says to me, "I'd love to use some of your stuff in my Anthills. How about it?" That was my first meeting with small press publisher, Charles Nevsimal. He started fast, and he hasn't slowed down.
Centennial Press's inaugural issue of Anthills came out in 2000. Anthills 2 soon followed, and by the time Issues 3 & 4 came along, the zine had already featured an impressive roster of small press heavy weights and new voices including: Antler, Matt Cook, A.D. Winans, Susan Firer, Gunther C. Fogle, William Taylor Jr., John Sweet, justin.barrett, Nathan Graziano, Karl Koweski, Glen W. Cooper, Lynne Savitt, Todd Moore, Bradley Mason Hamlin, Lyn Lifshin, Alex Carlson, and John Tuschen (plus a host of others). Deborah Bingen joined the team in 2002 as artist and designer (and later went on to marry the Editor). Her contribution was immediate with the release of two successive chapbooks: The System by A.D. Winans, and Exclamation Points: Ad Infinitum! by Antler, both praised for their content as well as design. Centennial Press filled the time between chapbooks with a string of broadsides for poets Gunther C. Fogle and Jeff Poniewaz. Most recently, Centennial Press has released chapbooks for B.J. Best (a pocket-sized book called Crap) and Alex Carlson (Whispering Winds: the Record Player Reads.) Both have sold extremely well.
Q: Chuck, Tell me how you ended up a small press publisher? When did you start?
A: I went to a small Lutheran University school here in southeastern Wisconsin. Early Freshman year, my Intro to Writing professor, Jean Timpel invited me to a Tuesday night writer's group meeting on campus. It wasn't long before I volunteered to spearhead the design and publication of the school's modest literary journal, which, prior to my involvement, was nothing more than 8-1/2" by 11" sheets of white typing paper bound by a shoddy plastic spiral coil. I saw the potential for something far greater than what was being realized, and saw to it that the journal evolved into something more deserving. The first thing I did was trimmed the size down to that of an actual book. By the time my Junior year rolled around, I was one of two people selecting content for publication, something I did in addition to the proofing, editing, designing, and printing of the book.
I was lucky to have been there (Concordia) at the same time as several other talented writers. Together, we formed The Foundry, a semi-elitist-but-altogether-inspiring campus writer's group. Even in the early days with The Foundry, I always pictured myself putting something similar together once I graduated. Something I controlled completely. So after the shock of being a college graduate wore off, I sat down with my buddy, Josh Peterson, and together we gave birth to Centennial Press (named after the bar we frequented in our undergrad years). Anthills became the name of our publication. The ball was rolling. But soon, Josh moved away and I was left with sole patronage of Centennial Press. I'd already gathered poems from friends and ex-Foundry members, but I wanted Anthills to be more than just a bunch of material from people I knew well. Then, lightning struck. I "discovered" the poetry of A.D. Winans. I was surfing the Internet and reading everything of his I could find. So I sent him an e-mail requesting poetry for publication and he responded in kind the very next day with three poems that completely blew my mind.
With restored verve, I sought out Milwaukee poet, Antler. The people at Woodland Pattern bookstore were kind enough to pass a letter on to him. About a week after I dropped off the letter, he called me on the telephone to tell me how excited he was that a new poetry zine was being birthed in Milwaukee. He also told me to watch my P.O. box for a submission. Wouldn't you know it; the man sent me 15 poems not one week later. In addition to that, he urged his friend, Jeff Poniewaz, to submit, which he also did. And the rest, as they say, is history …
Q: Why do you do it?
A: I publish because it is my way of putting something beautiful into the world … something worthwhile. It's a labor of love in many ways, I suppose. I hardly make a dime off anything I publish - hell, most times I end up well in the red. But there's something about giving people a book or a sheet of paper with words on it knowing it might in one way or another lend to the shaping of their world. Publishing these books is to me every bit as fulfilling as writing a good poem. You're seeing your vision through to the end. And you walk into a bookstore and the book you made, you created, you birthed into the world is resting on the shelves among all the giants … Neruda, Cummings, Whitman, Bukowski … that gives me chills every time. But that's just my self-centric reason for doing this. I do it also, of course, because I believe strongly in the poetry I put out there. I do it because I want to give these poems a home. The home I give them is Anthills.
Q: Are you more of a publisher, or more of a writer?
A: I would say there's a stronger urge in me to sit down at my typewriter and rap out a poem or two … or eight. But I'm delighted as hell I don't have to choose either/or in real life, because my desire to put out Anthills - or a chapbook or broadside for that matter - is so strong, there's not a time, really, I'm not thinking about my next project. And in many ways, I suppose, the two "vocations", I'll call them, are not all too dissimilar. As editor/publisher, I'm deeply involved in each project … and by the time the issue (or chap/broadside) is published, it magically contains so much of me, it's almost as if it came from the same place my poems come from. Not only that, but every poem I publish through Centennial Press is one I wish I'd written. So, even when the writer in me is taking a backseat to the publisher, he's busily taking notes on how to better himself. Oddly, though, I feel no great need to see my own poems in print. I did at first, because I suppose I needed a validation of some sort. But I haven't sent anything out for several months. I probably wrote near 400 poems last year alone, and only three to four people have ever seen them.
Q: Your Anthills series is as much graphic art as it is a premier collection of writers and their work - what are you trying to accomplish with Anthills?
A: Thank you so much. I'm very actively and creatively involved in the pieces I publish. There's much to be said about magazines like Free Verse (which is utterly fabulous, by the way) or Fuck! (which has its own charm) that simply put poetry down on a page and disseminate it. But that's not for me. I am incessantly seeking a new format or an inventive way of putting poetry into the world because I'm interested in creating "books as art", items that can be cherished as much for what they are as for what they say. Then there are the poems themselves, and the selection thereof. The way they all fit together in my mind … they tell a story. There is always a reason for the order in which I arrange the poems, even if it's not at first glance evident to the reader. But to put it simply, Charles, I want to create something people will love and hold on to for a long time to come.
Q: Who designs your books?
A: My wife, Deborah, designs all the books and broadsides for Centennial Press. She's brilliant, and I'm damn lucky to have her, both as my small press partner and my wife. I love the interest she puts into each piece, reading it before figuring out how to interpret it visually. Sometimes she'll draw inspiration directly from the poems we're publishing. Other times, she'll have a certain vision that she'll want to carry through independent of the poem or poems. But the work she does always floors me. Without her, there could be no Centennial Press. Period. So yeah, maybe I'm the one everybody knows because I'm the one in contact with the poets we publish, I'm the one being interviewed (the one with the loud mouth). But she's the reason our books are so wonderful. She's the wizard behind the curtain.