Part 1: Katy
You and Matt are a formidable team--when did you meet and how long have you been married?
Matt and I have been married a little over two years. We met in Arkansas, where I grew up, at an MFA party. Although we talked for a long time that night, it wasn't until a year later that we started hanging out, when I was about to move to Berlin. We'd developed crushes on each other from that night and he came into the used and out-of-print bookshop where I worked. We were both shy and, when we'd first met, both with other people. Occasionally we'd talk in the bookshop. Then in the summer of 2003 he came in with a friend and introduced me as "that girl who did a documentary about the bookshop." I'd done a little film on the place and that's why we started talking at the party. I asked if he'd had a chance to see the film and he hadn't, so we exchanged emails. A few days later he came in to borrow the documentary and he brought in the Errol Morris film Vernon, Florida in trade.
Since I was moving to Berlin, I needed to find someone to replace me as the lit manager of the store--a very coveted position because the bookstore is one of the best used and out-of-print stores in the country and just a very awesome place. Matt wanted my job and was hired, so we really got to know each other when I was training him. We flirted constantly and kept saying we needed to hang out. We started hanging out and were inseparable. Those three weeks before I moved to Berlin in August of that year were the most intense moments of my life. Neither of us had a car and he didn't have a phone and it was August in Arkansas, meaning that whenever we walked anywhere we'd be drenched in sweat and at night the cicadas, crickets, and toads were a chorus for us.
A few days before I moved to Berlin, Matt's thesis adviser, Jim Whitehead, died. Matt and Adam had taken a summer course with him in which they met at Jim's house to discuss poetry. Matt owed him a paper for the end of the class, which Jim badgered him about to the point that he barged into the bookstore looking for him. When Matt called the house to let Jim know that the paper was done, that's when he discovered Jim had died. My plane for Berlin departed the same day as the memorial for Jim.
We knew we wanted to be together forever even when I was leaving, but when I got to Berlin, and we sent constant emails and talked on the phone, this just sped up our feelings and confirmed what we already knew. I spent five months in Berlin and in December Matt came to visit for three weeks. We took the train down to Leipzig and Dresden and into Prague and then back to Berlin, where we had Indian for Christmas dinner. I decided to move back to Fayetteville so I could be with Matt as he finished up school.
Then, on April 6, my birthday, he proposed to me in the bookshop. We already knew we were moving to New York in June, so we decided to have the wedding before we left--giving us less than two months to plan it. We got married by a woman justice of the peace in my neighbor's backyard underneath a large oak tree. We wrote our own vows and had friends and family play music. The reception was a large party in my parents' backyard, with Mediterranean food catered by a family friend and the wedding cake made by my best friend, who was also a bridesmaid.
We moved to New York a week later, packing all our belongings in a U-Haul, which we drove straight to Queens to stay with a friend. We parked it overnight only to have it stolen when we woke up. A week later a man named Ziggy called my father to report the stolen U-Haul sitting outside his place underneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Most of our items were still in the van...
I know you just asked how long we've been married, but the story of how we got together and how we got here is just one I love to tell.
All your stuff stolen the first night! It's surprisingly lucky though, and maybe significant to the metaphor, that you did get most of your things back. How do you like living in Brooklyn?
I love Brooklyn. For the first five months, we lived in a tiny box in Chelsea in Manhattan. While we enjoyed being 'in the middle of everything' it wasn't home. I consider Greenpoint home. We discovered it because I read a profile of the neighborhood in the Village Voice. We decided to check out the neighborhood and we walked all the way down Manhattan Avenue and in that walk we knew this was the place for us. Matt found our apartment after only viewing two places and that's where we've been for close to two years now.
Our first year in NY was really tough. Besides having our van stolen (they did take our computer, stereo, wedding gifts, my jewelry box) we weren't savvy on NY. We took that expensive apartment in Manhattan and it took me all summer to land a job. I gave up looking for a job in my field and took a job shelving books in the art department of the Strand. I was bitter about it the whole time, although I made two very good friends out of the experience.
That all seems really far away now and it's actually amazing when I look back at it how much we've changed our position in the city in so little time.
As for liking Brooklyn, there's a piece I wrote in The Brooklyn Rail that would do a better job of explaining why I like it. [At the end of this post there are links to three of Katy's articles online.]
Your background is in design? Is that what you're doing for work now?
My background is, in degree terms, in Journalism. I have a BA and MA in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. I grew up studying all different forms of visual, written, and performing arts. In college I started out as a music major (voice/viola). I wouldn't say I wasn't trained in design though, because I grew up enrolled in art classes and loved to draw and create things. In high school I was the art editor for our literary magazine and that's when I got into page layout with Quark Xpress. In college I also took a couple design courses.
I earn a living as an assistant project manager at Facts On File, an educational reference publisher. I manage an American Indian searchable electronic database. The job is mostly editorial and doesn't really involve design.
Do you write poetry?
While I've written the occasional poem since high school, I wouldn't say I write poetry. It's a question I get a lot since I'm so involved in the world of poetry. I write nonfiction: criticism, features, interviews, essays. I love to write about art and culture (my emphasis in my MA was popular culture/gender studies). I recently started contributing to The Brooklyn Rail, as a books and music writer, and I will have a piece in Dustin Williamson's Rust Buckle zine shortly. [It has appeared since this interview, see links at the bottom.] I'm also going to contribute to this newish online mag called econoculture.com.
How does it go when you show Matt something you've just written or he shows you what he has written?
I think we both give each other great feedback, although it might not be in any traditional sense. We don't sit together and talk about our actual writing so much, but we really help each other with what we're writing about because we're always discussing ideas. When I finish a piece, I usually want him to look at it and he'll provide stylistic edits mostly and tell me where an idea works and where it doesn't. When I look at Matt's work, I am a little more general and as far as editing goes he always wants to know which poems are his strongest and weakest. When he was finishing up his MFA thesis, he had me go through his poems and give them number ratings. Lately I haven't been giving him much editorial advice, but I want to. We've both been so busy and he's getting so much feedback now from a lot of other poets.
There is most certainly a clear divide, which is why we can work so closely together. Matt wanted to start a print journal and his idea was to make xerox copies and staple the thing together. I really wanted to try my hand at handbinding and so I convinced him to get a little fancier. He solicits and picks all the writing; at times he'll discuss submissions with me. These are the submissions he's unsure of. I do all of the design for Cannibal. I'm hoping to become more active in submissions though, as I'd love to find some creative nonfiction to run in the mag.
Burning Chair is more Matt's baby. He finds all the poets and venues. My involvement in Burning Chair is more PR. I send listings to the Voice, Time Out, etc. I also design promotional materials (postcards, posters). I go to all the readings that I can and help organize, but the readings really are his.
Does publishing Cannibal feel like a cool side-project to something else that is more central, or is it the early stages of what you hope will be the central work?
When Matt started talking about Cannibal, he wanted to do some xeroxed, stapled little thing and I convinced him to let me design and craft it into what it became. Sometimes he regretted this. It was much, much, much more work. I am so thankful that he granted me that though, because it gave me a platform for my visual side, which I hadn't gotten to work with in a long time. I've always been pulled in so many directions and perhaps that is what people might see as my flaw... I want to do everything and sometimes it's impossible to focus on one medium. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love working within all different artforms. Right now I'm finally involved in both writing and design and I'm so happy about that. The only thing that would make me happier is if I was playing my music.
Cannibal is certainly not a side-project. It eats up way too much energy to be considered a side. When we first unveiled C, I was really nervous because I'd put so much into it and I was concerned that people wouldn't appreciate the juxtaposition of refined and coarse. Instead people saw it and just gave me so much positive feedback. People saw me differently. It was my first creation many people saw in NY. Before C, I was Matt's wife who helped him run Burning Chair. After C, I was catapulted into this woman who designs books. It came out before any of my NY-published writing appeared, so they saw me as visual first. Now people read my stories in The Brooklyn Rail and see me as a writer, but for a long time all these poets didn't know me as a writer or an artist.
I'd love for Cannibal and Burning Chair Books to turn into my livelihood, but I am realistic. Presses and publishing just aren't really ways to make money. So, I'm happy to do this and not make any money at it because that's how important it is to me.
The first issue of Cannibal looked fantastic. Would you describe how it got produced? I'm curious about the learning process, how you tackled the job, and if the two of you sat around evenings, punching and stitching them, or what?
I've been doing crafts ever since I can remember. My parents wanted my sister and I to be involved in any creative task we wanted and we were always doing craft projects and just general creative endeavors. In high school, I was lucky enough to have a literary arts magazine with tons of funding from the community. I was on the staff both junior and senior year and it totally began my love affair with that format. I was the art editor senior year and was in charge of the layout.
In college, the University of Arkansas didn't have a literary magazine so I decided to start one with a few friends. We got funding from the university and in less than a year we were on the official media board along with the newspaper and yearbook. The chair of the journalism department, my master's thesis adviser, was into book and magazine design too. So I bonded with her and one semester I did an independent study on graphic design with her. She was into the old processes of book making and hand bookbinding, which she did for a while, under the name Picadilly Press. She designed and handbound chapbooks.
One of my best friends in the world doesn't really buy anything other than materials to make her own stuff. She told me about this book that she used to make her own journals called Creating Handmade Books. I found myself a copy because it was something I really was drawn to doing. I'd say that Cannibal is something between a magazine and a book. The design comes somewhat from this book, although it's a modified stitch. The silkscreen on the cover was the first I've ever done and I learned how to from a Dover thrift edition of Silkscreen Printing Techniques. I used modge podge to block out a pattern on a screen and the "table" for the printing was a three foot board I found by the trash that I sat on the floor. Each cover of Cannibal is aligned differently because I didn't really have register marks to line up each one just right. I also didn't have any sort of mechanism to lift the screen up except for my own hands, so the pressure was individual.
We did sit around all hours of the day and night punching, trimming, and sewing Cannibal. We borrowed this cast iron paper cutter from our friend. It has a dull blade so I could only trim one signature at a time--each Cannibal required six cuts. I did all the screen printing and the printing of the pages (which we did on our laser printer at home). Matt would fold, punch, and sew along with me. For the upcoming issue, we're hoping to do them all in one or two fell swoops by gathering friends to help. This was originally the plan that didn't really come to fruition last time.
Do you have any interest in performing?
Jim Behrle asked me to collaborate on a poem with him and to read it with him at the Cannibal release party. It was a ton of fun. Afterwards people who didn't know me thought I was a real poet! When we first moved here, I became friends with a comedian who does a sketch group. He had me perform with him for one of these sketches and it was also a lot of fun.
I definitely miss performing. I've been doing it since I was six and I've always had that dramatic flair. In high school I acted in Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap and in Bye Bye Birdie. But I was always a weird sort of performer. People were shocked to see that a shy gal like me could command a stage. Singing in choirs and playing in orchestras is an amazing experience that I should get back to.
What prompted you to switch majors? And do you still play viola?
I kind of grew away from classical music, even though that is how I was trained. I think that happened because of the musical community I was in for so long. It really wasn't much of a community at all because I didn't relate to or feed off the energy of the other musicians I was around. It takes time to find a real community--I'm hoping to find that here. I'm also looking to go in a different direction and try to play folk/bluegrass/fiddle music. My mother was a classically trained pianist and upright bassist and in the past five years she's delved into accordion, all different styles--Irish folk, Klezmer, Latin American. That's given me inspiration.
Aside from that time in Berlin that you mentioned, had you always lived in Fayetteville before you and Matt moved to New York?
I was born in 1978 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I was raised until 1980 when my parents, sister, and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, so my mother could study speech pathology at the university there. After four years, we returned to Fayetteville, which is also my father's birthplace. My parents are both teachers and travel enthusiasts (nature especially), so every summer we took road-trips across the country. We spent a lot of time in Colorado where much of my mom's family lived. We drove out to Taos and Santa Fe, and one summer we drove through all the states on the Eastern Seaboard and camped in Acadia National Forest in Maine, then went through Canada and back down through Upper Michigan and into Wisconsin. One of my best friends in Madison was from Berlin, and I got to visit her in Berlin in high school. In college, I stayed in Fayetteville and spent one summer living in Portland, Oregon, where my sister was at the time.
Sorry for the asides--people ask me where I'm from all the time and, often, when they find out, they think it must've been a huge culture shock to move to the big city, which I always laugh at. My family always valued travel so much that I am accustomed to all sorts of different cultures and lifestyles. When I was in grad school, my parents lived in Moscow, Russia, where they taught at the Anglo-American School, so I got to visit there too and met them in Switzerland one winter. I had that artsy fartsy (to use my dad's term) upbringing, raised by liberal parents. They always valued the creative arts. They also wanted to expose me to as many different cultures and religions as possible.
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