Aleathia Drehmer publishes a series called Durable Goods. This portable microzine fascinated me from day one because it is exactly what the traveling artist needs, a little bit of poetic inspiration that can fit in your back pocket. She has been and continues to serve as an editor for numerous publications.
Hobo Camp Review: I’ve always subscribed to the idea that poetry is a moving art, a portable art, which is why Durable Goods is so appealing to me. What inspired you to make a micro-zine rather than an online or full-sized print magazine?
Aleathia Drehmer: Durable Goods started as a sort of reactionary creation to the ending of another editing job in 2009. I was looking to start something on my own, to see if I could manage the entire process alone, and I was greatly interested in the sorts of work I would choose given no restrictions. I chose this format partly because it was comfortable to me in some ways. I wanted to pare down and focus. The driving idea for Durable Goods was to find a way out of the dismal ritual of going to the mailbox only to find bills and junk mail. I really wanted to create something that would go through the mail and maybe rekindle a love for correspondence in this generation of electronic everything. Durable Goods set out to be a pick-me-up that could fit in your back pocket that would be readily available if you needed it. It is difficult to do that with an online publication or a full size magazine. There is something stealth and wonderful about sneaking literature on the boss man’s time.
HCR: Managing a publication, regardless of the size, can be exhausting. It’s a huge commitment of time and will. Do you ever find yourself coming up to an issue and feeling, for whatever reason, like you just don’t have the energy to see it through anymore? What keeps you going?
AD: Oh, Durable Goods is very labor intensive because it is print and it comes out every two weeks. I end up folding over 250 pieces of paper every month and labeling (by hand) a good number of envelopes. Each issue comes with its own quote card, which have to be cut down to size, rubber stamped and then written on. It seems like a daunting task if you think about it, so I try not to think about it. Ha-ha. Despite the work, I have yet to have that feeling of not wanting to move on with it. The energy is always there for it. The folding process itself has become a meditation for me, as most of it is done in the silent hours of my house. The repetition of symmetry is very comforting to me and it gives a great sense of completion each time. What keeps me going are the grateful responses to the work that I am doing with Durable Goods. It is all worth it to know that a poem you published made someone cry, or think about the world differently, or fall in love with a writer they had not read before. I have an amazing group of subscribers that feel like family to me, and an amazing group of editors who are willing to distribute Durable Goods with their own publications. It has brought back a sense of community to writing for me….the idea that we are all in this for the word and the sharing of words. I am invested emotionally in these people.
HCR: I’m not looking for names here, but have you ever published someone just to have a “name” in your ‘zine? Any regrets along the way? Pitfalls you’d advise others to avoid?
AD: I have to say that I never think about acquiring writers like a prized possession gallery. I think everyone has something special to offer at some time in their life, and the great thing about Durable Goods is it makes many folks step out of their comfort zone due to the limited space. The bulk of writers tend to produce poems of a decent length, but this zine makes you find 10-20 great lines and get to the core of what you are trying to say. I am not looking to get famous off this project so having big names to propel me forward has never been my goal. I will say that I was pretty stoked when Annie Menebroker agreed to be in the zine. She is somewhat legendary and I was unsure she would say yes. Her work touches me and I felt happy to be able to share one of her poems in the Translations series. I have not had any regrets while making this zine and it has been one learning experience after another in how to work with the template, manage time and be diplomatic with the work. I have time and space to create exactly the issue I want without regards to what anyone else thinks, and not only is this creatively freeing, but also personally because I have had a problem with speaking my own voice for my entire life. Durable Goods is by invite only and I think this saves me a great amount of stress that comes with having to sift through submissions, do all of those rejections and hurt people’s feelings. I avoid so much drama as well. There is always something positive swirling around this zine that makes me smile. If I had one word of advice it would to keep being inventive and building on your original ideas for your publication, and be open to suggestion.
HCR: Do you think it wise for poets to post unpublished poems on blogs/social networking sites? Is Facebook the new workshop, or just a PR tool?
AD: Posting unpublished poems here and there on Facebook is ok in my opinion because it gives readers a taste of where you are at the moment in your work and keeps your name “out there” in that dervish of a social network, but putting every single poem you write up there seems excessive. Years ago when I first started swimming in the small press sea, Karl Koweski gave me a great piece of advice that he kipped from Algren and it was if you give everything away for free, who is going to buy it. I think this idea is relevant in the sense that at some point you become unpublishable anywhere because what magazine wants to feature something exclusively that you have already shared with the world? Facebook is not the new workshop. I find that most writers do not want any serious crit of their work that will help them elevate their game or move in new directions. Often they are looking for confirmation that their writing still has that “it” factor. I post poems sometimes when I am trying out new forms or new creative directions and I find the silences are more telling to me than 20 people hitting the “like” button. It is a great PR tool and has been vital in getting the word out about books, events, radio programs, and my print and online publications. If used properly it is a great resource.
HCR: What are you reading now, and what are you hoping to read next?
AD: Oh man, I have the plague of reading too many books at once and not finishing most of them. I am in the process of trying to finish off the books I started reading last year. Most recently I finished Gertrude Stein’s “Three Lives” which I began last year and my nine year old just picked out Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” for me to read….out of 200 possible choices. Hahahaha. I was really dreading it at first, but now I am just in love with it. I am also concurrently reading the biography “A Beautiful Mind” about John Nash. The bedside poetry consists of “Axe Handles” by Gary Snyder, “Before the Troubadour Exits” by Jeffrey C. Alfier, and “Two-Headed Poems” by Margaret Atwood. I am also sifting through a self-help book and a book on Buddhism. As for what is next, I think I might edge towards my go-to guy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
HCR: You and Dan Provost have a joint collection out right now. What do you hope readers take from this collection?
AD: I think this collection is interesting because we produced the bulk of the before we ever met or had any sort of intimate relationship. We knew each other’s work, but we didn’t know each other as people. What this gives the reader is an opening to how two people with very different backgrounds, family histories, and styles of writing can come together and share not only space on the page, but in life. Each of our halves of this book come from times of deep, quiet contemplation when we both sat back and looked at what was going on in the world around us—him in the city, me in the country.
HCR: If you had to pick, would you consider yourself more of a highway hobo or a railroad hobo? Have you ever “roughed it” overnight on the road somewhere?
AD: The whole of my life, until recently, has been spent on the highway. I have been to almost every state in this great country and lived in nearly 20 of them. My life has been a series of blurry journeys, roadside diners, and sneaking into hotel pools in the dead heat of summer when the trip was just unbearable. But in my heart, I have always had a secret desire to ride the rails all across the country. I think the sound and the motion are something you feel deep inside you. It is that unmitigated desire to be out of control of your destiny and being forced to mingle your ideas with the people trapped on the train with you. I have had several trips on the highway where me and my travel partners have roughed it roadside, slept in U-Haul trailers, in soccer fields, and even a few sleep and dash campground events. I think the trip that has always stayed with me was when I was ten years old. My father and I were newly reunited and he wanted to take me to Washington DC for Memorial Day and show me the wall. This was significant for him being a Marine during Viet Nam and he wanted to show me that brotherhood first hand and relate to me the sheer number of men that died. We took a Greyhound there and he had made no plans for hotels or anything. He made the trip as if it was just him and he was used to roughing it. We got off the bus, which was not let off downtown, and it was a torrential spring downpour. We walked for miles and stopped at every hotel along the way, and all were full. Some of the clerks let us sleep upright on the couch awhile to stay out of the rain, while others kicked us to the curb like we were vagrants. In the end, I slept that night on a park bench in front of the White House. It was the last thing I saw before I went to bed and the first thing I saw when I woke up and it shaped the way I looked at this world. It changed everything and it embossed that genetic wanderlust into my core being.