On Subversive Publishing and “The Tongue-Like Organ of a Bee”
An Interview with Lisa Pearson of Siglio Press
SM: In “On the Small and Contrary,” you write about Siglio Press as an act of resistance “to the literal, the authoritarian and the facile, as the result of an undeterred ambition to share a work of art that might otherwise remain unseen and unread…”. I too often feel dismayed at the flattening effects of mass publishing. Can you tell us a bit more about what it means for Siglio to respond to this climate “one book at a time”?
LP: Siglio belongs to a very vibrant community of small, independent publishing houses that operate outside the mainstream which gives all of us the ability to be idiosyncratic, eccentric even, in our passions as well as our methodologies. It also demands that we are nimble, resourceful, relentlessly inquisitive about how to do things differently—and to very high standards. (There is no lowest common denominator in this alternate universe.)
For Siglio, there is perhaps an even greater degree of idiosyncracy and nimbleness since I actively seek out uncategorizable and unwieldy works. That means the list is eclectic and thus the press has diverse readerships (readers who are interested, say, in John Cage’s chance-operation determined Diary may not be interested in Joe Brainard’s scandalous and funny recontextualizations of the comic strip character Nancy—though there is a small tribe of readers who make the leap from one Siglio book to another). This also means that there is no uniformity of design or format, no significant accumulation of titles in a single genre or category, no single marketing strategy to reapply with every title. I’m breaking the most significant rule of mass publishing simply in my lack of desire to repeat a particular success, but also, I should add, in my trust in “the reader,” her voracious curiosity, her sense of adventure, her own desire to lean into the expanse, into the unknown.
That’s why I am empowered to experiment, to take on the risk and the challenge of advocating for writers and artists I believe in, putting work into world—finding the right form and cultivating an audience for it—that might otherwise be invisible or misread or vastly underappreciated.
SM: In another interview with Artbook you write about the way a book can render a visual artist’s work in an entirely new form. How a book honors the artwork while also embodying a resistance against other book forms that diminish a work’s scale and vision. Can you tell us a little about the process of making a book at Siglio? Do you often partner with artists whose work is entering book form? Or writers who are pairing their texts with design? Are there many makers who produce both their texts and their images?
LP: Most of the artists and writers I publish create hybrid works in which the literary and the visual are absolutely inextricable, but that manifests in extremely different ways. For instance, the artist-poet Robert Seydel created “journal pages” authored by his alter ego Ruth Greisman in A Picture is Always a Book. These are luminescent and startlingly original writings—typed up on paper purloined from old photo albums, adorned with drawings in colored pencils, oil pens, white-out, and ink stamps. If transcribed and typeset (i.e. removed from their physical context), they are still powerful, but their object-ness, the evidence of the “hand” imbues them with further layers of emotional complexity and aesthetic magnetism.