David Wilk interviews publisher and poet Merrill Leffler

December 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

mphotomerrillPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. I’ve talked with many people about how publishing is evolving as our culture is affected by technology within the larger context of changes in civilization and economics.

I’ve broadened the series to include conversations with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing both in the past and into the present. Through these talks, I hope to continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all forms and formats, as change continues to affect our lives.

For the past several years, I’ve been talking to editors and publishers of independent presses about their work, including a number of important literary publishers. Most recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Merrill Leffler, the co-founder and publisher of Dryad Press. Leffler and his publishing program have been fixtures in the Washington, D.C. area poetry and indie press scene, but are by no means local in interests or scope of work.

Merrill and his friend Neil Lehrman published the first issue of Dryad, a small poetry magazine, in 1968. Their journal, like many others in that era, began as a quarterly. After the first several issues, their publication dates became more variable, and in roughly 1975, Dryad evolved into Dryad Press — two issues of the magazine were sent to subscribers as books. In a further evolution over the years Dryad expanded from publishing poetry to include fiction and non-fiction as well.

With almost a half century of self-taught publishing behind him, Merrill Leffler, a writer and poet of some note himself, has much to talk about. In this conversation, we talked about the history of Dryad and its evolution as part of the modern era of independent publishing, as well as poetry, fiction, and much more.

Compared to many other writers and independent press publishers, Leffler has an unusual and singular background. He was trained as a physicist, worked for NASA’s rocket program and was the senior science writer at the University of Maryland Sea Grant Program, where he focused on research involving the biology of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, for a number of years he taught English at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Merrill Leffler has also published three collections of his poetry, most recently a collection called Mark the Music. There’s a great article about him (“Can a poet lose weight by snacking on poems?”) that mentions his role as the Poet Laureate of Takoma Park, Maryland here. And an excellent piece about Dryad and its history by Leffler at a DC area literary website called Splendid Wake.

Leffler is warm, generous, and was a pleasure for me to speak with. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! topbanner1-cdryadwoman

David Wilk talks with Doug Messerli of Green Integer

Messerli-Douglas_Ch-Bernstein_12-10-06_NYC_72dpi Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these Publishing Talks can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Douglas Messerli is an old friend in poetry and publishing – I’ve known him since sometime in the late 1970’s. He’s one of the most prolific writers and publishers I know of, with an encyclopedic mind and a scope of interests that is virtually unmatched (and how much he writes and how well…it is hard for me to fathom how he does so much and is so consistently intelligent and perceptive on so many subjects!)

Although his writing is inevitably interwoven with his publishing work, this conversation is mainly focused on Doug’s efforts over the years as an editor and publisher. So we talked about his first publishing projects, Sun & Moon (magazine and books), La-Bas (magazine) and then his more recent work with the highly prolific Green Integer. It’s a wide ranging conversation reflecting Doug’s broad interests in writing, art, and publishing, and his always deeply engaged intellect.

Doug, his partner Howard Fox, and Green Integer are strongly identified with Los Angeles and the literary and art scene there. But the influence of his work extends worldwide. The level and intensity of engagement with readers, writers and artists reflects an intentional process on Messerli’s part – he invites the reader to participate in every aspect of his creative process, both in writing and in presenting the work of innovative writers and artists across a wide range of aesthetics and backgrounds, generations and geography. That’s why, for a long period of time, Messerli ran a public gallery and salon in Los Angeles to reach beyond publishing, and why Green Integer is so thoroughly digital in its publishing model.

His is a decidedly modern, globally engaged effort that is unmatched in contemporary publishing.

Length alert: this interview is almost exactly an hour long. It went by really fast for me, and I hope you find listening to Doug Messerli as interesting as I did.

The Green Integer website is exceptional. Go there now for an incredible array of interesting, complicated and challenging writing with a deeply international and avant garde focus.

A nice bit of Sun & Moon history here at SUNY Buffalo’s archive.

And a wonderful collection of free PDFs of La-Bas here at the incredibly rich Jacket2 website.

I love Doug’s essay on Bob Brown (a poet I first heard of through Jerry Rothenberg) on a website I recommend visiting right away –Hyperallergenic.

And to extend the conversation further, here is an exceptionally interesting interview published on Harriet, the blog of the Poetry Foundation (which recursively enough is entitled: Republished Douglas Messerli Interview on Green Integer Blog).gi_86

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