Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It's not often I encounter a handmade, small press book printed, hand-stitched and bound in multiple signatures like those Micah Robbins has produced under the mantle of his Interbirth imprint. The books are exquisitely built with a measure of care and patience comparable to his facility as editor / curator.

Robbins presently has three titles available: David Hadbawnik's Ovid in Exile, Mary Burger's A Partial Handbook for Navigators and Inter 01: Poetry, Prose Plays and Prints. The last of the three is the first anthology in an ongoing series containing work published monthly at the Interbirth site. Each month Robbins features a single author. Some months back—maybe even a year ago now—I had the good fortune of being included in the project and have a few poems appearing alongside an impressive cast of poets and artists. Contributors include: David Hadbawnik, Erin Pringle, Hoa Nguyen, Clifton Riley, Sharon Yablon, Amy Trachtenburg, Mary Burger, Kyle Schlesinger, Christian Peet, Lauren Dixen and Francis Raven.

Robbins curatorial sensibility is something to behold, the juxtaposition of one contributor against another giving rise to otherwise unanticipated formations. His ability to situate work so that certain aspects or particular readings are foregrounded discloses the extent to which editing is a highly interpretive practice. The hand of an editor—like the market—is neither invisible nor disinterested.

This inaugural installment of the Inter series includes an epigraph from Gary Snyder that tells us, at the very least, the source of the imprint's title:

It may well be that rebirth (or interbirth, for we are actually mutually creating each other and all things while living) is the objective fact of existence which we have not yet brought into conscious knowledge and practice.

The seven signatures of Inter 01 are bound in a Long Stitch between two handmade coversheets. Unfortunately only 26 were produced and I imagine most if not all are gone. The two earlier titles brought out by Robbins in editions of 100 (Hadbawnik's Ovid and Burger's Handbook) were both bound in bookboard using a coptic stitch and both are still available.

I'm not sure exactly how to think it, but there's a poetics of struggle, excess or exhaustion in Robbins' approach to editing and bookmaking. Each project seems to exceed any number of limits (labor, strength, material and possibly financial resources, etc). There's also an ethics at play in Robbins' work. The cost for each title ranges between $15.00 and $25.00 dollars—figures which clearly fail to include the hours of labor invested in reading, editing, making (I recall now the itemization of labor in Robert Duncan's prospectus for Groundwork, that he recognized the work of the poet as a form of labor that one should be able to live by).

Editing and publishing. I wish there were a single word, a single concept that would allow for thinking these practices as part of a larger single practice. No one concept allows for imagining editing, criticism, paper-making, printing, binding, distribution, etc as part of a single practice yet for many of us these activities are each part of a single but unnameable activity. Anna Moschovakis, Matvei Yankelevich and others at Ugly Duckling Presse refer to their role in editing/bookmaking as "shepherding"—a concept that seems, on one hand, to minimize their role in bringing a book out and, on the other, to allow for the inclusion of activities that fall outside the rubric of editing or publishing. Diminishing the role of an editor/maker is troubling for me, but making a gesture toward a more flexible and inclusive concept, one that addresses precisely what small press publishers do, is crucial. Either way, I can't imagine a single word that adequately addresses what Robbins does. Shepherding comes close.