Kristy Bowen is a talented poet, visual artist, and editor, and is dedicated to supporting the work of other women poets and artists.
12th Street: What was your inspiration for dancing girl press?
Kristy Bowen: As far as the name goes, I have this huge poster of a can-can dancer in my apartment, and one day I was lying on my bed, hatching vague plans for a chapbook press, and it occurred to me that might be a fun name. I sort of like the whole notion of “dancing girls”—ballerinas, can-can girls, strippers, burlesque performers—as sexual/erotic object and subject, male gaze vs. reality, a nod to the feminist issues therein. I had been running the online zine, wicked alice, for a few years at that point, publishing writing mostly by women, and decided to join the upswell of small indie presses that was growing at that time. I also saw a huge divide between more traditionally oriented small presses and more experimental ones, but somehow felt that even my own work fell somewhere in the middle—lyric yet innovative, narrative yet not linear. If anything, that description sort of defines our aesthetic.
As for the nuts and bolts of starting it, about six months after coming up with the concept, I decided, spurred by a small press publishing class I was taking at the time, to do a trial run and publish one of my own chaps. I’d been looking over the chapbook selection at Quimby’s bookstore in Wicker Park [in Chicago] and thought, “Hey, I can do this.” All it took was a printer, a big stapler, and some cover stock and I had a book. We published our first official title (by someone other than me) the next fall, and it just grew from there. Granted, we have a better printer these days, a better trimmer, and the studio space now instead of my dining room, but it’s still the same bare-bones operation.
12th Street: You’ve written about Joseph Cornell (At the Hotel Andromeda); you’ve published Maggie Ginestra’s Deep in the Safe House: Ten Poems After Henry Darger; you run an online shop, Dulcet, that sells beautiful vintage accessories and ephemera; and your studio is across the street from the Art Institute! How do the visual arts inform/invade your work as a writer and editor? Do you think of what you do as little individual projects, or does everything fall under an umbrella of ART?
KB: I think these days, especially since I’ve been wearing so many hats, everything does sort of get lumped in under “art” since I’m in the midst of a lot of visually oriented projects that also involve written work—altered books, some collages with poetry, etc.…I’m also interested in the whole “art” vs. “craft” issue, how we experience each differently or how they appeal to different parts of the brain. Even things that aren’t traditionally considered high art, like fashion and jewelry-making. And this, as well, is all wrapped up in gender considerations, the things which were once dismissed as women’s art forms, like textiles and embroidery, vs. more historically male arts like sculpture and architecture.
I initially started to make some tentative forays into visual art and book arts about five years ago, which has also gone hand in hand with designing a lot of our chapbook covers, so it’s sort of a self-education in that respect. Because I like making things with my hands whenever I need a break from working with my head and writing, I love working with more tactile elements like paper, beads, wire, and fabric. And those things, in turn, give us a little extra cash when it comes to paying for the studio space, so it works out very well. And since I work at Columbia College, where I am surrounded by people in just about every art form, as well as the studio space, where my neighbors are composers and painters, it all sort of filters in….
12th Street: What have you been reading?
KB: On the bus over the last week or so, I’ve been reading non-fiction: Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry by Susan Barash, which has a lot to say about relationships between women, both personal and professional, in terms of destructive competition. Poetry-wise, I just finished Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life and Sun Yung Shin’s Skirt Full of Black. Otherwise, we’re in the thick of reading for next season’s dancing girl line-up, so it’s been a lot of manuscripts. I’m looking forward to getting my hands very shortly on Kathleen Rooney’s Oneiromance: An Epithalmion and Rebecca Loudon’s Cadaver Dogs.
12th Street: You began your online zine wicked alice in 2001, which is really early for an online journal! How has the world of Internet publishing changed since you entered, and to what do you attribute your staying power?
KB: There seems to be so many journals sprouting up out there, which is exciting, yet so many die out after a couple of issues. In 2001, when we started publishing, blogs and things like Myspace and Facebook were barely in their infancy, and people weren’t quite as connected to each other as they are now. When I first started submitting work when I was 19 (1993), you were pretty much sending poems out into the great unknown to a mailing address and a faceless editor. Now, the literary world is much smaller. People blog. Editors are accessible with the click of a button; you can even submit work with the click of a button. I’ve seen a lot of online magazines sort of dissolve when the people working on them decide they just don’t want to work on them anymore, and/or someone moves on to other projects. Some journals seem like a good idea for a few issues, then the editors sort of let them fall by the wayside, or decide they don’t want to work with each other anymore. We’ve probably survived this long only because I’m a total control freak so there’s no one to fight with.
12th Street: I’m from Chicago. I love Chicago. From what I gather, you, too, love Chicago. Can you talk about what role place plays in your writing? And what it’s like to be a part of the Chicago literary scene? Would you say there’s a certain Chicago style of poetics happening right now—even, specifically, among Chicago’s women poets?
KB: A few years ago, someone noted the ridiculously frequent occurrence of the color blue in my work, an almost obsessive occurrence, and I realized it was the lake’s influence—a constant, everyday [presence], right there on my bus ride down Lake Shore Drive, in all its various shades and temperaments. It’s sort of a touchstone of sorts, and it apparently invades my poems even subconsciously, as well as the more visual things I create. I also find myself obsessed with city history and architecture, which figures into a lot of my poems, especially a couple of years ago when I was working on a series based on Resurrection Mary and local urban legend. What’s crazy is I find most of my poems taking place in the more rural setting of my childhood, and less in the current one, but that may just be a psychological distance thing.
I don’t think I could say there’s a definite thing that all Chicago poets have in common, and maybe it’s because Chicago seems like the ultimate melting pot, a place where people come to from all over the place, so you have work by poets who now live in Chicago who are influenced by wherever they came from—the South, the rust belt, California. I’ve found the community of women poets amazing, however. Even the books we’ve published all seem very different and unique to each poet. I occasionally see strains of influence from one poet to the next, in terms of mentors and friends, and even in terms of just being immersed in each other’s work by reading their books.
A poet and visual artist, Kristy Bowen runs dancing girl press & studio, which publishes a chapbook series for women poets, produces the online lit zine wicked alice, and hosts an online shop, dulcet, featuring a variety of books, art, paper goods, and random fancies. She is the author of in the bird museum (Dusie Press, 2008) and the fever almanac (Ghost Road Press, 2006) as well as several chapbooks. Her third book, girl show, will be published by Ghost Road Press in late 2009.