Several weeks ago Laura Carter was kind enough to interview Alex and I for a series running over at Jacket2.org where she spoke to different small presses at varying stages in their development. Be sure to also check out her interview with Action Books, which have published a host of wonderful books in translation. Our interview with Laura is posted in its entirety below.
a. How did you get the name Oomph!?
Dan Beauregard, editor: I think I came up with the name OOMPH! years ago, although right now I'm not entirely sure why, but it sounded like a good name for a press to me. I like the punch it has. We have nothing to do with the German band of the same name, but we like to think we're just as exciting.
Alex Gregor, editor: To be honest, I don't really know. A few years back, Dan and I were up drinking one night on his front porch in Atlanta and he told me that he wanted to start a journal called OOMPH. He explained that it would feature experimental poetry, and he ran inside and brought out a thick stack of paper all stapled together. "Like this," he said. It was a 2013 edition of ANCIENTS. I flipped through it and told him it was a great idea. I had wanted to start a press called PERM PRESS, but I could never really figure out what I wanted to do with it. Anyway, it wasn't until I decided to move to Argentina in 2014 that Dan and I decided to start a transnational poetry journal focused on translation. Naturally, we called it OOMPH!
b. Who started the press, and what do you hope it will eventually be all about?
Dan: I think Alex and I both started it simultaneously. Technically, I started it, but didn't do anything other than design a website. Shortly after I moved to Argentina Alex and I started to get working on some actually content for it. We held a few events and got a chance to translate some really great poets into English that haven't been translated yet.
Alex: Dan and I co-founded the press in Buenos Aires in 2014, and we quickly brought Evan Leed on board as associate editor and translator.
While we try to take everything one day at a time, I want for OOMPH! to usher in as much non-English-language poetry into the English-language-world as possible, in an effort to expand our understanding of poetry, language and culture. Eventually, I'd like for OOMPH! to function as a platform for international poets, translators, publishers and readers to engage in an ongoing exchange across borders. I want to shatter my concept of the "American" poem and encourage our audience to do the same.
c. What do you think poetry's place in the world is, and what does this have to do with international writers?
Dan: Hmm, poetry's place in the world...that's a tough one. For me, poetry is a way to connect with other people and cultures through the use of language. Like language, poetry is malleable and can be used for many different things. I'm most interested in the poetry that allows readers to experience something new, rather than that which maintains the status quo (the white, male-dominated, landscape of contemporary American poetry). I think this has a lot to do with international writers because now more than ever, we have a chance to connect with authors all over the world. There is a large vacuum to fill of work in translation, and a lot of advances in technology have enabled us to build new connections and dissolve old power structures that had stood in the way for years.
Alex: Poetry does what other art forms simply can't. It pushes the envelope---both linguistically and thematically---wherever and whenever it is needed. In an international context, this means that the poetic voice surfaces in different forms based on the cultural climate of the time. This is where it gets interesting---when writers, or readers for that matter, engage with poets and texts from other places, they have the unique opportunity of experiencing a distilled form of that culture---or, at least, how one particular text or poet portrays it.
d. What do you look for in books you publish or hope to publish?
Dan: I'm interested in poetry that creates a new language, either textually or conceptually. I want to be able to present poetry that is difficult for people to understand, stuff they've never seen before because it's very far away from their way of thinking. Of course, much of this is also a selfish endeavor because that's the type of poetry I like to seek out.
Alex: I think Dan and I agree on this---we want to find, translate and publish work that's different. And by different, I mean outside of the "American" and "English" camp of literature. I want to introduce our audience to poetry that they've never heard before; poetry that when you read it, it sounds different, looks different and hits you different.
e. What do you think a poem does, in 100 or fewer words, that makes your light go on or otherwise floors you?
Dan: Typically, the poems I don't like at first are the ones that later end up flooring me, perhaps because there can be such a subtlety involved in great poems that they can be easily overlooked at first glance. I'll often read something that I initially pass off as rather simplistic, or lacking for one reason or another, then find myself thinking about it for days afterwards, only later realizing that the poem is indeed a great poem because it has infected me.
Alex: A poem is just a collection of interconnected lines. They overlap, hang loose and are pulled taut, all at different points. Every now and then, there's a vortex---this is what pulls you in. If a poem appeals to you---in cadence or content---and it triggers a deep feeling to well up inside of you---like mercury inside of a thermometer---that inspires any sort of thought or action, it is a good poem.