Write a bio about yourself.
I like the bio used by Červená Barva Press:
Gian Lombardo is father to Carlo, son to Santo, and a middling winemaker. He also makes books, students and prose poems - not
necessarily in that order and not necessarily simultaneously.
Other than that, the "official" bio:
Gian Lombardo is Publisher-in-Residence in the Writing, Literature & Publishing Department at Emerson College, where he
teaches courses on book and magazine publishing. He is also Coordinator of Emerson College's graduate Certificate in Publishing program.
Gian has had over 25 years of experience in a wide range of publishing environments -- trade, association, literary and consumer magazines
as well as professional, literary and textbook publishing. He has provided these publishers with editing, design, production and
project management services and consulting on a freelance basis. His clients have included Reed Business Information,
Ploughshares, Agni, Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston Society of Civil Engineers and Transitions Abroad. He is also the author of
Between Islands, a collection of poems and verse translations (Dolphin-Moon Press, 1984);
and three collections of prose poetry -- Standing Room, Sky Open Again (Dolphin-Moon Press, 1989 & 1997) and Of All the Corners to Forget
(Meeting Eyes Bindery, 2004). His translation of the first half of Aloysius Bertrand's Gaspard de la nuit was published in 2000, and a
translation of Eugène Savitzkaya's Les règles de solitude in 2004. Gian also directs Quale Press, which publishes both literary and
technology-oriented works. He has a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Trinity College and an M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University.
Describe the room you write in.
Third floor in a 19th century brick building. My window overlooks greater downtown Florence, a bustling part of Northampton, and in
particular my window overlooks the Miss Florence Diner. Inside, it's all brick walls. Brown rug with almost every inch covered with
piles of paper and books. Tables strewn with Zip disks and CDs. Near my chair a sculpture formed by my son from a half-dozen cardboard
boxes and yards of scotch tape. If I'm lucky, the construction crew in the other part of the building is not working building luxury
residential condos in the hall where Sojourner Truth once spoke. Much dust from the construction layers over the many piles of papers.
Right now I can see a large swath of blue from the window and can hear hammering and the whine of a circular saw.
Of All The Corners To Forget is your newest book to come out (in December 2004). Please talk about this book. How long did it take you to write?
I think it took about two years to write. My memory gets hazy on these things. There's no point where I consciously started
work on this book but somewhere along the line I stopped writing long enough to see if I had enough material to put into a collection.
When I write I at least want each new collection to do or be something different (stylistically or content-wise) from the others.
I had finished a collection called Who Lets Go First. Those prose poems were based on the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination.
The pieces in there reflected me thinking on each particular hexagram, coming up with an image and then running with it narratively.
That book was the first book I'd done that has some sort of thematic and formal unity. But that book got done about 6 years ago and has
been waiting for its publisher to publish it. For the next book, Of All The Corners To Forget, I wanted to free the language up, move
away from narrative and the normative expectations of the prose poem. I just wanted to play again and also to keep the writing from
getting boring to myself. Too much has been made of poets needing to find their voice. My feeling is once they do, they sink into
that rut and in the end cease saying anything of worth. Sort of like a ventriloquist finding a voice for his/her dummy. Pessoa
(and his many manifestations) is the model I'd like to live up to. Don't get boxed into saying (or writing or looking at) things one way.
Mix it up. Learn. Challenge yourself. Don't end up being an old fart too self-conscious of being the image of a writer, or one particular
type of writer. I'd rather try something (even if it's tiny) different with each book. Not to play it safe. It's better to take a chance
and to fail than to do the same-old same-old (or end up being your own dummy).
Discuss why you like writing prose as to other forms of writing?
It seems as natural to me to write poems in prose as it does to breathe. At this point, it makes absolutely no sense to
waste time thinking about where to break lines. I just like constructing writing on the basis of using the sentence and
paragraph as organizational (formal) means. I'm just not interested in verse per se. I'd rather explore the possibilities
of poetry written in prose and to explore the possibilities of the sentence - syntax, rhythm, structure.
Where do you find writing inspiration?
Everything. For me, it's not a measure of inspiration. I can't conceive of living without writing, nor more so than I can
conceive of life without my wife or my son. Living, in itself, is enough. But more than living - it's looking, truly trying
to see as best you can.
What is the strangest thing you've done to find writing material?
Live. (I really don't want to quote the Grateful Dead here, but if something in specific floats up into your consciousness
here about this, I wouldn't deny it…)
What are you working on now?
I'm altogether working on too much. Grandiose dreams and big projects. I've got one collection of prose poems that's about
half done. It contains one section that's an abcedarium. Another section of that book I'm working on now contains pieces
that are based on larger texts that have been out in the world for a spell. For example, the piece published by Červená Barva Press
in a postcard ("The Demarcation of Indigence") is found text from the Declaration of Independence. Other pieces in the series
are from such texts as Darwin's Origin of Species, Tom Paine's Common Sense, Marx & Engel's Communist Manifesto, etc. I extract
words and phrases from the source text and play with them and off them. One person who has read pieces from the abcedarium and
the "found text" sequence says that it feels like I'm making English sound like a foreign language. I'm pretty happy with that
characterization. Many politicians are adept at making English sound like a foreign language, why not me (especially since I harbor
a latent desire to enter the political realm)?
Another project - also half done - is a prose poem sequence in the voice of a 19th century engineer who designed and built
a dam that failed and killed over a hundred people. He wrestles with his guilt and his love of science and progress.
His guilt makes him see the ghosts of the people who died in the flood, one of whom in particular he starts conversing with.
I sort of latched onto that because it's based in a true event (the Williamsburg, Massachusetts, flood killed over 150 people in 1874).
The stream that was dammed runs through my land (the dam was about three-quarters of a mile downstream).
Yet another project is working on a translation of Michel Delville's (a French-speaking Belgian writer) book of poetry/prose poetry
Troisieme corps (Third Body). That, I'm glad to say, is over half done. Plus two other translation projects also
half done - to finish off Le centaur part of Maurice DeGuerin's La bacchante & le centaur and to complete the translation
of an ancient Greek poet named Archestratos, who wrote an epic poem on the culinary arts (of which only 300 or so lines remain).
Yeah, and I've only half finished translating Aloysius Bertrand's Gaspard de la nuit.
These are the major fragments of work being worked on and reflect some of the larger piles of paper on my office floor.
There are numerous other projects that haven't reached this far yet. So many ideas, so little time…
It kind of makes sense to me that I have so many half-done projects lying around since I'm more or less half-baked…
When and why did you start Quale Press? How many titles do you publish a year? How do you find authors? You also provide services for publishing at Quale Press. Please talk about that some.
The old geezer in me is talking now. I've been working in publishing for over a quarter century, and for the last twenty years or
so as a "freelancer" - on my own. Quale Press is an outgrowth of my career in publishing. After too many years working for other
publishers putting out their magazines and books, I wanted to do something that had my "imprint" (sorry for the pun) on it. So
in 1997 I launched Quale Press (and the name does NOT rhyme with a former vice president's name but is pronounced kwa-lay) to
start publishing a small literary magazine devoted to prose poetry called key satch(el). In my efforts to disseminate linguistic
confusion, the name of the magazine is a phonetic rendition of a favorite Italian phrase of mine, "Qui saccia?" which means
"Who knows?" (It's an idiomatic phrase and can be used to respond, for example, to the question "Does the bus stop here?"
when you are standing in front of a bus stop sign. The person answering might reply "Qui saccia?" and it could be interpreted
on many levels - the first being absurd and sarcastic - of course it stops here, that's what the sign is for - and another also
absurd but now fatalistic - of course it stops here, but then the driver might forget and drive right by - or absurd and
philosophical - of course it stops here, we're all in the same bus - and so course. Forgive me for this tangent.) Of course,
to be difficult, the "el" is silent (which is why it's in parentheses). I published that quarterly for three years and stopped
after getting frustrated. Initially, I wanted the reach and scope of key satch(el) to be broad, to encompass mainstream-type
prose poetry as well as avant-garde or language prose poetry. But I found people to be too sectarian in their aesthetics and
gave up. But I still had the desire to publish work so I started a chapbook series called edition key satch(el) - an outgrowth
of the magazine but focusing more on individual writers. I did this for another three years. At that point I found myself wanting
to publish longer works. So I disbanded the series and started acquiring titles. In 2004 I published 5 titles and the goal is
to publish 5 books a year until I die or go bankrupt or both. Mostly prose poetry but whatever interests me. This was possible
because of what's called print-on-demand, which is basically employing a digital press (a glorified laser printer/photocopying machine)
and printing books as they are ordered. For literary works that sell less than 1000 copies over their lifetimes, this is the way to go.
It also pisses the hell out of me that most of the book publishing industry has little accurate perception of POD technology. Since some
vanity presses (like Author House) use POD to physically create the books, they equate any book produced by POD as vanity publications.
It's as facile an analogy as saying that all publishers that use sheet-fed offset presses to physically print books are vanity presses.
I'm also almost insanely pissed (think Network outrage) at the current state of literary publishing. When I first started writing
over 30 years ago, there were only a few book contests. The Yale Series of Younger Poets and the National Poetry Series come to mind.
Winning one of those contests then meant something. Now every small literary press has its own publication contest and these presses
receive a good deal of funding from charging writers a "reading" (or entry or handling or whatever their euphemism is) fee to have
their manuscript read. There are literally hundreds of these competitions and, to me, these "prizes" have little value. On top of that,
I view the practice of charging writers to read (or handle or whatever) their work as being one of the most reprehensible practices
on earth. Too many poets have too hard a time scraping together a living - charging them to "read" their work is a slap in their face.
Desktop publishing is great in that it allows anyone to become a publisher, but the problem is that too many people these days become
a publisher without an inherent consciousness of what it means to be a publisher. Also, it's an impossible task to hold an impartial
and ethical contest. Teachers will pick student work. Friends will favor friends. I know too many stories of the connections between
judge and recipient. In itself, the foetry.com website (despite its often immature and ill-thought actions) performed a necessary
service. You should have read the congratulatory glee that occurred on a small publisher's listserv when the owner of foetry.com was
outed. It is very disheartening that most of these publishers have an almost born-again religiosity to their adherence to contests
and reading fees and it's equally disheartening that they are unequivocally blind that that charging these fees is an innately unethical
practice. Sure, I know without raising money through these fees these presses couldn't publish work, but that still doesn't solve the
problem of how (and who) to sell these books. I'm also not a fan of editing by committee - either directly by a "panel" or indirectly
through rotating judges through each contest sequence. I started my own press, and I'm sinking my own money (which should go to my son's
college fund and my retirement fund) into my press. And since I'm footing the bill, I'd sooner die than delegate the task of selecting
a book for my list to someone else. I publish books that I believe in one way or another. At the moment, I don't have the time and
resources to read unsolicited work. Maybe that will change in the future (say if I win the lottery). Instead, I read as much as I can.
I look for work that I like and go after the author (a don't-call-us-we'll-call-you mentality). I don't profess to be fair. It's
not a contest. I do publish friends (& possibly family). I'm open to recommendations from others. I look for material that other
publishers might not take a chance on.
I'll stop my rant on the current literary publishing scene. Sorry.
Quale Press offers other magazine and book publishers project management, training, editing, rewriting, copyediting,
proofreading, design and production services. We have reduced rates for non-profits. It helps pay the bills.
You currently teach Book Publishing, Magazine Publishing, Copy Editing, and Desktop Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Talk about your classes there. How long have you been teaching there?
I've been teaching at Emerson for five years now. I love sitting in a classroom trying to get students as fired up about
publishing as I am. It's exciting trying to train the next generation of editors and publishers. I try to challenge them to
be up to the task of giving us the best information to base our own decisions on - whether it's political, social,
professional, etc. The public is only as good as the information it receives (garbage in/garbage out).
What is your biggest challenge as a writer? As an editor?
My biggest challenge as a writer is to always keep my head in the game. To always be hungry and curious and not satisfied.
Not just to go through the motions. Same goes for editor, except maybe to add in to always try to piss people off (or at
least get them thinking). Worst thing for me is to be that tree that falls in the woods and that no one hears.
When I decided to start Červená Barva Press, you were so kind and supportive answering my many questions. A huge thank you!!!!!
My last question to you is how do you find time to do everything? It is so important to have a balance in life. What's your secret?
Everything doesn't get done (witness all those piles). Every day chew off a little more and hope it stays down.
You get done what you get done. You get to know what you can't live without - whether it's writing or eating or f***ing
or going for a hike with your son or paddling a kayak for hours on end.
I don't think I've gotten there - balance in life - yet (maybe that's a good definition of death - where everything is in balance).
I think the secret, though, is in trying. You might not achieve balance but you know it's out there somewhere. Just gotta find it.
Know that perfection doesn't exist but that improvement does.
I think I'm done now because I think I've overused the word particular just too god***n many times in this interview.