Interview from 2008


originally published by What to Wear During an Orange Alert

Michele McDannold

For several weeks, maybe months, I have been asking a question regarding the marketablitity of poetry. The responses have been varied, but the main focus has been on individuality, both personally and in product. The few remaining poetry fans out there are not looking for a simply photo copy cover wrapped around a collection of poems that are poorly printed and also found on-line. They want something new, something that they can treasurer, something that they have never seen before, and that is what Rural Messenger Press is delivering. Whether is it is DIY packaging and pop rocks or cds and matchbook poems, Michele McDannold is changing the way the small press deliveries poetry one mailer at a time.

Michele is not only a publisher, she is also an editor for the on-line literary journal Red Fez, and mighty fine poet. She recently took some time out to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): What was the inspiration behind starting Rural Messengers Press?
Michele McDannold (MM): Can of worms, there. 50/50. Half makes best sense to me in a Summer wrapped up in strings, theories, blue lights, something about garage sales. The summer before I started RMP, I spent my Saturday mornings hitting the garage sales. After a bit, I started to notice how lots of people had their own little theme of things going on at their sale. It was cute. I imagined what people were like or what it was that drove them to collect and then to get rid of their prized possessions. Me, I like a little bit of everything. I collected all these little trinkets that summer, cost only a buck or two a piece, and lined them up on a shelf in my office. How does one thing connect to the next? This was only the very beginning of what started months of work that became String Theory, the first piece of RMP.

The other half is all about the writers and publishers I have come across since I started submitting my work for publication. From the moment I started placing my own work, it has been a total joyride. Books, I otherwise would never have been exposed to, landed on my doorstep. They were either extremely ‘on the cheap’ or ‘free of charge’. Zines, CDs, broadsides, chapbooks … the list goes on and on.

When I received the back issues and subscription of Instant Pussy from Misti Rainwater-Lites for a mere 10 bucks, I knew these were something to hang onto. Not only because they were fucking hot! but because she was breaking rules and doing it well. Leopold McGinnis sent me a Funky French Fold (reg. $1) as an insert to his novella The Red Fez. It flipped me out. How did he get so much on one sheet of paper and why didn’t I think of that? I wanted in on the action. I suppose it’s the same thing that has been going on in literary movements forever and ever and ever. We inspire each other to create. What I wanted to do with Rural Messengers Press was challenge myself with each project to create in a way I had not created before, communicate with other artists and share their work in a way pleasing to both the artist and the reader.

OA: Your work with RMP is really inventive, specifically when it comes to packaging and presentation. What has the response been like?
MM: The response has been great. People like getting things in the mail. They like the individual pieces, but they also really appreciate how the mailers are put together. I love doing what I am doing and I think it shows. When I am putting the Mailers together, I treat it like I’m sending out a gift to a friend. The handmade stuff especially, I think, resonates with people.

OA: You are also an editor for Red Fez an on-line literary journal. How has being an editor changed the way you look at your work?
MM: Being an editor has changed the way I look at publishing. I started off just kind of fumbling around for anything. I had to ask myself, did it matter … Where, when and why.

You can play the numbers game. Send your poems out to every online and print zine in the universe. Someone will publish them. So fucking what? What does that prove? You know how to hit send and lick a stamp. woo-hoo! I don’t want to go down like that. I want to be happy with what I’m doing. That is not to say what I’m doing is better. It works for me.

OA: You have already made great strides in this area, but what do you think the small press and the small press poet need to do to make poetry more marketable?
MM: Stop looking to each other for approval. If the small press poet only knows what other small press poets know … what’s the point? Also, I think a blending of mediums is very important if the poet is going to gain the attention of the next generation, besides the sheer point of accessibility.

OA: With all that you do for the small press, how much time do you dedicate to your own writing each day?
MM: The real answer doesn’t exactly matter. I mean, despite what I am doing… there is the guilt. I feel as if I am stealing time from something else. If I’m writing, I should be reading, editing. If I’m doing that, I really should be making something – print lovelies, w/ my hands so I can go oohh… ahh… that’s the ticket. and, if I’m tooling around w/ paper and ribbon, I really should be playing w/ my kids and I probably called off work again and am about to get fired even as I write this– scrunched up between files. I should be working. But, that would just suck. I do the writing whenever and however it calls me to it and so sometimes I end up w/ poems on napkins or envelopes. I think that’s probably typical of a working mother/writer/editor…

OA: What is next for Michele McDannold, RMP, and Red Fez?
MM: Michele is finally going to put her poems together in a chapbook. If somebody wants to print it, that would be way cool. RMP will release another poster. This time, by another Illinois native, FN Wright. Small world, yeah? I also had about 50 of those groovoid mini-cds leftover from Aleathia Drehmer’s reading of Rosewater. Those will go out to some extra lucky readers of my fave print journal, Zygote in my Coffee. Beyond that, it’s all hush hush. I can only promise you, it’ll be something out of the ordinary. 

You should really watch out for Red Fez. Honestly, I am never sure what is coming next. Nobius Black, Rob Taylor, Chris Deal and, of course Leopold McGinnis … these guys are crazy! I’m outnumbered and suspect mutiny at any moment. For now, we’ve decided to open the publishing schedule to “whenever it is full.” So, we’re just looking for the good stuff and then we’ll update. There’s also been talk of a print “best of red fez”. but, Please! don’t tell the other editors I told you that.

Bonus Questions:
: Coffee, if yes what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
MM: Coffee, is a must. I like flavored Irish Creme coffee but usually end up with Folgers. I’m not much for coffee shops and such, especially now that Illinois has passed the No Smoking Law.

OA: Some feel music and poetry are closely related. What type of music do you enjoy? Does music ever affect your work in anyway?
MM: I love all kinds of music. Rock, alternative rock, grunge. I guess those are my favorite. I go through phases though and it can be all country or showtunes or something. Music most definitely has influenced my work. The Cherry Bomb Postcard from the first RMP mailer was all Joan Jett.