Chapbooks and zines from Porkbelly Press arrive tied in pastry string with a handwritten note from the editors thanking you for supporting small presses. The chapbook I purchased — Blood Knot by Suzanne Rogier — evokes a similar handmade detail, both in the object and the poems they contained. I spoke with Porkbelly publisher Nicci Mechler about the press and its creations.
What inspired you to start the press? Is there a story behind the name?
Porkbelly Press came a year after our literary magazine, Sugared Water. I’d worked on lit mags for years, and produced zines, and my chapbook collection was growing. It seemed a natural progression to try out a chapbook line, to use my book arts and love of lit to craft some beautiful chaps. Porkbelly exists to boost the signal.
We make our home in Cincinnati, Ohio, not too far from the banks of a pretty fantastic river. Back in the days when the fathom was where it’s at, and people yelled stuff like, “by the mark twain!” (even Mark Twain himself), our architecturally-gorgeous (and besotted of beer) little burg ferried out a whole heap pork belly. We were big on pig. You can still see the evidence in 1) the city’s consumption of breakfast sausages (like goetta), and 2) the pig art and statuary all around town.
Naturally, we took that delicious callback to days gone by and smashed it into a press name; pork belly became Porkbelly and a press was born. In the words of one delightful Irishman, our “rather portly winged pig [is] a symbol of hope if I ever saw one.” Well, yes. Hope and bacon. (No bacon is harmed in the production of these chapbooks.)
How did you and the other people behind Porkbelly connect with one another?
Sugared Water, the lit mag under Porkbelly’s umbrella, is staffed (primarily) by folks I met in grad school. We occasionally accept applications for readers, and have worked with strangers who write passionately about loving language. Porkbelly’s other ventures are generally my work, though I usually have a reading assistant for Love Me Love, My Belly, and the chapbook and micro chapbook lines. Both of the women who’ve helped with those are Sugared Water staffers as well (fiction editor Lauren Magee and poetry editor Ashley Blake).
Tell me a little about the process of making your chapbooks. What does it mean when you say that your chaps are small and open edition?
Small editions are limited to a run of anywhere between 50 and 200 (these numbers are our choice, and not a standardized definition). They’re numbered. Open edition chapbooks have no set print run.
How would you describe your press’s overall aesthetic? What do you look for in potential poets and authors?
Our visual aesthetic leans toward showing the hand of the artist. We favor hand-drawn and painted covers, screen prints, and the occasional evocative photograph.
When we’re choosing our line of chapbooks, we look for intimate voice, sense of place, a little magic or myth or fable, and lean most heavily toward image-rich work. We encourage participation from all experience levels, and delight in discovering new voices, or publishing first chapbooks. We’re looking for works that are tightly linked, and in some way tell us a story the whole way through.
Our line is primarily made up of poetry, with some fiction and creative nonfiction mixed in, and we’re always on the lookout for more. (We receive perhaps three to four times the poetry submissions of any other genre.)
You describe yourself as a queer-friendly, feminist press open to all. How do you define these terms?
We welcome work from writers and poets all along the identity spectrum (so long as there is no hate speech). Our press is a safe space for gay, trans, lesbian, bi, gender-queer, questioning, straight, intersex, asexual—basically everyone listed there and anyone left out of various acronyms.
We’re feminists here. We support equal rights (all rights) for women and men and gender-queer persons. Inclusion of “feminist” in our guidelines also serves to scare away misogynists. Some are pretty persistent, but we do what we can to offer a vibrant, safe circle for the voices we find captivating. We have your back, storytellers.
Learn more about Porkbelly and Sugared Water here: