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Honest Chapbooks Outta Philly
By The Editors
Robyn Campbell was the first to have faith in founder Christine Sloan Stoddard's chapbook Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares. The chapbook was the budding section of Stoddard's full collection Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duvil, 2018), recently highlighted in the Poetry Foundation's news section. We wanted to give back to the press that played a significant part of the collection's journey.
When & why did you found Semiperfect Press?
Semiperfect Press officially started in late 2016. But before that it was a submission-based zine. I'd always wanted to work in some form of publishing and I've been writing since I was a kid, so I never really questioned that it would be a big part of my life. Over the years I've been a staff member for several different lit mags, but I never imagined I would start a press on my own. In my mid-20s I started playing music and dipped my toes into DIY booking, and I realized I could apply some of those same ideas to hosting readings and getting zine submissions. I was (and still am) surrounded by a lot of really talented and supportive people in my community so I just started saying, "Hey, I'm making a zine! Send me something you wrote!" and it actually worked. After putting out five issues of Semiperfect (the zine), turning it into a press felt like a natural next step. I shifted my focus to poetry specifically and wanted to showcase individual authors. And I love chapbooks! To me, they're like this perfect little morsel of poetry.
What's the deal with the name?
Originally, the name fit the zine. Each piece published in the first several issues was 100 words or less, and I wanted a name that would reflect that word limit; 100 is a semiperfect number, and I thought it sounded great as a title. But even as I let go of the word limit and eventually moved on from the zine altogether, Semiperfect still felt right. To me it's sort of taken on a new meaning over the years, like a glass-half-full, we're-imperfect-but-we're-happy kind of thing.
How many chaps have you published?
So far we've published four chapbooks! The latest is "Slingshot Catapult" by Carrie Meadows, a collection all about small town life and wrestling, which just came out in December.
How do you curate titles for the press?
Initially Semiperfect had rolling submissions, but that got hard to manage pretty quickly. I decided to switch to month-long open reading periods once a year, though as the press grows it'll probably be twice a year. It might sound corny, but honestly I just look for poetry that really hits me. I'm a sucker for descriptive, emotive poetry with lots of metaphors. That being said, one of the coolest things about reading submissions is when you find work that might be out of your comfort zone and you absolutely love it. I'm not interested in ruling too much out when it comes to style this early in the press because, who knows? Maybe someone will send in a chapbook of rhyming couplets and it'll absolutely floor me. I'm open to that. I just prefer that the work feel finished, whatever that may mean, because I only do minor edits to the chaps we publish. I like to let the authors be as involved in the process as they want to be, from choosing the perfect cover art to going over the layout.
As a poet yourself, how do you distinguish your roles as a publisher, editor, and writer?
Really the only separation between my roles as a poet, editor, and publisher is the time I dedicate to each one. Sometimes that fluctuates, and I'll lean more heavily on the press than on my own writing. It's a great way to still feel involved and excited about poetry even when your own work seems elusive or flat-out unappealing. Aside from the wonderful artists who created our cover art and my amazing go-to printer, Semiperfect is a one woman operation, so I have to stay conscious of what needs to get done. But I've always been the kind of person who enjoys having a hand in lots of different projects. Right now I'm working--slowly but surely--on two chapbooks of my own, aside from everything else that I do, so it's all about time management.
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