Rusty Truck: Tell me what inspired your passion with the letterpress and publishing? When did BOSP begin and what who was the first writer you published?
Bill Roberts: I started the Bottle of Smoke Press in 2002. I had seen some of the amazing letterpress work from Johnny Brewton and Jim Camp, among others. I love the idea of printing the way that it has been done for 500 years. Every letter counts. It is very labor intensive, but well worth it. The first writer that I published was A.D. Winans. I contacted him through my friend Gary Aposhian and he agreed to let me publish some of his poetry. The book whispers from hell became our first release. Since then, we have published two more chapbooks and several broadsides and other single poem projects.
Rusty Truck: You have published some great poets–who or what stands out in your mind?
Bill: I have published not only some great, well known poets like Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, A.D. Winans, Gerald Locklin & Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but have also published some amazing under-known poets. Great poetry needs to be supported. There is something really special about reading great poetry from a poet who is not widely known and being able to publish them in a broadside or book.
Rusty Truck: How many different books or chaps are you able to publish in an average year.
Bill: It depends on my work schedule. Like most in the small press, I have a day job that (almost) pays the bills. I publish at least 6 books, plus a lot of smaller broadsides, or other single poem projects. Many of these items are given to friends of the press or sent with other orders. I love the idea of printing poetry and giving it away. Of course, I sell the full length books and try to sell them at a price that is fair yet lets me afford to do the next project.
Rusty Truck: How do you know when it’s right?
Bill: It is never 100% right. I always look at my older releases and wish that I had used a different font or wished that I had printed a border in a different color, etc. I always push myself to try to do better, but know that I am still growing. My releases are getting more involved and I am always proudest of the latest release, so I feel that I am moving in the right direction. If I found myself completely happy with everything that I printed, I would probably lose interest. It is all about the journey, not the destination.
Rusty Truck: In the day when anyone can be a publisher or for that matter a writer, why do you do what you do?
Bill: I publish and print great poetry, yet cannot write even average poetry or prose. It is my way of contributing to an art that I love. Anyone can use MS Word and can publish in their basement. I am glad to see more people doing it. Beginning with the mimeo and up to the current technology, great results can be obtained through desktop publishing in your basement. I wish that more people would join in on the fun and start their own press. I publish because I love the writing and feel that it needs to be printed and published. The major publishers publish very little poetry. It falls to the small press publishers to keep great writers from writing into a void. I print many of my broadsides and some books letterpress on an antique Chandler & Price press from 1914. This press weighs 1200 lbs. The press is not what takes up most of the space. My print shop (converted attached garage) contains over 100 cases of lead type, paper cutters, ink, etc. Becoming a letterpress printer requires a commitment of time, money and space.
Rusty Truck: Your latest project, Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine by A.D. Winans, what prompted or led you to undertake a book this size?
Bill: This is the most involved book that I have published to date. I first published A.D. Winans 8 years ago. He was the first poet that I published. I felt that A.D.’s work needed to be published in a best-of collection, but that it needed to be much more substantial than a chapbook. The original plan was for a 200 page book. The book grew to nearly 400 pages and we could have at least doubled the size of the book with great poetry. Many of these great poems have not been published in decades and are only available in long out of print, now rare, short-run chapbooks. This book is being published in two editions: 100 perfect bound paperback copies in letterpress printed dust jacket and 50 signed hard cover copies, ¼ bound in cloth with letterpress printed covers. The prices are $20 for the paper and $40 for the hard cover. The hard cover sold out well in advance of the publication. When the first printing sells out, it is my plan to reprint the paperback for a second printing and would like to keep this in print for as long as Bottle of Smoke Press is operating.