I’ve been thinking about what Chax Press is, in part in reaction to a friend’s comments that funders these days don’t much like to fund organizations that are essentially individuals’ visions.
Chax, to me is a site of literary practice that includes several practices within. It certainly includes my own literary practice as a poet and essayist, and in some ways defines and hones that work, and that work (my work) helps to hone Chax’s concerns. But Chax also is an enabling site, furthering the visions of others in a way that is based on Chax’s selection, but is not based on my own vision as much as my trust in the visions of many others — basically all the writers we have published, all the book artists with whom we have collaborated, and all the community partners with whom we have made work, made events, made things happen. I hope the press stays well enough defined so as to make sense, but, in a way, just barely, i.e. that the various practices within Chax Press have a pull that stretches our edges and the edges of the community of poetics in which we practice.
I believe we have stretched the edges of the practices around us. Locally, I have noticed that, for example, the hybridity practiced by many Chax poets, including Gil Ott, Bev Dahlen, myself and others, is currently being celebrated by the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Prose Series. Rae Armantrout, a friend and writer Chax has published and supported for nearly three decades, who is about to be a featured poet at this coming spring’s Tucson Festival of Books, and who has appeared to large crowds at the University of Arizona in the last decade, is a poet Chax brought to Tucson a full decade before other organizations here started to take note of her brilliant and insightful practice. I could cite several other specific examples of ways in which we paved a route locally for a wider conception of what constitutes the poetry of our time. But mostly Chax looks ahead, and is satisfied to keep on working in territory that both stretches our own boundaries and honors what we have done in the past.
Finally, a word about community. The engagement of a press and of individual poets is an engagement with others. Once a poem is written, even moreso when it is published, it becomes a part of a sea, a “pushing water” if you will, of work that has existed since poets began writing or orating or carving letters on stone. The totality of such work is our ultimate community, transecting every day (and with every book) the more temporal communities in which we, our writers, and our readers work. So a way into a Chax book is hopefully a way into a deep engagement with what poetry has meant and might ever mean.