L’OIE DE CRAVAN: MONTREAL SMALL PRESS PUBLISHER
a picture of an actual L’oie de cravan and a lovely lady.
Part of being a printer is doing jobs for other people. It is always a pleasure to work with someone like Benoît Chaput from L’Oie de Cravan books. I had the pleasure of typesetting and letterpress printing the covers for a special edition of one of their latest books, “The Words to the Songs of Michael Hurley”, one of Americas great folk singer-songwriters. I went by the L’Oie headquarters for a little tour and chat about the state of the printed word…and here’s a quick overview…You can check out more of their fantastic books at: http://www.oiedecravan.com/ .
K: What is L’oie de Cravan?
B: L’Oie de Cravan is a small publishing house specializing in poetry triggers of all sorts : poetry books but also image books, books of lyrics by musicians such as Mike Watt or Michael Hurley or even an XIX century alcohol recipie book. We work to publish books with an edge and we try to make them so that they feel and look nice, using interresting papers and making each book a different project.
The name “L’Oie de Cravan” comes from a quote by Belgian Surrealist Louis Scutenaire, who was a great friend of René Magritte and my favorite poet. The quote goes ” The Oie de Cravan are born from the rotten masts of ships lost in the gulf of Mexico”. In fact Scutenaire simply took this text from a Medieval bestiary that was describing the “Oie de Cravant” (with a “t” at the end), what is know today as the Brent goose. He transformed the text so that it would look like a reference to boxer and poet Arthur Cravan, a crazy man who was a major inspiration for the dadaist and surrealists. Cravan is believed to have died aboard a ship lost during a storm in the Gulf of Mexico in 1918. The poetry that I publish can be seen as attempt to continue the quest of dadaists and surrealists as well as Cravan’s. Plus, I simply like the name!
K: What was your first book? Why? How?
B: The first book I published was my own “Loin de nos bêtes” (Far from our beasts) in 1992 (20 years ago!) . I was coming back from a trip in Belgium where I actualy had met Irène Hamoir, the widow of Louis Scutenaire.
I had a great time with her and she advised me to publish my stuff myself, to create my own books. I had fun asking artist friends to do illustrations, chosing the paper and so on… but I thought it would be a one shot thing. There a very positive review in Le Devoir paper and people started to send me manuscripts, so I decided to go on.
K: What kinds of books do you look for now to publish?
B: Well, really, I would publish any book that seems to carry some sort of poetry with it, any book that touches me in a different way. Sadly, that is really not that many books.
K: How many books do you put out per year?
B: I limit the publishing to 6 new books a year. More than that and I would not know what i am publishing anymore.
K: Why do you use different printing methods, some books have hand-printed covers? Is this important to your aesthetic?
B: Yes, I think it is important to consider each project independently and try to give it the best form possible for its content. Some books will be better with a very short run done in a handcrafted way (with silkscreen, letterpress or other fine printing), some others require a more “classic” look and a larger print run.
K: How do you fund the production of a book?
B: For many years the money from the sales was simply reinvested into the new books. Without any loss or profit. I prefered not to ask for grants as I had a feeling that grants might come with too many obligations. But, after about 8 years of doing so, I asked for a first grant from the Art Council of Canada. I felt that I already had a course settled that would not be altered by their demands. Ever since, I’ve been receiving grants from them. Every year, about 2/3 of the books I publish are elligible for grants, the rest are books from other countries or in formats that are not recognized by the Art Council. This is a way of keeping a certain freedom from the imposed constraints.
K: Do you see a place for small press publishers in today’s climate? Is it easier? Harder?
B: There is definitively a need for small press. Small press publishers are often where the most interesting things happens. Risks are taken and exploration is part of it. Exploration in form and content that give birth to something that is often more than mere commodity. I don’t know if it is easier, in a technical sense, yes. Computers, printers, everything is easily accessible. But it is hard to find a way to get your publishing known, to get the necessary attention. I think this is possible if you have a community, a group of people with similar interests that will support you.
The ebooks, the blogs, the screen culture, all this might be the good luck of the small publisher still working with inks and papers. Everyone is so focused on their screens that sudenlty the ink world seems like a great alternative, a real alternative.
K: What would be your advice for someone wanting to set up a small publishing house today?
B: Do it! Everything is always possible. The tools are there. It can be quite cheap if you make the right choices. To make a living out of it is almost impossible. In this I have been incredibly lucky. But to simply publish, you just need to feel how vital it is for you , for your world, and you’ll find the means.