Spork Press might be described in the following ways: unprofitable, weird, dusty, DIY, mosquito-ridden, punk-rock, avant-garde. And like other things that thrive in Tucson’s desert heat, they’re tenacious. As the brainchild of bookmaker-cum-writer Drew Burk and poet Richard Siken, Spork was run out of Drew’s home studio for the majority of its 16 year existence. Spork’s old residence just off of 4th avenue was a space crammed with well-used glue jars, ink cans, type-drawers, and David Bowie records. Drew’s pet chickens, each named after Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters, and his elegantly geriatric cat Miss Tuna always napped close by. Now Spork has picked up a few new editors and moved to their first storefront space on 2229 E. Broadway. There they will be expanding their roles in the Tucson arts community and the small press world.
Spork, a publisher of contemporary and experimental poetry and prose, began as a magazine. They released their first issue in 2001. Siken says of Spork’s origins that, “Things that were important to us were the making of the physical object, and being playful and experimental with the materials.” Thus, Spork Issue 1.1 was hand-bound in canvas, with a screenprinted cover design of a wailing baby’s face (done at a friend’s t-shirt shop after-hours). Each subsequent issue was bound differently, used different materials, and boasted a novel design. One issue was made with raw book board and had cut out squares of paintings mounted in the center of the cover. Another had a unique Polaroid photo glued to each magazine. As often happens in the publishing world, Spork fell in love with a few of the authors it published. In an effort to serve their authors better, Spork shifted focus from a print magazine to producing small, letterpressed chapbooks and hosting an online magazine.
Bookbinding at Spork Press might be what one would deem a “labor of love.” The process is all volunteer-based – completed by editors and occasional student interns plucked from the throes of the U of A’s Creative Writing or Graphic Design programs. Those who are familiar with Spork’s books might recognize what has, up until recently, been their signature book design: hand-sewn books with letterpress designs on raw book board. Rather than having neatly trimmed pages, the edges of their chapbooks were sanded down (with a now defunct belt-sander named Sander Monson). Spork’s redesign has them eschewing their old process for another that will drastically change how the bookmaking branch of the press functions. According to Burk, part of this redesign rests in how Spork’s old chapbooks were often received: “People always treat them as cute, artsy objects, rather than books. We want to make things that people recognize immediately as books, not just an art object.”
The new design is still under wraps, but includes a dyad of letterpressed, cloth-bound hardcovers and paperback books made by hand with an in-house paperback machine. This gives Spork the ability to publish higher volumes of books and lengthier books without shipping anything away to off-site printing companies. It also allows them a wider distribution – a move they hope will garner more income for their authors. Spork will continue Sporklet, too: their semi-monthly installment of online poetry and prose. Most importantly, Drew stresses that with these new processes they will “still be able to put [their] hands on the books.”
In addition to producing ephemera, book-designer, DJ, and man-about-town Andrew Shuta makes and mixes cassette tapes for Spork which are currently sold online. Andrew is heavily involved in Tucson’s music and night-life scene, and Spork Press sometimes hosts book and cassette releases at downtown locations such as Club Congress or R-Bar. The Spork storefront will be a space that bridges some of these creative aspects. It will encompass a small press bookstore, a bookbindery, an art supply store (with selectively curated stock), and will carry a small array of records and cassette tapes. They plan to share their shelf space with the likes of Black Ocean, Action Books, Smoking Glue Gun, Birds of Lace, and other small presses who they’re interested in or who might be willing to throw in a book or two. In addition to the sales aspect of their storefront, Spork will act as a venue for literary arts events, a small sci-fi/prose/poetry lending library, a reading and writing space for customers, and will eventually offer bookbinding classes to the general public in their studio space.
Once an old antique store, the storefront certainly resonates with the DIY attitude of Spork. The open floorplan has slowly filled up with hefty wooden shelving units and desks (all built and stained by the blessed hands of Richard Siken himself), a large studio table adorned with metal clamps and wood-handled glue-brushes, reams of paper and cardstock from the French Paper Co., and even a quintessential office plant (rubber, potted). The light from the large windows at the front of the store is softened by hand-sewn canvas curtains, and accents the cracks and blemishes of the stained concrete. The entrance to the space boasts a wall of wood panels – some of which are being transformed into paintings and collages – as well as a Siken-made chandelier overhead. The cherry-on-top is Spork’s hunky 1,000 pound letter press and 2,000 pounds of type, tucked into the edges and corners of the room. Still to-be-bought are couches, an oversized coffee table, and other writing and reading spaces for customers.
The folks at Spork don’t have a set date for a soft or grand-opening quite yet, but they hope it will be within the next few months. They would like to fully stock their shelves with small press titles and restock their own supply of books before they open to the public. Shuta, Burk, Siken, long-distance editor Jake Levine, sometimes editor Joel Smith, and one of the newest editors, Sally Roundhouse, are all preparing for Spork’s re-opening in various ways and on their own time. Siken has complete faith that Spork Press’s newest transformation will be a successful one: “Put a bunch of creative people in a room full of materials and something always happens.”
Image credits: Richard Siken