Undoubtedly one of the best kept secrets in Cajun Country, Yellow Flag Press is the poetry world’s little engine that could. Steadily climbing the literary heights with such ringers as Darrel Bourque, the new (appointed by me) Emperor of Creole-dom and former Louisiana Poet Laureate and the very highly praised Amy Watkins, YFP is quickly becoming one the small press darlings to know.
I was lucky enough to obtain two of their titles recently (including the latest from Bourque) for a second Louisiana poetry roundup that will run later this month at Sabotage Reviews (UK).
Besides graciously providing these gorgeous, handmade gems, Editor J. Bruce Fuller also shared his thoughts on everything from current poetry trends to his literary heroes.
And in the the spirit of Halloween, I may have asked, “What Frankenstein-y mishmash of fictional, historical or pop culture characters best represents Yellow Flag?”
And he may have said something about drag. But I’ll let you dig into that for yourself.
Ok, people, settle your crawdads; here’s what you want……
Q&A with J. Bruce Fuller of Yellow Flag Press
How was Yellow Flag born and why is the limited-run chapbook/broadside so necessary?
Yellow Flag Press was founded in 2008 while I was working on my MFA at McNeese. I had been making chapbooks and broadsides for a few years prior just as a hobby, but had not really been active for a while. Some of my fellow grad students suggested that we start a press and since I had some experience I was recruited. The press has grown and thrived over the years, but we started small and took it slow.
We make limited run chaps and broadsides for a couple of reasons. First, it is the format I am most interested in, I think because they are artistic and collectable. All of our releases (except for one anthology) are hand-made. We touch every part of the books. That adds an element of care. The second reason is historical. Chapbooks go back hundreds of years, and are an economical way of disseminating art or information. These types of releases are necessary because poetry has such a small foothold in the publishing industry that we must find ways to be seen and heard.
Thinking about your poets, give us a word collage of the demographic highlights, backgrounds and styles.
While we have a good mix of poets, we value prosody, image, metaphorical language, down-home speech, rural over urban, heartfelt over sentimental, themed collections. We value risk but not experimentation for the sake of it. We publish out of the box collections that may not fit in other markets, as well as collections that could fit anywhere.
What is the literary scene like in Lafayette? Does it feel isolated or connected to that of New Orleans? Is it a hub for the Cajun culture or otherwise?
Lafayette is a close-knit community of poets and writers. I have felt welcomed and supported since I came here almost four years ago. I lived in New Orleans before I made poetry my career choice, so I don’t have much experience to compare the two. Lafayette is definitely the hub of all Cajun culture; that is an added bonus to the poetry scene.
And speaking of Cajun country, is living there what inspired the press’ Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry (La Série de Louisiane de Poésie des Acadiens et Créoles) or was it the magnetic personality of Darrell Bourque? [Man! Darrell Bourque. I am totally in love with his chap if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook. How’d you hook up with him?]
Darrell is one of the most accomplished Cajun writers, and to me, probably the most important Cajun poet. Darrell and I met when he did a reading at McNeese my second year, and he has been a mentor to me ever since.
I had been thinking for a while of doing a series highlighting Cajun and Creole poets. As a Creole poet myself I knew I could help bring some attention to the many great Franco-American poets out there. I mentioned the idea to Darrell and he agreed. I knew I wanted him to be the first book in the series. What he delivered (if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook) blew us away, and ended up being more successful than we could have hoped.
The scientists among us are saying that post-Katrina, the Louisiana landmass has been greatly eroded. Do you feel that it’s the same for the culture? Are we still going strong or faltering?
I think the culture has risen to the challenge of Katrina and Rita, as well as the BP oil spill. I think we entrenched and became more proud of who we are. We face a great challenge because when the sea levels rise we will be the first to lose our homeland. We may become the first great displaced culture in America due to climate change. For Louisianans, it is already on our doorstep.
What has been your greatest surprise about publishing (from both sides of the desk)? And who are your literary superstars, mentors and heroes?
The biggest surprise is how many great books I have to reject because we can’t publish them all. I have to follow my gut, and my aesthetic, and make the best choices I can under the circumstances. It has given me a greater respect for the editors who have rejected me. Rejection is not always and indictment on your writing. Publishing really is a crapshoot.
As far as heroes, there are too many to list. If I could pick a press I’d most like Yellow Flag to emulate, it would have to be Copper Canyon. That’s our role model press in a lot of ways.
What do you wish more people knew about Yellow Flag?
That we are a two person operation. That we work out of one room. That we publish poetry only, and always will.
Current poetry trends (local or nationally) that frighten you? Those that excite you?
We see a lot of poems that are lacking in prosody. Poetry is an art form; what it says is important, but saying something important is only half the work of a poem.
It is exciting to see so many poems from previously unheard segments of the population. Variety is important, and America has enough of it to remain important for centuries to come.
What can we expect from the press in the coming year and what from you personally? I know a Ph.D is on the horizon. What next?
I will finish my PhD this year, and then it is on to the next place, wherever that may be. The press will continue no matter where I go, and I am sure we will find a way to keep our Louisiana roots.
We have three new books that will be out early next year: Lauren Gordon’s Generalizations about Spines, Lisa M. Cole’s The Love Machine, and Katy E. Ellis’ Gravity. We will be reprinting a few titles that are out of print, including Erica McCreedy’s Red Winters. There will also be a new book out next year in The Louisiana Series. Always busy.
And in the spirit of Halloween, what Frankenstein-y mishmash of fictional, historical or pop culture characters best represents Yellow Flag?
Walt Whitman dressed in drag, two-steppin’ at a fais-do-do. That’s what’s up.
[Somebody make me GIF already!]
*If you want more of Yellow Flag, they are offering a limited-time boxed set that includes: 11 chaps, the Vision/Verse Anthology and a signed broadside by Amy Fleury. Just in time for Christmas, yippie. Get yours!
**And for those interested in submitting a manuscript, go here for regular submissions and here for The Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry.