Waxing poetic, I'd call his world "Haunted Shout Machine." Jacob Severn's simultaneous dedication to text and visual art is a lesson in aesthetic singularity. Recently, I caught up with Jacob (The New School MFA in Fiction, '13) to talk to him about his new press, Snacks, inc., the importance of the mundane, "the illustrated conversation," and artistic intention.
Ricky Tucker: You have your artistic hand in so many mediums—fiction, photography, drawings—do they all occupy the same aesthetic space? If so, what would you call it, and how does your Brooklyn based press, Snacks, Inc. align with that vision?
Jacob Severn: The media in which I choose to make stuff definitely occupies the same little clump that I call my brain, but that's not altogether true. Expression never occupies a single space/world, because at the moment that it becomes expression—the moment of decoding—it becomes someone else's thing. I guess that's the hope; that I will be able to make my thing into someone else's thing, because as much as I like to pretend to hate parties, I really do love them more than anything else.
The work is not the content, but rather the frame that we place around it, and if whatever's inside the frame is boring, or mundane, or banal, or anything else from that particular entry on thesaurus.com, the idea behind the work becomes the frame itself.
The idea of framing remains, and is one of the primary principles at work in small press publishing. In the age of the internet, and online publishing (really fucking good online publishing, like, whoa, holy shit, some of the best writing is free online these days), the act of making a little book—killing trees and $s along the way—becomes specialized. It’s an act of crystallization. Right now, there are more ways to join the party than ever before. This is where Snacks, inc. comes in.
When I snack I’m being naughty, like when I read poetry. If a chapbook is a snack then a real-ass book is ... the main course? Well, maybe, and if so, I apologize to the major publishers; I’m full already! When I think of snacks I think of those little sweet carbohydrate bits wrapped in seaweed strips glowing beige/green/beige next to the checkout at my overpriced luxury bodega, and I also think, why not? A bowl of those are all I ever really want to see on the table at a party (I brought my own wine). Something that satisfies and is immediate, and has been wonderfully packaged for me. This is what I want, but it's fleeting. Hence, the limited edition.
Though the projects we approach as a press tend toward the space of the fleeting-yet-easily-(even-(hopefully)-voraciously)-consumed, the aesthetic of the press has no strict parameters. The things we gravitate toward just end up being snacks: always more attractive and dangerous than the main course.
RT: The first chapbook released by Snacks was The Nirvana Project, which I should mention was conceived by Elisha Wagman (The New School MFA in poetry '13). Your second chapbook release, Mood Swing by Monica McClure, gracefully explores the feminine dilemma, exposing the space therein to be filled with traumas landing at the pace of everyday humdrums. What drew you to Monica’s work and why was this a good fit for your press?
JS: Your invocation of the everyday humdrum definitely resonates with some of the ideas that I’m drawn to, and it's exciting to me because I never really characterized it this way to myself, and this means that the aesthetic is doing its job. All my favorite work walks some kind of edge, and the edge in Monica’s poems is razor like, but this isn't to say that they're edgy, per se. Edginess, to me, implies a kind of overt irony, and these poems are just a tad too dangerous to be overtly ironic. There’s too much honesty in them to call them edgy, and yet the edge that they ride is an uncomfortable one. The book almost squirms out of your hands; it's so good. There’s certainly room for tattered edges in the world, but the form of the limited edition chapbook invites a more cohesive line of thinking.
RT: What do we gain as a printer, artist, and reader, by supporting our favorite small press?
JS: There’s value in keeping things small, keeping things weird and cute. Smallness, weirdness, and cuteness are ideals that every press I admire seems to have. They seem un-infected by the holy $. There’s something about defining yourself as small that feels very new to me. If your aim is toward quality, then smallness seems like a contradiction, but it doesn't have to be. It seems like, until recently, the goal with every venture was to grow, and now you got all these little tykes calling themselves small, like it is something to be proud of. And it is, because when you're small, there's so much more you can get away with. It’s like, c'mon, try to catch me.
RT: What should we expect in the way of genre from Snacks, Inc.? Any fiction? How about art books?
JS: Though I hesitate to bind us to anything in particular, I can say that you'll see more experimentation with form, and an attempt to release smaller things with more regularity. And more conceptual works. And a black tie gala. And an international tour. And a sponsorship from Red Bull Energy Drink.
Jacob Severn's poetry, prose and criticism have appeared in places online and IRL. He is the author of a several chapbooks and pamphlets. He curates the reading series Poets Eat Garbage, and with Rebecca Severn, he directs Snacks Press, a small scale innovation in print and community.
Ricky Tucker is a fiction writer, art critic, and North Carolina native. He is a Riggio Scholar, Editor-In-Chief of 12th Street Journal, and a 2013 Public Engagement Fellow.