The Kindest Cut

Eight books, 65 bucks—big old commitment, no kidding

In Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work and Seven Walks From the Office for Soft Architecture, the Canadian-born, Paris-based poet describes the Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, as "an exemplary political decoration, a nutritious ornament that clandestinely modifies infrastructural morphology." Those words could well describe her own book—a gorgeous, palm-sized paperback with a hot-pink dust jacket—and the fledgling library of its publisher, Astoria, Oregon's Clear Cut Press. Clear Cut's mandate, to publish the best writing, regardless of genre, from Pacific North America (San Francisco to Vancouver, roughly) and then to distribute it via an old-school subscription system, is a welcome raspberry to an increasingly centralized publishing industry.

The brainchild of Up Records co-founder Rich Jensen and novelist Matthew Stadler, Clear Cut emerged from discussions the two had in 1997 during a poetry workshop the latter taught in his native Seattle. Stadler, author of Allan Stein (1999) and the literary editor of the interiors quarterly Nest, realized that he knew about a dozen writers who weren't reaching the audience they could—or weren't being published at all. To remedy this, he and Jensen envisioned a press along the lines of early-20th-century subscription houses like the Hours Press. After some consideration of production criteria—size and durability were key—the pair decided to imitate the sleek design of Japanese mass-markets: pocket-sized, with brightly colored dust jackets and built-in bookmarks.

A two-year search located a Tokyo-based printer that could accommodate the English text, and the first Clear Cut book rolled off the presses last fall. The Clear Cut Future, a 528-page anthology, provided a glimpse of many of the authors Clear Cut admired and planned to publish, including novelists Stacey Levine and Steve Weiner, photographers Ari Marcopoulos and Robert Adams, and essayists Charles D'Ambrosio and Diana George. Robert Glück, author of the novels Jack the Modernist and Margery Kempe, was represented by "Conviction," from his collection Denny Smith, which appeared in January. "I have never been published more tenderly," Glück says.

Clear Cut's Rich Jensen (left) and Matthew Stadler: The Tokyo-Astoria (Oregon) express
photo: Clear Cut Pres
Clear Cut's Rich Jensen (left) and Matthew Stadler: The Tokyo-Astoria (Oregon) express

Ideas of community and economy stud Stadler's conversation. "Rich and I discussed how a larger social organism creates markets and what are the ways that a book catalyzes social organisms," he says. "We conceived of the press as a kind of laboratory for utopian practice." The revolution may not be televised, but for Stadler, it will at least be published: "If we are participating in a social condition where our authors are working and able to reach and catalyze a public, what more revolution do we need?"

Clear Cut hopes to be a sustainable, for-profit venture within five years. With only about 300 subscribers to date—each receives eight books for $65—the publishers still have their work cut out for them. "It's hard for us to do that on our own, so we're looking for people who share our ideals and want to help us on our way," says the unfailingly optimistic Stadler. "If that means one person or a few pitching in money, we'll call them investors; and if it means a thousand, we'll call them subscribers."

 
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