Bateau. Bateau Press. Le Bateau ivre… Who are we and what are we doing and why are we still here? I am always thinking of those questions as all of Bateau’s personas charge (we charge one day and drift aimlessly the next) into the future. My thoughts sound something like this: what the fuck am I doing publishing stuff every year and why don’t I just stop because shit is going horribly wrong all over the place and we keep putting out chapbooks thinking that if we print more there’ll be enough copies to shove into the hole in the dam before the whole fucking thing collapses… Is that as good as it gets? I love the work Bateau does and I love meeting new writers, artists, thinkers, creators, and other editors. And the world is shitty right now but folks are still creating amazing things.
Bateau started as a group of friends out of MFA school in western Massachusetts who would get together and drink and write and read each other’s work. James said, “let’s start a press.” And Ashley said, “yes.” And then we all said what we said and the press was started. That was 2006. We published two issues of a literary magazine and one chapbook a year. We were very young and there was enough money until the stakes got high and real life crashed down and marriages split and we all spun away like tops. The press was shuttered, kept in the darkness like that kid in that Ursula K. Le Guin story.
I brought the press up to Mount Desert Island in Maine. Started doing the work in collaboration with a bunch of College of the Atlantic students. The college supported us enough to cover our basic expenses and the students at the college got to read great and horrible submissions and decide for themselves what really was great and what was sort of horrible. I have stories about this time in Bateau’s history I love telling. One involves a Matthew Lippman poem and a student who just sent me a “WTF” email with the poem as an attachment. They didn’t know whether to be horrified or elated… Exactly. That’s why we do this.
story short, we lost funding from the college but still have the love (and free
labor) of the undergraduate students. Nice. We love the students at the college
and have started a zine version of Bateau called Le Bateau ivre (wink, wink
Rimbaud) where we pair student writers and visual artists and make 5 x 7 books
of their collaborative efforts. We do readings. It’s lovely and local and
Bateau Press is a trickier animal. We’ve been reduced to publishing work through our chapbook contest. We charge a fee to enter the contest. All those who enter get a copy of the winning chapbook. This is the only way we can keep doing this thing. We are all volunteers. We love letterpress. We love to hand sew books. We love free student labor. We also love that we are unbound from any college connections now which is liberating and terrifying all at once. We are free agents. We can publish whatever we want in an anarchy, anarchy, go fuck yourself kind of way. We have published some amazing chapbooks in the last couple of years: Buggery, Drakkar Noir, and Notes from the Birth Year. We loved all of these books. And last year we decided to branch out and publish a self-help graphic bit of loveliness called: How To Be The Worst Laziest Fattest Incontinent Piece-of-Shit In The World Ever! Encouragement for Struggling Creatives by Miss Expanding Universe. And that was different… And that got me thinking different.
I love this visual artist Nick St. John. I was introduced to his work by Dave Eggers’ Best American Nonrequired Reading series. Nick was in the 2009 edition. I fell in love with his work. As I’ve grown older I’ve decided to tell people when I love their work. I like the fan letter. I like sending them. Sometimes I’ve even gotten some of my own. Anyway, I sent Nick a fan letter and—I am not making this up—midway through the letter I realized that I ran a small press and that I was writing to Nick St. John who might have stuff that I could publish… So, I added a quick, you know…I run a small press and we’d love to work with you. To my astonishment, Nick wrote back and said he’d love to work with Bateau. We are going to do something with Nick in the next little bit. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about publishing more people. I miss (way more than I ever thought) not publishing the lit mag. I got to read such great stuff, got to talk to writers and artists I now consider compañeros in the struggle. But we don’t have the money and I’m also so tired and I wonder what the fuck I’m doing over and over and over again and I tell myself I can’t keep doing this but I just keep doing this because Bateau is a stance, a way of being in the world even if sometimes it feels very Beckett. I keep on. And if I find myself like Beckett—or even the lead idiot in a Beckett piece—is that such a bad thing? Beckett was pretty punk rock and punk rock is freedom and I’ll take the freedom and build the community because I was raised on the punk rock and this is where it brought me.
Dan Mahoney is a writer and translator and editor in chief of Bateau. He is the author of the chapbook Quantum Entanglement (Birds Piled Loosely, 2017) & Sunblind Almost Motorcrash, a book and cassette project out from Spork Press in 2015.