If you aren't yet familiar with poet, book artist, and printmaker Friedrich Kerksieck and his press, Small Fires Press, you will be soon. Friedrich is the creator of Matchbook, a literary journal whose poems and stories come housed in the covers of vintage matchbooks. Friedrich has also published an impressive series of chapbooks and broadsides, hand-assembling each piece in his Memphis studio. (I have a poem in Matchbook No. 3, which poet and North American Review editor Vince Gotera posted in a review of Matchbook over here. Lots of love for this bookmaker everywhere!) Here's a glimpse inside his head.
Seven Questions with Friedrich Kerksieck of Small Fires Press
FA/FS: Matchbook is such an incredible project -- how did you come up with the idea for a tiny, paper book full of tiny, flammable writings?
FK: I got my initial punch of inspiration from a gallery talk that Walter Hamady (of The Perishable Press Limited) gave at the University of Northern Iowa in 2003. I’d already had an interest in starting something significant, but was a young little thing back then and wasn’t too sure how to get started. I didn’t know very much about the processes Hamady used at that time, but I was enchanted. That night I made a little blank journal in a Matchbook and that quickly developed into the magazine. I’ve discovered a whole slew of books and art in Matchbooks since then, but at the time for me it was a brand new undiscovered idea and the excitement of having that really pushed me to make the magazine. I was working as an intern for the North American Review and they did a lot to get me started. They ran a call for submissions free of charge and one of the designers working at the magazine, Sally Kueker, did most of the work on the layout of the first volume.
FA/FS: I love the vintage matchbook covers. Where do you find them? (Or is that a trade secret?)
FK: The answer is not so fun or secret. If you look for them you can find them.
FA/FS: How did you first get into printmaking and book arts?
FK: First by drawing a lot, then by making a bunch of collages, then posters, then magazines, then books, then really involved, complicated books.
FA/FS: Tell me about Feelings Using Wolves, the chapbook collaboration between Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg. How did you come up with the design for the book? The colors are so brilliant -- how did you choose them?
FK: It started with the poems as it usually does for me – I look at them both in their form and content. Then I start playing around with a page size and font that shows off the poems before working towards a book structure.
I borrowed the adhesive binding/non-adhesive cover structure from a book Terry Chouinard borrowed from another book artist I can’t remember the name of. I really love the way the elements attach the cover to the book so that it adds a pleasant heft without seeming clumsy. The initial sewing and spine lining is also the same structure for a hardcover case so it really made sense because it allowed for a greater versatility of structure with succinct steps.
The colors for most of my books get chosen as I’m printing the images. Sometimes I have a picture or another book that I’m playing off of, but getting around to the colors is usually where I have the most fun printing after many a long hour of printing black ink on white pages. I’ve always shied away from orange so I figured it would be a good place to start with this book and I choose the rest of the hues to cue in with the cover.
FA/FS: Do you find yourself drawn to a specific palette? Do you have a favorite typeface and why (or why not?)
FK: I’m a sucker for really bright pink/reds and metallic colors for images. For type I usually like to go the traditional route of black black black ink – my favorite ink is Senefelder's Crayon Black Litho Ink.
For typefaces I still have so much to learn and explore, but I use a lot of Eric Gill’s faces - I especially love Joanna and Perpetua. I’m also a sucker for Bernhard’s gothic faces.
FA/FS: If you could make a chapbook for any writer in the history of writing (yes, includes Sanskrit,) whose work would you choose to work with and why?
FK: Probably Jack Spicer. He’s one of my favorite all-time poets and it would also put me within shouting distance of Jess, one of my favorite all-time artists.
FA/FS: What projects does Small Fires Press have lined up for the future?
FK: I’m currently faced with the dilemma of being outside of academia – most of the books I’ve produced were all done behind the velvet ropes of my MFA at the University of Alabama. For the last couple of years I’ve been busy putting together a studio's-worth of equipment and now that I have most of what I want, I’ve been putting it to use as a freelance printer - mostly as a wedding invitation printer for the splendid Lucky Luxe.
Right now I’m putting together a chapbook that’s a collaboration about dinosaurs I wrote with BJ Love. It’s got really rad illustrations by Cherie Weaver and will show up via the Dusie Kollektiv. I’ve got an experimental book form I’m going to try out with it that I’m really excited about. After that, for Small Fires Press I’d like to continue to bust out issues of Matchbook a little less haphazardly and concentrate the near future on smaller endeavors. Short/small chapbooks, one-page books, and the like that I can spend a little less time on and afford to put lower price points on.