canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Jay MillAr

Jay MillAr is a writer, editor, publisher, bookseller and environmental research assistant. He is the author of The Ghosts of Jay MillAr (Coach House, 2000), and Mycological Studies (Coach House, 2002), which was shortlisted for the ReLit Poetry Prize. His latest book is False Maps for Other Creatures (Nightwood Editions, 2005). He publishes chapbooks under the imprint BookThug and distributes these titles through Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe—his “imaginary bookstore specializing in publications that no one wants to buy.” He lives in Toronto with his wife, Hazel, and their sons, Reid and Cole.

Interviewed via email in May 2005.


TDR: When did you come up with the idea for Book Thug?

JM: BookThug started out as boondoggle books in 1992 when I was living in London Ontario. Over the years I've developed it into what it is now -- BookThug itself came into being around 1996. Originally I thought of it as a tiny 'artpress,' with irregular print runs of irregular books. And now it's more or less a press with regular print runs of titles by poets that have anywhere from 10-40 pages or so, with the occasional 'trade' publication. It's small enough that I can run everything myself, from the design to the printing to the distribution, etc. 

I usually work with the writer on the book as an editor, discussing how it should go together, little questions or big questions about the text and the like -- sometimes this is a rather large process, sometimes it isn't much of one at all. The design is fairly basic, so there is little to talk about there. Nothing complicated. I've been working in the book world in various ways for a while now. And the longer I'm involved with poetry, the more I can see that it simply isn't wanted within the systems that have developed in the publishing, marketing, and selling of books. It just doesn't make sense to publish a book of poetry. It costs too much, the market (if you can call it that) just isn't there, so you have to try to sell it like a book of fiction. You have to rely on money from elsewhere to run your poetry press. The box stores don't like to stock much poetry, and what they do stock is usually the stuff that's easiest to acquire and they stick it in their store for 6 months and then send it back. 

Besides, what they really want to stock are the books they know they can sell, so they buy up as much as they can at some discounted price and then sell it at a discounted price. Can't work for poetry -- the numbers are too small. And they've trained the book buying public that it's wrong to spend full price on a book. And the larger publishing houses, which are the publishing systems that can work alongside the insane box stores, they don't publish poetry, and if they do they publish it by means of a print on demand system. 

Which in my opinion hasn't been developed well enough to make a decent book. Well, the print on demand systems they're using doesn't, at any rate. And literary publishers today, most of whom have been around for about 30-40 years now, are still relying on systems that were set in place 30-40 years ago, where you get X amount of your revenue from sales and X amount of revenue from back-door public funding through grants. And it's pretty tough to rely on that system when you're used to doing the old way, when there were actually booksellers around who could or would sell your books. 

Anyway, to make a long-winded and fairly boring rant short, I've decided that if I'm going to be a publisher of poetry, then I'm going to ignore all the lousy things that have developed in the book world but still publish poetry. So I'm going to do it all wrong. Totally wrong. Which would be the right way to publish poetry.

TDR: What is your usual print run and do you plan on reprinting any?

JM: The print runs are anywhere from 50-100 copies depending on what we imagine the market will bear. If it sells out, I print more. Trade books I print 300 copies, which is the bare minimum in the government's eyes for a 'real' publication of poetry.

TDR: Where are Book Thug titles available?

JM: You can order them from Apollinaire's Bookshoppe ( or you can check out your local independent bookstore, many of which have stocked copies. University bookstores have also stocked titles.

TDR: How many titles did you put out under Boondoggle Books?

JM: I can't remember. That was the early 90s, 1992-96 or so. I know they were mostly books of my own work, but there were a few things by other people that I met over the years. Most of whom have stopped writing poetry altogether because they were smarter than I am.

TDR: The micropress is a long-standing tradition in Canadian publishing. In your Broken Pencil interview with rob mclennan, you said you learned to think in terms of "The book." Are you saying that as a writer or publisher, you try to imagine a piece of writing in its final resting place, i.e., the book.

JM: Both -- I end up working on book-size (usually BookThug book-size) projects with my writing, which can be produced initially as a smaller chapbook, and then a few of them can be gathered together later and developed into a more reasonably sized book. And yes, I am usually thinking of the architecture of the book when I am designing other people's books. Houses for words. I like to strip things down to make people focus on reading and thinking about text. I don't like books that look like they were designed.

TDR: What is next for Book Thug?

Daniel f. Bradley's very first trade publication A Boy's First Book of Chlamydia is just about finished. Which pleases me very much since it was Daniel who gave me the name BookThug in the first place. I've got some things lined up for later in the year too, including a small book from Jon Paul Fiorentino called Selected Losers, a book by west coast poet Elizabeth Bachinksy titled Cuiro, a collection of Rob Read's Daily Treated Spam. Among other things.

TDR: Tell us everything about False Maps For Other Creatures, your new book.

JM: Well, in 1992 I was living in London Ontario as a student and went to a reading by bill bissett. I was both enthralled and frightened by bill's performance, enough to spend some time in the university library reading his work. That's when I discovered blewointmentpress, his one-man publishing empire named after a cure for body lice through which he published most of the important poets of his day. I also discovered an entire world of smallpress publishing by wandering through the library stacks looking for books without spines. And because of this I decided to start my own small press, which eventually became BookThug. 

In 1992 blewointmentpress no longer existed -- bill had sold the press in the mid 80s to an unsuspecting couple who ran the press as blewointment for a few titles and then switched to name to Nightwood Editions, which underwent various changes over the years but still exists today primarliy as a publisher of poetry. Silas White, the managing editor at Nightwood, decided that Nightwood should tap into its own history and reinstate a 'blewointment' imprint, which would allow them to explore some literary territory that they haven't explored for a while. And False Maps for Other Creatures was chosen as the first title for this reinstated blewointment imprint. I called the book False Maps for Other Creatures because that seemed like a good description of what poetry is. To me. 

The book is a little different from my last collection mostly because it doesn't have the overall conceptual drive that created Mycological Studies. False Maps is a collection of poems. They do take influence from natural science as well as from poetry, but in a different way than Mycological Studies, and so the result is a collection of poems, rather than the idea of “thinking in books” like we mentioned above. Which makes me a bit of a hypocrit, I suppose. Which frightens me a little -- about as much as it excites me. I suppose I assume people will be looking for something based on what Mycological Studies is. But at the same time I have to wonder why poets are always expected to write exactly what they wrote the last time they wrote a poem. So I wrote the poems a little differently this time. That's okay too. I've been reading from False Maps enough now that I'm finally coming to understand what this thing is that I've made.

TDR: What are some of your all-time favourite really small press titles?

JM: I'm more a fan of small presses than of specific small press books -- in Canada this would be presses like Periwinkle Press, Weed/Flower, the various imprints of jwcurry, blewoinetmentpress, Proper Tales Press, Pangen Subway Ritual, ecs, Gorse Press, GrOnk, Coach House, housepress, BC Monthly, to name a few.

athaniel G. Moore is TDR’s features editor and editor of Desire, Doom & Vice: A Canadian Collection (Wingate Press, 2005)







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.