Clear Cut Press

Editor Matthew Stadler and publisher Richard Jensen talk about turning books they love into beautiful publications, finding inspiration from distant sources, and how to recognize pomposity.

Based in the Pacific Northwest, Clear Cut Press publishes and distributes exquisitely designed soft-bound books. Its catalog of works spans all forms of art that can be printed on paper, and, yes, that includes fiction and poetry.

What are your eras of birth?

Matthew: 1959

Richard: 1963

Occupation titles, both real and desired-in-another-lifetime?

Matthew: Real—editor, writer; desired—lawyer

Richard: Today—publisher; another day—tinkerer

How did the work at Clear Cut Press begin? What were its inspirations? The central idea behind it all?

Richard: After being involved with a couple of social projects that turned into independent record labels in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was interested in pursuing a social/business experiment around the slow-moving music of books. We were also inspired by the crazy talk that was popular a few years back about ‘e-text’ and the ‘end of books.’ It seemed like, if everybody else quit making books, then ours would be the only books around. That seemed good for business. So we decided early on that our publishing business would be about producing and circulating beautiful pocket-sized books, and not about controlling the authors’ texts or squirting them around on the internet. We really admired that books are machines that keep running for decades. For Clear Cut Press, publishing is the physical business of literature.

Matthew: Rich took a class I offered called ‘Writing the City.’ He initiated discussions about poetry and economy. We realized that the new writing we liked best was poorly published, if at all, and initiated a business and artistic practice based on a kind of utopian notion of how books ought to move through an economy. As a business and artistic venture, Clear Cut is inspired by early 20th century subscription presses, such as Hours Press and Contact Editions, and by the mid-century paperbacks of New Directions and City Lights. These historical models seem well-suited to the independent economies that emerge every generation or so around the cultural movements and new demands of global youth, whether punk, grunge, hip-hop, hippie, beatnik, or flapper.

What are your favorite books?

Matthew: Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust, The Museum of Love, Steve Weiner

Richard: New Directions Anthology #9 (1946), Ed. James Laughlin, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, Ed. Steven Clay & Rodney Phillips, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, Ed. Robin Blaser, Gunslinger, Ed Dorn

Who are your heroes?

Matthew: James Purdy, Barbara McClintock, Kevin Killian

Richard: James Laughlin, Greg Sage, Lew Hill, Lisa Robertson

Can Clear Cut Press make the world a better place? And how?

Matthew: I think so; we publish great books in a durable, portable format.

Richard: Yes. The first assumption of the Press is that the physical world is a better place to live when our author’s books are scattered across it addressing the desires of an interested public.

What makes you laugh?

Richard: Pomposity, especially mine.

Charity worth giving to?

Matthew: Give food or money to the food bank nearest you.

Richard: First, I encourage your readers to author their own charities. We all probably have someone we should apologize to, or maybe we know a kid that could use a boost of resources. That said, I spent some time this morning looking for someone helping the civilian casualties in occupied Iraq. I couldn’t find anything. Maybe it’s too chaotic even for the U.N.HRC and Red Cross right now. Instead, I found this independent American reporter, Dahr Jamail, generating visceral dispatches about civilian life on the ground there. If you like, read him and support his reportage.

Five words that sound great?

Matthew: residue, offer, snag, plinth, tarp

Richard: turpitude, bucket, caper, bandito, scrotum


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack