BY LIBBY WACHTLER
Sara Sutterlin is a poet whose work I first encountered through social media website Tumblr. Her poems are short, sometimes screen-caped directly from the word-processing software she uses, and have a clear, evocative voice. To me, her poems feel directly rooted in her chosen medium of the Internet. Sutterlin has self-published a lot of her work, both through Tumblr and in numerous Zines, which she distributes through her payhip shop.
Tumblr as a platform for sharing original creative content is fascinating. The barrier between ‘draft’ and ‘published’ on the site is very low— in fact, it is literally a button. For many, this changes the perceived value of the content itself: when there is no official editorial or curatorial process (aside from what the creator him/herself does pre-button pushing), is the content worth less?
Sara Sutterlin announced recently that her first chapbook would be published by Metatron Press this spring. Metatron Press is a small indie publisher based in Montreal. As Sutterlin has been so prolific in her creative output through Tumblr, and has cultivated a following of readers through Tumblr, I was eager to get her specific perspective on the “traditional” publishing process. I sent her a few questions by email, and she was kind enough to respond to my clumsy mini-interview.
What has the experience of working with a publisher been like for you? Were there any surprises in the process, compared to your experiences with zine-making and self-publishing?
No big surprises. Metatron is a small press, and it’s run by people who I feel share my values in terms of artistic integrity. There’s more of a pacing to things, careful timing (when to release this or that) but nothing I didn’t expect.
Does it seem like being published by a publisher in this way is going to open doors for you that your self-publishing hasn’t? (What I’m trying to get at is the “value” of being Published- — does that feel more “meaningful” to you as a writer? Is it validating in a way that self-publishing isn’t?)
It is validating, but I also don’t let it become more meaningful than anything else. It’s wonderful to know that someone read my work and thought; we want to put this out there, people will enjoy this, we enjoyed it. However, I don’t want that kind of thinking to impact my writing process.
Do you think that the publishing experience has had an affect on your writing process, or on your creative processes, compared to the experience of writing for Tumblr or for a zine?
I feel a bit more self aware and careful, but not in a oppressive or negative way at all, just more conscious of what I put out into the world. It’s not bad.
Do you see yourself continuing to use Tumblr to put your work online? Or continuing to make zines?
Yes and yes. Zines are so important to me. Tumblr is compulsive for me. It’s where I dump everything I write. It’s so easy, I get immediate feedback and it’s a good way to archive (sort of).
What affect has the Tumblr community (your followers, your fans) had on your writing process? I read an interview you did in Seventh Grove in April, 2014, where you discussed the “plagiaristic degree” to which people have responded to your poetry, and how that’s dampened your desire to put your work online. But has that also changed the way you approach writing?
I was playing around with a lot of different stuff at the time, not in terms of writing but more so with the “look” of my poems (fonts, colors, etc). I did a whole Jenny Holzer CAPSLOCK thing for awhile. I also did a lot of screenshot poetry stuff. I guess, I don’t know, I kind of regret saying that because it made me sound like a jerk. My followers never affected the way I write. I’ve been writing the same way for years, way before tumblr. But did tumblr, in general, make me reconsider putting things online and the general feel/look of my writing? Definitely. Once something is everywhere, you don’t really want to keep going with that and risking to be pigeon-holed.
In terms of generating buzz for the book, or even generating advance sales, do you think that your presence on Tumblr has had an impact?
I think so, yeah. When I look at who’s pre-ordered the book, a lot of names jump out at me and not because I know them, but because they’ve ordered zines from me via tumblr before! It’s really touching. In a way, it’s exactly who I want to be reading my book because they’ve been following my work for so long. It feels very familiar.
Sutterlin also sent me a digital copy of the chapbook, titled I Wanted To Be The Knife. I think the poems are gorgeous. The experience of reading them in this format is certainly different from encountering them on my Tumblr dashboard, but I wouldn’t call it more valuable. The poems do feel as though they’ve gone through a more structured editorial process, but they are true to Sutterlin’s voice, which I fell in love with specifically through Tumblr. As we continue to think about the “value” of publishers in a digital age, I think it’s interesting and important to engage with works and writers who are blending the lines of process and publishing in this way.
Libby Wachtler tweets at @libbywachtler. She very highly encourages you preorder Sara Sutterlin’s I Wanted To Be The Knife (out on 22 March) at Metatron’s website: http://www.onmetatron.com/shop/i-wanted-to-be-the-knife-sara-sutterlin.