Drew Burk is a founder of Spork, one of Tucson’s leading independent publishing houses. He is also the fiction editor and bookbinder. When I asked him if he’d like to be interviewed, he said, “Oh, hey, I’m not a Tucson Success Story. I’m a guy in Tucson who does stuff with other people in Tucson. We persevere. You don’t succeed in Tucson. You do stuff in Tucson, and then you go succeed somewhere else… But because everyone’s off succeeding somewhere else, that means you’re not fighting anyone here. You figure your shit out, you practice here, where nobody’s succeeding, and then you go succeed somewhere else.”
Natasha Stagg: What are you up to lately?
Drew Burk: I’m up to recovering from the Spork/Powhaus literary dance party we threw at the Rialto for the release of issue 9.1. I’ve got a list, and every day I copy that list to a new piece of paper, adding new things I forgot we still have to do. Today I crossed 6 things off that list, but added two more. The studio is almost organized again. We’re having plates engraved for the covers for Zachary Schomburg‘s chapbook From the Fjords, getting issue 58 of Sonora Review ready to bind (we’re doing the binding for this one), and re-mastering all the audio we made for our dance party.
NS: What are you reading?
DB: I’m reading China Mieville’s The City And The City. He doesn’t explain anything. It’s wonderful.
NS: Suggest something to do in Tucson.
DB: Tucson’s a place to do things that people in cities other than Tucson will appreciate.
NS: Suggest something to read.
DB: Read both Murakamis.
NS: Do you feel there is a literary “scene” in Tucson?
DB: There is, in Tucson, a standing outside and smoking lots of cigarettes while events go on without you scene, there’s a staying home with your current perpetual personal crisis scene, there’s the show up after an event’s over then complain that nothing was going on scene. None of those are exclusively literary. Tucson’s a transitional space and people come here and try to use the word ephemeral a lot. We have musicians that play too often, authors who read too infrequently, and audiences that don’t show up for either. I guess they showed up for us, and I appreciate that. And I think a lot of what goes on here isn’t worth watching anyway, too self-satisfied, too sure of its own importance, never delivering, and I don’t blame people for not supporting that. But we’re trying to do something about it. We’re working to create things I’d like to go to. Literature’s a single aspect of a broad continuum, and we’re looking to integrate and participate rather than assert any kind of independence. I think it functions best when it’s just a part rather than attempt some kind of whole.
NS: Where’s the best place to find something “literary” here, then?
DB: Ander Monson is the best place to go find out about this. There’s no good place to find out about it that I know of. We fail, all of us, to promote ourselves effectively. My scene consists of Amelia Gray in Austin, Aaron Burch (Hobart) in Champaign, Ed Mazzucco (Shelflife Records) in Portland… and my non-Spork friends here are all musicians or painters. Portland. You want to know what’s going on in Tucson, you go ask people who care (because people care about literature and books in general) in Portland.
Also, the tone, while speaking the above, is pleasant and matter-of-fact. It can read bitter if you let it, but it’s not.
Also, the Poetry Center‘s a good place to find out some stuff. But mostly I think we fail to adequately communicate with each other, fail to communicate with places like the Poetry Center or the English department at the U of A in general, and we have so few bookstores now that it’s hard to really feel like there’s any good place to go. There’s Antigone, of course, but they’re small and can only do so much… and Bookman’s is all about what was, not what is, so they’re not helpful to folk who’re putting out new stuff. You come across a local small-press title in a used bookstore here and it’s just kinda sad, doesn’t feel the same as the other books.