“Our books are spells for unraveling capitalism” : An Interview w/ Timeless, Infinite Light


On January 5th, 2015, Emji Spero and Joel Gregory, editors of Timeless, Infinite Light, sat down with Ivy Johnson at Pretty Lady, a diner in West Oakland, to discuss their small press art cult. This was their conversation.

Ivy Johnson: Hi, Timeless, Infinite Light.

Emji Spero:  Hi, Ivy.

Joel Gregory:  Hi, Ivy

IJ: Thanks for sitting down with me.

JG: Yeah.

IJ: I read an interview with Alli Warren on “The Write Stuff,” an interview series done by SF Weekly, where interviewers ask writers the same questions. I really like these questions and I wanted to start by asking you a question from that series, which is: “When people ask you what you do, what do you tell them?”

JG:  I tell them that I’m a career poet.

ES: {laughter} Do you mean when people ask me individually or when they come into the office and ask?

IJ: I guess, I’m thinking about in terms of Timeless, Infinite Light…

ES: Ok.

IJ: Yeah, say someone wanders into the office…

ES: Sometimes I say that we are a small press / art cult. Other times…oh, God…I don’t know.  {laughs}

IJ: Can you describe what you mean by art cult?

JG: {chuckles} Um, well, I like the idea of a cult without any sort of leader or rules…or logic. I was telling Emji on the way here about this idea I had of creating an esoteric dogma by asking all of the people we have published and will publish to answer a questionnaire and then collage the answers together and then have the results of that be the tenets of our cult.

IJ: What kind of questionnaire?

JG:  I don’t know yet. I haven’t written it. But I was looking at the Krishna pamphlets that Scott sells at Bibliodrone. He gave me one of those and there is this nice Q & A at the end. I just wanted to borrow that form.

IJ: I feel like the art cult idea is related to how Timeless, Infinite Light is branded. Timeless, Infinite Light, as opposed to other small presses that I know, has branded itself in a certain way. I am thinking about how you guys made an ad for Boog City which was a kind of an anti-ad. (http://www.boogcity.com/boogpdfs/bc95.pdf)

ES & JG: {laugh}

IJ: …which is great.

ES: Oh, the one in which I take a shit at Chase Bank?

IJ: Yes.  

ES: {chuckles}

IJ: Could you start by describing the ad?

ES: Basically there is a photo of me taking a shit in front of the Chase Bank and beneath that photograph is a photo of the shit itself, glittery, kind of sparkling.

IJ: So you added some glitter to your shit?

ES: No, I just shit…glitter…um…Timeless Infinite Light shits glitter….

JG: {laughs}

ES: …if you will.

IJ: And that’s part of the art cult?

JG: Sure, I mean, how did that even come about?  I think that you {Ivy} had mentioned that there was a spot available for an ad and…

ES: …it was like the night before.

JG: Yeah, well, we had, something like three days, but we didn’t do it until the night before, and we were just sitting in the office and trying to decide what to do. We could do photos of the books or excerpts or something…

ES: …or we could do collage…

JG: …none of that really caught on.

ES: I’ve always wanted to take a shit in public.

IJ: This was your first?

ES: This was my first public shit. Other than when I was sleeping outside. So, it doesn’t count, because then I had to.

JG: I feel like we arrived at that by really just thinking of something that we had wanted to do but never really had the platform for. And to go back to the branding question, I feel like that’s what all of that stuff ends up being. It’s like the stuff we’ve always wanted to do, but now we have this brand that we can—

ES: That we’ve made official.

JG: Yeah, it’s official now, it’s not just our own desires it’s…

ES: This isn’t kink, it’s art. {sarcastically}

JG: Yeah. It’s part of the culture of the thing we want to make, but really, it’s just what we want to be doing with our time. {laughs}

Server at Pretty Lady: Would you like some coffee?

ES: I’ll have some coffee, yeah.

JG: Yeah.

IJ: Tea, herbal tea.

JG: Thank you.

IJ: What is poem swag?

JG: {scoffs} What is poem swag? Oh, God. {leans towards Emji, lowering his voice} What is poem swag? Do you know?

IJ: Well, maybe could you start—

ES: {interrupts} It’s like an aura.

IJ: Ok…

ES: You know? The aura of like, poetry as sociality, or it’s what you can see when someone is walking down the street and you’re like, oh yeah, that person has poem swag.

IJ: So you can see it from afar?

ES: Yeah.

JG: …when it’s done right, yeah. {laughs}

ES: {laughs}

IJ: So I guess, for the readers, I should say that you guys have a T-shirt that has an infinity symbol drawn on it with “Poem Swag” hand-written above it. So, I guess that goes back to the branding. Would you say that you just made that as something for Timeless, Infinite Light out of having an idea and it was just something you wanted to do?  

JG: Yeah, basically, we were just walking down the street…

ES: Yeah. Just to be perfectly frank, a lot of our sense of ourselves as an entity comes from Odd Future’s presentation of themselves.

IJ: Ok.

JG: Mmh-hmm.

ES: Sort of the way that they…

JG: …Are organized. They are kind of an art cult, you know? And we just try to mirror their way of doing things as much as possible.

IJ: Yeah. Could you give an example of maybe how Odd Future does that for those that aren’t familiar?  

JG: Yeah, well, it’s a collective of different rappers in LA and one thing they do that I think is really successful, and they are not the only people who do this, they put together mixtapes of their individual works, like tracks from each others’ albums and projects, and they release it as one unit, you know, and we are trying to do the same thing with this pamphlet that we are trying to make.

ES: Whereas most small presses like, you know, they’ll maybe have an anthology but they will have those single authors and those single authors will have maybe nothing to do with each other except through the press’s mission statement.

IJ: Uh-huh.

JG: Right.

ES: But we see the authors as part of this organism that we are also, as publishers and writers, a part of.

JG: This interview is a good example of that. Another example being how Zoe Tuck started working with us to do promotion and distribution after we put out her book and we continuously try to call on our authors to generate content and ideas and material. So in that way it’s not like we make a book and we move on. The relationship and the culture remains.

ES: And evolves.

JG: It’s mutually supportive.

IJ: So, that brings me to my next question about the anthology that you published. So, TIL published an anthology of writing from the East Bay just in time for The Oakland Poetry Summit, 2014, called It’s night in San Francisco but it’s sunny in Oakland. In the forward you talk about the way the title came about in a sort of game of telephone: Zack Haber put the line in a poem after hearing Carrie Hunter read her Google weather app, and it traveled eventually to you guys. Can you talk a bit about why you wanted to publish an anthology of East Bay poets specifically, and also, the implication from the title that Oakland is where it’s at, as opposed to San Francisco, and perhaps other cities for that matter. What do you think it is about the East Bay poetry scene, specifically, that’s so interesting? Why publish an anthology of East Bay poets?

JG: Yeah, well, there was a period when we lived in San Francisco before we moved to Oakland after we lived in other cities, and we sort of arrived in SF “post exodus.”

IJ: Post-exodus from?

ES: After a lot of the artists had already left San Francisco for Oakland.

JG: Yeah. So when we got there everyone that we wanted to be there for was already gone and we were sort of in this cultural wasteland. So when we moved to Oakland and sort of, I mean, Emji had been there before. I hadn’t. The potency of the…

IJ: {Ivy sees Emji trying to nudge Joel to pass the ketchup and points to the ketchup} Ketchup!

JG: Yeah, the potency of the ketchup {hands it to Emji} and the scene just totally overwhelmed me, personally, and it just seemed like there was so much energy coming out of this place in contrast to all the places that I had been before. It seemed that if this thing was…I don’t know what the longevity of it is or even necessarily the history, but whatever was happening in that moment seemed really crucial and necessary to document.

ES: I think that for me, we’re just completely obsessed with Oakland’s poetry scene. It just sort of arrives at this level of sociality that is beyond any other poetry scene that I’ve been a part of or witnessed. People are incredibly supportive of each other’s work, and the sort of hierarchies that you see in other scenes are less established here than in other places. And the sort of mentor-poet relationship is there but I feel like it’s less than in other places. And so many of the readings happen in houses that you can linger afterwards and you get all this time to actually get to know the people that you are aesthetically engaged with. I think that the title is incredibly tongue-in-cheek, you know, like, It’s night in San Francisco but it’s sunny in Oakland could read as an advertisement for gentrification. And we’re sort of doing it in an ironic way that is making fun of itself, sort of like you do when you are complicit in something that you disagree with but individually you do not have the agency to do anything about. Collectively maybe…

IJ: Yeah.

ES: You know? And that’s why it’s an interesting title for an anthology. Because an anthology is inevitably a collective response.

IJ: So, my next question is about the affinities between the six books that you’ve come out with. In the intro to It’s night in San Francisco but it’s sunny in Oakland, you list recurrent words and modes that happen throughout the anthology, such as the word “body” appearing 89 times, “plaza” is mentioned 24, “breath” or “breathing” is mentioned in 15 poems, “tincture” or “magic” appears 9 times, and 8 poems mention other poets in the anthology. If you were to make a similar list for the six titles that you’ve published, what would be the recurrent words and phrases, or even recurrent modalities?

JG: That’s a good question.

IJ: Maybe, could you just start off with listing the books that you’ve published?  

JG: Yeah. We did As They Fall, by Ivy Johnson…{chuckles}

IJ: Oh, yeah.

JG: Communism is Up There And We Are Down Here But It’s Happening Now by Olive [Blackburn]; Terror Matrix by Zoe Tuck; It’s night in San Francisco but it’s sunny in Oakland; almost any shit will do by Emji Spero; Ghost Box by Emerson Whitney. I think that’s everything we’ve done so far. And we’ve got some things coming out but…they haven’t yet.

IJ: So what would recurrent words or phrases be, if you could come up with some?

JG: One thing we arrived at when we were working on our catalogue as a really succinct way to describe the books and their commonalities was: “These books are spells for undoing capitalism.” I feel like that’s one thing they all have in common…. What words would appear frequently… {looking at Emji} What do you think?

ES: I was thinking capital was one of those. {pause} “Words” is hard. I feel like something that so many of them have in common is process.

IJ: Could you say more about that?

ES: Well, Emerson’s book, Ghost Box, was created through a durational ritual of returning to a vacated space in the middle of LA that was sort of like a wasteland of capital production because it was a vacant Kmart.

IJ: {correcting} Home Depot.

ES: Home Depot. I think it was two things at different points in time.

JG: It was a Kmart but then it was going to be a Home Depot.

IJ: That’s really interesting because when I read the book I really was curious as to if it was a complete work of fiction, you know, if Emerson just imagined it, or if he was actually going to the vacant Kmart/Home Depot.

ES: {sarcastically} I don’t know. That’s unclear.

IJ: But you seemed to say that there was ritual, that the book came out of ritual.  

ES: Mmmm. {indecipherable tone}

JG: As far as we know he went and studied and those are actual accounts.

IJ: So there is ritual whether it’s conceit or real.

JG: Yeah.

ES: Yeah. And there is a similar mode, and that’s a ritual of returning, which is also evoked in my book. The prose pieces in almost any shit will do are a ritual of returning to a site of trauma. So instead of a site of capital, I was returning to a site of trauma that came about because of my engagement with the police state, and part of the process of that was returning to that somatically, writing this somatic moment over and over again. And there is this sort of continual return. So somatic is a thing.

I feel like there is a sense in which your book {looking at Ivy} also engaged with process because yours was written on note cards and you had this embodied connection to the note cards and the book itself sort of reflects the process of writing. And because I feel like there is so much of a focus on the process and the somatic and this sort of repetitiveness, a lot of the books can be seen as spells, or the detritus or residue of a spell that was performed.

IJ: Also the forthcoming title that you have with Angel Dominguez includes ritual, doesn’t it?

JG: Quite a lot, yeah.

IJ: Just as we were talking I was thinking about how, with your book, Emji, and with Emerson’s book, and Olive’s book, there is also the mentioning of a commons, which ties to your previous comment, Joel, which was…what was the line that you gave me?

JG: Our books are spells for unraveling capitalism.

IJ: Yes. Ok. Yeah, that’s really great.  

ES: Yeah, in Olive’s even, it’s not just a verbalization, a mention of the commons, but it’s in the practice of writing it. Also, in her process, she would collect language from different sorts of sites, like at lectures and parties, and going to Q & A’s, and listserv battles, and so she would collect all this language and she had this process where she would just keep one page up on her computer always and just put things into it, put all these fragments from life over an extended period of time and shape them into this book. So, in a sense, that book itself has become a commons, a verbal commons. And then by being put back out into the space of the semi-private, semi-public space of that, the book lives in, it’s like…well, there are these things in San Francisco that my friend Judy just told me about, they are called the “privately owned,” (looks to Joel), what is it? “Privately Owned Public Open Spaces” or the “POPOS.”

IJ and JG: {laugh}

IJ: So, it’s Privately Owned Public Open Spaces?

ES: Yeah. They are like, the rooftops of buildings that are owned privately, but they had to make them public because of some law, I think. And there are sixty-eight of them, and you can just go and use them but they are this strange space that is on that border of the private and the public and, like the private thing that has to be made public. I feel like the book is sort of a POPOS in that way.

IJ: Yeah, it’s almost the same as Emerson’s book as well, which was a lot about a takeover of a privately owned area and making it a commons. And I remember this line of trespass. He also mentioned just claiming property for yourself, how his grandfather had painted rocks red and written “No Trespassing,” which was then claiming the public space and making it private. It’s a similar idea to the POPOS.

ES: Well, I think that’s a really necessary question to be asking at this point in history where so many of the publicly owned spaces that were previously accessible are being lost or taken. They are being privatized or made to no longer be a resource. Occupy is an example of people taking those spaces back into the public in a very visceral, embodied way.

IJ: That brings me to my next question which is about public spaces and who takes up those public spaces, which to warn you is a hard question. When I was reading the intro to It’s sunny in Oakland, I came across the part about the development of the title through the game of telephone and Zach Houston’s name came up. I thought about the simple mention of a name, and also his inclusion in the anthology, and how this anthology is something that might exist differently after the recent discussion about sexual consent. I thought about the spaces that we as a community either welcome or don’t welcome known sexual consent violators into, including publications. Has this existing conversation changed how you, as TIL, are moving forward as a small press? What about how you move forward as poets and artists, personally?

ES: Well, it raises…the inclusion of the name of someone who was called out for the rape of a our friend, who was a part of our collective, who is no longer a part of our collective, who has been evicted from the community as a result…right. The book is a material object and as such it cannot, in a sense, be unwritten. It is an archive of a moment in a way that the internet is and isn’t. I’ve seen a lot of people who are striking rapists in the community from publication retroactively, like sort of in a Stalinist fashion, which isn’t meant as a criticism, just as an observation. It’s something that I don’t really know…you know, there are different kinds of evictions that can happen. There is the eviction of the body, which has been undertaken, and now what is happening is the eviction of the presence, the eviction of the history, which is something that we don’t want to look at, so we are striking it from our collective history. And there is the other sense of the eviction of somebody else’s cultural capital.

JG: {in the background} What, water? Yeah, yeah, I’d like some water.

ES: The reason that most people don’t want to include that aspect of history into their publication status is out of not wanting to add to someone’s cultural capital.

PL: Water?

ES: Yes, thank you.

IJ: So, it seems like you’re saying that there might be a value from looking at the history?

ES: No.

IJ: No?

ES:  I wish we could strike it.

IJ: Ok. What about—

ES: —but also it’s something that we can’t. The book is a corpus. It’s a body.  Trauma doesn’t just get struck from the body. It remains. And this was an incredibly potent trauma in our community which is there whether we are acknowledging it or not and whether or not we strike it from our publications.

IJ, ES, JG: {silence}

IJ: Well, do you feel like in light of what has happened…Joel, maybe you could talk about…your moving forward a little differently as an artist, because this is something that you have written about in your own work.

JG: Yeah, for sure. I mean so much of it was just processing the experience, which I think I am moving past now. But I think a result of that experience was, I was never really forced to turn that question inward and examine myself in relationship to sexual violence and patriarchy. It was never really called upon me or I never really chose to accept that responsibility, up until it came so close to home that I didn’t have an option but to really investigate it as closely as possible. So it definitely pushed me to really notice the places where those microagressions and the weather of that violence, where those things show up in my day to day life, you know, and my experience and the culture that I am a part of, so it’s taken me down that direction and also it’s impacted our press as well. Should we talk about the {indecipherable words} stuff as well?

ES: Sure.

JG: Right. For example, we have been looking at some stuff that we were going to publish by Hakim Bey, who wrote Temporary Autonomous Zones and it was something that we were really excited about because we both really love his work and it had been really crucial to our development at some point in time. We were really grappling with how to deal with the allegations of him being a child molester and him being a supporter of NAMBLA and what that meant for us as a press, supporting that work with those things in place, and I think the experience over the summer sort of heightened that sense of urgency and importance where before maybe we were considering putting it out, but after the experience this summer we realized that it was more important to stand on the side of…I’m not sure what the word is…those oppressed by patriarchy, rather than someone who is writing. I think it was already a question but the experience of seeing it first-hand cemented that for us. {turns to Emji} Does that seem true?

ES: I think for you.

JG: Yeah, but we were almost going to do it. And we were battling about it.

ES: Well, I think that it created a rift within our whole collective.

IJ: That publication?

ES: The possibility of that publication. We had multiple discussions about whether or not to do it and we couldn’t come to any conclusion. Without any kind of consensus we weren’t going to publish it anyway until after this summer when it just became a flat “no.”

JG: For sure.

IJ: Thanks for answering that. I know it’s not the easiest thing to talk about.

So, I recently borrowed an anthology from Zoe Tuck called Femnaissance, which is a really interesting anthology. It’s an anthology of poetry and essays by women, which was put together in a unique way. Basically, the entire anthology is literally framed by an excerpt from an essay by Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr. The excerpt runs on the top of the page throughout the entire book, so there are two lines on top…

JG: The same two lines are repeated?

IJ: No, it’s the entire, well, it’s an excerpt from their essay—

ES: Spread out across all the pages?

IJ: Yeah. So then different essays and poems exist simultaneously on the page in conversation with one another. So the essay that is excerpted in Femnaissance is called “Numbers Trouble,” in which they illustrate that, contrary to a previous assertion in Jennifer Ashton’s “Our Bodies, Our Poems,” women are still under represented in poetry anthologies, starting in the 70s, with the study ending in 2007. They show that it does get better starting in the 90s, but representation of women is hardly equal. This makes me think about the acknowledgment in the anthology that 60 is the number of poets in the book, 31 is the number of women, 18 is the number of queer and/or trans people, 13 is the number of poets we’ve hooked up with, 3 is the number of people of color in this book. Can you talk about why you choose to acknowledge this? I also wanted to mention, there is a moment in Stephanie and Juliana’s piece where they question if making more anthologies of female writers is really a good answer to this problem. What do you think about that?

ES: The decision to include that is actually a direct response to that essay.

IJ: Oh, ok. {laughs} Well, that’s clear!

JG: Conveniently enough…{laughs}

ES: Um {laughs} or just the sense of just wanting to… you can’t always tell things by a name and waiting to be transparent about that. This anthology is more of a document of a poetic scene than it is an attempt to be broadly representative or inclusive, and so to acknowledge that right up front is to sort of call out what is really impressive and powerful about that scene and also what is problematic. And what is problematic about it is racial segregation. It’s a reality. And it’s tokenism to have three people of color in an anthology but it’s another form of tokenism to reach out past the borders of the community in this artificial mode, I think, to rewrite the scene in a way which is inaccurate.

IJ: Because that doesn’t change the culture at all. That just makes it look like it’s not that way.

ES: Yeah. We wanted to at the very least put that immediately into people’s minds before they enter into the text. I think that the best call outs are when you are calling yourself out.

IJ: Can you talk about the books that you would publish in TIL’s wildest dreams? Say, if you had unlimited resources both in terms of making the book but also if you were able to choose any author?

JG: Ohh, that’s good. Let me think for a sec. Um…

IJ: This can exist in an alternate reality.

ES: Yeah. Totally.

JG: Um…I would….{pause}

ES: I would want to write our books into the architecture of the city so that when you like…when you like…like, encoded, so when the city’s lights flashed, this is a text that you could read. And when you look at the city from above the layout was translatable into the work or like the movement of…yeah…all those electrical pulses, or the movement of cars in streams would be the lyric, and to have a code that would translate that.

IJ: So kind of like a morse code of pulsations?

ES: Mmh-hmm. {turns to Joel} How about you?

JG: Oh, there’s this book I just started reading by Alice Notley, I think it’s called Closer to Me and Closer…(The Language of Heaven), and it’s Alice transcribing these transmissions from her deceased father, just trying to transcribe them as accurately as possible, and I would like to find as many texts that follow that format or that source… things that are speaking out of that experience, and to create and catalogue that type of work.

ES: So, JH Phrydas, one of the authors that we are publishing this year, has this pet theory or essay in progress about how the page is the point of contact between author and reader, but not metaphorically, neuroscientifically, so I would love to figure out a way to make that really tangibly true so the psychical process of the author writing the book would be able to translate to the reader so that the reader would be able to…so that the act of reading would very viscerally be an act of writing.

IJ: Somatics.  

ES: Yeah.

IJ: Somatics. Channeling.

JG: Yeah. And I’m also hoping that at some point the books will just be automatically generated by TIL.

IJ: Like downloaded?

JG: No, like text autopopulated.

IJ: What do you mean?

JG: Well, we write a lot of the text copy as if it is spam, just being generated out of the static of the internet or wherever, and it would be cool to actually make that happen at some point in a way I have yet to imagine.

IJ: So, I wanted to ask you guys about TIL’s involvement with the Omni.  Can you talk about what the Omni is, what TIL’s role in the Omni is, and also, do you feel like your involvement with the Omni has shaped TIL? Or even what it’s like having your office in that unique space?

ES: We should probably say what the Omni is first.

JG: So, the Omni is essentially a building in North Oakland that at previous points in its life was a leisure club for an Italian garbage collectors union and later a metal club that had bands like Primus and Metallica play, like in the 80s and early 90s. {to Pretty Lady Server} No, I’m good.

ES: I’ll take coffee.

IJ: Can I have hot water?

JG: What was I saying?

ES: About a year ago we joined forces with other collectives to be able to pool our resources to get this space. Omni is both a building—a physical space—and a collective of collectives. So some of the other collectives are the Bay Area Public School, which is a free school that formed out of Occupy; Sudo Room, which is a hacker space—

JG: —also formed out of Occupy.

ES: Yeah, also formed out of Occupy; Counter Culture Labs, which is a group of radical bio-hackers; Material Print Machine, which is a community print studio; Black Hole Cinema, which is a 16mm film archive and processing lab, theoretically, eventually…there are so many.

JG: It’s somewhere between nine and twelve. I can’t really remember right now. As far as our involvement, well, we were involved in the beginning because we were looking for a place to have a print studio and an office for us to do our work out of and we were looking in places like West Oakland and the Lower Bottoms and this building was brought to our attention and to the attention of other groups, and we immediately formed up and starting doing the work to see what it would take to actually make that a reality.

ES: And an attempt to buy the building.

JG: Yeah, eventually. And the idea for that was basically to create…well, we actually were talking about this before when we were talking about Emerson’s work, but we wanted to create a commons that would be a space for people to continue doing that radical work but with mutual support and aid, and getting that support by pulling in all the means of production and different approaches to a different culture all aimed at radical change.

IJ: So, do you actually print TIL books in the Omni?

ES: Eventually we will be able to. That’s the eventual goal, to be able to have the means of production in the space.

IJ: And there is a print collaborative?

ES: Yeah, there is a newly formed print studio and collective and there is some letterpress and offset equipment. A bunch of small press publishers got together and pooled their equipment, so now we are in the process of trying to train each other on our machines so we can make those resources available to a broader community.

IJ: Do you guys have day jobs?

ES: Oh my god, I have so many day jobs.

JG: Yeah, um, I am a freelance designer. That’s sort of how I get by.

ES: I do some freelance, book and print, mostly design for print. I also work for an artist named Daniel Goldstein who lives in SF, an AIDS activist, has HIV himself, I build his sculptures for him. They are about 100 feet long. I am one of two guys working on it. I also work in a bindery, which is called the Key Print Shop and Bindery, doing production bindery work. It’s kind of factory style. I’ll do something repetitive for nine hours but the music is really good. My bosses are DJs. I also sometimes do modeling for art classes, and the occasional non-contact sex work, selling my underwear.

IJ: Alright.

ES: {laughs}

IJ: I realize I forgot to ask you, what was the inception of TIL?  How did it form?  How did it come about?  How was it manifested?

JG: Let’s see, by a series of failures, really. It was a concept.

ES: Yeah, we tried a number of times, really. Before we had the community support to have an endless stream of awesome writers to publish, before like…and having…. Sorry, I just lost my thread.

JG: I feel like we were in different cities in different times and we had this idea and we had this name and we were sort of trying all these different experiments to get it to formulate, to get it to exist, and they were sort of hare-brained, youthful and naive, I suppose you could say. I don’t really know what to call it. Probably dumb as hell.

ES, JG, IJ: {laugh}

JG: We were in New York and we were trying to secure some sort of warehouse space to build a complex, sort of like what the Omni is now, but we didn’t have the people, we didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have anything. We just had this idea, yet we were still wholeheartedly trying to make this thing just come out of nowhere. At some point it put us on the street, essentially. We were living out of a car for a while. And then we tried again in SF, a little more simply, but again, we didn’t really have that community. We didn’t have that content that we needed to really make it manifest. We made a book there but we have removed it from history since. But then, as Emji was saying, when we got to Oakland we just sort of took in the culture here and had our minds blown time and time again by the people who live here and pass through here. I think that’s when the identity started to shine through and materialize. Without that it was just a good idea but it didn’t have anything behind it. So it took coming here, essentially. Does that seem accurate?

ES: Yeah.

IJ: You have illustrated an investment in publishing books that are unique in form. There are two artist’s books: my book, As They Fall, and also the artist edition of your book, Emji, almost any shit will do. In addition, you have a tract series, which seems to fall, in length, between that of a chapbook and a full length book. Can you talk about your decision to make these types of books and also the difference in the process, as publishers? Do you see any more of these types of books on the horizon, books that play with the form of a book?

JG: Ok, what should we start with?

ES: I’m interested in materiality as a way to have a text be embodied. I think that for me, my interest in form manifests itself in the poem itself but also in the way that the poem is made manifest in the book object…wanting that formal element of the book-as-object to be in conversation with the poem when it seems that the poem is calling for that. Not every poem would need a material/formal…

JG: …reimagining?

ES: …reimagining. But I just like the idea of that sort of experimentation of form not just being confined to the text itself.

IJ: Do you have anything like that coming out?

JG: Well….

PL: More coffee?

JG: I think I’m all good, yeah…

IJ: …or also can you can just talk about, as the last question, what TIL has on the horizon.

JG: Yeah. The next one we have planned isn’t super unique in form, but it’s Paul Ebenkamp’s book, which we were talking about before, with the really dense poetry that sort of cuts between these loud, bright, colorful, distorted sort of noised-out text art pieces.

IJ: Can you say the title again?

JG: The Darker the Room The Louder the Screen. For that one we decided to treat the visual pieces with as much respect as we could by making them full color, and allowing them to take up an entire page, and really make them as loud as they actually are. What else are we coming out with?

ES: On the tract series we are coming out with Tender Points, by Amy Berkowitz, which is a deeply feminist work that is looking at sexual and gendered violence, but through the lens of fibromyalgia and chronic pain.

Also we are publishing Levitations, by JH Phrydas, which is part of a longer work that he imagines being a lifelong project. That book uses a lot of found language and is looking at the queer body in the gridded landscape of the cultural forces that fence it in. It also looks at the militarization of public space, the state, each of those being one of those matrixes in that grid, of that grid, sort of a Foucauldian investigation in that way.

Another one of our books that we are coming out with soon that is also an investigation of the commons, both the commons of friendship and physical space, is called Usufruct by Rob Halpern and Thom Donovan.

IJ: A collaboration?

ES: Yes, it’s collaboratively written so in that sense also the writing itself becomes the commons. We are coming out with a first book by the poet Angel Dominguez called Black Lavender Milk, which is a somatic attempt…. Through somatic ritual and accessing dream states, Angel Dominguez attempts to bury the body of his grandfather after his grandfather is already dead, sort of in the landscape of his own body.


JG: It’s very trippy.

ES: Yes, it’s very trippy. And so that attempt is done through a series of rituals. And that is based on…. His grandfather’s from the Yucatan Peninsula, and that is an attempt to get a transmission from the dead. In Maya culture there are these, sort of cave-like pools…

IJ: A grotto?

ES: It’s an underground cave of water and in Maya tradition these are the access points to the underworld and there are specific rituals that can be used to gain passage. This book is a ritualistic attempt to gain access to the underworld.

IJ: {Ivy moves her mouth near the microphone} Ivy gestures toward her goose bumps. {pointing at her goosebumps}

ES, JG: {laugh}

ES: Yeah, it’s really potent. There have been some strange dream communications between Angel and I as this book is coming into being.

JG: Yeah, and Angel and I have had this weird art communication too, where we are making mirror projects of each other.

ES: There is most definitely something mysterious and powerful going on with that book.

IJ: Is there anything else you want to say?


ES: Good sandwich.

JG: Oh, yeah, we brought champagne!

IJ: You brought champagne!  Well,  I have a…common area…in the back of my house that we can drink it in.

Learn more about Timeless, Infinite Light by visiting their website: http://timelessinfinitelight.com/


  1. […] sat down with me at Pretty Lady, a diner in West Oakland, to discuss their small press art cult. This was our […]

  2. […] about the press itself, you can, of course, go to their smartly designed website, or check out this deep conservation with author Ivy Johnson and editors Emji Spero and Joel Gregory. But for right now let’s take a quick and loose look at three of their recent […]

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