Owners of a new publishing press based out of Pictou are hoping to give local authors a chance to be published.
Isaac Vallentin, Mike Bigelow and Marshall Feit created Folly House Press, with Bigelow’s book of poems being the catalyst for the business.
The three men met at a Kim Harris performance in Tatamagouche in October 2021, and soon realized their similar interest in writing. All three live in close proximity: Vallentin in Pictou, Bigelow in Stellarton and Feit in New Annan, outside Tatamagouche.
“As it is in living in a rural community, you find people who have similar interests pretty fast because there’s not many other people around, so we kind of connected and pretty quickly it became clear that all of us had an interest in writing,” said Vallentin. “We were sharing each other’s writing with each other. Mike had been going to Greece for a number of years and had had a stack of pages that were in manuscript form, and last winter we sat down all winter and edited the book and designed it as a team.”
Between their different skill sets including design and experience in publishing, they soon realized they had enough collaborative skills to publish books.
“I don’t think it would have started the same way unless Mike had that book of poetry, so that was the real catalyst,” said Vallentin.
This past November, Folly House Press was born, publishing and selling most of Bigelow’s book, Iraklio Poems. They used Vallentin’s book of collective lyrics in the summer as a printing test to make sure things were functioning properly.
Since then, Folly House Press is working on another manuscript and the trio launched a poetry contest.
“There’s always books in the works, but it’s sort of a co-op thing,” said Vallentin. “None of us do it for a living.”
On progress to publish about one book a year, they hope to increase that in the future but will take the time needed.
“It’s also about finding the people that we want to work with and making sure that those relationships feel really organic. We’re all doing it because we want to champion each other’s work,” Vallentin said.
Bigelow says they each have widespread literary influences, so it won’t be a matter of picking something to publish they’re individually interested in.
“It’s to give people more of a chance to put something into an actual, physical, tangible form,” he said. “It’s a lot of steps for just the writer going into that sort of world blind.”
Feit said their focus will be on creative integrity or diverse creative outlooks. With Vallentin’s lyric book and Bigelow’s poetry coming from Greece, he said their next theme would be something contemporary.
“We’re looking at things that are maybe forward thinking but creatively challenging,” said Feit.
“For everything that we’ve worked on so far, there’s always been dialogue and that’s a lot of the fun of it too,” Vallentin added. “It’s more as, do we see value in this, is this something that should be printed, or is this the right thing for that artist at that point in their career.”
When choosing a name for the company, Feit, who worked for Goose Lane Editions for seven or eight years, said Folly House Press was “really representative of North Shore Nova Scotia.”
Although they hope local authors participate in the poetry contest and publishing press, they will be looking for authors throughout the province and beyond.
“I think there’s also a value in bringing work from anywhere in Nova Scotia or anywhere in Canada to Pictou,” Feit said. “It’s not just about publishing local authors that promotes our literary atmosphere, it’s also bringing high quality work from anywhere into our atmosphere.”
Feit noted many publishing companies accept polished manuscripts, with writers being rejected or accepted based on the manuscript. “With what we’ve done, we’re not necessarily set on people who are coming to us with perfect, polished work on a manuscript. We’re willing to work with an artist. We actually want to engage with artists to see if we can take the work we see is valuable and work with them to elevate and promote it into a place that is publishable. We’re willing to take that time as a co-operative,” he said.
Bigelow said the reception to Iraklio Poems has been positive and they’re looking to reprint it this summer, and possibly again at the end of the year.
“I don’t think from the outset I knew I wanted to make a book,” he said, of the time he spent as an artist in residence in Heraklion, the capital city of Crete in February 2018. “I started doing a lot of writing there, although I wrote a lot before, but that was more of a concentrated effort over like a month.”
Bigelow returned to Heraklion every winter and rented an apartment where he continued writing.
“There’s a part of me that thought I could make a manuscript,” he said.
But it wasn’t until he met Feit and Vallentin that Bigelow realized a book was possible. He said the idea of putting it into submittable form and then submitting it to contemporary magazines and such was overwhelming.
“Meeting Isaac and Marshall, the more you kind of ramp up to being a real actual thing, the more excited about it that I got. I think for a long time, I didn’t know that it was going to be a manuscript, I just knew that I had a lot of poems, and luckily Isaac saw something in them.”
He said when someone is left to their own devices, they often question their work.
“Sometimes it can be a little difficult to full steam ahead into something like a finished product. I knew that I had a lot of writing, and I knew that I did work quite hard on it and I did want it to have some sort of tangible outcome, which Folly House provided.”
While working with Vallentin throughout last winter, Bigelow said he often felt justified with his work because Vallentin believed in it, “which made me believe in it in a reciprocal way.”
Feit says the three recognize they’re working out of North Shore Nova Scotia, not Toronto or Halifax, however engagement is at Folly House’s core.
“It’s just community building, seeing connections between the creative community here. While we want high quality work we also want to work with people to promote the ability to get high quality work. We’re not trying to be the next great niche publisher per se, we’re trying to do great work for the people in our community. This place is our home now and we want to see writers and creatives thrive here.”
Folly House Press Quarterly Poetry Prize
The three men all agree there’s a local need for publishing and printing, and Feit notes the poetry contest encourages people to write.
“At the end of the day, you know the creative act is beneficial whether you’re a professional, employed artist or you just enjoy writing,” he said.
He calls the contest a “doorway into allowing those people to engage with the press, engage with that community of writers.”
The Folly House Press Quarterly Poetry Prize is a 50/50 prize. Submission is $5 per poem and the winner takes half the total submission pot. For example, if 100 poems are submitted, the winner takes home $250. The winner will also see their poem published on a broadside through Folly House Press.
Feit said the contest is about getting people writing.
“Can we get our community excited about writing and can we get people engaged with what Folly House is?”
Vallentin said there’s a big DIY scene in the poetry industry these days with zines and broadsides, but they’re hoping to give someone an opportunity to be published who hasn’t before. The winning poem’s broadside will be available for purchase through Folly House’s website, as well as any of their distributors who wish to stock it.
“We want to work towards having a proper award as well that’s not a 50/50, that’s an award potentially that is recognizing a very high calibre of poetry in the area,” said Feit.
Submissions are to be based on each quarter’s keyword, with this quarter’s word being ‘fool.’
Deadline for submissions is June 30, with the winner, and the next quarter keyword, being announced July 1.
For more information on Folly House Press or to enter the poetry contest, visit https://folly.house/.
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