13 Questions with Wolfgang Carstens

by HST UK on October 21, 2011

HST managed to squeeze some time from the hourglass of Poet, and the head honcho behind Epic Rites Press – Wolfgang Carstens.

HST: My abiding memory of you Wolfgang, is when I used to listen to Jack Henry and Rob Plath’s radio show on Blog Talk Radio, you were always the voice of passion and enthusiasm during your appearances on the show, proudly standing up for the small press community. It seems that this passion is the fuel that powers Epic Rites Press, take us back, how did Epic Rites Press begin?

The seed of Epic Rites Press was planted after reading Rob Plath’s chapbook, Tapping Ashes In The Dark . Plath’s chapbook affected me so deeply and so profoundly that as soon as I was finished reading it, I contacted Plath and asked him if he was interested in putting out a full-length feature book of his poetry. Plath was excited by the idea – and the seed of Epic Rites Press took root.

Epic Rites Press has since put out thirteen full-length books, two chapbooks, twelve magazines, fourteen limited edition broadsides, and we’re just getting warmed up!

HST: Epic Rites produces books with striking cover art designed by Pablo Vision. What are your thoughts on the rise of e-readers such as the Kindle, and how they might affect the book as a piece of art?

I hate electronic reading devices. My main argument is a personal one; namely, that reading on a computer screen gives me a splitting headache. It’s hard to embrace something that makes you feel like shit.

As for the “book as a piece of art” argument (something that Epic Rites Press embraces and strives to achieve), it’s depressing in the way that full-color LP art was lost when compact disks became the popular medium for new music.

Epic Rites Press will always embrace the “book as a piece of [paper] art,” and keep killing as many trees as necessary to continue our war on impotent literature!

HST: There is an old saying that nobody buys poetry. How as a publisher do you endeavour to get people to read the work of your writers?

That expression doesn’t necessarily apply to Epic Rites Press, at least not in the way that I have built and operated the press. Every Epic Rites Press title has achieved a decent level of success. The first chapbook released by Epic Rites Press, for example, was Frostbitten by Mark Walton – which sold out its initial run of two hundred-fifty copies in a matter of months.

I would like to point out, however, that while Epic Rites Press publishes books of poetry, it’s not by any means “a poetry press.” Karl Koweski’s book, Blood And Greasepaint, for example, is a collection of short stories. Both William Taylor Jr.’s and Zack Wilson’s forthcoming books are short story collections. The most recent release by Epic Rites Press is Rob Plath’s We’re No Butchers, which is a two act play. There are projects in the works by Epic Rites Press which include two children’s books, a novella, a philosophical treatise, as well as a creative writing textbook.

As for your question, I try so many different things that it’s really anybody’s guess what works. The important thing is to spread the word in as many ways, and through as many mediums, as possible. That bullshit about “if you build it, they will come” only works in the movies.

HST: You published a collection by the late poet Todd Moore, how challenging was this project to complete?

Todd Moore ‘s collection, Dead Reckoning, hit my desk fully formed and ready to detonate like a bomb! There was no challenge completing the project. Todd passed away on March 12th, 2010, the very day that Dead Reckoning was released.

The tragedy of Moore’s death still brings tears to my eyes.

HST: You’ve also published your own collection ‘Crudely Mistaken For Life’ through Epic Rites Press, was there any reluctance about publishing your own work?

I wrestled with the self-publishing question for many months. Ultimately, it boiled down like this. I had invested myself so thoroughly in building Epic Rites Press into a war machine that I couldn’t, in good conscience, relinquish creative control over my own book to anybody else. My book was edited by David McLean and the fantastic exterior was designed by Pablo Vision. I couldn’t imagine any two other individuals better suited for the project. McLean and Vision worked hard to present my material in the best possible light – and for that, I owe both a deep debt of gratitude.

HST: Death blooms in that collection, I was recently told an anecdote about a man my father met in the woods when walking our dog one evening. This man was walking along carrying a red lead (leash). My father assumed he was walking a dog, and my dog, a Golden Retriever, walked up to the man and began to sniff around him. The man suddenly burst into tears. When asked what was wrong by my Father. The man said that his dog had died in the morning, and since he’d been walking that dog through the woods every day for the last fifteen years he felt that he had to walk through the woods. Do you believe that we only feel alive when we are closest to death?

Death is what gives life perspective and value. We don’t know that we’re alive until we understand that we’re dying. A poem from my book, Crudely Mistaken For Life:

only the dead

the living complain
about birthdays –
only the dead are thankful
for every year above ground;

the living complain
about aches and pains –
only the dead are thankful
to feel anything at all;

the living complain
that death devalues life –
only the dead are thankful
that death gives life value;

the living complain
about becoming the dead –
only the dead are thankful
to be part of the living;

only the dead celebrate
the living,
only the dead celebrate
the dead.

only the dead celebrate
every sunrise,
every kiss,
every hug,
every orgasm

HST: With the futility of life firmly in the background, your attitude both as a writer and a publisher seems to be about grasping the moment and ploughing forward, has your keenness ever kicked you in the butt, and led to any drawbacks?

Let me answer with a riddle; a poem that was recently published in Ephemeral Magazine:

life is

too short
to waste
on the wrong jobs,
the wrong relationships,
the wrong ideas.

soon enough
you’ll be planted
on the wrong side
of the grass.

if you’re looking
for a foundation stone
upon which to rebuild
here it is:
remember that you must die.

be ruthless
in the choices you make,
in the company you keep,
in the pursuit of happiness.

live to the point of tears.

(you haven’t much time)

HST: From some of the poems I’ve read, I sense a certain impatience with people who are stuck in ‘fixed routines’, living an ideal life, never deviating from the blueprint of normality. I’ve talked to many people who’ve said that they’d love to write a book, or take up some creative pursuit, but for some reason they seem too set in their ways to do so. What advice would you have for those people?

Do it now! There isn’t any time to fuck around. Do it now while you have the chance – soon enough bugs will arrive to eat you up.

HST: What is Tree Killer Ink?

Tree Killer Ink is a monthly arts and literary magazine issued by Epic Rites Press. A complete list of contributors, submission info, ordering, etc, can be found at http://www.epicrites.org/tree-killer-ink.html.

What’s important about Tree Killer Ink is that it exists as an on-going underground guerrilla marketing campaign. Whereas most underground magazines reach hundreds of readers, Tree Killer Ink reaches thousands of readers worldwide. At present, over two thousand copies of Tree Killer Ink have been distributed – copies can be found in waiting rooms and other lonely places where people sit and wait to die.

Tree Killer Ink survives on subscriptions. For $75 you get all twelve scheduled issues, plus limited edition broadsides printed on Parchtone paper, numbered and signed by the author – which are included with every issue. You also get every “extra” issue, (last year there were three “extra” issues and featured things like exclusive interviews with individuals like Erik “The Lizardman” Sprague, named by Ripley’s Entertainment Inc. as “the most unusual person in the world”).

This year a Tree Killer Ink subscription comes with four autographed books: Sonofabitch Poems by R L Raymond, Blacklisted Thoughts by Mike Meraz, Flag, Woman & Other Desecrations by Mike Taylor, and Milner Place’s newest book, Joe & Maisie Fay.

Tree Killer Ink operates like this: Print publication involves the destruction of trees. Trees produce oxygen. Oxygen is required to live. Anything published by Tree Killer Ink must be as important to the human situation as oxygen.

Three basic goals of Tree Killer Ink are 1.) to publish the best underground words and images, 2.) to print, ship, and distribute as many copies as possible, 3.) to make my subscribers happy.

HST: We at HST have featured a few of your poems. You’ve featured our esteemed leader Ben John Smith at Tree Killer Ink. How important is networking, and the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ mentality within the small press community?

I don’t subscribe to the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” mentality. Tree Killer Ink (and Epic Rites Press) is about integrity and quality. Tree Killer Ink only publishes the best material – period. If Ben and I owed each other a favor, I’ve no doubt it would involve stiletto heels and a shitload of chapstick! Haha – I publish Ben because I really dig his work! I can only assume he feels the same about my work.

The only thing individuals have in this world is their word – as soon as we lose that, we’re dead in the water. If I wake up tomorrow and start publishing shit I don’t believe in to make a buck, Tree Killer Ink is fucked; Epic Rites Press is fucked. If I start blowing smoke up someone’s ass, talking up a book that I don’t believe in, I’m fucked. My word will mean nothing – and Epic Rites Press will mean nothing .

What’s the point in that? If something is shit, call it shit, otherwise strap on those Stiletto heels and grease those lips…

HST: You live in a place called Mittinhed, Alberta, in Canada. Mittinhed sounds small and withdrawn from the urban sprawl. Describe the place for us?

Mittinhed is a shit hole. The only thing worse than living here is not living at all.

HST: Family is obviously important to you. What do they think of Wolfgang Carstens the writer and publisher?

I don’t know how to answer this question except by analogy:


a busted swing-set,
a wheelbarrow with a flat tire,
a rusted lawnmower,
an old mattress and box-spring,
broken toys,
unwashed dishes,
dirty laundry,
empty beer cans,
cigarette butts,
dog shit
and weeds.

five kids,
two cats,
a wife,
a dog,
a mortgage

and death.

HST: Lastly, I’d like you to end this with a few significant lines from a poem that have been recently lingering in your mind?

… a few lines of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades are always rattling around in my skull somewhere:
You know I’m born to lose / and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby / I don’t wanna live forever!





If you want to answer HST’s 13 Questions then email: aprilmaymarch777@yahoo.co.uk

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