Entangled and Interdependent: An interview with David Anthony Martin, Founder and Editor of Middle Creek Publishing & Audio

By H. L. Hix

In this conversation, David Anthony Martin discusses with H. L. Hix the vision of Middle Creek Publishing, the role of small press publications in revitalizing our relationship with our world and our wild nature, and other matters of urgency.

H. L. Hix: Middle Creek’s logo has not only the press’s name, Middle Creek Publishing & Audio, but also a clarifying phrase: “Literature of Human Ecology.” Am I right to think of this not only as an identification of the press’s subject domain but also as a declaration of its purpose?

David Anthony Martin: Yes. It’s meant to infer the focus of the press and the scope of the work that we are looking to promote. Middle Creek is looking for work that illustrates and illuminates connection between people, socially, as well as between people and their environments, both their natural environments and the built environments of community and society. The subtitle does seem to invite a lot of nature poetry and ecopoetry to the press, which is great, but not every submission is as focused a fit as the submitter might think merely because their work celebrates nature. Although MCP has published a lot of poetry, it is not exclusively a poetry press, but desires to publish what it feels are important ideas, connections, and voices that celebrate, foster, and encourage understanding and connection — regardless of genre. We have received some submissions of poetry that celebrates the beauty of nature, but often it is very anecdotal and more akin to diary entries or hiking journals. It’s less poetry than it is beautiful writing about nature, that might actually be best if rendered in a more prosaic or non-fictional framework.

HH: That goes a long way toward accounting for my interest in the work that the press is presenting. I’m pro-celebration, pro-beauty, and pro-nature, but I also believe we do well to keep in mind that celebrating the beauty of nature can be performed as fantasy, a thinly-veiled, liberal-friendly form of climate change denialism: if I drive my hybrid SUV far enough from town and set up my polyester tent out of sight of the trail, I can still wake up to the songs of the pretty birdies. If we’re in the Anthropocene, then all those connections you mention — “connection between people, socially, as well as between people and their environments, both their natural environments and the built environments of community and society” — are inseparable from one another. I find it interesting how much we’ve already used forms of “connect.” Is that, too, a way of getting at your vision for the press?

DM: Yes. I believe that one of the main issues of the human condition, as an organism on this planet presently, is a huge disconnect. A disconnect from nature, a disconnect from our nature and hence, a disconnect from each other. It seems that, as a species in general, we have disconnected our lives, our religions, our politics, our society and communities from nature. Cognitively, I mean, philosophically or ontologically . . . we of course are never disconnected from nature. We are nature, both our interior biology as well as the external biology and environment are all so inseparably interwoven, but we are not as conscious of that connection, that vital relationship, in our daily lives. I believe it is this disconnect, this false cognitive map we use, that creates the disharmony in our lives. Our personal lives, and our collective lives. I believe that people as individuals and as a species are undergoing a time of strange amnesia, an identity-crisis of mass delusional proportions that is having a grave effect on our health and well- being, as well as the health and well-being of our world and the living systems that surround and interpenetrate us. The world as a whole, of which we are a part. Having entered the Anthropocene, we can now see what an important part we are, the role that we as a superorganism can play as we co-create the world we live in and its challenges, or, if we choose, how it thrives. My vision for the press is that it is a force of reconnection and restoration, both within our individual and collective lives, our interior understanding of selves and each other, as well as outward into the world we work in, act in, and affect.

HH: Right, disconnection creates disharmony, reconnection is restorative. Getting some of these concerns formulated makes them “jump out at me” from Middle Creek books themselves. I think, for instance, of the last stanza of Laura Grace Weldon’s “Without, Within,” from her Middle Creek book Portals:

You and I carry groceries in,
unpack them from canvas bags,
head out for our daily walk
listing birds we no longer see
at the feeder, in the fields:
yellow-throated vireo,
rose-breasted grosbeak,
Eastern towhee.
There is no place
where we begin and others end.

There they all are: connection between two people, connection between them and their external natural environment, ongoing reconnection. All that, after the attention to interior understanding of self and other in the earlier stanzas, along with recognition that living systems surround and interpenetrate us.

DM: Exactly. That’s a great example from her book. The realization that everything we think we are, is deeply entangled and interdependent on everything else. That we aren’t independent self- arising beings, most especially our bodies. There is no “self” and “other” when it comes to the material world, we do not stand outside or apart from it. It is us. There is no binary. We are all innately non-binary in this fashion, and this can bring an understanding of our nature, at its basis, is of a deep ecologically queer orientation. It’s this awareness, this perspective, which can change everything when applied to anything we bring our attention to. Mary Oliver said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Anything, whether small and seemingly insignificant as the song of a bird, or our cat following the slowly moving sunny spot on the floor throughout the day, or some hyperobject such as climate change, or the Anthropocene, can bring us into a closer relationship with our world, with our wild nature. This reminds me of an image or a scene from Amy Irish’s poem “My Daughter’s Hair,” about attempting to comb out her daughter’s hair that like an elfin crown is bedecked with “woodland jewels—/ petals, pine sap, insects, bark”:

[ . . . ] at last
I sheath the teeth of my comb, relinquish
my claim on those fey
untamed forests, recognize the wild sovereignty
of her tangled territory. And set her free.

Connection. Connection between people, between people and their external natural environment, reconnection and an interior understanding of “self” and “other” and the inherent, ubiquitous oneness of it all.

HH: Maybe that’s an additional way of talking about something you’re putting on offer through the work Middle Creek publishes? We’ve been talking about connection, and it’s something both passages we’ve quoted from poems share: a recognition of connection. They recognize connections, and offer them up for the reader.

DM: Yes, that poem by Amy Irish is from her chapbook Breathing Fire, the winner of the Fledge Poetry Chapbook for 2020 and published by Middle Creek Publishing in 2021. I believe that recognizing connections and either crafting a poem so a reader makes those connections cognitively or even on a more subtle bodily, or somatic, level. Middle Creek has some amazing works coming out in 2023. This is a year MCP is really pushing the limit to see how many of the great works that were submitted can be published this year. I really try to get new titles out as soon as possible. For an author, this can mean that they can focus less on promoting work that they’ve finished, or shopping it to publishers in hopes of acceptance, and can move on to their new work and their next book or project. It’s a liberating thing to finally be “done” with something, it’s an accomplishment, and it allows an artist’s focus to transition more swiftly and with greater focus and dedication onward. It keeps them fresh and working with new work; keeps them growing and expanding. It gives them a sense of encouragement and purpose, and that their career, or work as an artist, is alive and moving. It feels good to acknowledge someone’s work as worthy, even important; to reflect that back to them and validate their work.

HH: It’s true! When I think and talk about publishing, I typically foreground how, for me as a writer, the publisher’s work is a gift to the existing work, getting it from the isolation of my study out to readers, but indeed the publisher’s work is also a gift to my work-in-progress and work-to-come, clearing ground for it. Your recognition as a publisher of the current running through a writer’s work bear analogy, for me, with the moment in Lynne Goldsmith’s “Poet’s Window of Manhattan,” from her Middle Creek book Secondary Cicatrices, in which the speaker, looking out at the Hudson River, recognizes a strong current running through the natural environment smack in the middle of a built environment: “The river moves without thinking. / It is not false or wordy.”

DM: Yes. I appreciate that. I do hope that accepting a manuscript, getting it formatted and published does afford that sense of completion for a writer, and allows them to shift focus and begin to consider things like setting up readings and community engagement to promote their work, as well as freeing them to begin compiling or writing new work. And I like that line by Goldsmith about the river moving without thinking and not false or wordy. There is something about the wordlessness of the way our world communicates to us that inspires us, especially writers and poets and kindred curious questioners who engage, at times ravenously, with that beginner’s mind, or with the attitude of a student, open, receptive — inspired to respond with words, to try to share, illuminate or paint a picture of the beauty we see, the mysteries we encounter . . . our “bafflement” . . . Wendell Berry, the great American agrarian poet said, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”

HH: Receptive, responsive: more dispositions to value, and attempt to fulfill!  I hope this brief conversation has opened a much longer one between us (and merges with the larger conversation you host through the press).  But to close this particular dialogue, I wonder if you would speak to one other matter.  This interview has focused primarily on the press you founded and operate, so it has emphasized your “publisher self,” but you also have a “writer self,” one who is alert (if I may quote from your book The Ground Nest) to “the creeksparkle and song of fire and water.”  We’ve been talking about entanglement and interdependence.  How do you experience your publisher and writer selves in relation to one another?  Are they entangled and interdependent?

DM: That is a good question. Yes, they are entangled in many ways, interdependent as well as contradictory and oppositional . . . the press takes up a lot of time and energy, a lot of mental architecture being assembled simultaneously. Although I write something nearly every day, I am not doing much with my own works. I have a couple of collections of my own work I am endeavoring to assemble and arrange to submit to presses, and I have managed to have a handful of poems submitted out to, and accepted by magazines and journals last year, but I am not making as much progress with my own work and personal expression as I would like. I have a few novels that are languishing as well as a few non-fiction books in the works, all of which are not getting the attention they need. On a positive note, as an editor receiving a lot of submissions, I get to read a lot of poetry, which is always a good part of any artist’s diet. The careful editing and crafting of manuscripts together with other poets, has taught me a few things and has somewhat refined how I will assemble my next collections. Reading and listening into so many other poets voices, I have also begun to see more clearly where my own work differs from others work, getting a sense of my own voice, my own recognizable style. Sometimes I can really appreciate my own work better after reading the work of others, but at other times, reading others work makes me want to change the way I express at times too. So, it’s very diverse. I am quite often inspired by the way others run their workshops, or promote themselves online. So, there is a feedback loop there as well, perhaps something more like a feedback octopus with many arms.