Interview with Jeremy Gaulke (Four by Two)

Jeremy Gaulke and klipschutz are the founders of the quarterly poetry publication Four by Two, an unusually stylish and inventive periodical. Printed on a single sheet and folded five times, it is not only a masterpiece of minimalist design but has contained some outstanding poetry. So far, it has featured John Tottenham, Paul Fericano, Jon Cone, Joie Cook, Sandra Beasley, and house poet klipschutz (aka Kurt Lipschutz), with a print run that has grown from 150 to 300, all hand-assembled and numbered. Read our review here.

Poetic Justice: How did you meet klipschutz and come up with the idea of Four by Two?

Jeremy Gaulke: We met through our mutual friend, publisher, and mentor Charles Potts. Klip was the only poet I kept in contact with after I stepped away from writing. For about two years I had put out Critters & Gods, a zine of doodles inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, sent out pretty much to friends, nine issues in all. It had a similar configuration to Four by Two, just no text. Zero ambition but the design elements were there. In the fall of 2013, klip came north from San Francisco and did a reading in Yakima, WA, where I was living. Over beer we hatched the idea of an experimental poetry zine.

Poetic Justice: I understand you have different roles when working on Four by Two, with you responsible for design and klipschutz for poetry content. But is there any cross-over, and do you ever have any artistic disagreements?

Gaulke: We definitely have our roles, and it’s a long-distance relationship so there are things on the production end I do on my own. Other than the actual printing and folding and gluing and all that, we consult on almost everything, by phone and email. We are both opinionated, especially when it comes to poetry, but have managed to get through our first year without any major disagreements. It helps that our approach has been casual. Serious but definitely casual.

Poetic Justice: The publication seems ambitious in exploring how far you can go with one piece of paper and graphic design. What is your background in design?

Gaulke: I don’t really have a traditional background in design. I mean, never went to college or anything. My wife Cara is an actual graphic designer and has provided a lot of technical guidance but personally I’m an amateur everything. When I was younger I was fortunate enough to have a few very talented punk kids and riot girls as friends. They introduced me to self-publishing and zines. I’ve tinkered over the last few years with inkjet printers and zine making. Computers make things remarkably easier. When I was a kid, we used to break into churches to make xerox copies of the zines we made. Now all you have to do is lay it out and press print. There’s even two-sided printing and auto-collation on most home printers, and large format printing is cheap if you figure out how to refill your own ink. It’s astounding to me that there are not more people doing stuff like this. If you don’t mind not getting paid you can do a lot of cool stuff.

Poetic Justice: The materials for Four by Two always seem of very high quality. How do you find and decide on them, and are there any ecological considerations?

Gaulke: The materials are high quality but not necessarily expensive. Economy is the main focus. We use paper that is recycled or responsibly produced as often as possible.

Poetic Justice: How do you select the featured poets?

Gaulke: For the initial issues, klip contacted poets he knew. We also ran work by Joie Cook, a friend of his who had recently died of complications from hepatitis C. Recently, he’s been reaching out to poets whose work he admires. I have a poet in mind for this year, if she is willing to put up with our highly interactive editorial process.

Poetic Justice: What are your plans for future editions? Is the publication going to continue indefinitely?

Gaulke: We are set to do four more issues. The print quality should be a little more consistent and hopefully the design steps up with each issue. There aren’t plans for a third year, but klip and I hope to continue some kind of experimental publication.

Poetic Justice: I’d be interested to find out the make-up of your subscriber base from an international perspective. Do certain nationalities seem more interested in Four by Two, and perhaps therefore poetry generally?

Gaulke: There doesn’t seem to be any distinction. We have quite a few overseas readers – we mail to seven countries – partly from klip’s association with Chuck Prophet. Mostly British and German, but again, others. Unfortunately, there are very few subscribers younger than 30.

Poetic Justice: Poetry almost certainly has a declining readership. Is there any hope for the future?

Gaulke: I think we are both fairly pessimistic about the future of poetry. Without intense intellectual and financial subsidy the future is pretty grim.

Poetic Justice: Do you think online poetry magazines have helped the cause of poetry or assisted in its decline by often not paying for content?

Gaulke: Beyond not paying for content, which is typical for printed poetry magazines too, online poetry magazines pile on an already saturated market. I don’t think that they are the problem though. The problem is larger and more sinister than online poetry magazines, desktop publishing, vanity presses, or any newer form of publishing. If poetry were a priority for people they would buy it, read it, share it, pay for it, but it’s not. If an artist’s medium cannot be co-opted, there is no place for that medium in our culture, and if not starved out by neglect, it will be directly attacked. Until poetry can be used to sell something other than poetry it will continue to operate on the margins.

Poetic Justice: “Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private” (Allen Ginsberg).If less poetry is being read and/or published, is this a reflection of public taste or is the world just becoming more conservative?

Gaulke: I think there is more poetry being published now than there ever has been before. There’s more of everything published than there ever was before. Poetry definitely isn’t being pushed the way other things like Young Adult fiction is but it never was. I don’t think the conservatives are at fault at this point. Consider Ginsberg. He came into the poetry scene when gay men were still being prosecuted and jailed in America for sodomy. If anything, the insanity of intolerance served poetry more than it hurt it. It just hurt human beings in a very real way and continues to. Some of the best poetry ever written has sprung from the most horrific moments in history. We certainly have our fair share of horrors in the 21st century but there doesn’t seem to be anything private about them. We know we’re being watched and listened to, that the planet is slowly boiling, that we’re killing innocents, that colleges don’t protect their students from sexual assault, that politicians are more corrupt and ineffective than they’ve ever been, and the police are paramilitary racists. There’s plenty going on and people are writing. But right now there’s a cat doing something cute on YouTube or a nip slip on the red carpet . No truth, no poem can compete with that.

Poetic Justice: Finally, what would be your advice to any aspiring poets or writers?

Gaulke: “Fill your head with noble rhythms…” (Pound.) Read as much as possible. Go to readings. Thicken your skin. Write introductions and prefaces and reviews. Accept that you won’t be paid often, consider language your religion and your work a tithing. If it’s not working find something else to do: design and publish books, organize events, promote work that’s important to you, house traveling poets, buy books, figure out what you’re good at and do it. Accept that that might not be writing but know there are a thousand things that need doing in order for poetry to remain an important part of our culture.

Read our review of Four by Two here