Kate Gale: poet, managing editor of Red Hen Press
Los Angeles poetry is full of publishers both large and small. Some time in the 1980s I met a guy, Rafael, who had a publication called A Piece of Paper that was literally a piece of paper with poems laid out to maximize space on both sides. Most L.A. publication houses come and go, but one notable exception has risen to the level of recognition and respect while its catalogue of books and selection of poets remains for the most part accessible to both the madding crowds and those with more refined tastes. That publishing house is Red Hen Press and the brains behind this beauty of a press is Kate Gale.
Kate Gale received her doctorate in English literature from Claremont Graduate University. Along with being the managing editor of Red Hen Press she also teaches at California State University Dominguez Hills. She has written five books of poetry as well as the libretto to the opera Rio de Sangre, one children’s book, a novel and edited four anthologies.
Red Hen Press (http://www.redhen.org) has a large catalogue that includes not only poetry but also fiction and the popular Los Angeles Review anthology. Their writers include Sam Hamill, Charles Harper Webb, Chris Abani, Terry Wolverton and Austin Strauss to name a few. The press also awards a yearly literary award for short story fiction and two poetry awards.
CA: What was life like for you growing up, artistically? Did you have exposure to poetry and literature or did you find it on your own?
KG: I grew up in a cult. We read the Bible. A lot. I suppose the Bible is its own kind of poetry. There was a copy of somewhere. I liked that. It sounded like me.
CA: Who was the first writer that sparked your muse?
KG: Carolyn Forche.
CA: What did you think you were going to do with your life before you became a publisher?
KG: Write. Raise my children, love, and be loved.
CA: How did the idea for Red Hen come about?
KG: I was in a writing workshop and I thought we all deserved to be published, but we didn't have publishers. So, I decided to start something myself. I knew that I could do it because my publisher, Garden Street Press was operated out of this guy Nick's apartment. He had to rent a computer.
CA: How did you make Red Hen happen?
KG: We sold everything we had. I had always read in the Bible that this was something to do when you became a Christian. It's also good to do to start a publishing company. Here are the rules we decided to live by. Live very simply. Enjoy rice and wine. Sometimes just rice. Be with writing. Publish what you love. Work very hard. Don't expect appreciation.
CA: What's the best thing about being a publisher?
KG: Meeting some writers who really care mostly about great work.
CA: What's the worst thing about being a publisher?
KG: Having to raise money.
CA: How would you describe the theme of the poets you choose to publish?
KG: I look for work that is dangerous, subversive, in which something lurks beneath the surface. In which something lurks.
CA: What's your advice to poets who are seriously seeking publication?
KG: Get to know and support the writing world in which you live. Most independent publishers care about and depend on community not individual artistic egos.
CA: If you could pick a poet from the past 1,000 years that you could be there to discover and publish first, who would it be and why?
KG: Rilke, absolutely and forever. Because, crazy that he was... picture the little Maria being wrenched from his mother by his father from the little white dresses in which his mother dressed him and sent off to military school at four, and you thought your childhood was rough, growing to be strange, some say misogynist, but in all that insanity, putting his hands down into words and coming out with language you can pour and see up and through, down and under, the whole of humanity unravelled and spun out.