By Leslie D. Rose
Geoff Munsterman has been a regular on the New Orleans poetry scene for more than ten years. The 29-year-old is a published author and printmaker with a few titles under his belt. But it wasn’t until he ventured to Baton Rouge and linked up with area poet William Brian Sain, of the 2014 Eclectic Truth poetry slam team fame, that his Next Left Press really came to fruition.
Munsterman began attending The Eclectic Truth poetry slam and open mic through his budding friendship with Sain after having published books for Sain and his partner, Desiree Dallagiacomo – third-ranked slam poet in the world. Munsterman then went on to publish an anthology for the Baton Rouge slam team this past summer as a fundraiser to aid their trip to Oakland, Calif. for the National Poetry Slam.
“I was drawn to the tight-knit inspiring community of poets in Baton Rouge,” Munsterman said.
His credits also include a book for 2014 slam team member Beck Cooper and an upcoming project from veteran spoken word poet Donney Rose, making it eerily clear that Munsterman’s got a thing for Baton Rouge poets.
“Baton Rouge poets advocate for each other, and treat poetry less like a business or competition and more like a family trying to come up together,” he said. “[It] welcomes all poets with open arms and encourages everyone to tell their story. New poets are born each day in Baton Rouge and the focus on craft inspires me to create better poems and more beautiful-looking books.”
And by beautiful-looking, Munsterman means hand-crafted.
Next Left Press’s books are handmade volumes that use various kinds of bookmaking and print techniques to reflect the tastes and personalities of their authors, ensuring each collection is distinctive.
“We don’t publish books for money, recognition or to accelerate the company to Fortune 500 status,” Munsterman said. “We are both avid readers who have read poetry all our lives. We publish books because we live and breathe art. It is our passion, our life force and what consumes us – we love to read poems.”
A labor of love indeed – while Sain is an English teacher at Broadmoor High School, Munsterman has sacrificed nearly everything to work on poems and hand-crafted books. He’s been a bouncer at a dance club in the French Quarter, a line cook and a pizza delivery driver. These days he’s contently unemployed, living in what used to be a back porch in the house his mother rents from her brother.
Munsterman’s bohemian spirit isn’t just for poetry however. The name of his press derived after a labor dispute of the unionized workers of Kenyon College in Ohio – where he briefly attended – laborers fought back against union-busting policies by parking a dirty rusted bread truck at the college’s entrance with “ARISTOCRAP CITY NEXT LEFT” spray-painted on the sign.
“Before withdrawing from the school, I had an image of the truck tattooed across my chest as a reminder to uphold the working-class ideals I’ve been raised with as the son of a carpenter,” Munsterman said.
It’s those values he said he hopes to instill in everything he does.
And while it may seem that slam poets have a leg-up on getting published by Next Left, that isn’t so much the case. Beginning in 2015, the publishing duo will release “TURN,” a biannual poetry periodical
“TURN is about showcasing a variety of poets work,” Munsterman said. “Instead of the basic rejection/acceptance model of traditional literary journals, TURN aims to foster a sense of community by binding poets together to networking and community building.”
Submissions to TURN are open to anyone and will be accepted until Jan. 31. Writers need one to three poems of any length covering any subject, a cover sheet name denoting contact information and a 50-word bio.
“We attempt to fill the gap left by [major publishing company] oversights that often disqualifies working poets who aren’t associated with academia,” Munsterman said. “We also offer community building and aim to open up dialogue between artists about poetry.”
Munsterman said the press is not looking to publish full-length collections at this time, but his love for poetry makes him available as a freelance editor and layout artist for any poets or novelists looking to go the self-publishing route.
Later in 2015 Munsternman said he and Sain have plans to eventually host workshops and discussion groups about poetry and community.