When you are surrounded by talent and truly approach with an altruistic demeanor you end up with Tohm Bakelas’ Between Shadow Press. I was fortunate to interview Tohm in 2019 — thought it was time for a follow up especially, with the inception of his brand new press. I don’t want to give too much away as Tohm illustrates the origin story of Between Shadow Press better than I would. Tohm is an emissary of the poetic word, he desires to foster an appreciation of the written word while focusing on authentic writing and poets. Once you’re done reading I suggest you go and follow Tohm on all socials and seek who he is printing — the talent and craftsmanship oozes not only from his press but also their artifacts are magnificent — I have an original Luke Young on my bookshelf that is utterly brilliant. Tohm has published other talented writers that I am fond of which include: Glen Binger, Eric Keegan, Steve Zmijewski... Go and check out his site so many excellent chaps ready for purchase.
One thing you need to remember when you purchase a chap from Between Shadow Press, these are printed and handbound — not only are you receiving exceptional poetry but a book that is not mass produced and created with care. My first chap book was created by hand, do not underestimate the feel of these books as they are riddled with not only patience but also a tremendous amount of passion.
RMMW: Please tell me about the origin story of Between Shadow Press?
TB: I, Tohm Bakelas, started Between Shadows Press as a way to release my friends’ chapbooks of poetry who were either scared to submit or constantly being rejected. Obviously the rejections are a part of the game, but it also wears people down. Seeing fantastic writing being shot down constantly pushed me over the edge. I had been kicking around the idea of starting a press for about a year, running it by a few friends, and then my girlfriend said “Why don’t you just do it? You always talk about it.” So I kicked it around some more and kept watching this d.a. levy documentary over and over and it just stuck with me. I think the other tipping point for me was when this fucking editor said to me “Submit to me, I really love your writing.” And like a fool, I did, three times, each with a submission fee, and each time he rejected me. Fuck that shit. By starting this press I hope to eliminate that and provide opportunity to those in similar positions. Also, it’s sort of my way of giving back. Marc at Analog Submission Press published my first chapbook, which led to forging so many wonderful friendships that have lasted for years. Additionally without Johnnie at Budget Press, Lucy at Death of Workers Whilst Building Skyscrapers, and Hank at the Raw Art Review I probably would’ve given up by now too. Without these four individuals, there would be no Between Shadows Press.
RMMW: What do you look for in the writers that you publish?
TB: There’s nothing particular I look for in writers that I have published or plan to publish. I try to look for those who have never been published as well as those who are seasoned in publishing. To me it doesn’t matter. It just needs to be real and have passion. I want the outcasts, the underdogs, the ones hanging on by thread fibers, the junkies, the drunks, the fuckups, those completely swooning in the throes of love, those completely content with their lives, and those with stories to tell about the hell they’ve seen and the hell they’re in. I want it all. I want poetry to remain dangerous. The motto of the press is: “we know what we like” and that couldn’t be truer.
RMMW: Are your books hand bound and printed? If yes, how does it feel to put books together from scratch for your readers?
TB: I wish I knew how to bind books. At this time my books are saddle stitched. My books are printed on 3 separate printers in two separate locations. The whole process is very manual, very laborious, totally insane and absolutely ridiculous. However, I wouldn’t change it. There’s a real personal connection to every page that’s printed, folded, and stapled. All the blemishes are in there, whether the ink runs, the toner bleeds, my kids’ food gets on the pages, or play-dough, or if I bleed on the pages, it’s all in there.
RMMW: Who are the writers you’ve published? And, why did you select their work?
TB: So far I’ve published: Ryan King, Luke Young, Eric Keegan, Victor Clevenger, Christopher Miguel Flakus, myself, Niklas Stephenson, Wesley Cain, John Dorsey, Melissa Taylor, Heidi Anne, Ashley L. Cooke, Cody Taylor, Pete Donohue, Mark Anthony Pearce, Victoria Elena, Linnet Phoenix, Gwil James Thomas, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, John D. Robinson, Danny D. Ford, Claire Richardson, James Norman, Steve Zmijewski, Kevin Tosca, Glen Binger, Tim Heerdink, Joey Camello, Richard Cabut, and Lilyth Coglan. I chose most of them because they’ve supported my friends and I over the years and I love the work they’ve created. It just makes sense to me.
RMMW: Where would you like to see Between Shadow Press 3 years from now?
TB: Hard to say, maybe dead. I am trying to take this day by day. I don’t want to look too far ahead.
RMMW: What are you currently working on writing wise? Another poetry book?
My latest 12 poem chapbook titled “Punk Poets are Pretentious Assholes.” has sold out three times. On May 1st I just released a split chapbook with Gwill James Thomas which has also sold out. And in the upcoming months I have some other things in the works through Between Shadows Press as well as other presses.
RMMW: I was surprised when a small elegant bird was selected for your logo, I thought for sure you would have used the shoe-bill stork, what is the story behind your logo?
TB: My girlfriend asked the same thing, but I chose to save that for something else I’m working on. The bird in the logo is the tufted titmouse, another favorite of mine. They’re beautiful little birds that often feast at my feeders in New Jersey. They make me happy.
RMMW: Is there a writer you are dying to publish but have no yet? And why?
There’s definitely writers I’ve reached out to and offered to do a release, one is an old Cleveland poet I really love and look up to, but they’ll remain nameless for now, they’ll all remain nameless.
RMMW: How do you feel knowing that you are bringing quality writers to the masses? As your author list is impressive and riddled with organic work.
TB: I think poetry has become too bland because of Instagram, Facebook, and Amazon. Anyone can publish a fucking book if they pay for it or put it on Kindle in electronic form. I’m far more interested in printed paper, the tangibility of a finished product. So to be able to take a person’s words and turn it into a chapbook is as great of a feeling for the author as it is me. And to be able to see it purchased in various states, countries, continents is remarkable.