Before she founded Mount Analogue, a local press that also hosts stimulating and bizarre art events around Seattle, Colleen Louise Barry was a 22-year-old publishing assistant working 60 hours a week at Random House in New York City. Like any young book lover, Barry conceived of the publishing world as "magical, mythical, and glamorous," she tells me over a drink at Redwood, but two years working in corporate publishing did much to disabuse her of that idea.
Barry distills her dissolution with the industry into a story about an editor who had worked at Random House for so long that she was still allowed to smoke in her office. Every day after lunch, Barry says, this editor would remove her makeup with a warm washcloth in the bathroom at the office. She would then reapply her makeup—"which was a fuck-ton"—and then fold up the washcloth, put it in a ziplock bag, and then stick that bag in her assistant's mailbox. Her assistant was tasked to retrieve the bag and order a bike messenger to deliver it back to the editor's house before the editor returned home from work.
"I felt like it was a metaphor for publishing in general," Barry says. "Here's this useless process that no one is interested in, and we keep neurotically reapplying it, and there's no one watching except for the person doing it and the bike messenger, and you just waste all this energy and time."
She didn't launch Mount Analogue as a conscious rejection of that world. She started the press, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month, because she wanted to create a publishing house that was as wild, multidimensional, and formally innovative as the books it publishes.
"So if Random House is the editor in the bathroom washing her face and sending the cloth back home via courier," Barry explains, "then Mount Analogue is the freak that's in front of the mirror with 10 of her friends and we're all putting lipstick on our foreheads. Then we go out into the street and ask people what they think about it."
That's not just some high-concept, goofy PR talk. Mount Analogue publishes incredible books, radical political pamphlets, journals, comics, and ephemera that you didn't know you've always wanted to read. They package and publicize all that stuff in artful ways that bear some meaningful relationship to the content of the thing they're selling. On top of all that, they host readings and other events around town in an attempt to create connections between artists and writers in Seattle. (And when I say "they," really I mean Colleen Louise Barry. Somehow she runs the whole show herself while also managing to hold down a day job at a sensory deprivation spa.)
Halie Theoharides's Final Rose is a series of screenshots from The Bachelor (with closed captioning on) that she's thoughtfully and humorously rearranged into a story about—what else—loneliness and love and consumerism. It's packaged with plastic rose petals that readers can send to people they would like to marry on television. Instead of promotional blurbs written by other writers and slapped onto the back of the book, Barry sent out questionnaires asking writers about their best/worst dates and how their phone is involved in their love lives and then published the answers on Mount Analogue's website (mount-analogue.com/current). I cannot stress how laugh-cry brilliant and thoughtful this book is. The short, semi-dry essays about pop culture that bookend the narrative provide context without killing the fun of associations between the closed captioning and the still images.
Or take Mount Analogue's most recent title: Manners, a book of poems and collage from Massachusetts poet Ted Powers. Powers breaks up his charming, touching, lyrical-surreal poems with risographed collages. In one of them, four boys with their backs turned to the viewer jump off a dock into a dark, cloudy sky below. The image upends expectations and pre-charges the poem on the next page, "Like Devin in the Movies," with a feeling of summertime loneliness and a desire for escape, enhancing the poem's dark-daydream vibes and its slightly off feeling. The surprising turns in the poem give you whiplash and make you think, "Wait, did that work?" Sort of like replacing the lake with a sky. Which does work: You almost always see the sky reflected on the surface of the lake, after all.
The book itself is just as kooky-gorgeous and secretly complex as the poems inside, with little book-arts Easter eggs hidden all over it. Blue gradient section pages that break up a long poem called "Please Light Up," for instance, literally lighten in color as the poem progresses. Manners features three different kinds and colors of paper (gray, pink, and blue) and two kinds of printing techniques. This one book required four different Seattle businesses to construct: Barry collaborated with Cold Cube Press on the risograph printing for the art in the book, ordered the paper from Kelly Paper, employed Saigon Printing in Beacon Hill to do the offset printing of the poems themselves, and then perfect-bound the caboodle at Phil's Custom Bindery in South Park.
Barry publicized the book using a series of weird "poetry commercials" edited by Chris Lott that perfectly reflect Mount Analogue's aesthetic, a sort of punk surrealism with a quiet sense of humor and light witchery. The videos star different pairs of leather gloves with Powers's poems written all over them. These gloves travel around various weird universes, shaking bananas and caressing the northern lights. In addition to these commercials, Mount Analogue runs a "Dear Ted" advice column on its website.
"Anything to make the circle bigger," Barry says, when I ask why she does all this offbeat stuff for the books. "It's like that episode of The Simpsons where the glass dome gets put over the town of Springfield. The book is the dome, and I want it to keep expanding and expanding and sucking in more people."
On February 28, Mount Analogue launched Manners at art venue the Factory, where all these pieces came together. The poem-splattered leather gloves had returned from their travels through the universe and landed on the table next to copies of Powers's freshly printed book, the cover of which, of course, features a pair of long red gloves. To open the reading, performers KC & SH, known as YOUR DAUGHTER IS ONE, dimmed the lights, lit candles, and read an incantatory, collaborative poem called "mekhasheyfe (witch) tale" that meditated on the idea of "manners." Collages featured in the book hung on the wall behind the readers and were available for purchase. The world of the book was indistinguishable from the world Barry created in the room, which is pretty much Mount Analogue's MO.
If all of this sounds just a tad too twee and academic for you, don't despair: Mount Analogue offers many ways for you to participate in its ecosystem. In collaboration with Paper Press Punch, Barry publishes batches of brightly colored radical political pamphlets distributed for free around town (and available as PDFs on the website). The tone and form of the pamphlets closely reflect the general emotional state of the country. The first batch, published directly after the election, is full of incendiary, conspiratorial material. Later batches have focused on strategies for resistance and recovery. After Trump's first 100 days, Mount Analogue will end the pamphlet leg of this project and transition to publishing an annual perfect-bound journal that focuses on politics and art.
But that's only one side project. Barry also plans to publish an annual comics journal called Spicy Metal that features new work from two comics based on a theme. This year, Northampton's Phoebe Bulkeley Harris and Tacoma's Kelly Bjork will present drawings in response to the theme of "bursting."
Mount Analogue also runs a summer art series. The first show this summer is called Blow Up and will feature all inflatable art.
Finally, Barry collaborates with female-identifying writer-artist types for her Conversations with Women series. The project can be anything, so long as it is conceived of, produced, and made within a single season. Caroline Belle Stewart worked with Barry on the first iteration of the series to create a deck of tarot cards that was also a short story.
Many small presses develop and maintain extracurricular art projects and experiment with publicity as part of their ethos. During her time as a creative-writing graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (where she ran to after NYC), Barry says the example of Flying Object, a recently deceased publishing house and reading series run by Guy Pettit, ultimately inspired her to start Mount Analogue. Pettit called Flying Object "a community space" for lack of a better word, and they hosted writers such as John Ashbery, Cole Swensen, and Dorothea Lasky, as well as musicians such as Waxahatchee and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Publication Studio down in Portland, Oregon, is another good, recently deceased example.
These places are little hives of hyperactive artistic activity, and they can do a lot to elevate new voices and freshen a city's stagnant scene. I don't see anything else like Mount Analogue happening right now in Seattle, and I hope Barry's sunny disposition and seemingly boundless energy keeps it going for the foreseeable future.