publication cover shows a young man gazing at the camera through an opening in a roof. He prefers to spit. The title is at the top in white font.
Places to Spit is one of TEMPER’s two debut projects. Credit: Courtesy TEMPER Press

“We are identifying ‘micro-movements’ and allowing others to explain them to us,” says Jourdain Barton, a cofounder of Chicago’s TEMPER Press. Born to foster experimental writing, TEMPER emerged from such a micro-movement: a bond shared by Barton and her grad school classmates Geoffrey Billetter and Nat Holtzmann. To them, micro-movements are smaller, unidentified capsules of creative collaboration squashed or overlooked by the conventional publishing industry. So together they formed a press designed to support that unclassifiable literature, offering a network for writers in print and in person.

As Barton, Billetter, and Holtzmann completed their master’s program in writing in 2023 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the trio felt compelled by their friendship to start TEMPER, an effort to rethink traditional publishing and the insularity of writing as a medium. Their frustrations against what traditional literature requires from the writer, such as formal limitations or rising submission fees, incubated by their shared visions, materialized as a platform for experimentation. And it’s an open invite for all writers and artists.

“[TEMPER] is an opportunity to take this insular creative friendship and invite other people in,” Holtzmann says. “It’s a way of taking the notion of community but making it smaller-scale, widening it, but not sacrificing what we are calling ‘micro-movements’—these more insular, tight-knit friendships. [It’s] an opportunity to pair these conversations with a wider network and hopefully create other micro-movements.”

Unlike most presses, small or large, TEMPER isn’t interested in setting the rules. Instead, the trio intends to push the boundaries they think limit the scope of creation by listening to underrepresented writers. Places to Spit, one of TEMPER’s two debut projects, is situated in the artistic underground, from “clandestine haunts to local DJ sets.” In the spaces where the community struggles to congeal, TEMPER hopes to stimulate those bonds.

“We want to express to people who are doing boundary-pushing and genre-pushing work that we know how to look at it and respect the shape that it is in already,” Billetter says. “We are invested in how you conceive of the piece and [don’t want to] try and shape it into our own ‘house style.’”

Black and white headshot shows Geoffrey's bust. He looks at the camera and smiles. He has short hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and wears a mustache.
Geoffrey Billetter
In Barton's black and white headshot, she looks at camera with a straight face. She has wavy dark hair and high cheekbones.
Jourdain Barton
In Nat's black and white headshot, the other looks at camera with a slight smile. She has shoulder-length hair and wears a sweater. A chainlink fence is behind her.
Nat Holtzmann

Gunplay, their additional debut, models poetry as dialogue. Its first volume features seven “issues” or envelopes with two poets published together, situated in conversation or opposition by the editors. The goal is to break the impersonality of traditional publication, especially because, as Billetter puts it, “it is hard to trust when you don’t know the editor.” TEMPER’s editors intend to prioritize the complex relationships between editor and writer.

“An explicit part of [TEMPER] is putting two works in conversation for Gunplay,” says Holtzmann. “In Places to Spit, [we’re] trying to create relationships between the artists we publish, even if they haven’t met. There is relationship-building in many different ways through the actual art.”

Photo shows an orange envelope stamped with the word "GUNPLAY." Coming out of the envelope are two sheets of poetry. The background is black with a gold abstract design.

The first volume of Gunplay features seven “issues” or envelopes with two poets published together, situated in conversation or opposition by the editors.
Credit: TEMPER Press

TEMPER’s community focus doesn’t neglect the already established communities in Chicago. Network building is what drives the three editors, and as the press grows, they aim to form partnerships and bonds with other writers and artists in the city. Specifically, the editors currently work closely with Nakiyah T.M. Jordan, the host of Eli Tea Bar’s Poetry Open Mic.

As a new press, the editors hope to integrate with Chicago’s existing resources for artists and writers. Holtzmann mentions groups such as Exhibit B or Meekling Press as forerunners of Chicago’s literary scene. TEMPER wants to join and uplift existing movements. Holtzmann claims “the spirit of the press is collaborative,” a foundation inspired by the time they spent with each other’s work.

What makes TEMPER’s vision so rich is the editors’ dynamic literary styles. Barton, works in performance art and poetry; Holtzmann, predominately in prose; and Billetter, creates hybrid poetic forms—all break open the literary tradition and question it. But they insist on not leaving anyone out, and for them, anything is fair game when it comes to submissions. Even if conceived in the convergence of their voices, the press values the deviations.

“You hear terms like hybridity, interdisciplinary, and things like that, but how does that apply to literature, which is often thought of as this other discipline compared to the capital ‘A’ arts,” Barton says. “TEMPER is taking the logic that exists within circles of performance art and plastic arts where everyone is constantly influencing, borrowing, stealing, and opining in a way that’s immediate.” 

Once TEMPER published its debut collections, Barton relocated to Paris, establishing a satellite for the press. From the onset, the editors planned to launch the press simultaneously in the two cities. Like their view on literary requirements, they did not want the press to be suffocated by city or regional boundaries.

Holtzmann is currently seeking submissions for TEMPER’s newest imprint, Green Blood, a prose-based series that prioritizes language over story, sticking to the press’s desire for stylistically inventive work. Additionally, new issues of Gunplay and Places to Spit are in the works.

In another effort to loosen the editorial voice, TEMPER’s latest in-progress project offers writers a chance to engage with copublished work. For Three, the editors will select three writers who will provide commentary and introductions written among the creative work. This more pointed project will be packaged and sold with the press’s full anthology, the TEMPER Review.

“You spend a lot of time in private creating something; you hand it off to somebody else, and they tell you something privately. And there’s this huge gulf of timing,” Barton says. “One thing we learned when looking at each other’s work is this preparation to look at the work of strangers and how the sense of immediacy changes things. I get this work. I look at the work and look at the work it coexists next to, and that’s the only way I can really encounter it.”

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