DM: The idea for White Pine Press germinated while I was spending my final semester of college on an independent study project in Kyoto, Japan in 1973. My degree is in Landscape Architecture and I was studying Japanese gardens but I was also writing and translating poetry. While in Kyoto I met the American poets Cid Corman and Edith Shiffert, both of whom I later published. One of my early poetic influences was Robert Bly, who was the first poet I heard read as a college freshman. His work as a translator lead me to start translating Pablo Neruda and Juan Ramon Jimenez and his work with the Sixties Press was an inspiration. I was aware of the lack of translated poetry being published in this country and thought it would be interesting to start publishing poetry in translation and American poetry. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and also had very little money at the time so I started publishing poetry postcards and chapbooks of poetry. I gradually learned by asking questions of other publishers and graduated to trade paperback books and eventually from IBM Selectric typewriters to actual typesetting. By the mid to late 70s I became aware of small pools of grant funding from CLMP and the New York State Council on the Arts. This allowed us to make the transition and fund full length collections.
White Pine Press’s early strengths were poetry and literature in translation and those continue today. In the 80s we began to add fiction and non-fiction to the mix of work we published. Elaine La Mattina, who joined the press in the mid 80’s as managing editor was instrumental in this expansion and in upgrading the design of our books. By this time we were also able to attract funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and some private foundations which allowed us to expand our production to 10 -12 books per year.
NA: I think of White Pine Press as a press that publishes books with great souls, that is, assuming books have souls. And I, for one, think they do. Is that just by luck?
DM: I would agree with you and certainly you feel the voice and life of the author in the book as well. Over the years we have published a very eclectic mix of voices, not so much as by design, but more by being open to it. The list reflects not only my tastes and interests but also those of a number of associate editors and advisors that have suggested work over the years.
Last year we published an anthology I edited, Finding the Way Home: Poems of Awakening and Transformation, which draws on poems we have published over the four decades around that theme. It is organized geographically with poems from Asia, Europe, Middle East, Latin America and the United States and demonstrates the wide range White Pine Press has published.
NA: Tell me about series the press runs: The Secret Weavers Series, the Companions for the Journey Series, The Korean Voices Series, the Marie Alexander Poetry Series, the Terra Incognita Series . . .
DM: Many of our series are responses to work that wasn’t being published elsewhere. For example Marjorie Agosin, one of our long time authors commented to me that while the work of the male Latin American writers was discovered in the “Boom literature” and translated and published here little work by Latin American women had been. This lead to our Secret Weavers Series of Latin American women’s writing which to date has published over twenty volumes of work by established and emerging women writers across Latin America and the Caribbean. Similarly the Terra Incognita Series of Eastern European writing grew out of discussions with Slovenian poet, Ales Debeljak and others about the dire of writing from that area in English translation. In the case of the Korean Voices Series we had published one volume of Korean literature and were approached by two foundations in Korea to establish an outlet for more work from Korea to be published and we recognized an opportunity to provide texts both for the Korean American community and the academic audience.
All this folds into part of our core mission to introduce the work from other cultures and communities into English.
The Companions for the Journey series was established, in part, to return many of the Asian poetry classics that I valued in my college years to print. In addition I have sought out new work that inspires in one way or another.
NA: How many books do you publish each year? How does one become a White Pine author, if not by winning a contest?
DM: Up until recently White Pine Press was publishing ten to twelve books per year but we have recently reduced our output to eight books per year. This is a reflection both of the general downturn in the economy, particularly in publishing, and also the capacity of our staff and organization.
Over our close to four decades we have published the work of several thousand authors between individual collections and anthologies. The work we select to publish arrives in various ways including open submissions, referrals from other White Pine authors or associate editors, and suggestions from academics in the various language areas we publish. We also solicit work from authors whose work we like and in many cases is out of print. A couple examples of this would include Sonia Sanchez’s book Homegirls and Handgrenades and Robert Bly’s prose poems.
Most of the unsolicited poetry comes to us through our annual poetry prize. While we occasionally have open reading periods due to our small staff we are unable to read a large number of unsolicited manuscripts.
NA: You are known as one of the best publishers of prose poetry collections. Why this interest in prose poetry?
DM: Our publication of prose poetry initially grew out of our commitment poetry. We published Louis Jenkins first chapbook of prose poetry because I saw his work introduced in a magazine by Robert Bly and enjoyed it immensely and tracked him down. We began to publish other prose poets, in part, because we were open to the form at a time when other editors were unsure of it.
The Marie Alexander Series, which focuses primarily on prose poetry, which you asked about earlier, was originally published by New Rivers Press but after the passing of Bill Trusdale, the founding editor, the press stopped publishing. (note - it was later resurrected by Minnesota State University at Moorhead). Robert Alexander, the series editor, approached us about taking over the series at the suggestion of Peter Johnson who we publish and knew of our interest in the prose poem. Robert’s selections for the series have been very eclectic and have embraced projects, including extended prose poem narratives that might have had a hard time being published elsewhere. His selections have been very complementary to the prose poetry we already publish and added a wonderful addition to our editorial range. He has recently added the poet Nickole Brown as an editor to the series which will bring another vision to our work.
DM: Would you talk a little about the new and forthcoming titles and authors? Maybe provide links to interviews, reviews, or events featuring White Pine Press?
Our spring 2011 season includes two books of prose poetry: The Crows Were Laughing in Their Trees by Peter Conners and All of Us by Elisabeth Frost; a new book of poems by Bright Body by Aliki Barnstone; and two books of poetry by the marvelous Argentine poet, Roberto Juarroz: a new book, Vertical Poetry: Last Poems, and a reprint of Vertical Poetry: Recent Poems (which we published fifteen years ago) both translated by Mary Crow. These are the only books of Juarroz’s work available in English.
In the fall we are publishing our first book of Iranian poetry: The Art of Stepping Through Time: Selected Poems of H.E. Sayeh - translated by Chad Sweeney & Mojdeh Marashi as well as our poetry contest winner for this year, Still Life by Alexander Long.
In addition we are publishing two books focusing on China: Searching for Guan Yin by Sarah Truman, a nonfiction account of travel and spiritual journey in Contemporary China, and a new translation of the classic Chinese poetry anthology, 300 Tang Poems translated by Geoff Waters, Michael Farman, and David Lunde. The latter has a story behind it. Several years ago we published a book of Geoff’s translations of Love Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama and while the book was at the printer Geoff passed away of a massive heart attack. He left a couple of unfinished project including this anthology of Tang Poems which he had about eighty percent done at the time of his death. We had spoke about us publishing when he completed it. I asked several of his friends if they would help finish the work and they all volunteered enthusiastically. Michael Farman and David Lunde agreed to finish the translations that were left and Jerome Seaton, who was a fellow graduate student with Geoff, wrote the introduction. I’m very pleased to see thirty years of scholarship that would have ended up in a drawer some where see the light of day.
NA: Running a press must be hard, tedious work, and not exactly high-paying. Yet you do it. What makes it worthwhile? Could you describe some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press?
DM: Obviously I’m not in it for the money nor would I be the first person to say that poetry significantly changed my consciousness. I came out of an Irish Catholic working class environment and was the first one in my family to attend college. After twelve years of Catholic school I knew that was coming to an end and the discovery of poetry in college opened many doors. Gary Snyder, one of my early mentors, opened me to Chinese and Japanese poetry and Buddhism which had a profound influence. I consider myself part of a long zen poet tradition that dates back two thousand years through Japan and China. All this to say that I consider poetry, translation, and editing to be part of my practice.
Of course it can be a lot of hard work editing and producing books, writing grants, and marketing the books but it is also very rewarding. Over close to four decades we have created a large family of writers whose work and friendship I value. It has been very gratifying to know that we have been responsible for bringing these voices to a readership that in some cases might not have found the work had it not been for White Pine Press.
NA: How do you promote your books?
DM: We promote our books through the traditional avenues including book reviews, some advertising, author readings and events. In addition, we have entered the new social media arena with a Facebook site, and are working with our authors to connect with their websites and blogs to promote their work.
NA: Does editing and publishing help or hinder your own creative process? Could you talk a little about your own books, dreams, vision etc.?
DM: I think that it has probably been a mixed bag. The process of editing and publishing has certainly nurtured and influenced my own work but at the same time it has taken time away from my own writing and translating. Gary Snyder, another of my early mentors, suggested that one should consider poetry an advocation rather than a vocation, which I would certainly extend to translation and publishing. Until my retirement several years ago I made my living as a landscape architect, designing parks and playgrounds for the City of Buffalo, NY for thirty four years, and now enjoy a modest retirement check. This allowed White Pine Press to be free of any University or academic ties. While I was working full-time it was difficult to find time to write my own work but I did keep my hand in working on various translation projects. Most of the translating I’ve done has been a collaborative effort since I am not fluent in either language that I translate from, those being Spanish and Japanese. What is of most interest to me is making the poem work as a good poem in English.
Since my retirement I have finished several translation projects and a book of my own poems, Just Enough, which was published last year. I have completed all the translation projects that were unfinished and plan to work on my own poetry now.
Dennis Maloney is a poet and translator. He is also the editor and publisher of the widely respected White Pine Press in Buffalo, NY. His works of translation include: The Stones of Chile by Pablo Neruda, The Landscape of Castile by Antonio Machado, Tangled Hair: Poems of Yosano Akiko, Dusk Lingers: Haiku of Issa, and the recent Between the Floating Mist: Poems of Ryokan, with Hide Oshiro, and The Poet and the Sea by Juan Ramon Jimenez, with Mary Berg. A number of volumes of his own poetry have been published including Sitting in Circles, published in Japan in a bilingual Edition, The Pine Hut Poems, The Map Is Not the Territory: Poems & Translations, and Just Enough. Dennis co-edited, with Jerome P. Seaton, A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including ,The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press.