NA: Copper Canyon Press is such a successful independent poetry press. I simply love the fact that Copper Canyon is for poets only. But how do you do it? What makes this press so unique and successful?
KF: Thank you for your kind words about Copper Canyon. I think success in the poetry world is largely defined by having a community who supports your efforts, and Copper Canyon has a terrific community of readers, authors, benefactors, volunteers, board members and staff members. We are lucky to have talented and creative folks working at Copper Canyon who are not only passionate about poetry, but dedicated to getting it into the hands of readers.
I also think Copper Canyon--and this is something I noticed when I first began working here--is in a constant state of learning. We are continuously educating and reeducating ourselves on the changing ways of the industry as well as seeking out new authors, translators and diversifying our book lists. We are turning 40 years old this year—it’s definitely been a communal effort with lots of branches, stems, leaves and roots.
NA: Who came up with the name, Copper Canyon?
KF: Our founders decided on the name “Copper Canyon.” It refers a large, open pit copper mine in the western mountains of Utah (as the story goes, it was a sacred spot for some jewelry-making Utes).
NA: What are some of the struggles and the rewards of working with an independent poetry press?
KF: I see the struggles of working with an independent poetry press as part of the rewards. Though I cannot speak for everyone, I think the majority of people working in the poetry publishing industry are aware of the financial challenges of nonprofits and understand that trends in sales are going to be strikingly different than, say, the launch of the iPhone 5.
However, I get to work with some of the nation’s most talented, fiery, intelligent writers. I’m able to interact with poetry on a level that continues to push my intellectual boundaries. Working for an independent press has had dynamic effects on my own poetry--my job has profoundly effected my personal life in a positive and intensely productive way.
I feel a potent, aggressive and ardent sense of gratitude for what I do. When I was studying in Chicago, my MFA thesis instructor Jaswinder Bolina called my attention to how lucky we are, as Americans, to be able to study the art of poetry. Many other countries have economic or socio-economic issues that prevent people from even attending college, let alone attending college to study poetry. I’ve never forgotten this and feel the sentiment carries over into my work with Copper Canyon. It’s not so much that the rewards surpass the struggles, but that the struggles enrich—and in some cases create—the rewards.NA: Whenever I hear the name Copper Canyon, I think of Pulitzers and National Book Awards. Maybe you could say a few words about your recent prize-winning collections. (Feel free to include links to the books, reviews, etc.)
KF: One of our most recent prize-winning collections is Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains, winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award. Space, in Chains is one of those collections that captures contemporary domesticity with such sharpness and, as Stephen Burt writes in his NBCC review, “At times the poems are undoubtedly ‘confessional,’ derived from traumatic moments in the poet’s own life. And yet the same poems that look to Kasischke’s experience ask us briskly to look to our own...”. It’s a startling, graceful collection.
C.D. Wright’s One with Others won the 2010 Academy of American Poets Lenore Marshall Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award that year. Wright did an interview for the National Book Foundation where she says, “Every poet I know is trying to write their way through the vortex of discourses, and moreover, to write against a massive sense of helplessness.” It’s hard not to be profoundly effected by that statement, or by the investigation being done in One with Others.
NA: I am always looking for poetry books in translation. Copper Canyon Press has a nice selection. Is it a challenge to market translations? If so, what do you do to overcome that challenge? Do you have any new books in translation coming out? If so, could you post a short excerpt? And maybe provide a link?
KF: Ah, happy to hear you’re interested in translations! W.S. Merwin’s Selected Translations is forthcoming very soon (you can read a review of it at Publishers Weekly), along with Sun at Midnight, translations of Muso Soseki’s work (2013). Much further down the line in the spring of 2013 is New Poems: Rilke, translated by Joseph Cadora. I don’t feel that it’s “challenging” to market translations, though it’s certainly different than working with English-only poetry collections. I think there’s a huge opportunity to find new readership when you publish (or publicize) translations. It allows Copper Canyon to navigate the landscapes of other countries: our translators help us better understand who the readers of poetry are in China, Japan, and so on. It’s invaluable, really, to have that kind of knowledge, and I think we are all grateful for the trans-cultural insights we get each time a translation gets sent down the rail.
NA: Do you also publish books on craft?
KF: We have in the past, Theodore Roethke’s On Poetry & Craft is one example. In the words of our Executive Editor Michael Wiegers, they are more “the exception, not the rule.” The Press’s mission, first and foremost, is to put poetry into the hands of people. So when it comes to considering new manuscripts, Michael is focused on primarily poetry collections—however, if the right book on craft came along, it would certainly be taken into consideration. A PC answer, I know, but true.
NA: Your book covers are really beautiful. Who designs them?
KF: We have two designers, Valerie Brewster and Phil Kovacevich who regularly work on the cover designs of our titles. In addition to these two graphic designers, Michael and Tonaya Thompson, our Managing Editor, focus lots of time and energy on book design...not to mention the author themselves, who have a hand in selecting artwork and providing feedback on the covers of their collections. For example, the cover of Dean Young’s newest collection Bender: New & Selected is a painting by Young: you can see it here; and Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec cover features a photograph of her actual brother.
NA: How does one become a Copper Canyon poet?
KF: Well...I’m going to go (indirectly) with John Keats on this one. It’s like his theory, a “Mansion of Many Apartments.” Essentially, Copper Canyon is a house with many rooms, and each room represents a different aesthetic, poetic concern, theme, topic, etc. Just as each room in a house has a different key or “way to get in,” so does Copper Canyon. There is no one way to become a Copper Canyon poet. I’m not an authority on the editorial aspect of book selection, but I know Michael Wiegers is a firm believer in brilliance; i.e. brilliant writing that reaches the public both emotionally and intellectually. We occasionally find poets through recommendations, we occasionally solicit specific poets, and we read every submission that come into our mailbox.
NA: I am such a fan of one of your new poets, Natalie Diaz. Her collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, is stunning. On the one hand, her poetry speaks of her Native American childhood, and on the other, it is surreal, melodic, and darkly visionary. I would love you to talk a little bit about her work.
KF: I agree, it’s “darkly visionary” and stunning. I think Natalie Diaz’s poetry speaks to a community of voices that have been historically underrepresented. What’s so fascinating about her writing is how rich in emotion it is while still tackling politically and socially relevant subjects. When My Brother Was an Aztec is not just gently approaching “identity” or “culture,” it’s full-on embracing the collision of language and society, language and love, language and community, and so on. The poems move tactfully between tenderness and brutality so the reader gains quite a realistic picture of her personal life in addition to a more global insight on Native American society.
NA: Could you mention some other new and forthcoming titles? Maybe provide links to interviews, reviews, etc.
KF: Absolutely—we have a great upcoming Spring / Summer 2013 season with collections by Bob Hicok (Elegy Owed, forthcoming in March), W.S. Merwin (Collected Haiku of Buson), former Yale Younger Poet and doctor Fady Joudah (Alight), Kwame Dawes (Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected), Lisa Olstein (poems from her collection Little Stranger will be featured in an album by the band Cold Satellite), Ed Skoog (Rough Day), Tishani Doshi (Everything Begins Elsewhere) and Jane Miller (Thunderbird).
There is also Brenda Shaughnessy’s newest collection Our Andromeda (she has a recent review in The New Yorker where the poems are referred to as “vulnerable, heartbroken, mean, vengeful, and thrilling.”). New York Times bestselling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto has a new collection of poetry due out soon called Letters to Borges, along with Mark Twain Award winner Dan Gerber with Sailing Through Cassiopeia, Tung-Hui Hu (Greenhouses, Lighthouses), and Tom Hennen (Darkness Sticks to Everything: New & Collected).
Dean Young’s Bender: New and Selected has just hit the ground running. We also have some exciting books by debut poets like James Arthur (Charms Against Lightning) and the APR / Honickman Prize Winner Tomas Q. Morin (A Larger Country) that are absolutely polished and beautiful works.
NA: I would like to close the interview with a poem from a Copper Canyon poet.
KF: While I don’t have one favorite CCP poem, I heard Matthew Zapruder read this poem at the Denver AWP in 2010 (before I began working at Copper Canyon) and it struck me as the kind of poem that can make you laugh, but also intensely consider your entire life’s work and commitment to poetry—yes, I wish I was being hyperbolic. It’s from his collection, Come on All You Ghosts (2011) and you can also find it online at The Poetry Foundation website.
Oh this Diet Coke is really
though come to think of it it tastes
like nothing plus the idea of chocolate,
or an acquaintance of chocolate
speaking fondly of certain times
it and chocolate had spoken of nothing,
or nothing remembering a field
in which it once ate the most wondrous
sandwich of ham and rustic chambered cheese
yet still wished for a piece of chocolate
before the lone walk back through
the corn then the darkening forest
to the disappointing village and its super
creepy bed and breakfast. With secret despair
I returned to the city. Something
seemed to be waiting for me.
Maybe the “chosen guide” Wordsworth
wrote he would even were it “nothing
better than a wandering cloud”
have followed which of course to me
and everyone sounds amazing.
All I follow is my own desire,
sometimes to feel, sometimes to be
at least a little more than intermittently
at ease with being loved. I am never
at ease. Not with hours I can read or walk
and look at the brightly colored
houses filled with lives, not with night
when I lie on my back and listen,
not with the hallway, definitely
not with baseball, definitely
not with time. Poor Coleridge, son
of a Vicar and a lake, he could not feel
the energy. No present joy, no cheerful
confidence, just love of friends and the wind
taking his arrow away. Come to the edge
the edge beckoned softly. Take
this cup full of darkness and stay as long
as you want and maybe a little longer.
Kelly Forsythe is the publicist for Copper Canyon Press. She has poems forthcoming or published in Black Warrior Review, Columbia Poetry Review and The Minnesota Review. In 2011, she was featured in American Poet as an Academy of American Poets “Emerging Poet.”
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 was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here.