NA: Tell me about Coconut Books. How did it begin? How many books do you publish each year?
BC: Coconut Books began in 2005, with the publication of Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s Trespass Slightly In and Jon Leon’s Boxd Transistor—both free, downloadable chapbooks. In 2007, we expanded into full-length print books with the publication of Reb Livingston’s Your Ten Favorite Words. In 2014, we’re going to publish 12 titles, and we plan to continue to publish 10-12 titles per year for the foreseeable future.
NA: What distinguishes Coconut from other presses?
BC: Well, I think there are a lot of great poetry presses right now, and certainly Coconut’s aesthetic overlaps with several others—Bloof, Octopus, Horseless, Big Lucks, Trembling Pillow, just to name a few. I think we have a wider range than many other presses, in part because I love so many different kinds of poetry. We also publish mostly first books, and mostly women.
NA: Where did the name come from?
BC: I loved the New York presses of the 60s and 70s that used ordinary, everyday names—Toothpaste, Telephone, etc. So when I was naming the magazine & what was to become the press, I made a list of like 60 different regular words—I can’t remember any of the others right now. But Coconut has great sounds and is a great flavor! I originally had a tag line: “Poetry that’s flaky and not all that good for you,” but then Tao Lin told me that unprocessed coconut was, in fact, good for you. That was before the whole coconut water phenomenon.
NA: You also have an online journal called Coconut. I was wondering if you could say a few words about that, and maybe post a poem from there?
BC: Coconut magazine actually came before Coconut Books. I hadn’t planned on having a press when I started the magazine. At the time, there were almost no online magazines, and I had little money, so beginning the magazine seemed to make a lot of sense. There were a lot of great poets I knew who were having trouble placing their work—I wanted to provide another venue for the writers I loved. I taught myself html and launched the magazine in 2004. Issue 19 will come out this summer. The poem below, by Kate Litterer, is from issue 18:
I Can Do It Myself
I am Juliet's velvet dress.
I am Marie Antoinette's ridiculous hair.
I am Princess Diana's bulimia rot.
I am a crisis hotline.
I am Tank Girl from the movie Helpless Tank Girl.
I am the meat industry.
I am never going to be rehired because I am unreliable.
I am vague fingers.
My name was caught and ripped and regenerated.
My name is Mr.'s.
My name is a tattoo removed.
My name is whatever you say it is.
My name is Witness Protection Agency.
My name is four letters, one e.
You forgot my name and called me hon.
You forgot the natural axis of a human body.
You forgot to clean up the scene.
You forgot that I have feelings.
You forgot to bring me flowers.
I don't like flowers anyway.
I don't like Marie Antoinette’s stupid dress.
I am black miniskirts.
I prefer my limbs move in their natural axis.
I wish Juliet had murdered Romeo in a rage and lived.
I prefer abortions to children.
I am a horrible mother.
I am a wondrous body axis.
I am going to beat you with my own great wings.
I am going to build a wall around you and master you.
I am knowledge.
What I was before you was a black axis.
I am a black widow.
I will widow your body from its axis.
I will meat industry your ability to do manual labor.
I will build you a hospital and name it after me: four big brick letters.
It is whatever I say it is.
My name is I forgot to clean up the scene.
I will call you unreliable without your great wings.
NA: Tell me about your editorial staff. How many people are involved in the press? And the journal?
BC: The editorial side of the Coconut Books is only me. I have several awesome designers and proofreaders—Leah Sewell, Lauren Tobaben, Laura Theobald, Krysten Brown, Aichlee Bushnell, Heather Weaver, Monroe Hammond, and Abby Horowitz—but I select and edit all of the books, and I do some of the layout and design too. Last year, however, I turned over the magazine to the amazing Gina Myers, who edited issues 15-18, with Laura Solomon and me as editors-at-large. With Issue 19, Gina and I have added five new Poetry Editors—Carrie Lorig, Morgan Parker, Marisa Crawford, Khadijah Queen, & Nathan Hauke, plus nine Assistant Poetry Editors: Kristin Sanders, Nikki Wallschlaeger, Paula Jane Mendoza, Rachelle Cruz, Laura Kochman, Liz Chereskin, Ruth Baumann, Cori Winrock, and Zoe Dzunko.
NA: You just finished a reading period for your book competition. Do most of your books come out of reading manuscripts for competitions?
BC: About half of our titles come from manuscripts I’ve read during the contests. I solicit the other half. I love reading all of the manuscripts that come in during the competitions—it’s really amazing to see the work of so many great poets, many of whom I hadn’t read before. With each contest I try to select at least one manuscript from someone I hadn’t heard of before the contest.
NA: How many submissions do you ordinarily receive for a book competition?
BC: Last year we received 404 manuscripts; the number of submissions has increased each year.
NA: What distinguishes a manuscript? What makes it a Coconut Book?
BC: Mostly I love poems that take great risks in whatever aesthetic they employ. I love books that shock me. I don’t advertise the contests broadly—really just among poets at AWP and on Facebook, so all of the submissions we get are really amazing and serious and viable. Each year though, a few manuscripts just blow me away—I read them and say, did s/he really just do that? Is that possible? When I’m asking those questions, I know I’ve come across something totally original and surprising, and I think our readers will have the same reaction. Ji yoon Lee’s entry in 2012 (published this year) was one of those manuscripts—it totally wowed me. But really, all of the books I’ve published wow me!!! Here’s one of Ji yoon’s poems from the book:
Lost in Translation Poem
I am lost in translation but I am not a cute movie with a white girl losing herself in an exotic city. I am at a loss what to say, but I can still make beeping noises like a ice cream truck backing up into children. I am disoriented, but I can never go back to the crime scene. I am lost in translation like the rats in the wall, I am lost in translation like ghost in the machine, I am lost in translation like smoke and mirrors, but reference? What reference?
NA: Who won last year’s contests? And could you give us a poem from one of your winners?
BC: Last year Alexis Pope and Tyler Gobble won the Cargill Prizes, and Jennifer Tamayo and Shelly Taylor won the Braddock Prizes. The year before, Alexis Orgera and Lauren Ireland won the Braddock, and Steven Karl and Ji yoon Lee won the Cargill. Of last year’s winners, only Shelly’s book is out so far. JT’s comes out in July, and Alexis’s and Tyler’s come out in the fall. Here’s an untitled poem from Shelly’s book:
In time as glutton. In you as happy-ending
parlor, Vegas’d your ass back to this desert older,
how the desert gets yearly. I am the woman figure of this poem
poems are holes waiting out what course he will or will not,
has been chosen for him: what else to do with eggs but whisk
I wait, why—the course of whatever eye glint lost
innocent thing I must’ve seen myself as a doe-eyed Astrud G, not
in waiting, the course set, I move my eyes to the coastline
where time slows old hand. Take my speedrack
of all its bottles you so love their every last drop, I cannot
cannot pour from them anymore. Sometimes I feel like Willie when
he sings Karen Carpenter’s I love you where there is no space
or time, the marble of the created wingage I thought you soared
irrevocably, I may not be the smartest man in this town yet
I will love you best, & my legs swinging on
the barstool in the kitchen a believer.
NA: What are some of the highlights of Coconut Press?
BC: Megan Kaminski’s Desiring Map was nominated for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, and Angela Veronica Wong’s How to Survive a Hotel Fire was one of Ms. Magazine’s best books of the year in 2012. Coconut books by Gina Myers, Emily Toder, Jenny Boully, and Steven Karl have made SPD’s Poetry Best Seller Lists. But all of our titles have been highlights for me!! I’ve been able to work with so many great authors, including, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, Jen Tynes, Natalie Lyalin, Denise Duhamel, Kimiko Hahn, Amy Lemmon, Molly Brodak, Christie Ann Reynolds, Hanna Andrews, Amber Nelson, Serena Chopra, Wendy Xu, Nick Sturm, Andrea Rexilius, Natasha Kessler, Carina Finn, Danielle Pafunda, Bernadette Mayer, and Stephanie Berger.
NA: What’s happening with your own poetry?
BC: My sixth book, Change Machine, is brand new from Noemi Press! & I’m going to be doing bunches of readings over the next year!
NA: I’d like close with a poem of your choice from one of your poets.
BC: Here’s Gina Myers’s “Daily Vitamin”, from her 2013 book Hold It Down:
I’m sorry for everything. There’s no way
to hold my arm that doesn’t hurt. I’m too busy
to be busy, so let’s do lunch. Hello, cubicle.
This is what we always fought against.
I told myself that I would remember
what you said, but I forgot. Forget it.
I will never be young again & neither will you,
so cyber-stalk your way to my heart.
I’m trying to make the best out of the morning.
I can’t explain the blood—it’s just there sometimes.
Bruce Covey lives in Atlanta, GA, where he publishes and edits Coconut magazine and Coconut Books and curates the What’s New in Poetry reading series. His sixth book of poetry, Change Machine, was published by Noemi Press in 2014.
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. Follow Nin on Twitter here.