Dante Di Stefano: How did Augury Books come into being?
Kate Angus: I started Augury Books in 2010 with Christine Kanownik, who I’d met in The New School’s MFA program. I’d been Meghan O’Rourke’s poetry reader at The Paris Review as well as a fiction reader at A Public Space so I felt like I understood at least the ins and outs of reading slush piles and such, if nothing else, and Christine was working at Litmus Press. Our friends Sharmi Cohen and Paul Legault had just started the translation journal Telephone (now also a book press affiliated with Nightboat Books), and my friend John David West had just begun his film website Moviefied NYC and I think, for me at least, watching them put their ideas into action made me realize: OK, yes, this is a thing our friends are doing and so can we. Around that time I’d been asked by a former poetry student of mine from Gotham Writers’ Workshop to curate a reading for The Rubin Museum’s “Talks About Nothing” series and so we decided to make that reading also a kind of publicity event to debut our press. After that, things moved quickly: Christine made a website on Wordpress, and we started soliciting poems from poets whose work we loved for an online literary journal, as well as opened up a reading period for manuscripts.
After the first year and our first round of books, Christine stepped down from Augury and Kimberly Steele and Matt Cunha, two other New School MFA friends stepped in. After a while, Matt also had to leave to focus on his outside work, but Kimberly and I kept on plugging away, adding on a former Augury intern, Nicolas Amara, as our Assistant Editor. Then in the summer of 2017, Joe Pan of Brooklyn Arts Press who was a friend and whose fantastic book Hiccups we’d published a few years earlier, approached me about becoming BAP’s first imprint and we enthusiastically said Yes. It’s been a great gift to become a part of BAP and bounce ideas back and forth with Joe and feel so supported.
DD: Could you talk a bit about your poetry catalog? What do Augury Books have in common?
KA: I think all of our books, not only the poetry titles but also our short story collections and our nonfiction title, although very different books by distinct individual voices, all do share certain qualities: surprising and vivid imagery, associative leaps, kinetic energy unfolding within the language, intellectual rigor, emotional expansiveness, and maybe also frequent use of the second person.
KA: These books are both such knockouts! I’m really excited that we are midwifing them into the world.
Arisa White’s book, Whose Your Daddy?, is a hybrid poetry and nonfiction memoir that delves deep into questions of how we are shaped by absence and inheritance, and how we grow. We had the honor of publishing Arisa’s Lambda-Literary-nominated poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing that Happened a few years ago and it’s such a pleasure to see her lyric playfulness and deftness manifest in this book too, as she takes additional artistic and emotional risks. The book takes the reader on a real journey of inquiry and healing.
t’ai freedom ford’s collection & more black is mesmerizing. Her poems, which she describes as “Black-ass sonnets” inspired by Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnets, are rebellious, stunning and revelatory. You can expect to have your socks knocked off; to stay up all night reading, pausing to sit and really take in each poem and let it echo inside you. These poems are so powerful and alive.
DD: What else is on the horizon for Augury Books?
KA: Well, most immediately, in October we are launching a book very close to my heart: poet and musician Alicia Jo Rabins’ Fruit Geode, a witchy collection of poems about motherhood, selfhood, herbalism, the divine and the human. Alicia and I first met as teenagers when we were finalists for the National Young Arts Foundation’s annual contest down in Miamai and then we were freshmen together at Barnard College, roaming around NYC reciting Poetry in Motion poems to each other and getting into ridiculous fights about James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. I don’t really solicit work for Augury—before Alicia’s book and Arisa’s forthcoming memoir, other than the two chapbooks we published our first year, 100% of our titles have come to us through the Open Reading period, but I knew Alicia had this manuscript (her first book, Divinity School, won the 2015 APR/Honickman Prize) and I was dying to read it so I asked her to let me take a look. As soon as I read the first poem I knew that I wanted Augury to be Fruit Geode’s home.
DD: What is one thing American poetry needs more of, in your opinion?
KA: Expansiveness. There should be more room for more voices and aesthetics and a way to make more people all across the board feel welcomed and at home. Sometimes I think poets can get caught up in defending their own turf, either in terms of artistic approach or clique or reputation or actual area, and I just don’t understand that. There is room for a lot of different approaches to our art. I don’t mean that everyone needs to collaborate or spend all their time making friends—solitude is important too and God knows I’m a bit shy and not the most outgoing person in any room—but I think that we’re all trying to do something beautiful and hard and we can respect and appreciate that we’re in that same boat together. Even if we don’t personally feel aesthetically aligned with what someone else is doing, at least we have that same impulse in common and can support each other in that.
DD: You have a great poem called “Schuyler today and the students” in which you say, so beautifully:
What I like
about Schuyler is the way sonatas
and Coca-Cola flourish in the same stanza,
morning glories opening
their bright mouths, and trailing down
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about James Schuyler and some other poets, past and present, whom you admire?
KA: Thank you so much; that’s really nice of you to mention that poem. I sometimes teach a Modern Poetry class at a fashion college in NYC and some students enroll because they’re interested in the subject but usually most are there just to fill a humanities credit and are on the fence about reading poetry. Schuyler changes all that. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve watched fall in love with poetry because of him. He wrote about things they recognize—streets they’ve walked down, he drinks soda and puts it in a poem, he writes about colors and plants and music and love and friendship and sadness and daily life in a way that they live too, and so when they read him they see their own lives echoed. The class always wakes up so much in that moment—a vivid energy sparks up the room.
There are so many poets I love, past and present, that it’s hard for me to only pick a few to mention, but I will say that Frank O’Hara, also, is someone whose work I return to over and over again. His charm and good nature, his energy and the way his poems unfold like you’re sitting on a bench at the park next to a friendly stranger who draws you into the most amazing conversation. And the beautiful longing in Rilke’s Duino Elegies I also have found myself going back to so many times over the years.
I love also Mary Ruefle for the associative leaps she makes, and the perfect strangeness of her poems. Whenever I read her, I want to write. Chen Chen’s work I feel the same way about—I have reread When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities at least 5 times so far—I even wrote him a fan message on Facebook. And Terrance Hayes—American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin is necessary reading: chilling and beautiful and brilliant. I’ve also been really into Tommy Pico’s work lately and Jillian Weise and Ely Shipley and Jennifer Chang.
DD: Could you end the interview by with a poem from an Augury poet?
KA: This is a poem from Alicia Jo Rabins’ upcoming collection, Fruit Geode, which I mentioned before is coming out this fall. Beyond that, I think I’ll let the poem speak for itself.
BOY, GIRL, ANGEL, GOLEM
I am a slot machine
I am a globe
put your finger down
buy a guidebook buy a ticket
find a cheap hotel
in the Old City
meet me on the roof
for a drink
show me the lights from above
read my tongue my bellyshape
boy, girl, angel, golem
you dissolve my allegiance
I forget who I was
I learn to say my new name
the globe collapses
to a dot
the dot is you
I’d follow you anywhere
Dante Di Stefano is the author of two poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016) and Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, forthcoming 2019). Along with María Isabel Alvarez, he is the co-editor of Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump's America (NYQ Books, 2018). All proceeds from this anthology go directly to the National Immigration Law Center.
Kate Angus is the founding editor of Augury Books and the Creative Writing Advisor to the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press 2016) and her poetry and nonfiction have also appeared in The Atlantic online, The Washington Post, Best New Poets 2010, Best New Poets 2014, and the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-A-Day” email series. A former Writer in Residence at Interlochen Arts Academy, she currently lives in New York where she teaches at Gotham Writers Workshop, LIM College, and privately.