Go to Nin Andrews's blog and read her "Torso of Marilyn Monroe." Do it today!
NA: The first question I have: who comes up with your cover art? I think everyone should click onto your website to see the beautiful covers.
AR & JR: About 90% of the time, the cover art is sourced from the existing work of an artist, and so it comes from all sorts of different places. For the issues of the journal, the decision is ours and we basically go on a wild search through artist portfolios on the web until we find something that seems to make some intuitive sense to us. For the single-author titles, we always try to consult the author first—many of them have some loose idea of what they’re interested in, and we go from there. In a couple of cases—Claire Hero’s afterpastures and Elizabeth Skurnick’s Check-In, for example—the author actually selected the cover art themselves; other times—like Ryan Call’s The Weather Stations and Kim Parko’s Cure All—we tried out a number of different options before landing on the one we wanted; and very occasionally—as in the case of Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine and Matt Bell’s The Collectors—we’ve actually designed the cover illustration ourselves.
Perhaps the best story of a cover coming together, though, was in the case of Bird Any Damn Kind. We went through mock-up after mock-up, always ending up either unable to find the rights holder or unsatisfied with the results, and it got to the point where the deadline was fast approaching, the layout was done, and we still needed a cover. And then Lucas Farrell, the author, finally let slip that his wife, Louisa Conrad, is an accomplished visual artist. A quick scan of her portfolio and we knew we were on our way; there’s a real conversation going on between his writing and her visuals which made her the perfect choice.
NA: How would you best describe your press? How many books do you publish each year? Are all of your books contest-winners?
AR & JR: Caketrain is an independent journal and press imprint run by two people out of their apartment in Pittsburgh. We champion the broadening of literary horizons and reward literature which demonstrates daring and a willingness to experiment. We publish four books each year: the winner and runner-up of our annual competition, a single-author title acquired by us outside of the competition, and an issue of our annual journal.
NA: You are located in Pittsburgh. Do you do a reading series in Pittsburgh? Do you have a local presence?
AR & JR: Our efforts to date have been concentrated entirely on the books themselves. We haven’t really done much in the way of readings, not only because we lack the time and energy for a reading series, but because there are plenty of groups in the city—The New Yinzer and Open Thread, for example, not to mention the many universities—who already build literary community through local events more effectively than we ever could. While we’re not very prominent in that community, we do feel it’s important to give attention in venues like this to the fact that one could scarcely imagine a better place to make books than here in Pittsburgh. From the very beginnings of Caketrain, we’ve experienced an outpouring of support and a feeling of shared concerns on a local level that has been instrumental to keeping us in the mindset of sustaining this project.
NA: I first heard about your press from Tom Whalen, whose book, Dolls, was selected by Denise Duhamel as the winner of the 2006 Caketrain Chapbook Competition. Have you published other collections of prose poetry and flash fiction?
AR & JR: There’s a lot of flash fiction and prose poetry in the journals, but as far as the collections go, a lot of our books blur lines in this respect. All the Day’s Sad Stories and The Collectors are novellas told in what is essentially flash fiction; Ghost Machine and Cure All both have elements of prose poetry and flash fiction in them; our next book, due in early 2012, is a memoir told in paragraphic blocks that are something like poetic flash fictions. We don’t really concern ourselves an awful lot with where these things belong in terms of genre.
NA: It looks as if you have chosen not to sell many of your books on Amazon. Am I correct?
AR & JR: Caketrain paperbacks are available exclusively through Powell’s Books and www.caketrain.org. Our growing catalogue of ebooks is available through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as directly through www.caketrain.org.
NA: Tell me about some of highlights of the press. Feel free to provide links to interviews, events, or reviews.
AR & JR: The past year has been incredibly exciting for us. Ghost Machine was selected as one of the top 20 poetry books of 2010 in The Believer’s annual reader survey; after several reprints, it now holds the distinction of being our best-selling title to date. Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party was released last May and is presently giving Ghost Machine a run for its money. Perhaps most incredibly, just last month, Ryan Call—whose debut collection, The Weather Stations, was published by us this past March—received a Whiting Writers Award. All of this leaves us exhilarated, proud, thankful, and hopeful for the year to come.
Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed are co-editors of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Caketrain Journal and Press. Their work consists of editing and publishing an eponymous literary journal, nine issues to date; and a press imprint, which has issued chapbooks and full-length titles from Elizabeth Skurnick, Tom Whalen, Claire Hero, Matt Bell, Tina May Hall, Kim Parko, Ben Mirov, Lucas Farrell, Ryan Call, Sarah Rose Etter, and Sara Levine.
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.
Yesterday I said I was going to talk about distribution paths for poetry, but mine certainly isn’t any kind of definitive word. We choose how we give and get our poems; we choose which poems we love and hate, both of our own and others. The cultural shift from canonicity to community implies that the notions of “poets anointed” or the “cream of poetry” are merely modes of discourse, rather than something objectively “true.” Editors choose the contents of a journal as forms of self-expression in the voices of like-minded poets from the same poetic community. Best American Poetry is an editor’s expression of a range of voices that sparks conversation about other great poems from the year, and what “best” means for each of us. For me, the most interesting journals and anthologies make loud choices—i.e., are able to recognize the extremes of their chosen aesthetic(s). I count BAP among the best anthologies. I count No Tell Motel, Court Green, LIT, Word For/Word, Jubilat, Jacket, No Posit, Octopus, Columbia Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Denver Quarterly, Anti-, Ping-pong, Tarpaulin Sky, H_NGM_N, 1913, Noo, Glitter Pony, Pank, Lana Turner, RealPoetik, Shampoo, and Weave as just a teeny few of many, many, many awesome journals being published today, in a wide variety of aesthetics (see the forthcoming “links” page on the forthcoming new Coconut for a more extensive listing).
Let’s scare you up some drama. An 18th century peepshow. A typical entertainment of the time period. Take a look. Through this peephole. The dimensions pile on, revealing a poor paint job. There I was, fearless and standing on tables. Now I am something vivid. You are some thing. Seaward. What are whales? Why are whale hunted? In your sleep I start stealing your slow-ish motions. A puddle of pale blue on the floor. The most delicate patch of it. In the city their hands smell of oranges. Soon I will stop. Matching you stroke for stroke. I count the scratches on your back. I name them like ships.
--Lily Ladewig, from “Shadow Boxes,” from the current Word For/Word
The shift from canonicity to community implies that hard-drawn aesthetic “lines in the sand” are outmoded. “Experimental” and “traditional” are meaningless, with form and narrative and epiphanies and visual poetics and Black Mountain influences and lang-po influences all thrown into the same mixing bowl. In a room full of Frank O’Hara disciples one will find 50 radically different poets. Similarly, we need not feel ashamed if our poetic influences include, for instance, John Berryman among a dozen great NY School poets. This isn’t to say that all evaluative categories for poems must be defenestrated; instead, however, I propose that we consider relative value (originality, profundity) within the context of particular, vital poetic communities (or within the context of a single poet’s trajectory) as a more effective measure of greatness.
Once in a while the contents are so varied that one cannot label a drawer. How to categorize the scrap of pulse and ankle length of twine? One begins to fail the crucial moment—pulling out anchors in flight time, wrongfaced watches. When the hinge catches, panic fuels the tug of war; one can only push or pull. The secret stash half exposed, the runner off its track.
--Hanna Andrews, from Slope Move, forthcoming from Coconut Books
The Vida numbers seem particularly devastating for me in this age of community poetics. A vital community should, of course, not only be open to anyone, but should embrace diversity. A vital community doesn’t make assumptions about poetics based on gender or race. A vital community is individuals honoring the poetics and identities of its members through open conversation.
I love hosting a reading series, even if before each event I get nervous that the audience won’t be big enough or that I’ve forgotten the mic. More than anything I want the readers to be happy—to feel like they have a good setting to perform in. I love meeting new poets. I love going to readings. I love giving readings. I love buying and trading books at readings and conferences (avoiding the three-letter conference out of respect for Nin!). I tend to buy books more frequently from poets with whom I’ve had contact. I buy books full of exciting (to me) poems, of course, but I also buy books from poets I like, even if I’m not the perfect audience for their poetics. Poets aren’t poets if we only stand in the corner and don’t join the party, even though, of course, we choose who to talk to and avoid the bullies.
I haven’t met Sawako Nakayasu in person, but we’ve emailed a lot. I love her poems. Her brand new book (Mouth: Eats Color: Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-Translations, & Originals) just arrived in the mail today. On first glance it seems to question the whole notion of authorship with ("collaborative"? "translated"?) pieces written by or attributed to other poets (Mina Loy, Harry Crosby, Frances Chung). Lines and whole poems in Japanese. A handwritten reproduction. The whole book an intimate conversation, as if everything is translation.
Insects multiplied with the speed of an electric
Lapped up the boils on the earth’s crust.
Turning over its exquisite costume, the urban night
slept like a woman.
Now I hang my shell out to dry.
My scaly skin is cold like metal.
No one knows this secret half-covering my face.
The night makes the bruised woman, freely twirling
her stolen expression, ecstatic.
Tomorrow: more about forthcoming Coconut books.
This week we welcome Nin Andrews and Nicole Santalucia as our guest bloggers.
Nin Andrews’ poems and stories have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies includingPloughshares, The Paris Review, Best American Poetry (1997, 2001, 2003), The Best American Erotic Poems, and Great American Prose Poems. She won an individual artist grant from the Ohio Arts Council in 1997 and again in 2003 and is the author of several books including Spontaneous Breasts, winner of the Pearl Chapbook Contest, Any Kind of Excuse, winner of the Kent State University chapbook contest, The Book of Orgasms published by Cleveland State University Press, Why They Grow Wings published by Silverfish Press and winner of the Gerald Cable Award. Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, published by Web Del Sol,Sleeping with Houdini, published by BOA, Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum, published by Subito, and Southern Comfort, published by CavanKerry Press. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the French poet Henri Michaux entitled Someone Wants to Steal My Name from Cleveland State University Press. She keeps a blog of her daily comics here.
Nicole Santalucia is the poetry editor of Harpur Palate and is pursuing a PhD in English with a concentration in creative writing at Binghamton University. She made the 2011 Convocation Address at Cazenovia College and has recently received an honorable mention grant from the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. In March of 2012 she will read her work at the Poetry Center in Paterson, NJ for the the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award reading event. Nicole also leads the Graduate Student Readers’ Series at Binghamton and assists the director of The Binghamton Center for Writers- two projects she enjoys because they motivate others to read, listen to, and discover poetry.
Welcome, Nin and Nicole.
Here they are in a casual mood . . .
Which do you prefer?
Read Guest Editor Kevin Young's introduction and Series Editor David Lehman's foreword here.
I fear I might be misreading Trilling. It has been so long since I actually read his book, I can't even find it now. All that remains is the quote below, which obviously stuck in my head a bit, almost as a judgment.
Hope you are well!
Above my desk I used to have a quote from the final lines of Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity:
The falsities of an alienated social reality are rejected in favor of an upward psychopathic mobility to the point of divinity, each one of us a Christ—but with none of the inconveniences of undertaking to intercede, of being a sacrifice, of reasoning with rabbis, or making sermons, of having disciples, of going to weddings and funerals, of being something and at a certain point remarking that it is finished.
He sounds so noble. As if with a flourish of his pen, he could discredit the halo-seeking poet of alienation—the postmodern artist who sees himself or herself as apart from the culture, perhaps helplessly at odds with it.
But lately I’ve been wondering, what if it is only natural to feel alienated, disillusioned, abstracted? Is it possible not to feel like a cultural anomaly as a poet in this country? Especially if you are a poet in Poland, Ohio, or a living oxymoron? Especially when you meet your yoga teacher at the local vegetarian deli, only to have her ask you if you have any poems she could read for sivasana ( the relaxation meditation at the end of class), poems like Rod McKuen’s or maybe Mary Oliver’s?
I don’t think of myself as a snob, but I do feel disgruntled at times like that.
Of course, my poet friends have argued that James Wright did okay in Martins Ferry, Ohio. To which I respond: Is there a place for a contemporary James Wright?
Don’t get me wrong. I used to love James Wright. I’m just not such a huge fan these days. Maybe I am just too grumpy. Maybe I’ve grown too cynical to think I could break into blossom. I’ve started to doubt the poets of transformation, poets who can see a chicken hawk and conclude they have wasted their life. Poets who see a torso of Apollo and conclude you must change your life. Poets who hear wild geese and preach that “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Really? Is that all?
These days when I see a hawk flying overhead, or geese, or when I see a torso of Apollo, I can conclude only that I have become a bitchy poet. I find myself making up alternative pronouncements to replace the famous: You must change your life. After all, changing one’s life seems a bit daunting. How about: You must wash the sheets. You must brew the coffee. You must cut the dog’s toenails. Or how about the via negative: You must not floss your teeth in public. You must not mistake the word, clock, for cock or vice versa. You must not overuse syllepis. Or mistake them for zeugmas.
NA. My first question is about the name, CavanKerry. A nice Irish name. Can you tell me how you came up with this name? What it means to you? Is there anything Irish about the press besides the name?
JCH People often ask about the origin of the CavanKerry Press name. It originated with my mother. Her cancer erupted during my earliest days planning for the press, and she seemed energized discussing our progress. Her interest in my writing, which had until then been lukewarm at best, also increased; until then, her pride had focused on my education and my long time career as a psychologist in clinical practice. But when she got sick, she wanted to know about my writing and wanted me to read to her, so during our daily visits, I often read to her from my memoir about the early days of our family. That was a great joy for both of us.
In a conversation about possible names for the press, a friend suggested I name the press for her—Mary’s Press or O’Connor Press or some variation. I liked the idea of honoring her, but I didn’t want to exclude m father, nor did I want to name the press after any one person. Our goals included creating a community, so I wanted a more inclusive name. The combination of Cavan and Kerry, the two counties in Ireland where my parents were born and raised, seemed the most natural way to honor both of them and the two lands that spawned my own writing. Though the name came quickly. I researched the logo endlessly. I wanted a Celtic symbol that would define CavanKerry, so I studied the Book of Kells and settled on the linked circles which represent our core value, equality—separate identities and relatedness, equality of voices—diverse and distinct, equality of artist and audience—speaker and listener.
So, though I never conceived of CavanKerry as an ‘Irish’ press, its name. logo, and sensibilities are: fine writing, individuality, community, and generosity.
NA. You started CKP eleven years ago. What inspired you to start a press? What are the best and worst aspects of being a publisher?
JCH The story of CavanKerry Press begins with my own writing story and is grounded in my study of human behavior and my life as a clinical psychologist. People fascinate me. As do their stories. Each and every one—diverse and unique, public and private. But that doesn’t really explain my need to publish books.
Ever since I started writing, which was in my early 40s, I was acutely aware of the lack of opportunities for new writers, for older writers (youth is venerated in all of the arts—particularly in our culture), for a preference for more intellectual over emotional/psychological poetry which I preferred, wrote and considered most vital. The fact that I am a psychologist as well as a writer and publisher clearly informed this preference--I believe we write to communicate and that the deepest connection between people is emotional. It follows then that it is the work that speaks to/from that intimacy/vulnerability that I would find most gratifying and nourishing. It would certainly be the work I’d most likely turn to if awake in the middle of the night. It was the poetry that I read, loved and wrote. It’s what I longed to publish.
Ed note: John Lane is a naturalist, author, professor of Environmental Literature and Creative Writing at Wofford College, and co-founder of the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina
NA: I first met you at a poetry reading back when you were a Hoyns Fellow at the University of Virginia. Already an accomplished poet, I remember listening to you read the poem, “Quarries,” which beautifully articulates the poet’s need to look at the losses in the world, a poem I am happy to find in your new and wonderful collection, Abandoned Quarry. The poem ends with the line: I longed to grow into a man and work/to quarry the emptiness outward/until all was level again. I know it’s an odd question, but I’d love to know how you see your evolution as a poet? How has your quarrying been?
JL. Thank you Nin. That was I believe 1980. A long time ago. (It’s getting close to the time when “half a lifetime ago” isn’t just a figure of speech!) I’ve always loved that poem “Quarries,” which I wrote during my Hoyns Fellowship year in Charlottesville. It’s one I return to often when I want some sort of hard fix on what I want from my poetry. I’ve got a great story that goes with its republication in Abandoned Quarry. I was back in Charlottesville last fall as a visiting environmental writer at UVA’s Brown College and I had breakfast with Greg Orr, my mentor in whose workshop I wrote “Quarries” over 30 years ago. It was a very emotional visit for me—walking the Lawn and seeing old friends. It was one of the few times I’ve been back there since I left in 1981. As you know, lots of my changes were there, both good ones and bad. When I told Greg the name of the new & selected poems I had due out from Mercer University Press he picked up the reference to the old poem right away. “I can’t wait to read the poem called “Abandoned Quarry,” he said. I had to admit to him that I had not written a poem called “Abandoned Quarry,” and he said, “Well, get to it. You can’t call that collection ‘Abandoned Quarry’ unless there’s a poem to show why.” So that next day I wrote a first draft of the poem “Abandoned Quarry” in the Charlottesville airport on the notes app of my iphone! In a few days I sent it to Greg right and we “work shopped” the poem back and forth, and now I have that new echo poem to that one written over 30 years ago. Strangely enough, it was written in Charlottesville. So after 30 years of, as “Quarries,” says, “thick dust stirring, then slowly settling around me,” I’m still at it!
NA: I often think of you as a nature poet, recalling many of your poems that move gracefully from the natural to the personal, from the intimate to the infinite. But you write other kinds of poems including your quirky and insightful dead father poems. I am not usually a fan of dead father poems, but yours I love. They remind me of how the dead actually do continue to talk to us—in the most ordinary ways. I love how the dead father in the poems is cooking hash browns, gambling, telling you to change the oil in your car, etc. Can you talk a little about these poems? Which poem was your first dead father poem?
JL: Those are real ghost poems. I wrote the first one—“My Dead Father Dressing”-- at Interlochen Arts Academy in the winter of 1987 or ’88. I was there teaching as a poet in residence for a semester. I’d been out cross country skiing and I’d piled my wet clothes in the corner of my little room when I returned and then sat down to type at my computer. Out of the corner of my eye I had this funny little vision of my long dead father putting on my clothes. The spooky visitation only lasted for a few microseconds but in the midst of it I began typing this poem, “I see my dead father in the room…” A little background: a few weeks before at Christmas my mother had given me my father’s driver’s license. He’d died, a suicide, in 1959 when I was five years old. Well, when I looked at the license I noticed that my father was only 5’6”. I never knew that. I’m over 6’! Well, that I believe was the beginning of it in my unconscious. Fathers are supposed to be bigger than sons, and yet my father was a half a foot shorter. There also was the whole thing Donald Hall made famous among poets with his long poem “The Day I Was Older.” Will we live more years than our fathers were given? (Or our mothers?) Well, in 1987 I was 33 years old, and I knew my father took his own life when he was 44. Over the next ten years I wrote the rest of the poems that appeared in The Dead Father Poems, the beautiful letter pressed Horse & Buggy collection in ‘99. The last one in the collection (or section in the new & selected) is “My Dead Father Rebuilds My Engine,” where he rebuilds an old car in my yard and then “hands me the keys.” Very metaphoric! And I wrote that when I was approaching the age my father was when he died. It’s all about ambition (“a dream with a V-8 engine,” as Elvis said) and about my dead father giving me permission to go on without him. The last poem written though was the one called “My Dead Father Visits my Mother.” This poem was a request written for my friend, the poet Deno Trakas. He read the collection in draft and said, “You know what’s missing? He’s got to go over and visit your mother.” He was right and so I added that one in before it was published.
NA: I have been enjoying your two new books, Abandoned Quarry, and The Best of the Kudzu Telegraph, bending the pages of the poems and essays I like the best. As I do this, I think of how authors often read the same pieces from their collections over and over again—when they give readings. I am wondering if you could name one or two of your favorite poems and essays to read aloud?
JL: It’s hard to decide. There are 107 poems in there written over a period of 33 years in the collection, so I could dip in almost anywhere. I have little colored markers on the ones I read a bunch. There’s “Quarries” and “Tony Dorsett and his Band,” from the early years, and I have to read “Sweet Tea” if I’m in the South (it’s become my “Sweet Baby James” here in South Carolina) and I like to read the “Certainty” section from the long poem “Against Information,” and I always read a “Dead Father Poem” or two, and the Mark O’Conner improvisation “Delta Morning Blues,” and of the new poems I’ve read “My Sister Cleans Out My Ears” several times, and “Cliffs of Moher” once or twice. With The Best of the Kudzu Telegraph I like to always read “The Battle for Suger Tit,” and “The Not So Constant Gardner” and “Ode to a Truck” and “Whose Planet is it Anyway?” I think those transcend the local and people seem to enjoy them all over, even above “the kudzu line.”
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.