A CONVERSATION WITH: CANARIUM BOOKS
On their website, the editors at Canarium Books describe their goal as: “to [publish] poetry by established and emerging authors from the United States and abroad.” Abroad is a key word here. Not only does Canarium publish some tremendous contemporary American authors—Ish Klein, John Beer, and more—but Canarium specializes in bringing the work of previously overlooked international authors to small press readers.
Featuring published and forthcoming translations of work in Russian, French, and Japanese, Canarium has set out to broaden the range of contemporary publication. Their editorial staff are spread across three states, which presents its own challenges and opportunities. Yet, with only three books a year, Canarium pours time into each of its publications. Books on Canarium regularly receive press in reviews such as Poetry and Publishers Weekly.
In a recent interview, director and editor, Joshua Edwards discussed vision and communication at Canarium and some new releases for AWP.
I’d like to start by talking a little about how you see the press. What are the features that make a book a good fit for Canarium? What is the most crucial thing you’re looking and listening for when you consider work for publication? Within the wider world of publishers, how do you define the territory you’re exploring as editors?
Joshua Edwards, director and co-editor: We see the poetry we publish in terms of constellation and community, and as such the press and our sense of its future develops with each new collection. That said, last time I was in Iowa, Robyn and I were discussing what we’ve published so far, and we decided that “relentless” and “visionary” are good descriptors–we were partly joking, but I think it’s true that we look for ambition and obsessiveness. We also look for poems that are communicative, in the sense that themes are apprehensible, and we listen for voices that engage, with pathos or humor or irony or worldliness or whatever, the anxieties of our time as well as the tradition of lyrical poetry. As for territory, in the aesthetic realm I think our authors are collectively and individually broad in their range. I can only see them in terms of my own taste, which I don’t want to publicly map onto their work. Beyond aesthetics, we’re part of the “small is beautiful” movement–since we put out three collections each year we’re able to devote a lot of time to each book’s publication and production. We also stick with our authors. I guess you might say we get involved.
Talk to me about the beginnings of Canarium. Where did this idea come from? How has it evolved as a press? How do you handle issues of distance in the editorial process?
JE: Canarium Books developed out of The Canary, an annual poetry journal edited by Anthony Robinson, Nick Twemlow, and myself from 2003 until 2008. A friend and supporter, Ed King, helped us get the journal up and running and stay running for six issues, then Robyn, Lynn, Nick, and myself decided we’d like to try our hand at a press. We came up with a plan that the University of Michigan Creative Writing Program (where I did my MFA) liked, and they really helped make everything possible: the school hosts a Canarium reading each year, students serve as editorial assistants, managing editors, summer interns, and manuscript readers, and the program covers the cost of printing (which is done just outside Ann Arbor by McNaughton & Gunn). It’s a fantastic partnership, and we couldn’t do it without them. Two former UM students, Russell Brakefield and Franke Varca, were managing editors who continue to be a big part of the editing process, which usually happens after a month-long open reading period each year. Because our editorial offices are split between Michigan, Iowa, and California, we have small meetings in each place, then get down to brass tacks over e-mail and Skype.
Thinking back again to when Canarium began, what do you do now that you would never have imagined when your first thought of starting a press? What day-to-day work goes into running Canarium?
JE: I think we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting ourselves into because we ran the journal for so long, and we knew the literary landscape by the time Canarium Books began, but I didn’t anticipate all the hustle–tons of correspondence, fulfilling orders, entering contests, traveling to AWP, driving for reading tours. I really enjoy all aspects of the day-to-day, but it does take up a lot of time. On a slightly different note, I would never have imagined making so many good friends as a result of running a press.
One feature that I noticed in reading the work of your authors is that many of their poems tend to “pivot” down the page. By that, I mean that their poems are often lineated to invite the reader to think of the lines more as pieces of a whole rather than accentuating the individuality of each line. How do you picture the line? What sorts of experiments with the line attract you most?
JE: That’s an interesting observation, and one I’ve never really thought about in the context of what we publish. It may be the result of our devotion to the lyric as well as the sentence, and perhaps that devotion is part of the “territory” you asked about earlier. Again, I don’t want to ascribe anything to Canarium authors, or the other editors, but for my money the utterance of sounds between breaths to convey ideas is pretty much as experimental as it gets, and the line does well to tinker with that while treating breath, image, and ear with equal esteem. Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Charles Olson, Anne Carson, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot have all worked with the line in interesting ways that I also see explored by our authors.
Admittedly, the “crisis in poetry” is a bit of a dead horse, but I’m interested in how publishers and authors conceptualize their work. Who do you imagine when you think about a reader sitting down with a Canarium book? What sort of reader do you wish you could more effectively reach?
JE: I don’t imagine readers for the books, but it’s been fascinating to watch our books find their different paths. It would be nice to reach more people in general, especially readers overseas and students–it’s always wonderful to hear that a book is being taught in a class. I remember being blown away when I finally found started reading Modernists, Symbolists, and contemporary American poets when I was in my early 20s. Canarium Books is really an extension of a readerly desire for that sense of discovery.
To speculate wildly a bit, give me a brief description of the poetry landscape in ten years. Where does Canarium fit in that landscape?
JE: I don’t know if American poetry in general is in a trough or on a wave right now, but if we all make it to the other side of December 21, 2012, I expect I’ll look back on these as the good old days. I hope small press publishing will still be thriving in ten years (a big shout out here to the indispensable folks at Small Press Distribution–if it is they’ll be a big reason). Whatever’s going on, I believe American poets will be more engaged with the rest of the world, and I hope that Canarium is able to do its part to bring international poetry to America and vice-versa. Translation will become a bigger part of what we do in the future, especially if we’re able to publish more books each year–this year we’re publishing Emmanuel Hocquard’s The Invention of Glass (translated by Cole Swensen and Rod Smith) and in 2013 we’ll publish the collected poems of the great Japanese modernist Chika Sagawa (translated by Sawako Nakayasu). I look forward to the day a translation of one of our authors is published abroad. I almost finished without mentioning the internet, but since this interview may be archived in perpetuity, I’d better say that the internet will be ever bigger, more insidious, beautiful, and brutal in 2012 than it is now. Nothing will escape it. The physical book will become a fetish object that only poets and collectors care about. Either that or everyone who survives the apocalypse will be writing poems with berry ink on animal skins in the waste land, to let everyone know, with great lyric verve, that the future has already come and gone.
What’s in the near future for Canarium Books?
JE: Besides the aforementioned translations of Hocquard and Sagawa, we’ll be publishing Darcie Dennigan’s Madame X and Anthony Madrid’s I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (both this year) and second collections by Robert Fernandez and Paul Killebrew (both in 2013). We’ll launch our 2012 collections at AWP this year and then they’ll be available from our friends at Marfa Book Company for the month of March, after which they’ll be made widely available.
[You can check out some of the great work going on at Canarium at www.canariumbooks.org]
Joshua Edwards is from Galveston, Texas. He’s the translator of María Baranda’s Ficticia (Shearsman Books, 2010) and the author of Campeche (Noemi Press, 2011). His second collection, Imperial Nostalgias, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2013.