A Love Letter to the Written Word: Interview with Copper Canyon Press

Let’s start with age old question, what is your favorite breakfast food?

Is coffee a food? I universally adore breakfast food, but it’s all moot without a really good cup of coffee.

I work in a media company and I’ve noticed now that the way I view TV has changed. Has that been the case with you?

Working in publishing has given me another way to read poetry — another critical lens. I came to poetry as a reader first; that’s maybe the native lens, the approach that allows you to take a poem in, digest it, experience it. As a writer, you layer on top of that “reader experience” a lens that helps you see the artifice behind it — the poet’s choices about craft that made the poem what it is (and how you might emulate or reject those choices yourself). Teaching gave me another way to examine poetry: reading to determine how you might lead another reader into thinking critically about a poem, and how you could explore the ways a poem is in dialogue with the historical and cultural moment in which it was written. And now, working in publishing — publicity, specifically — I’ve developed this new marketing lens that reads poetry and asks: “how does this book invite people in? How can I introduce readers to this book as if I were introducing a friend? What language — from the poet, from other readers, from the book itself — really captures the unique strengths of this collection?” I find myself asking these questions even when reading for pleasure sometimes. But when it’s a book I love, I don’t mind thinking about it this way; it’s useful, in fact — especially in that moment when you want nothing more than to hand over what you’ve just read to someone else and say “you have to read this, and here’s why.”

What’s one of the most challenging things about working for a publishing company [right now]?

I believe — deeply, fundamentally — that literature matters. No surprise there, I imagine. So the current administration’s threats to defund the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are really discouraging. It’s so clearly not about money (defunding the NEA and NEH makes up for about half of one percent of the federal deficit); it’s the same old partisan nonsense that comes up every time the political pendulum swings from left to right, and it feels absurd to me to have to pretend like the value of federal support for the arts is actually debatable. Nevertheless: though the NEA and NEH have survived similar threats in the past, I’ve stopped making assumptions about what’s safe or sure since the election. I’m fighting for the NEA’s survival. My colleagues in the industry are fighting. Anyone who supports federal funding for the arts can fight by contacting their elected representatives to advocate for the importance of the NEA and NEH. Regardless of the outcome, poets will rise to the occasion. They always do. They already have.

How would you describe Copper Canyon Press in 5 words or less?

Passionate. Committed. Thoughtful. Enduring. Hopeful.

What’s the process that poets go through to have their work published by Copper Canyon Press?

Manuscripts come to us in a few different ways. We have several open reading periods each year in which we accept unsolicited manuscripts through Submittable. Our editorial team reads and responds to these submissions with incredible thought and care, honoring the vulnerability and desire of the poets who entrust us with their work, and honoring the work itself. I admire that so much. And I’m always amazed at the talent that finds us through open reading.

We also solicit manuscripts, and — once in a lifetime ­– we bid on one found scribbled on scraps of paper and the backs of menus, forgotten in filing boxes in Chile. (Looking at you, Neruda!)

Having had 3 (successful) crowdfunding campaigns, how has that changed the way you approach publishing?

We’re a nonprofit publisher, so we’re able to do what we do only with the support of others who share our belief that poetry is vital to language and living — generous individual donors, and organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation, for example. We’ve always tried to reach out to those supporters in meaningful ways, and to invite them to get involved with specific projects at Copper Canyon that resonate with them, that feel important to them personally. Crowdfunding, for the press, has been another way to do that: it’s introduced Copper Canyon to a global community of people who are passionate about poetry and who want their donations to make a particular kind of impact on the world. I don’t know that our experience with crowdfunding has changed the way we approach publishing, necessarily, but it’s added a new dimension to the way we engage with our incredible supporters, and it’s allowed us to grow that community of supporters in really meaningful ways. And that means, ultimately, more wonderful books of poetry out in the world.

Are there are poets you loved working with?

Whomever I’m working with at that moment, I love working with the most. Seriously. I have that kind of job, and we have those kinds of poets.

What are your top 3 favorite books from the Copper Canyon catalog?

It’s almost impossible to pick favorites, but there are definitely a few titles that found their way to me at the right time and left a deep impression. A friend recommended Brenda Shaughnessy’s Our Andromeda to me one spring before I left for a summer overseas. I took the book with me, and it was my closest companion for a few weeks while I wandered around a new foreign city alone. I would go back and forth from reading the book to writing poems, and I appreciated the doors Brenda’s poetry was opening up in my own work — a kind of implicit permission-giving, a nudge toward greater authenticity.

I’m sentimental about Matthew Zapruder’s Come On All You Ghosts, not only because it’s a great book, but because I used it to woo my now-husband. He had introduced me to Matthew’s work and told me how much he loved it, so the next time I went to AWP with my graduate program, I made a point to track down Matthew Zapruder and get a signed copy. Maybe that sealed the deal?

And Forrest Gander’s translations in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems are meaningful to me as a long-time admirer of Neruda’s work and its amped-up emotional volume. I joined the Copper Canyon team a few months before Then Come Back hit shelves, and when I got a copy of the galley right after I was hired, I felt like I had been handed the Pink Panther diamond or the key to Atlantis. Like I needed to go home and hide it under my mattress or something; it was almost too much — this brilliant voice returning with more to say.

Is there any advice you’d give to anyone going into publishing?

I’d want to encourage someone going into publishing not to limit their understanding of the kinds of people and skills that the publishing industry needs. I’ve been guilty, myself, of viewing careers in publishing exclusively from the perspective of editorial work, as if the only folks bringing books into the world are the ones reading and editing manuscripts. That work is crucial, of course, and what a gift it is to work with brilliant editors. But the scope of effort and talent it takes to get a book into readers’ hands is so much wider than that. The publishing industry also needs skilled community organizers to advocate for literature’s social, political, and cultural significance; finance experts to manage lean budgets and find funding to keep publishing afloat; development geniuses to build and nurture relationships between publishers and the generous souls who want to support them; marketers and publicists to introduce readers to the titles they’re going to love; distributors and customer experience professionals to lovingly shepherd books along their journey from printer to bookshelf. Recognizing the village it takes to raise a book — that was an important moment for me, and it helped me find my place doing meaningful work I love. You, person going into publishing: the village needs you. Remain open to all the ways you might be suited to fill those needs.

Copper Canyon Press is an independent, non-profit small press, specializing in the publication of poetry from around the world to engage the imaginations and intellects of readers.

Books published by Copper Canyon that I think everyone should read:

Happy reading my lovelies x