Indie Spotlight: Canarium Books

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Four book covers reading from right to left: Pink Reef, Letters to Yakub, The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, and Union!

With assistance from the University of Michigan, Canarium Books formed in 2008 out of the journal The Canary, which had been founded by writers Joshua Edwards, Anthony Robinson, and Nick Twemlow. Now based in Marfa, Texas under the collective editorship of Joshua Edwards, Nick Twemlow, Robyn Schiff, and Lynn Xu, Canarium publishes three to four collections of poetry or poetry in translation every year.

Canarium Books has compiled a carefully curated catalogue showing a breadth of vision in the style and content of its titles, as well as a commitment to its authors, many of whom are on their second book with the press. Titles include John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems, a collection as intellectually ambitious as it is delightfully down-to-earth, Darcie Dennigan’s sharply crafted and many layered Madame X, and The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

Sagawa, described by the New Yorker as “one of the most innovative and prominent avant-garde poets in early-twentieth-century Japan,” had virtually disappeared from the cultural map until Canarium published Nakayasu’s translations. The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa was recently awarded the 2016 PEN prize for poetry in translation.

For the Ploughshares blog, Joshua Edwards will share what makes Canarium tick, and provide prospective Canarium authors some guidance on how to get added to their esteemed author list.

KF: The press was founded in Michigan and now is based in Marfa, Texas, a location giving new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere,” while also being a ridiculously unique cultural mecca. While not all of your editorial staff resides in Marfa, how does the location contribute to and complement Canarium’s vision?

JE: Lynn and I have been living in Marfa on and off for the past four years, but only recently did we finish building a house and settle here, so the town’s relationship to the press is really just beginning. It’s a hard place to accurately depict, so much is lost in the telling, but I guess the intensity of the visions that help define this town and the place’s ability to transform despite self-awareness are characteristics that Marfa and Canarium have in common.

At its heart, Canarium is an ongoing conversation between the editors, informed by friendship, reading, and the books we’ve published. In that way each book we publish becomes a deputy editor, and perhaps the places we’ve been have been editors as well.

Thinking of it, Marfa has suggested a few recent editorial projects. I work at the bookstore here, Marfa Book Company, which has its own imprint run by Tim Johnson, and we’ll soon be publishing (perhaps in collaboration with Canarium) an anthology of poems written with West Texas in mind. Also, Lynn has started Liang Editions, a press that’s going to occasionally publish all sorts of things: portfolios, boxes, books, prints. There’s a wonderful sense of possibility out here, and I imagine we’ll think more and more beyond the page going forward.

KF: In addition to Canarium’s publication of The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, the press also has published translations of Emmanuel Hocquard, a French language poet from Morocco, and Gleb Shulpyakov, a writer from Moscow—quite an eclectic range. What is Canarium’s process for finding and publishing translations? Do the editorial decisions regarding translations differ from your decisions to publish authors writing in English?

JE: We get far fewer submissions of poetry in translation than poetry, so we largely rely on investigation: we ask around, read journals, and are given tips by translator friends. It’s often a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Lynn and I met Sawako when we were all living in Shanghai. We’d been fans of her poems and translations for many years, so when we found out she’d been working on the Chika Sagawa book, we talked to her about working with Canarium.

Similarly, we met the author of an upcoming translation publication, Anne Kawala, when we lived in Stuttgart. We loved her work and we knew an excellent translator, Kit Schluter, so we put them in touch, and the residency where we were living, Akademie Schloss Solitude, helped with a translator’s stipend. As for what we consider with translations, I guess the metrics are slightly different and we’re more open because we’re largely ignorant of other literary traditions, but we’re always in search of translations that make for startling poetry, that point toward the ineffable.

KF: Canarium is still remarkably young in the publishing world, yet it’s clear one of your missions is establishing long relationships with your authors. You’ve published two collections by Paul Killebrew, Tod Marshall, Gleb Shulpyakov, and Robert Fernandez, and Ish Klein’s third Canarium title, Consolation and Mirth, came out last year. What are the benefits to publishing a second and third book with the same author?

JE: It’s a privilege to take part in the publication of someone’s work, especially as it expresses itself through time. I feel very lucky to have published multiple books by all the poets you mention, and all of our upcoming (May 2016) titles—by John Beer, Suzanne Buffam, and Darcie Dennigan—represent the second time we’ve been able to work with each of them.

I think having a publisher for multiple books allows some authors to write with abandon they might not have otherwise. I should add, when our authors publish with another press, that’s wonderful too. Robert Fernandez has two excellent new books just out from Wesleyan Press, a collection of poems, Scarecrow, and a translation of Mallarmé, Azure.

KF: As you struggle with choosing one manuscript over another, have the editors grappled with the prospect of expanding Canarium beyond its three to four titles per year? What upcoming titles are you most excited about sharing with Canarium readers this year?

JE: If it were a full-time job, I could imagine doing a few more books each year, but we’re all volunteers and four is a lot to handle. The last thing we want to do is over-extend ourselves and not be able to give as much attention to editing, design, and promotion. Also, we’ve become friends with the authors we’ve published, and if the press got much bigger it’d likely be difficult to have the sorts of conversations we’ve been able to have. I will say that I could imagine doing more translations. In a perfect world we’d do four books of poetry and four books of poetry in translation each year.

As for upcoming titles, we’ve got three brilliant books that are just about out: John Beer’s Lucinda, Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book, and Darcie Dennigan’s Palace of Subatomic Bliss. They’re very different from each other in most ways, but as Lynn recently articulated it to me, they share a strong interest in “reading as an act of writing” and all three are very audacious. We’re also reading through a good many manuscripts from our open submission period, and although we’ll likely only choose one or two manuscripts, it’s thrilling how much terrific poetry is being written.