Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan, Canarium Books is an independent press dedicated to publishing poetry by established and emerging authors from the United States and abroad.
Joshua Edwards directs and co-edits Canarium Books. He's the author of several books of poetry and photography, and he translated Mexican poet Maria Baranda's book-length poem, Ficticia. He lives West Texas and works at Marfa Book Company.
1 – When did Canarium Books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
The press began in 2008, with our first single-author collections in 2009. It emerged out of a magazine, The Canary, and I don't think our goals have changed much ever since it's formation in 2002. Basically, we want to participate in the conversation and publish great poetry. One thing I've learned to appreciate more through editing is time.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
My mom is a librarian, so I guess you could say that promoting literature is a hereditary addiction. Also, books have long seemed to me to be a better use of printing technology than money. I clearly remember feeling, in my early 20s, immense power in certain books-as-objects. One that comes to mind is the New Directions edition of The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca with the title in a burst of light surrounded by branches. Great poems and great books like that made me want to get in the publishing racket.
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I can only speak to our sense of responsibility, which is to publish writing that pays attention to language and the world in ways that are not of interest to the market and larger presses.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I don't think of Canarium as doing anything that no one else is doing, we're just contributing what we can. Details and specifics distinguish every press.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
That's a tough one, and I definitely haven't figured out the answer. I only have more questions: What is the life of a book and how does it find that life? What sort of audience does an author seek? What is one's relationship to readings? To time? To travel? To translation? How to get a book beyond a border?
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It depends on the book, the poet, and the editor. Each book we publish is assigned an editor who works with the poet. Sometimes the book is ready as-is, other times we push back on lines, structure, titles, and every other little thing.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Our books are distributed through Small Press Distribution. We typically print 1000 copies.
8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
There are four co-editors: Robyn Schiff, Nick Twemlow, Lynn Xu, and myself, and Russell Brakefield has been our essential managing editor for many years. We also have great assistant editors and interns at University of Michigan who help us select books and proof them. We get a ton of submissions each year, so fresh eyes and a variety of minds are essential. The toughest thing is figuring out a schedule that works for everyone.
9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I tend to think about my own poems as pages in a book way more than I'd like; that is, it's increasingly difficult for me to write a poem without thinking of the architecture where it will live (or rest in peace). I do this with photography too.
10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
We'd never publish our own books through Canarium, but I don't think there are any essential reasons for an editor to not publish their own collection. In the States, however, the poetry community's connection to academia complicates this. My next book, Castles and Islands, is being published by Liang Editions, a press that my wife, Lynn, has started for projects that are unconventional in one way or another. That book is photography and poetry and will serve as the catalog for a couple of upcoming photography exhibitions, and the photography world has very different ideas about publishing. Many of the best photobooks are self-published because the book object is so important (see the publications of Motoyuki Shitamichi). I look forward to more small, beautiful editions of poetry books (see Cuneiform Press).
11 – How do you see Canarium Books evolving?
In the context of this question, I think of evolution as staying alive.
12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
We've published many first books, and I'm most proud of introducing these poets to a wider audience. Readers have been very good to us; there are a couple of books I think are mind-bogglingly brilliant that haven't gotten as much attention as I feel they deserve, but I can't complain. My biggest frustration is there isn't time or other resources to do everything we want.
13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Our aesthetic concerns are a carryover from editing the magazine, but for inspiration and energy we definitely looked to legendary presses like Burning Deck, New Directions, The Jargon Society, North Point, etc., as well as newer publishers, such as Flood, Fence, Verse/Wave, Ugly Duckling, etc..
14 – How does Canarium Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Canarium Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I don't want to put up any velvet ropes or categorize our authors since they're all doing their own work. Books and authors do the real conversing, we just help them out as best we can.
15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
The years that Lynn and I have been in the States, we've (usually) organized road trips with some of our authors. These have been terrific fun and were especially important early on for introducing the press to the people. Now that we're in Marfa we're a bit less mobile, but we've had a couple of authors out for book launches and we plan more. We go to AWP each year and host readings, and although can be weird/nightmarish, it's been great for getting books to readers.
16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We do the standard social media stuff.
17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do take submissions. In fact, we're accepting manuscripts until the end of December and we don't charge a reading fee (although we appreciate when submitters order a book from us).
18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Ish Klein's Consolation and Mirth includes a remarkable section of enigmatic riddles writ in red ink. Emily Wilson's The Great Medieval Yellows shows, better than any other book I can think of, the world up close, through a macro lens. Michael Morse's Void and Compensation is a heart-breaker that also cracks your brain wide open.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;