Poets, Presses & Periodicals is a new feature of OmniVerse: a conversation with the publisher of a small press or periodical, a poet they have chosen to highlight, and one of our OmniVerse editors.
A poem and audio recording of the featured poet, Suzanne Buffam, follows the conversation.
Sara Mumolo works for the MFA Program at Saint Mary’s College of CA. Her chapbook March was published by Cannibal in 2011 and her poetry collection Outside the Predicate is forthcoming from Omnidawn. Poems have appeared in Lana Turner, The Offending Adam, 1913: a journal of forms, Eleven Eleven, and Typo, among others.
Joshua Edwards directs and co-edits Canarium Books. He’s the translator of María Baranda’s Ficticia (Shearsman, 2010) and the author of Campeche (Noemi Press, 2011) and Imperial Nostalgias (Ugly Duckling Presse, forthcoming). He lives in Berkeley and worships the Sun.
Suzanne Buffam’s most recent collection of poetry, The Irrationalist, was a finalist for the 2011 Griffin Prize. Born and raised in Canada, she creative writing teaches at the University of Chicago.
Sara Mumolo: Josh, when you interviewed Texan, flaneur, and bookstore owner Tim Johnson, you asked him about the visionary aspect of the Marfa Book Company and the town of Marfa. I’d like to now turn that question back to you: Can you talk about your relationship, as an editor of Canarium Books, to vision? Perhaps you can hit on how your aesthetic vision changes when engaged with your fellow Canarium editors, Robyn Schiff, Nick Twemlow, and Lynn Xu.
Joshua Edwards: Now that the visionary ball is in my court, I realize the difficulty of my question for Tim. (Sorry, buddy!) Well, the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet wrote that we should fear death but not believe in it. Perhaps the sort of “vision” in “visionary” that I’m thinking of has a similar relationship to the future. At the risk of being too abstract, this sort of vision could be thought of as attention that emerges simultaneous to the future it creates, sorta like how all anxiety travels back in time. For me, anxiety, love, and editing are locked in a trinity of intuitions. As an editorial team, our big job is to create a conversation that balances our aesthetics and preferences to develop a fourth vision that reflects, but doesn’t mirror, our individual visions for a future of contemporary loves and anxieties. And of course our ideas about poetry change because of what we read and the conversations we have. I’m extremely fortunate to edit the press with three people I love and admire tremendously, so lots of what I do is sit back, witness their brilliance, and do my best to evolve.
SM: Speaking of evolution, how has the enterprising journey of developing The Canary into the outfit of Canarium Books paralleled, coalesced or been agitated by your aesthetic evolution as an editor of a press whose authors have already been nominated for and won many cool awards?
JE: That’s a great question. For me, The Canary was an education and Canarium Books is a practice. The stakes are somewhat higher, the pressures are more personal, and, most importantly, we get to celebrate poetry in a very tangible way with the authors we publish. Reviews and awards are of course satisfying, but the most gratifying aspects of publishing are building community and participating in conversations about aesthetics and ideas by putting stuff into the world. Our editorial role is essentially a statement of enthusiasm, “Hey everybody, check out this great book of poems.”
SM: The journey from journal to small press is often one that proves difficult to sustain. There’s an energy and activity unique to Canarium and other successful small presses—the authors’ indie book tour with their publishers—that bolsters the press. As you touched on, you travel with your authors on book tours, supporting and promoting their new releases. Can you talk about the buzz on a Canarium book tour or share a road memory with us? I’d like to assume that the road-trip forges camaraderie among authors and editors. What could these trips reveal about the aesthetic make-up of the Canarium family?
JE: I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with many of our authors on a half-dozen or so tours in the past few years, and those trips have definitely generated lots of energy and camaraderie, and of course also bolstered the public’s awareness of the press. The word “buzz” is a good one here, because we were all so excited to just be traveling for poetry, and so thrilled that there were all these great people willing to host our readings, so our excitement was contagious. I’ve got lots of memories from those tours, lots of adventurous and ridiculous things happened, but the times that stick out for me were certain quiet moments when things were slowed down enough for me to realize the joy that was running through me and the gratitude I felt for being able to hang out with such wonderful people. One such time was on the last day of our first West Coast tour. We were up in Seattle and we went to Kerry Park in Queen Anne and there’s an amazing view of the city and Puget Sound and we’re all being goofy and I just thought “Holy shit.” It was about as close to nirvana as a kid from the suburbs can get. As for aesthetics, our authors have been spectacularly willing to do stuff, which I think shows their desire to communicate. They’re all over the map in many ways, but I think they all show profound desire to communicate and to push the lyric to communicate in new ways, so that their visions are prescient.
SM: I’m familiar with that view of the Sound. I like to imagine living on one of those little islands just off Seattle. Perhaps we continue on the theme of vision and hear from a Canarium author?
JE: Suzanne, one reviewer characterized your first collection, Past Imperfect, as “wary of mystical visions.” I agree to a certain extent, but perhaps skeptics can have visions just like mystics, and visions can emerge from the mundane. Your writing is often poised between doubt and belief; can you talk a little about your relationship to wisdom and skepticism, or wonder and reason?
Suzanne Buffam: Can a skeptic have visions? If she did, could she still go on calling herself a skeptic? I’m skeptical. But this is precisely the kind of paradoxical thinking I’m interested in. A poem—or any field of mental activity, for that matter—seems to me most alive when it remains, as you say, “poised between” certainties.
The middle section of The Irrationalist is a series of very short “Little Commentaries” on topics ranging from clouds to could to quandariness, which takes its metaphysical cue from a little hand-sewn pamphlet by Copernicus—his Commentariolus—which argues, in the face of considerable geocentric conviction to the contrary, that there is “no one center of the universe.” Which is to say, in effect, that the universe is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. St. Augustine, who reasoned his way into the heart of wonder, said the same thing about God. Borges too, incidentally, draws on this bewitching paradox for his portrait of the Library of Babel.
There is something deeply mystical about a true paradox. Something that lies beyond thought, that thought itself cannot think. This is the kind of impossible thinking poetry can do, it seems to me, perhaps uniquely in the world.
People who live in glass houses should install blinds.
Home is where the Walmart is.
Where there’s a will there’s a lawsuit.
Let he who is without sin take the first bong hit.
In the kingdom of the blond the albino is king.
Two in the bush is better than nothing.
If you lie down with poets, you will get up with fleas.
When in Rome stay at the Ritz.
The road to hell wasn’t built in a day.
Oil and water make the world go round.
The grass is always greener over graves.
To forgive is human, to forget divine.
A journey of a thousand miles begins when the fat lady sings.
Truth is stranger than the sum of its parts.