Why Coffee House Press is the Best Literary Press in the Twin Cities

With the newscoffeehouselogo on April 20 that City Pages voted Coffee House Press the best literary press in the Twin Cities, we thought we’d take a look at some of the reasons this indie press is such a standout.

1. International reach: The literary community is recognizing Coffee House Press more and more for their commitment to publishing excellent works of literature in translation. Perhaps no Coffee House title has received more attention in this category than Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teethwhich is a finalist for Three Percent’s Best StoryOfMyTeethTranslated Book Award in fiction. One of two Mexican books on the shortlist, Teeth was translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney and is competing against nine other titles for the prestigious award. The winner will be announced on May 4, and we won’t be surprised if Luiselli takes home the prize — she already won the LA Times Book Award for fiction earlier in April! Teeth was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, and was named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, Publishers Weekly, and numerous other outlets.

Upcoming works of translated fiction from Coffee House Press include Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París (translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) and Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell).

2. National prestige: The Story of My Teeth is not the only Coffee House title making news lately. pretentiousnessDan Fox’s book-length essay Pretentiousness: Why It Matters is making waves in the media recently, and not just for its arresting title. Slate called the book “impressively broad in its exploration of its subject,” while The Millions praises it as a “bracing, lively, espresso shot of a book” — no Coffee House pun intended.

If you’re looking for something a little less, er, pretentious, hpreludeow about a book recommended by Lena Dunham? In January, the Girls actress and avid reader endorsed Saeed Jones’s poetry collection Prelude to Bruise on her feminist newsletter/blog, Lenny Letter.

3. Local involvement: Nationwide recognition does not mean the folks at Coffee House Press have forgotten their roots. The press remains committed to community involvement in the Twin Cities through their Books in Action series, which puts on interactive events for the public that combine literature and art to engage and inspire readers and writers alike. One exciting aspect of this series is a library residency program called CHP in the Stacks, which, according to the program’s Tumblr page, “aims to create a body of work that will inspire a broader public to engage with their local libraries in a new and meaningful way, and to encourage artists and the general public to think about libraries as creative spaces.” Current CHP in the Stacks resident Steven Lang was interviewed by the Twin Cities PBS program Minnesota Original on April 8. You can watch the video here.

With all the impressive work they’re doing on the international, national, and local levels simultaneously, it’s no wonder City Pages praised Coffee House for “[nurturing] the local literary scene as much as it dazzles on a national scale.” Congratulations Coffee House, and keep up the good work!

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Words, Words, Words: Our Poetry Publishers on Their Favorite Poetic Lines

In case you haven’t heard, April is National Poetry Month, and today, instead of highlighting the poets behind your favorite works, we’re turning to the ones who make it all possible: the publishers.

With an inundation of social media, chapbooks, and more, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of poetry that exists. That’s when we look to the publishers – the few, the brave, the mighty, who wade through lines upon lines to raise up the best and the brightest of voices. O! Those careful curators, who show us new poetry that crackles with potential and remind us of the old favorites we hold close in times of need. We are eternally grateful to the endless hours they spend examining word after word to feed our literary souls.

We reached out to a few of those helming modern poetry publishing to find outwhat moves them? What are their favorite lines of poetry?

boa logoPeter Conners, Publisher at BOA Editions:

“I loved you before I was born.”

Li-Young Lee, The Word from His Song (BOA Editions, 2016)

BOA Editions is located in Rochester, New York. Their latest book of poetry is The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay.

 

Chris Fischbach, Publisher at Coffee House Press:

“In the Johannesburg minescoffeehouselogo
There are 240,000 natives working.

What kind of poem
Would you make out of that?

240,000 natives working
In the Johannesburg mines.”

Langston Hughes, from the poem “Johannesburg Mines” (1928)

Coffee House Press is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their latest book of poetry is They and We Will Get Into Trouble For This by Anna Moschovakis.

 

copper canyon

Kelly Forsythe, Director of Publicity at Copper Canyon Press:

“Don’t listen to the words—

they’re only little shapes for what you’re saying,

they’re only cups if you’re thirsty, you aren’t thirsty.”

— Jean Valentine, from the poem “as with rosy steps the morn,” from Break the Glass (Copper Canyon, 2010)

Copper Canyon Press is located in Port Townsend, Washington. Their latest book of poetry is Alamo Theory by Josh Bell.

 

Rebecca Wolff, Publisher and Founder of Fence Books:fence

“Cosmic potential–and–actualization!”

Rodrigo Toscano, Explosion Rocks Springfield (Fence Books, May 2016)

Fence Books is located in Albany, New York. Their latest book of poetry is Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 by Paul Legault.

 

manicdJennifer Joseph, Publisher and Founder of Manic D Press:

“It’s not how far you fall, but how you land.
Are you here for the sowing, reaping, or the dead?”

Justin Chin, from Gutted (Manic D Press, 2006)

Manic D Press is located in San Francisco, California. Their latest book of poetry is The Roots of a Thousand Embraces by Juan Felipe Hererra.

 

Brittany Dennison, Managing Editor at Wavewave Books (Seattle, Washington):

“Hell, I love everybody.”

James Tate, from Riven Doggeries (Ecco Press, 1979)

Wave Books is located in Seattle, Washington. Their latest book of poetry is Olio by Tyehimba Jess.

 

There you have it, folks. The most beloved lines of poetry from the people who’ve seen it all. Thank you, publishers, for all of your time, taste, and dedication!

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Not Lost: Why Some Independent Publishers Can’t Get Enough of Literature in Translation

On April 19th, The Millions announced the finalists for their ninth annual Best Translated Book Awards. Six titles from five Consortium publishers were included, from both publishers who produce solely translations and publishers who produce a wide variety of genres.

Not long ago, most of the books that made it to translation were classics. They were primarily novels and poetry from already well-known members of the literary canon like Dostoevsky, Camus, and Neruda. Nowadays, translations are no longer reserved for the classical elite. Many publishers are adding brand-new translations of contemporary novels and poetry to their seasons each year with enthusiastic response.

Why translations? Why now? Here’s what the publishers of our award-nominated titles have to say.

Biblioasis, publisher of Arvida (by Samuel Archibald, translated fromArvida the French by Donald Winkler), believes that translation is the lifeblood of literature. Literature that does not engage with other languages and linguistic traditions quickly becomes stale and irrelevant. Translation means more voices can have their time in the spotlightespecially voices that we don’t usually get to hear.

war so muchOpen Letter Books, publisher of Wphysics of sorrowar, So Much War (by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent), and The Physics of Sorrow (by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel) believes that making world literature available in English is crucial to broadening our cultural awareness, to helping us engage with others from all different experiences. In addition, widening accessability of literatures new and old helps maintain a healthy and vibrant book culture. War, So Much War and The Physics of Sorrow both capture sides of humanity inextractable from their original culture and yet still recognizable in ourselves.

signsAnd Other Stories, publisher of Signs Preceding the End of the World  (by Yuri Herrerawhose second work, The Transmigration of Bodies, publishes this Julyboth titles translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman), was founded out of publisher Stefan Tobler’s frustration at the lack of availability of great works of literature published in English. Publishing translationsspecifically, good translationsis so important to And Other Stories that many of their editors and staff members are also working translators. If you’ve read Yuri Herrera’s work, you’ll understand where And Other Stories is coming froma world where non-Spanish-speakers can never read his incredible words is a sad world indeed.

Coffee House Press, publisher of the 2015 literary darling The Story of My Teeth (bStoryOfMyTeethy Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney), sought out this revolutionary novel from a desire for their bookshelves (and their readers’ bookshelves) to more accurately reflect the wide range of voices and stories in the Americas. Voices of the Americas must by definition include non-English speakers. For Coffee House Press, translation is about dismantling a hierarchy in literature, of granting just as much weight to original English texts as to the words of non-native speakers. Translation is about expanding horizons, not limiting them.

load poemsHoly Cow! Press, publisher of Load Poems Like Guns, doesn’t typically publish translations, or poetry for that matter, focusing primarily on fiction and nonfiction from the Midwest. But when Farzana Marie, the editor and translator of the collection, presented her manuscript to Jim Perlman, the publisher at Holy Cow!, he couldn’t say no. Translating the collection brings the voices, joys, struggles, and triumphs of women living in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, thousands of miles, reaching readers who might never have known how much they needed it.

Culture, connection, compassion: that’s why we need literature in translation, now more than ever.

Find out where you can purchase Arvida; War, So Much War; The Physics of Sorrow; Signs Preceding the End of the World; The Transmigration of Bodies; The Story of My Teeth; and Load Poems Like Guns here on the Consortium website.

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Celebrating Earth Day with the Mindfulness of W.S. Merwin

In his 88 years, William Stanley Merwin has published 30 collections of poetry, 28 translations, eight works of prose, three plays, and garnered two Pulitzer Prizes, not to mention two terms as the U.S. Poet Laureate (among many other honors and awards). You might think that after all these accomplishments and years, W.S. Merwin would begin to slow down. You would be wrong.
Apparently drawn to large numbers, Merwin is now cultivating over 700 species of palm trees on his three acres in Maui, Hawaii, and PBS Television is airing a documentary on Merwin’s conservation work in partnership with The Merwin Conservancy and Hawaii’s premiere hotel chain Halekulani, just in time for Earth Day. W.S. Merwin: To Plant a Tree  is on air in 42 states (plus Washington, DC) through the end of April, with most stations scheduled to air the piece on Sunday, April 24th.

toplantatree

Merwin’s conservation efforts align well with an Earth Day story. But how did the son of a Presbyterian minister, growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Union City, New Jersey inherit the broken soil of a pineapple plantation in Hawaii? What drives this award-winning poet, mentee of Ezra Pound himself, to spend his rich, final years in the quiet gardens of palm trees?

When he was 16, Merwin went to Princeton on a scholarship, leaving a home that taught him the art of writing hymns for his Presbyterian preacher father, but shadowed his childhood with his parents’ tragedies. In college, Merwin was introduced tspanishballadso the work of Ezra Pound, and became a fan: “I had great admiration for Pound when I was in college. That was partly it; a rebellious stage, because almost no one else admired Pound, and I used to walk around with a beard which I grew just like Pound’s.” Pound would eventually influence Merwin to begin translating, advising him to “read the seeds, not the twigs of poetry.” One of Merwin’s early translations was Spanish Ballads, originally published by Merwin in 1961 and dedicated to his friends Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

For his first Pulitzer Prize in 1971, Merwin took a political stance: donating his $1,000 award for The Carrier of Ladders to antiwar activists. In perhaps an alternative move to the Vietnam War, and proof of his preference for a “marginalized existence,” Merwin moved to Maui, Hawaii in 1976 and began rigorously practicing Zen Buddhism and gardening.

With a small inheritance from his mother, he bought land on the slopes of the volcano Haleakala, a former pineapple plantation that he continues to restore after years of erosion, logging, and agriculture. In this sanctuary, living off the grid with a rainwater catchment system and solar panels, Merwin continues to live with Paula Schwartz, his third wife and dictation companion (Merwin’s sight has declined in his later years). According to an interview with the LA Times, “He’s already got a grave prepared there too, next to those of six of his dogs.”

garden timeMerwin’s patient gardening cultivates mindfulness, and this flows into his poetry, including his forthcoming Garden Time (Copper Canyon Press). “Poetry is about listening,” Merwin told Dean Kuipers of the LA Times in 2010. He also told Kuipers of his hope that “others will understand that these trees are only where the poetry starts.”

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Remembering the Great C.D. Wright

wright

When Carolyn Doris Wright died on January 12, 2016, tributes galore spattered the big media: the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many more praised this fabulous poet, better known as C.D. Wright, who dared to “braid research, reminiscence, and reportage with ode and elegy,” as an eulogy in the New Yorker praised. But that was January, and C.D. Wright wrote poetry, that hardest of all sells in the reading world. As we embark upon National Poetry Month, how should we reflect on C.D. Wright’s legacy?

Strangely enough, C.D. Wright’s life and words may now be as relevant as ever, as we tread through an inundation of creative expression and a fierce battle for human rights. Wright used poetry as a tool to make sense of these realities.

C.D. Wright was born January 6, 1949, in Mountain Home, Arkansas, a community of roughly 2,000 overshadowed by the Ozarks. She was the daughter of the judge and the stenographer of an Ozarks courtroom. Her upbringing fueled her interest in current events that would run through her poetry. Wright’s later work was fascinated with the tense injustices of our times: One Big Self drew from Wright’s numerous visits inside Louisiana state prisons to react against the prison industry, and in Rising, Falling, Hovering, Wright addressed (among other things) illegal immigration. In the meantime, the MacArthur Fellow wrote many other collections, arguing for the importance of poetry as an art in its own right.

onewithothers Guernica interviewed Wright in 2012 about her early life and work, and discovered that the poet always thought she would end up in a “plainly useful occupation.” And she started that route too, going to law school for a brief time before dropping out to get her MFA. She wrote that “a few carelessly set mental fires [including] a fateful encounter with a poet my age who wrote in a lexicon known to the marrow of my bones, lit for me, poetry.” That poet was another legend coming into his own: Frank Stanford. The two met in the mid-1970s and started their own poetry press, as well as an affair that would last until Stanford’s early death. Of her relationship with Stanford, C.D. Wright was quiet, but his influence carried into her stunning work One with Others.

One with Others was published in 2011 by Copper Canyon Press, which also published the majority of Wright’s work later in life. In a combination of investigative journalism and poetry, Wright tells the story of her mentor “V,” a white woman who fought for civil rights in the Arkansas of the 60s and 70s. The title won a National Book Critics Circle Award and secured a National Book Award nomination. The book opens and ends with a line from Frank Stanford’s poem “The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You,” which puts in short form the continued need for open minds when it comes to race relations in the United States:

I want people of twenty seven languages walking back and forth saying to one

Another hello brother how’s the fishing

And when they reach their destination I don’t want them to forget if it was bad.

poet lionAfter One with Others, Wright published the lovely, ridiculous The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, el Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All on January 5, the day before her sixty-seventh birthday. This love song to poetics illustrates what Wright told Guernica in 2012: “Even though I get blatantly sick of poetry. . . I cannot for the life of me imagine my life without it.” Wright saw her world through poetry, using it to interpret reality, to cultivate compassion, as “My American Scrawl” hints:

“My American Scrawl” (excerpted from The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, el Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All)

Increasingly indecisive, about matters both big and little, I have found that poetry is the one area where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine, to palter or dissemble or quaver or hastily reverse myself. This is the one scene where I advance determined, if not precisely ready, to do battle with what an overly cited Jungian described as the anesthetized heart, the heart that does not react.

Seven days after this collection was published, Wright died, leaving a forthcoming collection with the prophetic title, Shallcross to be published during this National Poetry Month, on April 26. In line with Wright’s intense engagement with the hard issues of reality, this collection includes a collaborative suite responding to photographic documentation of murder sites in New Orleans.shallcross

Poetry is relevant, poetry is imperative to understanding our times and ourselves. Wright herself said it best: “[Poetry] could still galvanize people during a crisis, but let’s just say, as I heard Heather McHugh tell an ample audience, there are two points at which poetry is indispensable to people—at the point of love and the point of death. I’ll second that emotion.”

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Boundary-Pushing Comics: The Story of 2dcloud

Something extraordinary is happening in the world of indie comics: 2dcloud, which began as just another of the tens of thousands of creative projects hoping for crowd-funding on Kickstarter, is emerging as an impressive new force in graphic novel and comics publishing. The press has already been praised as “one of the most interesting and exciting independent publishers working today” by ARTINFO, “energetic and enthusi9781937541194.jpgastic” by Comics Alliance, and “adventurous and daring” by The Comics Beat. Now, they’re garnering even more well-deserved attention with the help of artist Austin English, whose upcoming anthology Gulag Casual is part of 2dcloud’s Winter Collection.

The Huffington Post interviewed English on March 29 about Gulag Casual, calling the book “the ultimate graphic novel for artists, weirdos and renegades.” English explained that for as long as he can remember, his style has “diverted greatly from the classic comic book formula.” Perhaps being somewhat of a “weirdo” is what drew English to 2dcloud. In an interview with comics blog Broken Frontier on March 4, he commended the publisher for “making a commitment to publish complicated work . . . with a great degree of dignity and beautiful production values.” He went on to call 2dcloud “an obvious place to give this work that I wanted to be treated with some care.” The care that 2dcloud shows to their artists throughout the publishing process is evident in the final results: striking, unconventional comics that push boundaries and bend genres.

Gulag Casual, an anthology collection of five short stories illustrated in various mediums, can be found alongside other titles in 2dcloud’s Winter Collection, including ITDN by Andrew Burkholder and Mirror Mirror #1, a collection edited by Blaise Larmee (2dcloud’s creative director) and featuring the work of various artists. To find out more about 2dcloud’s Winter Collection, click here.

ITDN COVERMirror Mirror cover

2dcloud’s vibrant work is just beginning. Keep your eyes out for more surprises from this artistically rambunctious publisher, such as Turning Japanese by MariNaomi and Someone Please Have Sex With Me by Gina Wynbrandt, both of which come out on May 10!

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The BreakBeat Poets: Building a Legacy

One year ago today, just in time for National Poetry Month, Haymarket Books published a groundbreaking poetry collection called The BreakBeat Poets. Featuring the work of seventy-eight different writers, The BreakBeat Poets celebrates the new “BreakBeat Generation.” The BreakBeat Generation, as defined by editor Kevin Coval, is a new era whose style is fueled by the hip-hop and spoken-word movements of the Black Arts, Nuyorican, and Beat poets.

breakbeat

“Hip-hop,” Coval says in the introduction, “made poetry relevant. It was no longer this dreadful, dead-white-male-centered, highly dull piece to sleep through in English class. It was very much alive and in our Walkmen and notebooks.”

Hip-hop created a connection to an audience that most classic poetry lacked. It was an invitation to participate extended to a generation who wasn’t used to being invited. Hip-hop, by definition, is a civic discourse. Political in nature, if not in content, many poems take on social justice as their refrain. In its own kind of revolution, hip-hop gives a voice to an unheard generation,

The BreakBeat Poets is both a masterful stand-alone collection and a magnetic introduction to some crucial poets you might not have heard before. And many of these poets aren’t done. With a sample of three groundbreaking works from the past, and three exciting new titles for 2016, here’s a primer on the BreakBeat Poets’ legacy.

this is modern artThis Is Modern Art (Haymarket Books) by Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin is a play which provides a glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists that asks us to question the true purpose of art. When one graffiti crew finishes the biggest graffiti bomb of their careers, the consequences get serious and spark a public debate asking, “Where does art belong?” The language of the play reflects Coval and Goodwin’s poetic backgrounds, using subtle imagery and turn-of-phrase to pack a heavy punch. The play was first staged at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in early 2015. This Is Modern Art will be published on August 30, 2016.

Buck Studies (Fence Books) by Douglas Kearney is a poetic examinabuck studiestion of blackness and maleness in jaw-dropping, hard-cut language. Kearney complicates and exhausts common notions of form and style to create lyrics and ballads you never knew were possible. At the hub of Buck Studies is a long mash-up of the stories of Herakles, the Greek bad-man, and that of Stagger Lee, the black bad-man. Buck Studies will be published on July 12, 2016.

Dated Emcees (City Lights Publishersdated emcees) by Chinaka Hodge is a collection of 25 poems, meant to mirror the length of a classic double-album. Hodge’s writing is fiercely intelligent and emotionally packed. Each word is so specific and powerful that it feels as if Hodge has invented them just for each poem, just for each reader. Her work explores her own love life through the lens of hip-hop’s best known orators, characters, archetypes, and songs. Hodge has been featured in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, as well as on PBS, NPR, and CNN – in other words, she’s kind of a big deal. Dated Emcees will be published on June 7, 2016.

vultureStarve the Vulture: A Memoir (Akashic Books / Kaylie Jones Books) by Jason Carney is a powerful account of the author’s criminality, drug addiction, and recovery. Starve the Vulture is an unflinchingly honest confession. The memoir uses the lyrical, mesmerizing tone that Jason Carney is known for in his poetry to describe his path to redemption and unlikely fame on the national performance poetry circuit, where Carney is a four-time finalist. Woven into Carney’s path to recovery is a powerful family story, depicting the roots of prejudice and dysfunction through several generations. Starve the Vulture was published January 6, 2015

The New Testamethe new testamentnt (Copper Canyon Press) by Jericho Brown is a reclamation of mythologies, from Frankenstein to Cain and Abel. The New Testament seeks not to revise these histories but to find the source of redemption. Brown uses lyric to tenderly examine race, masculinity, and sexuality. Don’t pick up this book unless you have at least two hours to spare – one to read it, and one to sit stunned at the beautiful ache of truth you have just witnessed. Poet Claudia Rankine said, “To read Jericho Brown’s poems is to encounter devastating genius,” and that’s not an exaggeration. NPR.org praised The New Testament, saying that Brown’s poems “are always beautiful, full of a music that is a cross between the sinuous sentences of Carl Phillips, the forceful descriptions of Mark Doty, and hip rhythms of Terrance Hayes.”

burymyclothesBury My Clothes (Haymarket Books) by Roger Bonair-Agard is a collection about art, and what it means when creation itself is an act of survival. Bonair-Agard uses a driving sense of rhythm and narration to bring the reader along on meditations of violence, race, and the place in art at which they intersect. National Book Award Finalist Patricia Smith praises Bury My Clothes as a collection of “unapologetically relentless stanzas [which] will slam their fists into places you have not yet discovered.” Bury My Clothes was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.

Find out where to buy This Is Modern Art: A PlayBuck StudiesDated EmceesStarve the Vulture: A MemoirThe New Testament, and Bury My Clothes here on the Consortium website.

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