Issue #90 — August 16, 2011
For this week’s feature article, we interviewed Matthew Zapruder of Wave Books.
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Matthew Zapruder: My friend and fellow poet Brian Henry and I founded Verse Press in 2000, mainly for the purpose of putting out books by young poets, people our age who were writing amazing books, and who were for the most part having an absurd difficulty in finding a publisher. So we decided to be that publisher for them. For about five years I ran the press on a volunteer basis, and a group of dedicated people contributed their time and labor to putting out the books. Eventually, as we started to need things like jobs and health care, and as the authors we were publishing started to require a more sophisticated and developed infrastructure, we began thinking about how to change the way the press was run. Right at that time, fortuitously, the opportunity came along to work with Charlie Wright, who moved the press to Seattle, keeping its authors and mission and also moving us into a new phase of publishing, where we would focus on developing our current authors and adding some new people who were from the same generation of poets. We decided to rename the press Wave Books to mark the transition.
The best description of Wave Books’s mission is on the website.
S: Your list includes some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry, including James Tate and Dara Wier, Matthew Rohrer, Mary Ruefle, and Maggie Nelson, to name just a few. Yet Wave Books also publishes emerging and virtually unknown writers. Can you tell us what you look for in a really great manuscript?
MZ: It’s really hard to generalize about what makes a “great manuscript.” Clearly it is full of really good poems. But I think sometimes the idea of a “manuscript” can be really overblown. Poetry is not a project. Also, there is a big difference between writing a bunch of really good poems and putting a book together, and someone who is good at the first does not necessarily have to be good at the latter. I look for great poems, that compel me to read more, and make me feel as if I am alive in the reading of them. That’s obviously subjective, which is why it is good we live in a world with a lot of different presses and editors.
S: In 2006, Wave Books published Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow, which is an erasure that uses “a forgotten nineteenth-century book” as its source text. There is also a section of your website dedicated to erasures where participants can even create their own erasure poems! Can you tell us about Wave’s interest in erasures and how you see these texts as carving a place in the contemporary poetry world?
MZ: My fellow editor Joshua Beckman has been interested in erasures for a long time, and when we came across Mary’s book (one of many she has done in individual volumes, you can see them on her website) it just seemed like a cool project to try to reproduce it in facsimile for a wider audience. It was a kind of experiment, and people seem to be really interested in it. There is a lot of interesting thinking that can be done about the nature of poetry and language in relation to an erasure, and we think this book helps people bring some of those ideas to mind. Of course there is a whole history of this activity: writers have been doing erasures for a long time, and more recently publishing them in various ways. One recent example (very different from Little White Shadow) is Matthea Harvey’s amazing and harrowing Of Lamb, with illustrations by the artist Mary Jean Porter, recently published by McSweeney’s. One of the great things about erasures is that they are often done in one edition, as a gift or experiment in imagination. While we are glad we have published Mary’s book, and would certainly consider publishing more in the future, I think we are also hopeful that the essentially creative, fundamentally non-commercial act of repurposing an old book into poetry would not be automatically and tiresomely thought of as something one does for publication.
S: As an editor of Wave Books along with Joshua Beckman, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
MZ: The poet Ann Lauterbach, who was judging the Verse Prize for us one year, once said the following thing to me (I remember I was on the phone with her, and I was in a very old beat up loft apartment on 126th St. and Broadway in Manhattan, and it was snowing furiously): “Having to say no is the price you pay for being able to say yes.”
S: Wave Books isn’t currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts for consideration. Might there be an open reading period in the future, or does Wave Books ever hold contests?
MZ: My fellow editor Joshua Beckman and I are constantly reading magazines, journals, reviews, going to readings, talking with each other and our fellow poets about what they are reading, and just generally keeping track of things. I know other editors are doing the same, and we think of this as part of our job. So even though we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, we are always looking. I think this is something that writers don’t always realize about editors, and maybe if they did they could feel a little less anxious. If at some point we have an open reading period (such as the one we had for our anthology of political poetry, State of the Union) we will announce it on our website. Recently we have been publishing translations, so we are more actively looking for that sort of work.
S: What other small and/or independent presses are you the most excited about right now?
MZ: Over the past couple of years a number of really fantastic presses (Black Ocean, Birds LLC, H_ngm_n, Canarium, Octopus, and many others, I’m sure I have left some out) have burst onto the scene. In particular these small publishing houses have been publishing first or second books, as well as chapbooks, in beautiful editions that are being distributed in ways that are appropriate for the work, i.e. not just stuck into an old system of book distribution that doesn’t even work for the new Jonathan Franzen novel, much less a new book of poems by Matt Hart or Emily Pettit or John Beer. One such small press is Factory Hollow, out of Amherst Massachusetts, they are doing some incredible books, and are also connected with a great scene there at the Flying Object bookstore, letterpress, and gallery.
S: Any favorite books you’ve read so far in 2011? What’s on your shelf that you’re excited to read next?
MZ: One of my favorite books from last year was John Beer’s The Wasteland and Other Poems, from Canarium, one of the many newer small presses that is doing thrilling work. I also very much liked Dean Rader’s Works and Days, and Steve Healey’s 10 Mississippi, and Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead. But those are just off the top of my head. I just read the Keith Richards biography, Life, which was incredibly good, as well as Wowee Zowee, Bryan Charles’s little book about the Pavement masterpiece album of that name, which was really great. I’m looking forward to reading the third installment of Javier Marias’s brilliantYour Face Tomorrow, Poison, Shadow, and Farewell. And the Joseph Ceravolo Collected Poems (I think it’s going to be called Mad Angels) which Wesleyan should be publishing in 2012.
Matthew Zapruder is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon, 2010). The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, he works as an editor for Wave Books, and teaches as a member of the core faculty of UCR-Palm Desert’s Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing. He lives in San Francisco.