Interview with an Indie Press: Wave Books
On Taking a New Audiovisual Approach to Poetry
Since 2005, Wave Books has been publishing some of the most inventive new poetry in the world of contemporary literature. From Don Mee Choi‘s DMZ Colony, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2020, to Kate Durbin’s Hoarders—an examination of the relationship between consumerism and trauma—its recent publications are challenging and visually rich, emphasizing the role of design in the way that a reader encounters a poetic work. Their covers, often lacking blurbs or illustrations, give a sense of expansiveness; this attitude toward the poetic word also comes through in the other initiatives they’ve pioneered over the years, including a 2006 poetry bus tour and farming residency for poets.
Now, in addition to continuing to publish high-quality work, members of the staff shared ways that they are considering audiovisual tools in their work, how in-person events and technology can enhance one another, and what they’re reading.
What are some of the benefits of working at an independent press?
Wave has been going now for about 16 years and we are a very close-knit group, a benefit of being small and also of having a shared commitment to the poems, the books, and the authors. We have a staff of five employees, so every person who works at Wave is making a big contribution to the success and sustainability of the press. We have limited our publications to about 10 to 12 each year, and we have been fortunate to work with this incredible group of poets over multiple books, so we are able to get to know each poet’s work really well. This has allowed everyone at the press to feel connected to the wider community, too, and we have regular conversations with our peer presses, booksellers, teachers, readers and subscribers about the work, and feeling a part of that is really fun and rewarding.
Being independent has also allowed us to try things like our unique book design, for example, publishing books without blurbs or images on the front, or to realize authors’ visions of more architecturally or visually challenging books like Olio (Tyehimba Jess) or Prose Architectures (Renee Gladman) or DMZ Colony (Don Mee Choi). Being small and independent also makes it possible for us to have thoughtful discussions about how we can respond to a variety of challenges and questions that come up from day to day, with a mind toward supporting the poets and the poetry community in general. Something that came out of these conversations recently was that we opened up for submissions for the first time in several years, and we were grateful and enthusiastic to be able to engage with so much new work. It’s an ever-evolving project, and we feel lucky to be a part of it. –Heidi Broadhead, Senior Editor
How has the coronavirus crisis changed your work?
I started working for Wave just a few months before lockdown, so truthfully, it didn’t change my job too much, considering I had only worked in the office for a few months and had a remote job before accepting the position at Wave. However, I will say that it has been very special to support Wave’s authors by attending so many remote readings. In April 2020, Wave even hosted a particularly special reading to honor the launch of Philip Whalen’s Scenes of Life at the Capital, edited by David Brazil.
A silver lining of the pandemic was that we had the opportunity to invite many different authors from around the country to read sections of the book, and getting all these amazing authors together in one room would have been an impossibility during normal times. Plus, oftentimes readings like this one are being recorded, so the archive of poets reading their work will be a treasure for years to come. (The Philip Whalen reading, for instance, now lives on Wave’s YouTube channel.) It felt especially important to do this event when so many folks were feeling isolated, and it was a comfort to be reading and listening to poetry aloud together in our homes. –Catherine Bresner, Publicist
Online readings have significantly changed our ability to promote authors’ work. Zoom readings have sort of given everyone a shared space of attention, and at least for poetry, a shared online community, so that we are able to engage with a much wider range of work. And there are so many amazing poets out there, it’s excited to be able to discover artists in communities all around the country who we might not hear from otherwise. –Heidi Broadhead, Senior Editor
How do you get feedback from your readers?
Readers will often write to us asking to get in contact with one of our authors, and sometimes in their emails they will share a bit about their relationship to the press and their experiences finding and reading our books. Some people have shared that they found Wave at a book fair booth a couple years ago, and others have been readers of the press ever since serendipitously happening upon a reading on a farm during the cross-country Poetry Bus tour in 2006. It’s exciting to hear stories about readers’ relationships to Wave, our authors, and their books and see how those relationships have evolved over the years. –Izzy Boutiette, Editorial Assistant
How do debut authors reach/pitch you?
Authors reach out to us in myriad ways, usually through book fairs and emails. We recently had an open reading period, which was very exciting. And the staff is always very grateful when a current author introduces us to the work of an author we haven’t heard of before! –Catherine Bresner, Publicist
What are some projects you’re particularly excited about at the moment?
We are always excited about ways that we can reach out to readers and let them know about new books. One way that we are doing this right now is by creating video catalogs of Wave’s authors reading from their forthcoming books. In the past, staff members have travelled to sales conferences to share the books with booksellers and sales reps. Now, we have the opportunity to have authors share their poems directly with those folks, and these authors have generously allowed us to share these readings with the public. It has been fascinating to see the ways each author interprets this video reading, and poets like CAConrad and Garrett Caples have gotten very creative in creating these mini videos. Currently, we have video catalogs available for the spring titles (A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure by Hoa Nguyen, Sho by Douglas Kearney, Hoarders by Kate Durbin, Giant Moth Perishes by Geoffrey Nutter, and Guard the Mysteries by Cedar Sigo) and fall 2021 books (AMANDA PARADISE by CAConrad, Lovers of Today by Garrett Caples, All This Time by Cedar Sigo, and Tomaž constructed by Joshua Beckman, from conversations and interviews with Tomaž Šalamun) on Wave’s YouTube channel for everyone to enjoy.
Another project that we are very excited about is that Wave has begun to create audiobooks, which we expect to share with the public soon. In 2016, Joshua Beckman and Anthony McCann invited over 25 poets to read one of their books in its entirety in the Mystery Theater at Machine Project in Echo Park, LA. Now, years later, we have taken these live recordings and made audiobooks. While more and more presses are publishing audiobooks these days, it feels particularly special that these audiobooks are not only read by the author (instead of a narrator), but were recorded live with an audience, marking this moment in time. –Catherine Bresner, Publicist
What’s another indie press you love/would recommend?
Do we just get to pick one? Ha! I love Belladonna, Dorothy, Transit, Deep Vellum, Kenning, Coach House, Song Cave, Solid Objects, Flood, Nightboat, there are so many…. historically, New Directions, City Lights, Fence, Black Sparrow. –Heidi Broadhead, Senior Editor
There are so many to choose from! Some friends of Wave are City Lights, Song Cave, Action Books, FuturePoem Books, Ugly Duckling Presse, Siglo, Wonder Press, Belladonna, Fonograf Editions, Birds LLC, and Flood Editions. –Izzy Boutiette, Editorial Assistant
Oh gosh, it would be impossible to name just one. I hold so many close to my heart, including Flood Editions, New Directions, Fonograf Editions, Birds LLC, After Hrs Editions, Citizen Editions, New Directions, City Lights, and Primary Information. I have continually been impressed by the work that Song Cave, siglio, and Dorothy Project put out into the world, especially Rough Song by Blanca Varela (Song Cave), The Saddest Thing is That I have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader (siglio), and Suite for Barbara Loden (Dorothy Project). –Catherine Bresner, Publicist