Michael: Hello, Emily. Thank you for agreeing to an interview.
Cat in the Sun Press is a new press. Its first book, Micah Towery’s collection, Whale of Desire, was published only at the end of last year. I’m interested to find out why you and poet Joe Weil decided to start a press. What need did you see that prompted such a large undertaking? What void do you hope the press will fill?
Emily: The original idea for the press arose when Joe and I were visiting with our friends Lucas Rivera and Sharon Zetter. We wanted to launch an online journal and also each Joe and I and Sharon and Lucas a kind of consortium. Sharon and Lucas named their press “Called Back Books,” and we named our press “Cat in the Sun” because I kept thinking about our cat, Pushkin, languorously sleeping in the sunlight. Joe had always wanted to launch his own press. He was the editor and publisher of the journal “Black Swan,” and also one of the founders of Monk Books, as well as various other low budget journals over the years. One of the original intentions of the press was to curate “art books” by painters or photographers that were also poets in their own right.
Michael: What in particular about Micah Towery’s work drew your attention? What singled it out as a good book for the press’s debut collection?
Emily: We had been wanting to do a book of Micah’s for a while. This was his first book, and we liked his poetry and thought it should be recognized. We wanted to do first books as well as the books of well-known poets with extensive publishing histories.
Michael: What are your plans for the press? Do you foresee Cat in the Sun Press publishing a certain number of books per year or only as you come across those you want to publish?
Emily: We’re planning to publish two a year---one in the spring/summer and one in the fall/winter. We’ve just completed an art book (with poetry) of Maria Gillan’s which will be made available on Amazon very soon. (Since this interview, Maria Gillan's book, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets, has been published. An image of her book is at the end of the interview. You can click it to be taken to Amazon.com where it can be purchased.)
|Poet Joe Weil, cofounder|
of Cat in the Sun Press
Michael: Sorry to ask what may be rather pedestrian questions, but I think it might be interesting to see what a poet and publisher thinks on these things. What do you think is the role of poetry in American society? Are our poets doing their part? If not, what should they be doing differently?
Emily: I tend to consider poetry that is being written today as being circulated only amongst other poets. It feels very self-contained to me (and almost “incestuous”) because from what I’ve seen the only American citizens that actually read the work of living poets are other poets, who are ambitious perhaps and seeking to emulate their work. I don’t see a lot of people other than “poets” who are reading poetry. And if they do read poetry, then they seek to compete with the poets that they are reading. Poetry has lost its purpose in being an exclusive art that ordinary citizens admire and appreciate. If my students (who are not English majors) have read poetry, it is the work of dead poets, like Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Good poets, and rightfully so---but in my opinion poetry has become a “scene” which every aspiring poet wants to leap upon. It has, in my opinion, become more of a business than an art. There are more MFA writing programs than I can count on my fingers, toes, and my children’s fingers and toes (and furthermore) and it seems to me an industry. Some even call poetry a “career.” I write poetry, so I can tell you just how much I loathe the utilitarian “ins and outs” of the poetry biz. Because I am a writer myself, I can tell you that I do everything I can to stay away from this nonsense. Sure, everyone needs a publisher, but in the meantime I’d like to muse upon the trees without contingency and write well, and write out of something rhapsodic and holy. America prides itself on trophies and awards, and everyone gets one because this is an equal opportunity society. But which poets do we remember from the past who are now dead? I can tell you from the romantics: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelly, Keats, and Blake. That’s six. And how many so-called “important” poets do we now have swarming our nation?
Michael: You say that “poetry has lost its purpose.” What is that purpose?
Emily: When Shelley said "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" in his Defence of Poetry---I think he meant something quite different from the way that poets see themselves in today's world. I think he may have meant that there are (or were) very few poets that could rightly refer to themselves as "poets." Wordsworth said something similar in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads: something along the lines of the poet "being a very particular kind of person." There are so many poets who are publishing their books now that I think poetry has become too commonplace and ordinary---maybe even mainstreamed? Poetry was once written by the drunks and madmen---eccentrics and recluses. Now it seems to be written by any academic that writes well enough to be accepted into an MFA program. When the business of submitting work online, filling out applications for residencies, and collating manuscripts becomes just as important (if not more so) than the actual art, I do think at least some of the purpose gets lost.
Michael: What American poets do you see as great voices that aren’t being acknowledged or, perhaps, even published?
Emily: John Richard Smith, a poet from New Jersey is one of my favorite poets. Also Adele Kenny (another NJ poet), and Nicole Broadhurst, who writes this really wacky and almost religious poetry, which reminds me of Ginsberg.
Michael: What are the press’s current plans and projects?
Emily: For the fall and spring, we’re looking to do a couple of art/poetry books, or collaborations. We also want to do conversation books. We’re eclectic. We want to tailor our press to those voices of artists who are damn good and sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve. We want to do beautiful books that you wouldn’t dare leave under the passenger seat of your car.
Michael: Thank you, Emily. It will be a pleasure to see what poetry comes out of Cat in the Sun Press.
|Please click the image to be taken to Amazon.com|
where you can purchase Maria Mazzioti Gillan's book
The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets