by Ansley Clark
Wave Books is a small poetry press based out of Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood. Since 2005, they have dedicated themselves to publishing exceptional and innovative poetry, poetry in translation, and other writings by poets. They publish about Wave originally evolved out of Matthew Zapruder’s small press, Verse Books, after Zapruder joined forces with Wave’s current publisher Charles Wright, former director of the DiA Art Foundation. Today, Wave’s editorial community includes Charlie Wright as Publisher, Joshua Beckman as Editor in Chief, Matthew Zapruder as Editor at Large, Heidi Broadhead as Managing Editor, Brittany Dennison as Publicity Director, and Blyss Ervin as Subscriptions and Distribution Manager, as well as several interns and assistants.
As I write this, there is a pile of Wave books beside me: Gennady Aygi’s Into the Snow (2011, trans. by Sarah Valentine), Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012), Hoa Nguyen’s As Long as Trees Last (2012), CA Conrad’s Ecodeviance (2014), and many more. Wave’s characteristic aesthetic is minimal, clean, and exquisite, yet still warm and heartfelt. The books’ smooth, plain, slightly dappled covers, with the title and author in bold black ink, make it a pleasure to collect, read, and simply hold their books. And the books are designed for this kind of well-loved wear and tear, as good books should be. According to a City Arts interview with Joshua Beckman, matte covers tend to scuff more easily. Wave’s book covers, on the other hand, develop a patina that causes them look even better with age and allows them to be read again and again. In a world of quickly enjoyed airplane paperbacks and eBooks, the long shelf life of Wave’s books is no small feat.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this clean appearance serves to highlight the strange glimmerings and the wide-ranging beauty of the books’ interior poetics. The books’ aesthetic simplicity emphasizes the titles and authors over anything else, and this emphasis on their authors and on community is part of what has made Wave so successful.
Two of Wave Books’ many strengths as a press are its thoughtfulness, which the books’ gorgeous designs showcase, and its focus on fostering a close-knit community among their authors.
Regarding this strong sense of community, Wave sends their catalog to their past authors and encourages authors to communicate and promote each other. Wave is also known for their creative poetry events. The small press organized the now legendary Poetry Bus Tour in 2006, where over 100 poets travelled by bus, giving readings in cities all over the country. Their tour made 50 stops in 5o days. From 2006 to 2008, Wave partnered with a 12-acre organic farm in Wisconsin; the farm was open to poets seeking a place of solitude to live and write, in exchange for a few hours of farm work each day. And, every two years from 2009 to 2013, Wave hosted a three-day poetry festival in Seattle. Themes for these festivals included introducing their authors to Seattle, celebrating poetry in translation, and showing films by, about, featuring poets.
I had the opportunity to speak with Brittany Dennison about what makes Wave Books unique. In my interview, both Dennison further discusses the ways in which Wave values thoughtfulness and creative community in their small press.
Interview with Brittany Dennison:
AC: What excites you in poetry? What do you find important and vital in the work that Wave publishes?
BD: Wave’s aesthetic range is really broad. The press consistently tries to push its own boundaries. We’re never bored! But if I have to pick one theme running throughout our bibliography, I would have to say that it’s playfulness. And I don’t mean that it’s always light. And I don’t mean experimental. When I read our books, I get the sense that our authors really enjoy trying something new, not for the sake of it, but perhaps to surprise themselves. I abhor shock for its own sake. It’s too performative and I don’t like the pressure to react. But I think our authors write facing the other way—they’re pandering to their own whims, and it’s a joy to witness.
AC: How has working for a small press, and for Wave in particular, changed your views of poetry?
BD: Wave has really taught me everything I know about poetry, so it’s not so much that my views have changed, but that they’ve been fostered. But the most important thing I’ve learned is thoughtfulness. It’s absolutely the defining quality of the press. Every single decision at Wave is exhaustingly made. It can take us forever to do very simple things (although I will say that we always make our deadlines!). I work the most with our editor-in-chief Joshua Beckman and our managing editor Heidi Broadhead. They definitely lead by example. You won’t find two more sharp and exacting professionals. Everything great about Wave comes from their devotion to our books. And just a little rant here: I don’t think Heidi gets enough credit for her role at the press. That’s just the way it goes for anyone who isn’t the top editor. But Wave wouldn’t be Wave without her.
As laborious as it is to have a staff entirely comprised of over-thinkers, we take ownership over every little detail, and we’re truly proud of our work. I think that’s much more common among smaller presses. A friend of mine who’s an editor at one of the “Big 5” presses was surprised to learn that I read all of our books and write copy for them that isn’t mad libbed–not nearly as impressive of a feat when you’re publishing 10 books a year as opposed to 30 or more, but still.
If I had gotten a job outside of publishing, would I be more invested in poetry, or less? If I had gotten a job working at a different press, would my preferences have been molded into something else entirely? It’s impossible to say for sure. But I do think about it.
AC: From our Skype interview in Noah’s class, I remember you mentioned that you’ve been with Wave for a while…since 2010? How has Wave changed, or remained consistent, as a press during the time that you’ve worked there?
BD: The biggest change is probably that we do 4 more books per year. And the staff has had a little turnover—I’ve had the pleasure of working with Brandon Shimoda, Ellen Welcker, and Rachel Welty over the years who are also all fantastic poets. Everyone who has worked at Wave brought their own particular enthusiasms and strengths, so the press has shifted slightly in different directions as people have come and gone.
Our catalog has also opened up a bit more, from “poetry” to “poetry and writing by poets.” We started doing translations, more nebulous categories of books like Lake Superior, and essays by poets. Like I said before, we try and keep it interesting.
We’ve definitely grown. We built our new website and focused more on direct sales. Social media has become a huge part of promotion for presses and we’ve developed our accounts thanks in part to our wonderful social media interns over the years, particularly our first two, Kelly Forsythe and Holly Amos. We’re constantly trying to learn and become more efficient so we can do more books with the same amount of attention for each one.
AC: I remember you mentioning that Wave sends its newly published titles to all of its past authors. Can you speak a bit more about the ways that you work to foster community within Wave–among its readers and authors?
BD: I think we’re all really invested in our work and that keeps our authors and readers coming back. We do send our catalog to our authors, and we also sell subscriptions. It’s a way to feel like you’re a continuing part of Wave. Our goal is to build long-term relationships with authors and readers, as opposed to following trends or building a “brand.”
We sometimes joke that Wave is a big family. That attitude seeps into all the little things we do. A few years ago, I organized an open-mic exclusively for former and current Wave staff and interns. It was just a nice way for everyone to share their work with each other, since most people who work in publishing are also writers. We try and stay in touch with anyone who has been involved with Wave in little ways too.
I think there’s so much I could say about this but really it’s just about being genuine. The rest follows.