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Interview with Dennis Maloney of White Pine Press

Say what you will about Central New York (and trust me, I do, and how), but we’re one of the most vital parts of the country when it comes to literature in translation. In addition to Open Letter, BOA Editions is also in Rochester and White Pine Press is just down the road (a long, wintry road, even in July, but still) in Buffalo.

I didn’t realize until reading this interview with White Pine founder Dennis Maloney that White Pine’s been publishing for 37 years . . . In other words—and yes, I know I probably shouldn’t say this—White Pine has been publishing since before I was born. That’s awesome. Especially since Dennis started the press at 22 and has been running it ever since:

SR: Can you talk about what compelled you to start a publishing company at the tender age of twenty-two?

DM: I studied Landscape Architecture in college and spent my last semester doing an independent study project in Kyoto, Japan on Japanese Gardens. During my college years I began writing and later translating poetry. Two of my early influence were Robert Bly and Gary Synder. Bly was the first poet I heard read, which was in the spring of 1970. Our English professor at the time recommended his work based on his anti- Vietnam war stance (this was the time of Teeth Mother Naked at Last). I read his poetry and his work in translation led me to the Spanish and Latin American poets including Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, and Juan Ramon Jimenez all of whom I would later translate myself. He also introduced me to the work of a wide variety of poets including James Wright and Tomas Transtromer. [. . .]

During college I began doing some translations from the Spanish with two years of high school Spanish and a big dictionary. That along with reading what I could find of work in translation lead me to many wonderful voices that were little known in the US. I realized there was not a lot of poetry in translation being published in the country aside from the small literary press pioneers like Bly’s Sixties Press. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to start something to publish both poetry in translation and the work of lesser known poets like Edith Shiffert, who I met in Kyoto. After returning home in the late spring of 1973 and graduating I decided to start a small publishing venture not knowing at all what I was doing or how to do it. I wrote to a couple of other publishers and magazines asking for some advice. I also had very little money so I started out doing poetry postcards and chapbooks. It was about five or six years before we did our first book with a spine on it. [. . .]

SR: Publishing poetry in translation is a key component to what you do. Is there a growing interest in international poets as the world becomes more connected?

DM: As pointed out above, poetry in translation was one of the main reasons for starting the press. Here we are almost four decades later and the percentage of literature in translation published each year in this country is less than three percent of the total amount of books published. So there is still clearly work to be done. Surprisingly, after four decades, it is still largely the small literary publishers and university presses that are publishing the majority of work in translation. The online translation website Three Percent tracts all the translations published in the country every year. In 2009 White Pine Press published more volumes of poetry in translation than any other publisher in the country, which I find both gratifying and shocking. I am stunned and amazed, particulary given our rather small budget, that we could have such an impact on the world of translated literature.

Interesting interview of one of the really, truly great people involved in publishing, producing, promoting, and translating international poetry.



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