An interview with Kent MacCarter

by Australian Book Review
April 2021, no. 430

An interview with Kent MacCarter

by Australian Book Review
April 2021, no. 430

Kent MacCarter is publisher of Cordite Books and managing editor of Cordite Poetry Review. He is author of three poetry collections: In the Hungry Middle of Here (Transit Lounge, 2009), Sputnik’s Cousin (Transit Lounge, 2014) and California Sweet (Five Islands Press, 2018).

Kent MacCarter (photograph by Tim Grey)Kent MacCarter (photograph by Tim Grey)


What was your pathway to publishing?

In the waning days of the Italian lira, I accidentally left a new velvet jacket – pockets stuffed with an early mobile and gobs of cash – in a café in Florence, en route to pay school tuition. 1999. Gone. That forced me to return to Santa Fe, then to Chicago where a friend shoehorned me into a role at the University of Chicago Press. There I dabbled in poetry with Thom Gunn and Mark Strand, and in abstractions with Robert von Hallberg and Julia Kristeva. Initial glimmers. I headed to Melbourne to hopscotch my finance degrees with an English gong with Tony Birch and Chris Wallace-Crabbe. I worked for Thomson Learning and Curriculum Press and was treasurer of Small Press Network. In 2010, I became managing editor of Cordite Poetry Review. I started Cordite Books in 2015.


How many titles do you publish each year?

Between four and six: in poetry, a front list is important, but not at the backlist’s expense. I am dedicated to both. Our free eBook anthology/catalogue is accessed constantly and adopted into academia. Books are offered as a Cordite Poetry Review journal contributor payment option, constantly drawing new eyes. A few artefacts per year works well.


Which book are you proudest of publishing?

All of them. Relentless work and perseverance get me to the starting line of a poetry publishing opportunity. I am proudest of reimagining an ad hoc online journal into a non-profit, ROCO-listed charity that is a fixture in Australian letters. Twenty-five years have passed; my tenure has been the latest eleven.


Do you edit the books you commission?

I commission, structurally edit, typeset, and market. Bella Li, now an associate publisher, does the same.


What qualities do you look for in an author?

I seek début authors, authors departing in style from their previous work, and writers who have been overlooked, undervalued, or who have gone unpublished for years. From there, let’s talk.


What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands is a perfect book: typography and design supercharged by saudade and whim. Collected Poems of John Forbes, Ed Dorn, and Lorine Niedecker are canon. The byzantine puzzle that is Kit Williams’s Masquerade and Rube Goldberg’s alternative physics were childhood influences. I do voluminous work-related reading and prefer the company of ghost gums or the din of sushi trains – no tamagoyaki! – in my free time.


In your dealings with authors, what is the greatest pleasure – and challenge?

When a book tumbles into the public record and global conversation, it’s there forever. Producing that work of art to its zenith is both. And essential.


Do you write yourself? If so, has it informed your work as a publisher?

I began this poetry caper as an author, and I understand the emotional razzmatazz from both sides of the author–editor relationship. Each book is a collaboration, and I must earn the author’s trust.


Who are the editors/publishers you most admire (from any era)?

I admire Rachel Bin Salleh, Jessica Wilkinson, Felicity Plunkett, and John Tranter’s Jacket. Graywolf Press, Fitzcarraldo Editions, Granta, the erstwhile Sleepers, and Dalkey Archives – all terrific lists. Kenny Leck at Math Paper in Singapore has admirable chutzpah.


In a highly competitive market, is individuality one of the casualties?

I circumvent these forces by publishing one title per author instead of stable-building. Many D&Ms with authors occur about where to place their next books – I absolutely care about their careers – and what poetry-friendly options exist. This allows the press to pursue – creatively, financially, doggedly – authors in the career stages I’m after from the constrained and cobbled-together jalopy of arts funding, philanthropy, and sales.


On publication, what is more gratifying: a brilliant launch, a satisfied author, encomiastic reviews, or rapid sales?

Unquestionably, a happy author is the goal.


What’s the outlook for new writing of quality?

Vertical, bright, and dynamic.


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