Massive People (6): Cooper Renner

Knowing of the existence of Cooper Renner in the world makes me feel a little better a lot of days. For all the baggage that comes along with certain types of figureheads or editors, Cooper is not only one of the quickest and most likable sorts of people around, he also has carried the aesthetic of the online lit journal elimae into a benchmark not only for great online writing, but for post-Lish, sentence-driven new work. Elimae, created and launched by Deron Bauman, has been under Renner’s care since the end of 2004, and continually updates once each month with slews of the new. Cooper also is involved with Ravenna Press, who has released books by Kim Chinquee, Norman Lock, Brandon Hobson, and many others important language-driven authors.

In addition to all this, Cooper is also a writer doing the new, with a recent book out of his own poems, Mosefolket, some of which appeared in Lish’s the Quarterly.

A truly massive person (fit in a small frame) I talked to Cooper about a lot of the above, including his editorial leanings, correspondences, future works, and so on.

1. You were in the Quarterly years ago and I believe had mail correspondence with Lish at points? How did his enterprise or presence or etc. affect you as a writer? Who else has affected you?

I am still in contact with Lish. In fact I had a postcard from him either yesterday or Monday. We write back and forth pretty much all the time. I’ve talked to him a few times on the phone, but we’ve never met in person. Most of our contact is on the page. Gordon and Deron Bauman are the two folks who really showed me how to edit my own stuff, zeroing in on the strong language rather than what I ‘wanted to say’. They taught me how to divorce any sociological idea of content from the artistry of how the words work.

More after the break…

2. Your editing style on elimae is so distinct and clean. I’ve talked with people about how almost transfixing it is, that the simple presentation of the words on plain white, make them stand out so well and make them really hum. Could you discuss elimae’s aesthetic as an editor and maybe in design? That can be interpreted as loosely as you like.

The design and layout is all Deron’s: that classical simplicity. I am an html idiot and I work on templates from ‘the Bauman years’. My editing style has a great deal to do as well with what Lish and Bauman taught me in reference to my own work. Not that the three of us have identical tastes or anything like that. In fact I have a great fondness for the Victorians, a fondness which may appall both Gordon and Deron. But I find myself transfixed by powerful writing–not necessarily what the writing is ‘saying’ but how it is said. I think the three of us may share that. I find myself asking writers to get rid of merely functional writing: words and sentences which are primarily content and not ‘music.’ I want writers to trust the reader to be smart enough to figure out what is implied; the reader’s hand doesn’t need to be held every step of the way. My standard metaphor is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: nobody looks at that to ‘learn’ about sunflowers. You look at it to admire the way he put the paint on the canvas.

3. Coming out of question two, often the pieces you run are cut out of larger things, or are removed from larger scenes, or are simply things that open up enough to remain open. I’ve always enjoyed this tendency in elimae and how there is always some sense of aura or lingering to the work. What is about the fragment, or aura?

I do edit, yes. I sometimes ask a writer to accept a ‘severe’ edit: I may, for example, suggest that a 300-word story only really needs 88 words. I don’t mind mystery; I don’t mind obliquity. I don’t want the obvious. Another metaphor, rather more overstated than the previous one: in some ways I sort of want the writing in elimae to work like a Zen koan. Or, to steal from Emily Dickinson, to take the top of the reader’s head off.

4. You have got to be the quickest on responses of any journal I’ve seen. How do you manage to stay on top of things when so many other places take forever?

Because elimae is online, I don’t have to worry about using up only x number of pages. If I want a poem or story, I have the ‘space’ for it: I don’t have to bump something else. So, for that reason, I don’t have to hold onto a whole lot of ‘possibles’ until it’s almost time for the issue and then decide how many I have room for and how many I have to reject. By the same token I don’t ‘have’ to fill up a certain number of pages to keep the editorial board or the advertisers happy. There is no editorial board, no advertisers. So if an issue has 50 pieces, fine; if it has 13, fine. I am free to take writing that fits the elimae aesthetic, more or less. I see lots of well-done writing that I reject, not because it’s poorly done, but rather because it doesn’t fit the aesthetic. I suppose I more or less inherited an aesthetic from Deron, which I wanted to stick pretty close to. But I’ve been at this four years now; my first issue was January 2005. So elimae has inevitably changed in some ways simply because I am not Deron and we read with different eyes. elimae has changed because I have changed.

5. What is forthcoming for elimae and Ravenna Press, which I know you have ties to? What is forthcoming of your own work?

Ravenna is just about to issue Daryl Scroggins’s This Is Not the Way We Came In, which I was the editor for. Next up for me is Norman Lock’s The King of Sweden. I am not Norman’s editor, however, in any conventional sense. I will be designing the PDF the book will be printed from, but the text was set and ready to go as soon as Norman sent it to me. By January or February I may be looking at all new material which I will serve as editor for in the regular sense.

As for elimae, what is coming is the next issue. I don’t plan issues in advance. I just publish in one month the things that most appealed to me over the preceding weeks. I never know what the issue is going to look like until it exists. I am utterly at the mercy of the writers who submit writing to me.

As for my own work: hmmm. I spend more time drawing than writing, I’m sure. I’ve just had a story in New York Tyrant (Vol 2 Issue 2) and have had another accepted for next year. The new acceptance is a fake Maltese folktale I invented for a novel I’m working on. A kind of thriller. I had some poems in Unsaid 3 and have a couple more coming up in Keyhole 6. I don’t write a lot of poems. The two in Keyhole are newly composed pieces, though one of them began its attempted existence early in 2007 and didn’t come together in an entirely new form until early 2008. Some of the poems in Unsaid were first written in Spanish and then translated/adapted by me into English (which is also true of the story “Translated by the Author”.) If you know anybody who wants to publish a literary thriller set on Malta, let me know!