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Editor’s Corner: An Interview with Elaina Ellis of Copper Canyon 

Interview conducted by Stevie Edwards

Elaina Ellis began as an unpaid intern at Copper Canyon in 2012 and has risen in ranks to becoming an editor there. Copper Canyon has long been one of the most respected American poetry presses. Their offerings over the past few years have been increasingly diverse, tender, and voice-driven. Given that America has been becoming more and more unsafe for people of color, women, GLBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and other marginalized populations, there is something very necessary about the voices of dissent and witness that Copper Canyon has been putting into the world. Ocean Vuong, Natalie Diaz, Rachel McKibbens, Traci Brimhall, Jericho Brown, Camille Rankine, Javier Zamora—these are just a few of the vibrant additions to the Copper Canyon catalogue that I am grateful to be able to read.

Elaina Ellis is a relatively young editor with an MFA from Antioch and a first book, Write About an Empty Bird Cage, published by Write Bloody Publishing in 2011. I have had a poetry editor crush on Ellis for several years now. I first became aware of Elaina Ellis through her poetry; we both had our first books published through Write Bloody around the same time, and in 2011 she had a wonderful poem (“Advice for the Newly Single”) appear in a literary magazine I run, Muzzle Magazine. Reading Ellis’s poems—which are deeply felt, urgent, and rich in music— it’s no surprise that her addition to the editorial staff at Copper Canyon would align with so many exciting new authors joining the press.


Stevie Edwards: I am sure that a lot of young poets would see working for Copper Canyon as a bit of a dream job. Can you talk about your path toward becoming an editor there?

Elaina Ellis:  Of course. My role has evolved over time, and each incarnation has been a different kind of dream job for me. I started as an intern in 2012, an unpaid gig I applied for when I’d reached the point of self-employment burnout. I was coming out of a fantastically creative time—I’d just put up an original libretto called Poetry Apocalypse with the Seattle Rock Orchestra—but the stress of piecing money and vision together from month to month was getting to me. I had never worked in publishing prior to Copper Canyon, but the skills I brought from other experiences made me a good fit for the press: running my own small business and all of the scrappy strategizing that goes into that, producing poetry events, community organizing, fundraising, an MFA in creative writing, and being a voracious reader. And the press was, and is, a good fit for me too. There’s a culture of kindness, flexibility, and collaboration that has kept me interested and engaged these past 5+ years.

My first paid role at Copper Canyon Press was Community Engagement Coordinator. I’ve long loved bringing people to poetry and poetry to people, and the press had a rich history of public events, so together we came up with a position to support that kind of outreach. Simultaneously, we had launched a new online submissions system and the editorial department needed help managing it—so I added another title to my business card, Associate Editor. As the organization has grown (and I’ve grown along with it) I’ve taken on different editorial and curatorial responsibilities. My title has been slimmed down to one word, Editor.

SE: What is something that has surprised you about working professionally as a poetry editor?

EE:  One of the perpetually surprising things about working as a poetry editor is that it’s such weird work. Beautiful and deliciously weird work!

Did you ever read the book Bee Season by Myla Goldberg? The novel’s young heroine wins spelling bees by becoming a tiny Jewish mystic. The kid is an unlikely channel—she’s not even a good student. But she starts pulling spellings out of the air by receiving the shape and energies of letters. I might regret how this ends up sounding, but sometimes when editing is going well, it feels like that.

I’m no mystic genius or spelling bee champion, but I love Bee Season because it shows how language exceeds itself, precedes itself, is there for the deeper knowing. When I’m getting something right as an editor I’m drawing from that extra-place. I’ve long recognized this about writing</