Tag Archives: interview

The Next Big Thing

Founder of Architrave Press and Wordsmith Extraordinaire Jen Tappenden tagged me in The Next Big Thing blog hop — a handful of questions for emerging writers that are making their way around the writerly corners of the internet. Be sure to check out her answers. And here are my own!

What is the working title of the book?

Peel Yourself Like Fruit  — a line from the poem “Nerves,” which opens the collection.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Time and circumstance. I’m at a point, having recently finished my MFA, where I feel I have enough work — enough decent work, thanks to the feedback of my writing family — to shape a book, and enough work to reveal the patterns in voice and style and content that help the shaping process along. And I feel ready to put something book-length out there. Maybe. Probably. Maybe. Yes.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. A mix of narrative and lyric, with perhaps a bit more of the former.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh dear. The book is rather densely-populated, so I fear the production costs of hiring established actors to play most of the key roles would make a movie rendition prohibitively expensive. Or with a cast like that of a Wes Anderson film. If we’re not locked in to having real actors play roles, I think I’d cast the parents from Calvin and Hobbes as my own parents; the resemblance is uncanny.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

“These poems exhibit a hunger to connect with the self and the world as well as a discomfort at the vulnerability which that connection entails — thus, a world view of extreme ambivalence: a tug-of-war between past and present, desire and loss, body and mind, family and self.”

(I love the magic of the em-dash. Did I cheat? I may have cheated.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The oldest poem in the collection dates back to 2005 or 2006, I think, but that’s the date of its birth, not the date it actually felt like a poem. (Ugh, they never feel done.) So from one angle, it’s taken me about 7-8 years to produce enough work that felt book-worthy. From another angle, it took me about 8-9 months to shape that work into a cohesive manuscript.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Probably a sense of discomfort, of dis-ease. Things Amiss tend to snap me awake and out of the daily patterns it’s all-too-easy to sleepwalk through, and often that wakefulness brings with it more input — more stimulation —  than I know what to do with. For me, poetry comes out of that hyper-vigilance as a way to both explore and make manageable that which unsettles me (for better or worse).

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I don’t disown the subjectivity of my work, nor the poems’ personal nature — that inextricable way that, while all writing is fiction, all the poems I write are also in some way a reflection of myself (even when I wish they weren’t). There are readers who are turned off by the bald-faced “I”, but I’d hope that a reader with an interest in finding where subjectivities overlap would have enough in this collection to sink their teeth into.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope I can find a small press willing to give my poems a home.

One of my favorite writers who will answer these questions next week: Matthew Haughton, author of the recently-released book of poetry Stand in the Stillness of Woods (from WordTech).

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Yeah but… how?

When poetry is good — I mean like, catch-your-breath or haunt-your-brainhouse good — it sort of takes on a life of its own, independent of the creative force behind it. The poet disappears into the wings, and you’re left unable to take your eyes off the verse at center-stage. An amazing poem just… exists. And we read it, take it into ourselves, make it our own.

But as writers and as astute readers of poetry, we may have the most to gain from peeking behind the curtain of the work that most blows us away. Often the better the poem — the more magic it works on us — the more skill and control and craft the poet exercises behind the scenes. (By way of example, take my experience with a beginners’ yoga workshop this past weekend. I quickly discovered that the easier some pose looked — “ha! that’s basically what I have to do to shave my legs in my tiny shower!” — the more effort went into making it look easy. I am, believe me, now humbled, terribly sore, and pumped about my next class.) You’ll hear from some that examining that craft somehow leeches the magic out of the poem itself, but I disagree. We’re not talking Oz vs. the little man pulling levers and pushing buttons; there’s just as much magic in what the poet does to bring a great poem to life.

And obviously it behooves us to look into that magic — to let it leave us stricken and then ask in awe “yeah but…how?” As writers, we want to know what works so we can try it ourselves. As readers, we want to know how poems come into being so we can appreciate the whole process; understanding the input breeds greater understanding and admiration for the output.

This is one of the reasons I love the format of the interviews with artists in WomenArts Quarterly Journal. They focus on craft, and give readers a peek at exactly how their favorite writers, artists, and musicians do what they do. Granted, there are artists in all disciplines who are better at talking about the “how” than others. There are plenty of artists who focus more on the “what” — because this is simply where their interest lies, or because they have fallen under the spell of their own work and are invested in seeing the magic they create as the product of an un-examinable magic they possess. But on the whole, I find that conscientious artists are eager to talk about how they get from that inspirational-tickle to a final draft, and that such a conversation deepens the relationships between poet, poem, and reader.

I had the chance to dig a little deeper in an interview with Traci Brimhall for WAQ’s latest (and first nationally-distributed!) issue. Traci’s book Our Lady of the Ruins (Norton) won the Barnard Women Poets Prize in 2011, and I encourage you to pick it up; it’s a collection of poems in the voices of female exiles in a post-apocalyptic world that is, as I told Traci in our interview, genuinely frightening. Not a casual read. Not the kind of book that leaves you easily. Check out the interview for Traci’s thoughts on how that book came together, and what it’s like to write what scares you.

WAQ 3.1 cover

Seriously, there’s really fantastic stuff in this issue. (A special shout out to Paige Lewis, whose poem “In Michigan” qualifies as one of those catch-your-breath-ers. I remember reading it as a submission and knowing after one read-through that we had stumbled across something awesome. I’m so glad we got to put it in our pages.)

More to come regarding poetry to start your year off right…

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