How has your first book changed your life?
64. Adam Clay
How did your manuscript happen to get picked up by Parlor Press Free Verse Editions?
The Wash is, for the most part, my MFA thesis with some poems cut, some added. I sent it out to contest after contest--it was a semi-finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Slope Editions Prize. One of those contests was the Free Verse Editions open reading period and Jon Thompson wrote me a nice e-mail along the lines that he liked the book but felt it wasn't quite realized at the time. He sent me some comments. Time passed. The seasons changed. I wrote a second manuscript (Nodaway River) and started sending it out. I had put The Wash aside for the most part, but when the Free Verse reading period opened up again, I sent a revised version to Jon with the idea that this would be the last place I ever sent it. Later that Fall, between classes (I was teaching composition at a community college), I checked my email and there was an email from Jon with "THE WASH" in the subject line. I almost cancelled class that day--it was so strange jumping right back into a lecture about how to synthesize sources knowing that my manuscript finally found a home.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I knew it was arriving on the day it did. I kept waiting for the UPS truck with a bit of nervous energy--for some reason I kept having these nerve-wracking thoughts about a typo that I missed or a poem I should've cut. That feeling didn't last long once I opened the box. We had dinner. I read the book before bed that night. The world did not end.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes. David Blakesley at Parlor Press was quite open to my suggestions about the cover. I found the photo and he sent me a few ideas for the design. I remember the process being pretty quick--the draft came to me in September and the book was in my hands by mid-October.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
How has your life been different since?
Once the book came out, my life was fairly different anyhow. Since the book was accepted, Kim and I were married, and we moved 768 miles to a different Hardiness Zone. I can say that it's strange to have a book that was written in one place published when you live somewhere else. It made me miss Arkansas. We still talk about moving back.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
There was an expectation for immediate response and reviews. There always is. It's slow though. I think the book's been reviewed two or three times since it came out. There is a lot of waiting, which I knew to expect, but there's still this wish for more.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what have the experiences been like for you?
It was exhausting, but great--I met some amazing people, but toward the end of the Fall, I was just completely worn out. I read in Minneapolis, South Bend, Lansing, Providence, New Haven, Boston, Brooklyn, and some other places I'm probably forgetting, alongside trying to tackle a semester of graduate school. Some readings I would sell 15 books and some I would sell 2. It's easy to question yourself when you've spent $300 on a plane ticket and only sold 2 books. I did a lot of that.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
"Cut it and send it."
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
I really had to rethink the poems. I really didn't read any of them out-and-about before the book was published so when it came out, I had to revisit my own work. In this sense, it was a new book to me. Alex Lemon and I talked a lot about this: reading the older work, promoting the book. I didn't remember the impetus for a lot of those poems so I really had to think about them again and fit them into a bigger context.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
I liked Andy Grace's review at CutBank a lot. A good review should give the writer something to think about, and his review did.
Do you want your life to change?
Not in a drastic way. I want my neighbors to move.
2 poems from The Wash by Adam Clay:
Between the eyes. My head fell from a cloud
To a meadowed land where woodlarks forever search
For twigs too heavy to carry. Upon waking, the stulp
Where I stood was no more. I witnessed beetles moving
Near my face as if for the first time free from the galling glow
Of the sun. Larks reappeared. The song of their hungry young
Sweetened the air. Beetles dropped to their holes,
And I thought of Mary and the many trees
It would take to build a ship to sail to her.
Hourly now a voice asks Well honest John how fare you now at home,
And my reply is thrown to the pigs each morn.
and unbury the bone you’ve tasted for years. The flesh
of bones is that which burdens the voice, the flesh
that feeds from the unspoken words in your throat
urging you not to pocket the flowers. Plunder
the scream of shades. Take the swarm of color
from the fields until the lack of color
forms a rupture in the sky and plunder
all unheard sounds in the night. These sounds
are yours. Your mind holds the morning back.
This voice whispers each word back
to you and each stone you gather slows sound
and light. The bleached day urges you on and the throat
of the lapwing burns black with still no sound.
. . .