14 DEC 06
How has your first book changed your life?
43. Rachel Levitsky
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
What I remember is the first time I saw Futurepoem's first book, Garrett Kalleberg's Some Mantic Daemons, and I was very excited to know that this amazing press would publish me--i.e. by a stroke of luck I ended up in good hands, beautiful covers.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I became a poet at age 30 and thought I would like to have a book by the time I was 40, so there was a feeling of satisfaction there. Ironically I have a hard time sending out subsequent manuscripts to publishers, though I have two that I've had for years.
How has your life been different since?
I'm not sure, my life is always different. It was great to complete a longer manuscript, it seems to have invited me to complete more since, not that I'm any good at completely completing. It's hard for me to let things out into the world as finished products. I find 'in progress' an easier moniker.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes--in the sense that I was given some choices of image and color.
Were there surprises?
A review by Standard Schaeffer in The New Review of Literature, in which he actually addresses the issues of the book (eros, humor, politics) and places me into an American cannon by discussing the work alongside Melville's Bartleby via Agamben. Nice.
What have you done to promote the book and what have those experiences been like for you?
A lot of readings mainly. I discovered how harrowing an experience reading in public is. Somehow I'd missed that fact before and innocently went about. But the other thing was my publisher Dan Machlin and I sent out over a hundred copies to reviewers that we thought might actually take a look...
What did you find harrowing? Had you not read very much before that, or was something different about reading to promote the book?
I had read a lot but, I have always found it excruciating to be focused upon and had gotten through it via activism, talking at meetings and all. In order to read, I needed to shove away that one in me who is horrified by attention and just do it. I found that I liked the mike, though at any moment, my horror could return. Somehow since the book the horror has settled into a general shyness. Less extreme but less overcomable by sheer will.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?
Hmmm. I would say get the book in as many bookstores as possible. I'm lousy at that. It takes work and gumption.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
The one pushes the other. On one hand, the formality of that book has encouraged informality in the subsequent. On the other, the length and reach has permitted me to reach even longer, maintain an even more sustained and bigger idea.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
This is a complicated question. I feel that response feeds the work--gives it additional dimension, yet there is also a need to retreat from too much contact. Just as we can't trust our own judgment on our own work, it's not great to rely upon audience response--because, too, the loudest voice is often the one taken up, so that a more nascent movement in the work can be missed and abandoned before it reaches itself.
Do you want your life to change?
Yes, I want a job.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I'm looking for a job.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
Yes. But it first has to create a change in the writer, and it has to be heard by more than only poets, and it has to be about big things even as they appear small.
Also it is one kind of movement for change, one kind of catalyst and should not be confused with other types of direct action--like living in an old growth tree, laying down on a highway, tax resistance, even running for office as a communist. Poetry is a distinct force, irreplicable, but the other speaks to a kind of direct engagement that so much, in our particular time, works against. More and more I consider the importance of old fashioned bodily involvement in resistance. I have some concern about electronic life.
Where does Belladonna* fit in?
As for Belladonna*--it's a long story but the short answer is that I wanted to marry my poetics to my politics somehow...
2 poems from Under the Sun by Rachel Levitsky:
On your hands and your knees
Head against the wall
My people, she says
There are things for which
Forever and ever
No joke and no wisdom
No relish in repetition
Where is the food, the chair, the table
Where is my head, your hand, gravity
Where is there room
In this room,
Under the table
Besides the white
VI. The Map [The Words]
They are walking.
Lady sees the map under their feet.
She cannot believe its colors.
Fluorescent . . .
It is a sign.
She has been forgetting to notice signs or to believe in fortune. She is willfully disobeying her rules. It doesn’t matter, the path has been sown, either before or after.
It brings joy and tumult.
Urt smells her pits. They are stale diner. Fish. She doesn’t yet eat fish.
Lady on the coast, her feet in the water.
Vanity as Turning Away
Lady bends Embrace
Turtle and Lady make a new contract. An occupation of looks and resistance. To anything meaningful in speech. Once upon a time they were stories. This one already written.
. . .
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other first-book interviews
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