every other day

28 APRIL 06

How has your first book changed your life?

2. Andrea Baker

Like Wind Loves A Window

Before Like Wind Loves A Window came out, did you imagine that your life would change because of it?

How has your life been different since? Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?

First I'm so happy about it and proud of it. "My book. My book!! Oh my God, I wrote a book!!" And that's all very good and never changes, even through all my bleak thought.

But there is a lot of bleak thought. Primarily, my trouble is that the book has no real weight and/or the weight it does have is false and I cannot reconcile this with how important it is to me. One problem is that poetry has nothing to do with my real world, the place I really live. If a book meant that the next time I might get an advance that would pay for time to just write, that would mean something pragmatically. Or if I wanted a teaching job and a book meant I might be able to get one, then it would have an impact. But I don't want to teach.

Though these things are just true and always have been true, I feel more deeply in touch with the fact that hardly anyone cares about poetry and that it really does not matter. For some unaccountable reason it matters A LOT to me--and it also matters to me that I am read, but vanity is the only reason I come up with.

I have also come to understand that I had expected the book to transform me on some level... Make me smarter?? Bring me money?? Make writing easier??

Obviously, it's done none of these things. It is important to me as a security object, but I find that highly suspect. I didn't learn to read until very late (dyslexia)... then my highest degree is high school (perpetual college drop-out)... But the book means to me, "It's all OK. I turned out alright after all." Which is completely nuts. One can't judge one's self on outside approval. Oh, but I do! and in these senses it brings out parts of me that I don't want to see.

But then even this relentless questioning drives me crazy because it can quickly sound, even to myself, like ungratefulness. And my book makes me so happy. I feel a sense of awe when I think of the people whose commitment to poetry enabled its production.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? How do you feel about the critical response and has that had any effect on your writing?

I suppose it's alright to admit that I hang on every word of every review and keep a little list of reviews I know are due out and reviews that have come out. The reviews are the first time I've gotten real your work is about x, y, z feedback about my writing. I'm an intuitive writer and probably a bit blind to whatever I find my way into, so having that sort of feedback is valuable. I want to be more accessible and knowing what I'm doing is important for that. Proceeding from that point is not without difficulty though. I plan to write reviews of other people's work because I know how much those have meant to me.

I read somewhere that second books are as challenging as first books, then it gets easier... I'm not sure if that was in reference to getting the books published or actually writing them. I'm not concerned about getting work published but I'm a little worried about managing to finish poems. I hope it won't be this excruciatingly difficult forever...

I feel accountable to whatever warm reception my book has had. It's very easy to slip into a self-defeating perfectionism.

What did you do to promote sales of the book, and what were those experiences like?

Just before the book came out, I did a very very small northeast "tour" that Slope arranged for me. After it came, I sent out many review copies and made sure the book was entered into a least a couple after-the-book-is-published contests. I have read around the city whenever I've been asked but turned down opportunities to read out of state, which would disrupt my daily life and not pay for themselves. I feel torn, again, about promoting. While I want my work to be read, the energy I have put into promoting has taken away from other aspects of life and can easily become frenzied and obsessive, but for what? And why? What on earth do I have to gain when poetry offers no real rewards? I have to question my own motives.

Did Slope pay your travel expenses on the tour?

They offered to rent a car that I would share with another poet I had never met and they would pay for gas and arrange sofas/floors for me to sleep on. I like things to be simple but I'm also a fairly private person and these arrangements would have been too uncomfortable for me so I went with my family in our own car and paid for hotels. When I look at the economics of promoting poetry it really seems like a wonder that any poetry gets promoted at all.

Can you know how well your book is doing? Does your publisher tell you anything?

Slope will tell me once a year--so far that means I have yet to hear. All I know are the Amazon sales rankings. Those were impacted by the Poets & Writers feature I was included in and also seem to be affected by on-line reviews (but not print reviews--perhaps because those reach a different purchasing culture...or maybe just have a smaller audience(??)--I'm clueless).

The real measure of how well it's doing seems to be in critical response and general "buzz." I know that bits of it have been taught at a number of colleges and that sure makes me the proud parent of my poems but I assume that has been Xeroxes and not book sales.

Did you find that you sold many books at a reading?

The most I've ever sold is four. This is completely depressing, but a lot of people who come to a reading already have a book. And the book wasn't printed in time for the initial readings (the "tour"). I'm a quiet seller so that may be a factor.

Do you enjoy reading?

I find it a bit painful if the audience is very small (I'm talking under 10 people). I've also read a couple times when the audience was very large (over 100)--these were for the Poetry Society and in nice, quiet auditoriums. I enjoy that a lot. But those are the extremes. Most readings have had maybe 15-30 people. They can go really well--one I did for Drunken Boat was an evening with so much energy. The more there are other arts involved, the more energy there tends to be. I read once with Charles Valle and that was also great because he had a visual component.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? Or what was the best advice you got?

I didn't get any advice and I'm afraid that all I have to offer is my own account of the experience.

Do you want your life to change?

No. I actually think everything is just right.

But I really wonder how all this makes you feel. Do you find it bleak? Do you want your book to change your life? Have the responses you've gotten so far altered your perceptions?


A poem from Like Wind Loves A Window by Andrea Baker:


I remember this Yugoslavian cowboy painter who had slicked back hair and very formal Roman busts in all of his paintings. Matisse sat on his balcony turning things over in his mind: mat, fish, bowl.

An echo is a mountain.

At the park the children came running to sit in the laps of their mothers. The parking lot stood still, full of cars, the metal rising and expanding on that warm spring day.

Where a still fan is even some form of weeping. And everything arrested must be sad.

So I said, holding up the arm, so I said, the hand shielding a face, so I said, feeling up the arm, so I said, holding its hand, loosing straight down from the spine I said

I was watching a withered woman walk a withered dog down a street of meticulous garden houses. I was watching some people jump-start their cars. Then there were more than the known selves. A lady came by, she was the bearded lady and she knew how to escape from jackets. I believe the cars began to run and their people got in them.

As if a point of interest could be found where in place we are dilated with craving. I put a model of the drink in a model of the cupboard that represents the one in the real room. Try to understand behavior like our own.

If the child had not introduced himself properly he was scolded and sent to the end of the line. And so we moved him to the place that symbolized the end. In the real room the children kept moving. Someone was trying to find order by placing them in a line and if, after advancing to the front of the line and being instructed to introduce himself, if he did not provide an introduction, we put his model in the model of the cupboard so the room had no children.

I understood something normal; I had no plans for the future.

And so I paid $2.35 for the artichoke because I wanted that type of intimacy with my husband. Though we all agree we don't like having these feelings, I keep looking for something I can steal.

Though I think you're right. Watch the curious stand atop cars and watch the mischievous throw their rocks. Pray harder. But what is it to slip and what is it to yield?

The cowboy painter flicked his finger like there was a cigarette and said No good. He meant take off your shirt as I paint you. You were left to think he was offended by the tones of your shirt and how they blended with the tones of your skin. He experiences himself as a prayer.

The workingmen go to work to experience themselves as prayers. Against the deadened cars, their acetylene ravens breaking apart the cars. Their blackened throats shifting in the kill deeper.

And so I said, hand rising higher, so I said, my hand shielding face, I said, crave throated. Dilated with crave.

Dancing with my eyes, the Hubbell's on the cover of National Geographic again. This is just reporting, but I read there's a star that looks like a human eye. Turning to myself, I say I don't like having these feelings but who can claim the right to choose.

Let me just say, I don't really look like this. Let me just say a rabid cat ran from a rabid dog, laughing.

In the story of the children there was a day when they were all outside playing and we were playing with them in the sun, thinking how long will we be able to live on the outside. Only we didn't know what we believed.

And let me tell you, there were hands clinging to themselves everywhere. As a body would be, one all together. Where the long night and the soul recur spontaneously, the landscape glows a vivid blue.


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