How has your first book changed your life?
The first time I submitted Wide slumber for lepidopterists to a small press was November 2004, when an editor from Coach House Books asked to see it. From 2000 to 2004, I shared the work-in-progress with many lovely friends. Prior to its acceptance at Coach House, excerpts were published in Alterran Poetry Assemblage, ARRAS 5, Literary Review of Canada, Pissing Ice: An Anthology of 'New' Canadian Poetry, Psychic Rotunda, and Queen Street Quarterly. Through my once-in-a-blue-moon things like press, I published excerpts from Wide slumber in 2002 and 2003 as limited-edition chapbooks made from vellum and cloth-like paper affixed with miniature clothespins, thread, and steel binder rings. Calgary's housepress also published a dollop of slumberish text in pins in ings if.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
Calm before the calm. Electric enthusiasm.
In Canada, there are three small presses--Coach House (Toronto, ON), Gaspereau Press (Kentville, NS), and Porcupine's Quill (Erin, ON)--where both the pre-production (acquisitions, editing, design, promotion, etc.) and the production (printing, binding, cutting) are completed in the same building. As a current Toronto resident, it was a wee dream to pop by the press during the book's sojourn through Coach House Printing.
During my first visit, unfolded sixteen-page signatures were stacked in large, cream-coloured rectangles throughout the printing room. Tony Glenesk (printing) spoke with me about his choice to add a blue tint to the black ink, softening the text's and images' visual impact. I rooted through discarded, unfolded signatures (saved for later mischief). On my second visit, Nicky Drumbolis (bindery) snuck me extra covers. Coach House has a gritty charm, and I wholeheartedly recommend a tour when you're next in Toronto.
Through my work with The Mercury Press and Sumach Press, I've seen enough books through pre-production that I'm no stranger to the electricity and flutters that accompany the first time I see a book in its bound format. With Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (an anthology I'd co-edited and co-designed through Mercury in 2005), the book's physical presence was a clean, crisp sentence with no flashy punctuation or multi-syllable words (a sentence akin to the matter-of-factness of, say, "There it is.").
Not so with Wide slumber.
The day I learned that Wide slumber was done, I invited two friends, Conor Green and Katherine Parrish, to meet me at the press. Their enthusiasm mediated my prone-to-hyperactivity self; so much so that when I first met Wide slumber in her new look, I felt a quiet and peace inside I would not have anticipated. Over the last five years, I knew the text intimately on the computer screen and its print counterpart on an 8.5" x 11" white page. I knew its excerpts in magazines and as chapbooks. To see it compact, on zephyr laid, disoriented me. Wide slumber had grown miles long, sky-high--gargantuan and uncontainable--and here it was, bound.
Consider the difference in hearing "Lithium" by Nirvana recorded professionally, performed live in concert, bootlegged, covered by another musician; each incarnation impacts your interpretation and experience of the song. In a similar way, Wide slumber's spined incarnation estranged me from the text I knew so well; she entered the room in an impossible corset. Wolf-whistle.
I remember the day I met the book: text sucked and pressed into a tidy rectangle. I flattened; I tailspun. Wide slumber pinned at a moment of the text's metamorphosis, snapshot. Objectified, multiplied.
That night, we warily made eye contact. Raccoons watched from rooftops.
Matt Ceolin's art feels integral to the book as it is now. Did you plan to have art in the finished book when you were writing the manuscript?
The initial poem grew out of enthusiasm to collaborate with Matt, a close friend from high school in Northern Ontario. I spent a feverish weekend in 2000 writing a five-page poem, to which Matt responded with treated photographs of insects and bottles. At the time, neither of us anticipated our project expanding to fill a trade book.
A year later, Matt, who also amazes me for his incredible bookbinding and design through his corosae vespes press, proposed we build a chapbook maquette (twenty pages in length) incorporating our initial material. In 2004, a second maquette featured heavily revised text and images. Neither maquette extended to print runs, though they were solid stepping-stones to envision the project. When Coach House inquired about Wide slumber's progress, they did so with the knowledge that Matt's images were an integral sister to the text.
Wide slumber's text was finalized in January 2006. Bill Kennedy (editor and designer) and I sat down for an amazing eight-hour typesetting expedition, the highlight of which included placing Matt's images in the book. The images clicked into spot with little resistance, magnetic attraction.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
"Who knows what's going to happen--lottery or car crash or you'll join a cult?"--"Possibly Maybe," Björk
The biggest shift is that I'm no longer writing Wide slumber (though I've had moments where I brainstorm edits or additions). Instead, with an ad-hoc group of brilliant performing artists, I've begun the process of translating the text's content, structure, and white space into choreography, sound score, light plots, set for Toronto events at Nuit Blanche and Harbourfront Centre's Hatch: Emerging Performance Projects. Project collaborators include Matt, who's developing the set, props, and wardrobe. It's an invigorating way to bend the mind, and I'm glad to not yet leave the bewitching company of sleep and moths.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
In my experience working for presses, it often takes time for Canadian media to write up a first book of poetry, if they do so at all. I anticipated a few friends writing me privately to say they'd read the book, and otherwise radio silence for four to six months proceeded by one or two reviews. The immediate media response to Wide slumber was a surprise.
What did you do/are you doing to promote the book, and what were/are those experiences like for you?
Coach House Books has been monumentally supportive and creative with the book's promotion. They created and distributed wearable ephemera (cut-out butterfly shapes adorned with poetry, pin included), and launched the book in Toronto, Hamilton (ON), Ottawa (ON), Montreal (QC), Calgary (AB), and Winnipeg (MB). I'll visit New York City [Oct. 10 at belladonna* and Oct. 11 at Poets House] and Philadelphia (PA) this October for readings.
Otherwise, I've saved and scraped my pennies to travel. Pre-launch, I read in several provinces and two states, including British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Otherworldly. It's such an adrenaline rush to feel words burrow to the very star of me and then breathe/weave their peculiar magic into a soundscape. Out-of-body.
All my energy is focused on sprouting wings so I can travel to distant places in 2007.
What was the best advice you got?
"You should not show you can read."--"Forest Families," The Knife
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
Emerging from deep immersion in text, I've craved a palette cleanser some fierce. My tonic? Re-acquaint myself with sound and movement, both in research and in practice. I'm knee-deep in developing performance strategy to suit the text, and wholly appreciate every opportunity offered to work with others and share text with an audience. For the Toronto launch, Ciara Adams and Alexis Milligan (interdisciplinary performers) joined me for a three-minute sound poem. Jill Hartman (poet) and I had a blast working through fifteen minutes of Wide slumber at a Calgary event. For two Scream Literary Festival events this summer, Ciara and I paired with Lori Nancy Kalamanski and Conor Green (performers) to power through twelve minutes of text and sound. At each incarnation, words pop and honey, erupt, seethe; neologisms tumble between tongue and teeth.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
I love constructive feedback, as an outside eye can redirect focus, alter course, challenge, bring to light dirty little writing habits. I've benefited greatly from private feedback, and am still acclimatizing to public feedback. Of magazine and newspaper reviews, I often find them insightful into the reviewer's reading practices.
After publication, I discovered two excerpts from Wide slumber have been translated into Icelandic and Spanish. Unfamiliar languages appeal to my sensibilities with their musicality and coded logic. The translations encouraged close readings of the foreign languages, comparing their English counterparts, and further investigation into Chilean and Icelandic poetries.
There's a danger in internalizing and magnifying negative vitriol; pervasive sexism can encourage a self-censor, a thing I've recently had to confront post-book. At the end of the day, I'd rather give a hug than throw a punch, no matter how seductive an expletive-laden response can be.
Constantly; not at all; it does so without my vigilance. I don't know what I seek; yes, I do; yes, a change will come based on what I do. Frenetic Saturniidae's wingbeats create typhoons. Unknown and known repercussions for our dreaming. Metamorphosis, processing, procession, regeneration. What is meant by change, by world? What do I mean? I mean
from Wide slumber for lepidopterists by a.rawlings:
We descend on a field by a lake. a hoosh The lupin, sleep, the fog. a ha Fireflies, silent moths. We bury our legs in sand. Sound through sand is dormant. We desire sleep to enter, virginal.
We stretch our feelers toward the warm body. a a Slowly, hands fog-damp spin plants, form air-filled hollows, breath cocooned, fur soft and blurred, heavy even heavenly. hoosh Soft like quiet. ha
Soft like we quiver.
Slow light touch of hand on wing, scales brush off like butterfly kisses, hand on brow, eyelash dew and fog, breath and fur our entrance and we caress the dulled wet passage, the flicker of soft quiet like sound or sand, when larva eats its eggshell and become pupa a hoosh
we tongue our shell, our conch, we smell the honeysuckle sweat heavily in the night air. Heave. a hoosh The fragrance a push of belly against abdomen, tongue buried deep in the suckle the honey and the brush-foots wake and crowd, thrust or pulse, spastic praxis, massive pulse out of sync. This is not what this is no, we intended, we thought sleep and none came we come. ha a a ha Horned caterpillars epilepse, wood nymphs spin and hang crude cocoons
we hold our slow high flight
we are taut while we thrust against the inner wall. Sleep is bruised or screams or none comes but we desire, we feel the full hot flesh of our wing swipe grass, scrape sand, we push ourselves out of ourselves, into our sound our hand our sweet wet hot our path, mourn, rake, master or muster. Glisten swell come and the story's arousal, twenty eyes unblink when the sun's awake and even when it's not the brain speaks, screams, swells
and huge battened eyes of a hundred hungry mouths, no moths, wait this will move. Will move to sleep not yet. Diurnal motion a heavenly body a soft steel wool. Diurnal panic or we come and the sweet hot full the electricity of our shelled wholes, our steeled wools, shocks us, lightning through our hole, up into the sand, we roll away from ourselves, breathless. a hoosh a ha We have five seconds of lightning and love like
laid in plant tissues or in narrow slits or crevices. Soft innocent curving.
Laid in soft theta tissues or in narrow row innocents.
Laid in narrow tissues or in in soft theta curving of the innocence
laid in soft narrow curves of innocents, of issue,
next interview: Eve Grubin
. . .