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every other day


7 SEPT 06
The Wise Carrot

14 sentences:

"It's not that I can tell the future or know what's going to happen in the world. But I know that certain things are never going to happen on the news."

"I remembered dreams of houses were dreams of the body." The leader in opening glass walls. I have an idea but it's made of words. Sometimes it seems that people have to start another blog after a while: the secret blog. Not so much to tell it slant, but to look for it that way.

"I don't care if it's traditional or not--I just care if it's poetry or not." We were sitting at the table all together. The first time since my father's death. He had or created a red flag; she'd made blueberry pancakes with the survivors.

"Like everything is for them and there's no yourself left." The simple need to tell someone about your day--but someone who would care. And I guess someone like him would already have all of that weather information.

 

5 SEPT 06

How has your first book changed your life?

31.  Jessica Smith

Organic Furniture Cellar


You decided to publish your first book yourself and it's just recently out. Had you sent the manuscript to publishers before deciding to take matters into your own hands?

Yes. And it was provisionally accepted to one publisher, but for some reason I declined that offer.

Did you have experience with printers before choosing the people who printed your book? What led you to decide to do it with them and how did it go?

I did; I published name, the undergraduate literary magazine at SUNY Buffalo with Hignell, a Canadian printer. This time I used McNaughton & Gunn, which is based in Michigan. I used them because they were the cheapest of the printers I got quotes from. I found them very frustrating to work with, but it was mainly matters of miscommunication.

Did you know what you wanted the cover to look like while you were writing the book? Did you have that image in mind?

No, actually I had another image in mind, the first photograph taken of Niagara Falls, which is also the first picture taken in Canada.

the falls


But I couldn't make it look right in the cover design so I went with the William Morris design. I chose William Morris and the cover font, which was designed by Paul Hunter and made into a TTF by Buffalo's P22 Type Foundry, because of Buffalo's instrumental position in the Arts & Crafts movement.

The colors, patterns, and fonts used on the cover emerged, if you will, "organically" during the design process.

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

Ha, well, it's all fastidiously documented on my blog. The UPS guy came so late. I was going stir-crazy. I couldn't sleep for days before it arrived and I tracked the packages obsessively on the UPS website. When I saw the book I felt relieved. There had been so many delays and revisions that it felt like a past-term pregnancy--I just wanted to get it out. Tellingly, I spent most of the following 72 hours asleep.

No one lives here with me in Virginia, but lots of people were online when I got it, which was good. A virtual celebration. My cats were excited because they got a lot of packing materials to play with. [Read up from the bottom on the the looktouch August 2006 archives page for the details.]

Are you glad you made the choice to self-publish and do you recommend that route to other poets?

I'm glad I made the choice to self-publish. I like the way the book looks. But no, I would not recommend self-publishing to other poets. First, I've gotten a lot of flack about how self-publishing isn't legitimate. It makes me want to yell at people, "try actually reading the book!" I didn't expect anyone to be so virulently against self-publishing--and to be fair, it's not that many people. But I think that how the book is produced should not be such an issue, unless it's like hand-sewn with goat-gut on paper made from rainforests by children in Columbia. OFC probably went through more editors than most books because I was concerned about the self-publishing issue. Although I received a lot of good feedback from poets I admired, and much of OFC was published in magazines before it was published as a book, I was self-conscious about putting it out myself. If I was going to self-publish, I wanted to make sure I was preparing a worthy product. So it went through a number of readers and revisions before it came out. There's nothing illegitimate about this book--and some of the most major poets of our age seem to agree. But it's stressful to fend off the negative comments about self-publishing, so don't do it unless you have thick skin or rock-solid confidence in your work.

Second reason not to self-publish, it costs a lot of money. Unless you go POD, printing is expensive. Third, doing the design, working with the printers, and now handling orders and publicity myself is a lot of work. I wouldn't recommend self-publishing to anyone who doesn't want to do the amount of work it requires. 

But these are the only reasons I wouldn't recommend it. If you have faith in the quality of your manuscript and people aren't taking it seriously, or the release timeframe is an issue, then self-publishing is the way around all the obstacles of small-press publishing. And there's the advantage of having artistic control.  For some poets this control is very important.

Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?

Yes.

How has your life been different since?

I quite simply feel that I've done something worthwhile. This is a pretty rare feeling for me. I do lots of "good" things but they just drop with an echo into a big abyss where my self-esteem should be. It's different with OFC. I feel like it puts a bottom in the abyss. If I have nothing else, I have this.

It's pretty empowering to have a book and to know that one can self-publish. 

Were there things you thought would happen that didn't?

Not really, not yet.

What have you been doing to promote the book, and what are those experiences like for you?

So far I'm setting up readings and sending out review copies. I don't actually like reading poetry aloud--I rather enjoy being behind the scenes of poetry than out on stage. But poetry readings seem like an essential part of the "business." I haven't sent out many review copies yet because first I have to write a press release, and I'm not really looking forward to it. I have a lot of confidence in my work, but bragging about it in the way necessary to promote it is difficult for me. Girls are taught to be self-effacing, and I'm trying to get over that for the sake of the book.

Have you gotten any good advice, or what advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?

I got lots of good advice from Derek Fenner, Shanna Compton, K. Lorraine Graham, and Brent Cunningham. Derek helped me sort out publishing, funding, and distribution stuff through Bootstrap Productions, of which Outside Voices is officially an imprint. Shanna has been very supportive and offering suggestions all along, especially when M&G was being a pain in the ass, and now she's being very helpful with promotion, teaching me how to send out review copies. Brent made the essential contribution of telling me that a poetry book will sell (maybe, if everything goes well) about 300 copies, so that helped me with setting the price and with not expecting, like, people swarming at the bookstore for my book. Last fall, Lorraine and I had a number of discussions about being a female poet, and those conversations are probably what led me to the conviction that I should publish OFC myself.

I think I had reasonable expectations of what would happen when the book came out, so I'm happy with what has happened thus far. Most of the changes that have happened for me are, like the writing and publishing, at the level of Self.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I've written very little since completing the book in 2004. Most of what I have written has been stuff that could have gone into OFC.  I'm not sure "where I'm going next," stylistically, so I can't write. 

Moreover, when I finished OFC I pledged to myself that I wouldn't write anything else until it was published. My creative life centered on getting OFC "out." Maybe now that it's out my creative juices will start flowing again.

How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?

I'm happy about the critical response so far, although maybe Ron Silliman's difficulty reading the text has made me feel a little cautious about writing "difficult," fragmentary texts. (Ron kindly reviewed the book right after I sent it to him, so I imagine he'll have more to explore in subsequent readings—it's a book designed to be reread.) I see that there are readers who might not want to work with the text as hard as one must work to decode all the words and references; this is perhaps the closest I've come to understanding that we live in a postmodern of consumption and disposability ("buy the book!") rather than modernist culture of close study and reuse ("make it anew")

I think OFC can be read on multiple levels, and that the very basic visual narrative is interesting and "good," so it's not absolutely necessary to dig further.

                              
                                [click the image to enlarge & read]

flores para los muertos (click on it)


This trend toward coagulation rather than fragmentation isn't Ron's fault, it's something I've been moving toward anyway. I would like to write a book of poetry that would help someone, comfort someone, rather than just be fun, challenging, and pretty to look at.

Do you want your life to change?

Yes, but I'm not sure how. Having OFC is like having a buoy while life swirls around me. I'm not sure what beach I'll wash up on, but at least I have this.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

Yes.

:


A poem from Organic Furniture Cellar by Jessica Smith:

Passage

Passage (click on it)

[click the image to enlarge]


Read pdf excerpts from Organic Furniture Cellar at the Outside Voices website or just, you know, buy the book.

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

3 SEPT 06

How has your first book changed your life?

30.  Steve Mueske

A Mnemonic for Desire


What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

The first time I saw my book, actually, was at the book release reading. I'd seen the proofs before, both for the cover and for the internal matter, but not the physical book itself. To hold it in my hands was very satisfying and yet strange in a way. I experienced a kind of mixed awareness: a sense of the time involved in writing the poems--some eight years worth of work-- and this book, this thing in my hands, was the final product, a compression of all that time into something tangible; but it was also a letdown. I think we dream about having a book for so long that the reality of it can't possibly measure up to the desire. This is not to say it's any fault of the press [Ghost Road]--they've been fantastic. I'm always at war with my work, it seems; I think this is just another manifestation of that.

Before that day, did you imagine your life would change because of your book's arrival?

Not really. I saw it as another phase of development, a new kind of beginning, as it were. I was excited, of course, but not blindly optimistic that it would change my life. In some ways, I was more excited receiving the contract than the actual book. In some sense it validated, to my friends and family, my work as a poet. I mean the idea of someone writing poetry, especially as it's portrayed in the commercial media, is always something of a joke. And this is never countered by experience. People have in their memory an awful association with poetry; and why not? It's often taught to young students through a New Critical lens, as though the poem were some puzzle they needed to figure out. I think some teachers do this because it's easier to teach something when the answers are right in front of them. It's a lot more dangerous to go out in front of a bunch of kids and say, "I have no fucking idea what this means but it sounds cool and it gives me goose bumps." I've often believed that if students could see how vibrant and exciting poetry is, they might incorporate it into their lives--especially those students who develop an affinity for literature early on.

How has your life been different since?

It hasn't really. I'm writing much slower, though.  And I've developed a nasty addiction to Butterfinger Crisps.

Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?

I didn't think that it would be so difficult to get local bookstores to stock a poetry title by a local author. It's also sort of annoying that a bookstore will order 15 copies of a book and send 13 of them back. For presses that are already hard-strapped for cash, this is a sure way to lose a lot of money. 

I didn't think it would be so hard to get book reviews. It's daunting to compare the "books received" versus books reviewed from any journal. That's one of the reasons why I've decided to start Poetry 365--that and the fact that I'm suspicious about a link between reviews and sales. Reviews are generally more about positioning yourself as a critic. This is not always the case, of course, with every critic; many poets have written to me saying essentially the same thing. It's all part of the way things are done, though. Like getting book blurbs. I'm grateful that I found people to say nice things about me, but blurbs, in general, are nearly useless. Why do we have them? Wouldn't it be better for the poet to have a place to frame his or her work? 

What have you been doing to promote sales, and what are those experiences like for you?

I try to do as many grass roots type of things that I can, like this question and answer, for example. I've conducted several interviews via email. A local paper featured a lifestyle piece and that helped generate some interest. I emailed the acquisition librarians for every private and public library in the state, including the college libraries. I called book stores, and scheduled readings. I've even read during a church service.

One thing that's very clear: there is nothing like one-on-one contact to promote the sales of a book. I'm not in the academic world and don't have a history of students and potential students so there is not that built-in audience that a lot of poets have. Just making people aware that the book is out there is important. 

Despite initial hesitations, I'm thinking about putting together a few workshops to cover the nuts and bolts aspect of writing; I've either run or moderated a private workshop for several years, and have participated in many others longer. There are a lot of talented young poets out there looking for some advice to progress to the next level. As an editor, I see the same sorts of poems over and over again; I could bring a helpful perspective to younger poets. I would tell them to peel off their skins and let the wild spirit out. There are no right and wrong ways to write. What's important is to treat the craft like the art it is and trust in your ability to write. I've resisted this for a long time because I don't want to get into that rut of teaching certain kinds of poems that match up with craft-based issues. That could get stale really quickly. What I'd like to do is work on process, discovery, inner-dialog--the things we do every day as artists, that we sometimes take for granted. These are the sorts of questions I get most often at readings. 

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

Right before the book's release, my friend and mentor Jim Moore said not to worry too much about sales, that I should know that the book will find its way into unlikely hands and that it will be a blessing when it does. Those words were very comforting to me. I can be very idealistic at times--I do believe that poetry is a necessary enterprise. I think he was preparing me for the inevitable poor sales of a first book. One thing I always tell the poets I work with: make sure you call yourself a poet. It sounds hokey to a degree, but I feel that it is very important that you recognize and name that creative spirit.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I've always been a kind of underdog, but that's okay with me. I don't have any delusions about ever being a well-known poet. All I really care about--again the idealism--is writing the best poems I can. What I have noticed, however, is that I've slowed down quite a bit and that I'm second-guessing my work much more than I would have previously. Louise Gluck has said that she has a period of silence after the release of a book. I'm not sure, yet, what the effect is. It's really too early. I work very slowly as it is, so if I work any slower I could race mold.

How do you feel about the critical response to your book and has it had any effect on your writing?

I've gotten some very good reviews from the book, and a few bad reviews. You have to take both. I would like to see--purely from a selfish standpoint--a deeper engagement with the text itself. In the workshops I participate in, I find that I learn more from critics who take a hermeneutic approach. I've heard the word "sloppy" used a few times and that rankles me a little because that's the last thing I'd say my work is. Some readers may not like it. Others will. But no poem of mine comes into the world without a lot of time and attention.   

Do you want your life to change?

It would be nice to live a creative life without having to find a job to pay the bills. If I could find a way to make music and be involved with poetry all day every day that would be very cool. It's pretty likely that will never happen, so for now I just try to stay busy and try to do my part to build a poetry community and maintain a network of friends. No one I know is in this for the money.   

Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

I don't know. I try to be as involved as I can. I'm the editor-in-chief for the literary arts journal three candles, the publisher for three candles press, and curator for Poetry 365. I view these activities as a way to participate, to make my voice heard. Some people bitch about the state of affairs in poetry, this or that magazine, this or that program. If you feel strongly about something, do something to support it. Start a press. Start a journal. Organize a reading series. Getting involved is crucial to this art form.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

I'm of two minds about this. As an idealist, I do believe that it creates change because of its fundamental nature. I've long believed that poetry is an art that deals with the ordering of signs to create the illusion of meaning. In this way, poetry is tremendously versatile, but it still deals with the nature of relationships. Whenever art makes someone a participant, it creates a kind of vehicle for examination and self-examination. 

As a pragmatist, I doubt that it makes much difference: it takes a certain level of intelligence, a certain kind of surrender and that kind of sensibility is not something our culture tenders. We'd rather focus on business, pleasure, and entertainment. If we could use poetry as a tool with younger children and work it into a standard curriculum, then yes I believe poetry would be a phenomenal tool. At the very least I'd like to see poetry taken out of its standard box and given a new freedom. Students need to see that they can engage poems in different ways, that they can make them their own and, like dream images, metaphors, and emotions, use them as sources for creative living. I'm not saying that we abandon teaching students about the mechanics of poetry--Lord knows we need a common vocabulary--just that we stop considering poetry to be a short unit in a literature class.

:

A poem from A Mnemonic for Desire by Steve Mueske:


On Desire

If I could burst into bloom, red
with the rose of it, with the rise and swell
of it, called into being through
the deep green, and trembling with light,
I might understand. If I knew
how light touches water
with a tracery of trees, gifts
the world as it is not, I might know
why I am not a rose or water or light
but a man who suddenly believes
in witchcraft. What else
but this hollowing fire, this mark
of the thaumaturge, could make
the wild heart, so like a bird, thrash
in its cage? Imagine rain and wind,
portrait of tempest with shed: shivering
slivers of wood, the whole structure
in danger of imploding. Here under
a black sky swirling with clouds
I am ready to be unmade. The air
is charged and blue, and my hands
are burning with light.


[previously published in The Bedside Companion to No Tell Motel]

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

 

1 SEPT 06

How has your first book changed your life?

29.  Sarah Mangold

cover of Household Mechanics

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

I don't really remember first seeing the book. Gosh, I feel like a bad parent. I do remember finding out I had won. Herbert Scott, the editor at New Issues, called early in the morning Seattle time and my boyfriend (now husband) took a message. He said that someone called about some poems. So when I called back a few hours later I had no idea I was calling New Issues about the manuscript. It was amazing. Herb spent a long time with me on the phone saying how much he liked the book and was happy I had won etc. etc. I called in sick to work, my parents sent flowers, and it started to snow, a rarity in Seattle.

I first received a bound galley that's an 1/8 of an inch shorter than the finished book. That's the copy I still read from. I had seen the cover and the text formatted so it wasn't a huge surprise. I remember the anticipation of the books arrival. We were going to be out of town (at AWP for the books official release) and I asked our upstairs neighbor to watch the mail for us, that I was expecting a box, the box might be heavy because it's full of books--but I felt too strange to say "it's MY book."

Did you imagine that your life would change with your book's arrival?

Hmm, I didn't expect my life to change but I thought the book would introduce the possibility of change. New Issues sent an informative packet "What happens next, and what to expect" so I was up to speed on the realities of the First Book. I did hope maybe someone would love the book and be interested in publishing the next one, maybe I would get lots of reading invites, maybe I could get a teaching job. None of these happened but I was kinda looking around to see what happens next. Household Mechanics is a shortened version of my MFA thesis Operation Bird Dog. It was my secret dream to 1) have the thesis published as a book and 2) have a book by thirty. I was incredibly lucky both came true. (It was close though, the manuscript was selected three months before my thirtieth birthday.) If neither came true I'm sure I would still be sending it out since I still genuinely enjoy the poems in the book. I'm also very aware having a book published is a bit like winning the lotto---there are lots of poets with terrific manuscripts that haven't been picked up yet. Every time I see a finalists list at a contest I think, ooh, I want to read their books too.
 
How has your life been different since?

I've had more confidence to ask for readings and apply to residency programs. And I have the great satisfaction of having "a book" which legitimizes my hours of writing to just about everybody and takes a little sting out of the monthly student loan payments (which I'll have paid off in my seventies if I'm lucky).

Had you sent the manuscript out often before it was chosen by C.D. Wright for New Issues?

Yes. I had sent it out for three years--five or so contests a year. The year I won I had sent out two different versions of the same manuscript--one long, and one a bit shorter. New Issues sent on the longer version to C.D but she thought it was too long, so they sent the shorter version which ultimately won the prize. I was thrilled to be a "finalist," kinda like a super-hero "The Finalist," since the manuscript had never made it that far before. And actually having the manuscript chosen by C.D. Wright was incredible. She's one of my favorite writers and knowing she liked and understood my work was such a mental boost.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes, a little bit. New Issues asked for ideas and they passed those on to the graphic design student who had read the manuscript and would design the cover. I liked that the cover would be a collaborative project and help someone out with their portfolio. I asked for something "domestic"--like a picture of an open cutlery drawer or one of those old refrigerators kids have been known to get trapped in. I'm happy with what they came up with. The first draft of the cover had some writing on the wrench but I had that taken off.

Were there things you thought would happen that didn't?

I didn't really know what would happen. I knew there was the possibility of something new happening, maybe? At the time I didn't know anyone else with a book. The New Issues packet explained how the book process works and what may or may not happen and not to be discouraged, this is all normal.

Do you still have that "What happens next, and what to expect" packet? What kinds of things did it say?

I do still have the packet. It works as a de-briefing before the book publication. Ideas about what to expect, what happens, what to do, and what the press is doing and willing and able to do. There's a list of things to do before the book comes out, like getting blurbs, an author photo, writing an author's statement, and sending out remaining work with a note that it will appear in your book to be published--I had a much better success rate getting work into journals with that line "they will appear in my first book…" than I did the months/years before with no book. They also give a timeline of when ads will be reserved and where, when and where review copies will be sent, and the press's success rate of having reviews in particular publications. They encourage setting up readings at local bookstores/libraries and are ready to send out promotional kits as requested. There's a section on reviews, "It may seem to the author that her book (finally) comes out and nothing happens. Reviews may be few and slow in coming"--which is realistic. But mostly they stress the press's belief in the book and the importance of the author remaining an active writer, reader, and promoter.
 
What have you done to promote the book and what were those experiences like for you?

I traveled to New Orleans for the official book release at AWP, signed books at the New Issues table, plus did a reading for the Unassociated Reading that happens at AWPs. New Issues sent out a hundred review copies so I felt that was covered. I've read where I could. Travel costs and time off work cut down on asking for readings too far away.

What prompted you to create Bird Dog?

Bird Dog began around the same time I was sending out Household Mechanics. I wanted to create a space for women writers, long poems, visual pieces, and work that didn't necessarily fit in standard print publications. I knew there was interesting work out there that might never be published in a book and if it did find a print magazine, only one poem here and there would be selected. I try to give as much space as possible to everyone so we can get a feel for what they're doing. I also find painters and other artists to feature along with the writing. To keep costs down (and I love book-arts stuff) I make color laser copies of anything that needs to be in color and hand tip-in. The print run is small (200, what I can afford with my day job plus subscriptions) but it gets around--besides Seattle, Bird Dog can be found in Berkeley at Pegasus Downtown, Portland at Powell's Books, and in Brooklyn at Adam's Books. Also, several academic libraries subscribe, so Bird Dog might be closer than you think.

Do you see publishing a journal as a method of promoting?

I suppose publishing is a method of self-promotion but I approach it as a gift and support to other writers. I'm happy when people write asking for someone's contact information because they like their work and want to publish more of it or if a few writers discover they live in the same town and their sense of the local poetry community is expanded.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?

I wish I'd known:

1) You have to invite yourself to read. I was rather naive and I thought reading series sought out all their readers--so not the case. Plan a little book tour--save up vacation time and arrange as many readings as you can.

2) You have to write your own jacket copy and find your own blurbs. I don't think I did a very good job with that. The "brilliant" on the back cover is from New Issues, not me. "Eccentric" was also on there but I asked for that to be taken off--since I do not feel the work is eccentric and I'm not a shut-in living with a hundred cats. It was really hard for me to ask for the blurbs--it's even hard for me to ask for reference letters--it seemed so presumptuous. Laura Moriarty wrote a great blurb for me and C.D.'s foreword was so dead-on I couldn't ask for more.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I'm now very conscious of the printed page size and I wish I could let that go. I'm working on it. The long poem "Blood Substitutes" was a projective verse, long lined kinda thing that was adjusted to fit the printer's margins. I find myself writing shorter lines that stay near the left margin instead of exploring the whole page since I know it's not economically feasible for most presses and journals to print a larger format.

But the book publication itself was such a gift and validation I'm on the right track. The new manuscript is in year-one of the submission process. I've added non-contest presses this time around.

How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?

I've had one review that I know about. John Olson, a friend and local poet, wrote a review for First Intensity which I very much appreciate.

Do you want your life to change?

Sure, change is good. I'd like to spend more time writing and studying and less time working to pay rent and student loans.
 
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

I've adjusted my work hours from forty to thirty-two (while keeping my health insurance) which is good for my writing but not helping the rent or student loan situation.

:


A poem from Household Mechanics by Sarah Mangold:


Architecture of This City

A man comes to our house
"I know that wonder boy of yours
he won a silver spoon for his pears"
the pressure of this discovery
Here were people who had authority
They had their dogs drowned in circumstances
but I am always thinking
English it's a more percussive habit
a woman who infuriates her father
a sort of bendy battlefield
absent-minded, like a park

He seemed to speak
sadness that does not seem to be
among these people
habits of his own country
side effects such as slight rash
frescoes and indoor plumbing

Boy scouts slept beneath the stars
suspended in time and space
spaces are either segregated
even socially awkward

The scale model with all the little people
collisions for public consumption
Phillip is an anthropologist
Alice is a particle physicist
how to play to or on that feeling
the writers just went to sleep
you can spin lazily
where everyone knows his place

Ever since the closet door swung ajar
There's no fixed path
all you have to do is drive

Just look


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