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29 APR 07

Lemon Hound

Sina Queyras by Sina Queyras

She's back!

Here is the post that reignited the project.

 

27 APR 07

How has your first book changed your life?

54. Kate Colby

Fruitlands by Kate Colby

How did your manuscript happen to get picked up by Litmus Press?

I just sent it to them. I had had a piece of it published in Aufgabe, so they weren't completely unfamiliar with me. I couldn't believe it when they said they wanted to publish it. The manuscript was more or less my MFA thesis and I just shoved it in an envelope one day and sent it two places, then kind of forgot about it once I got wrapped up in a new project. I was extremely lucky, I'd say.

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

Not to sound cool or ungrateful--I'm neither of those things--but I don't really remember. I remember receiving the email from Paul Foster Johnson and Tracy Grinnell at Litmus over a year before, telling me they wanted to publish my book--to that I had a very emotional reaction. I anticipated an emotional response to receiving the book, but I think I opened the box and said "there it is" and went back to making dinner. Part of that is because I had seen the cover and carefully edited the proofs and already felt very familiar with what it looked like. Part was that I was already in the fear and loathing stage of my relationship to the work contained in the book (more on this below). I do know that I was stunned to have received well over a hundred copies.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes, and I'm so grateful for that. I know people who've been very unhappy with their book covers. I gave Tracy a couple of Alcott House images I found on the web (for which she had to haggle with an octogenarian representative of the Orchard House Museum in Concord, Mass.) and requested that it be red. She played around with the design a lot and sent me several different versions. I have no eye for design and liked everything she sent me, but the end result somehow looks like I always imagined it would look. She did a fantastic job. I think it's a beautiful book.
 
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?

No, not in any life-changing way.
 
How has your life been different since?

I've become slightly more accustomed to giving readings. In spite of more than 15 years of dance training and having spent much of my youth and adolescence on stages, I developed paralyzing performance anxiety in adulthood. I have to take beta blockers and perform all kinds of superstitious rituals before doing any kind of public speaking, and am usually a wreck afterwards. Drives me nuts. It is slowly getting better, though I don't imagine I'll ever be comfortable reading. But the discomfort is in many ways an advantage, when it comes to being fully present during the reading.

The other way in which my life has changed is that I now take this writing activity more seriously. I'm extremely disciplined about it. And it has become holistically intertwined with/filtered through my life, which is the reason to do it, I now know. I believe I've become a much happier, less anxious person because of it. For me, it's similar to dance or tai chi in the way that it allows for a complete self-absorption--again, a presence--and a simultaneous yielding of the ego. How California is that?

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

There wasn't anything in particular that I thought would happen, but an odd thing that did happen is that my audience and community, such as they are, have revealed themselves to be in New York, and not so much San Francisco. I have a few wonderful poet friends here, but most of my friends here are not poets. I owe a lot to the local SF writing community and its influences and the traditions surrounding it, but haven't really been an active participant. There are lots of reasons for that, one of which is the aforementioned terror of public speaking, which often translates into a discomfort with public-ness and poet personae (my own or lack thereof, maybe, in particular). Being a remote participant in another community alleviates some of that. But I've made a lot of friends in NY and have received a tremendous amount of support there. I've done a number of readings there in the last few years, but not so many locally.

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

I haven't actively done all that much, frankly. I have Litmus to thank for review and prize copies being sent and for most of the readings I've done. Tracy arranged readings at Belladonna and Adam's/Unnamable Books in NY and the Discrete Series in Chicago, where I'm going in May. She and Jen Hayashida came out to SF to read with me at Canessa Park last June, which I owe to Avery Burns. Anna Moschovakis and Matvei Yankelevich have also been incredibly supportive of my work and have set me up with readings at Segue and CUNY. And Ugly Duckling is now publishing my next book.
 
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?

I didn't get any advice, but it would have been useful to be warned that I'd loathe the book at first. Not the physical book, which is lovely, but the content and the fact of it being read by anyone. I hated the work, I hated being public in that way, and I felt out of control of my own self, what, image. The work in the book felt amateurish and not at all like what I'd been doing more recently. But I also would have been told that after the loathing comes indifference, then grudging appreciation, and eventually, I expect, fondness, which I'm working on. But now, with two more book-length poems between me and it, I can see that it has everything to do with what I've been doing and am still doing and will continue doing, I would guess. Whoever said that you only ever say the same thing over and over again was right. It's true. You just qualify it or say it another way.
 
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

It's probably increased my motivation, but otherwise, I'm not sure. I know I keep referring to that work in my subsequent writing. I'm not only writing the same thing over and over again, but it's also all become highly self/inter-referential. The last two poems I've written have been around 70 pages each, so it's hard to relate to the short, discrete poems in that book.
 
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?

It's only very recently received any critical response, e.g., it was just reviewed on CutBank by Sommer Browning, which was nice, especially since I don't know her and didn't know it was coming. It also just received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Frankly, I didn't know such an institution existed until they called me a few weeks ago. At first I thought I was being marketed to by whoever belongs to that flashing banner on Dictionary.com--the one that says your poem could win you $10,000. However, it turns out it’s real and I recently went to New York to "accept" my award at a fancy ceremony. It's all very honorific and has put me in contact with Rosmarie Waldrop, who selected Fruitlands for the award, which is wonderful. I don't think that any of this has had an effect on my writing, though.
 
Do you want your life to change?

No, not in the least. After having a somewhat rough time of it in my late teens and 20s, I now feel just about completely content and incredibly lucky.

But my life is about to change, nonetheless. After 11 years in San Francisco, my husband and I are moving to Providence this summer. We both grew up near Boston, so it's a residually familiar landscape, but I do get culture shock when I go back there now. It will take a while to reacclimatize to Red Sox fans and iceberg lettuce. I think a lot about adaptation in my work and try to avoid it both there and everywhere else in my experience, so moving back to the region where I spent the first 21 years of my life is scary. I've never felt "at home" in California, and that's been almost an entirely good thing for both my work and my well-being.

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

No, not really. Not this kind of poetry, anyway. Which isn't to say that it's not important. I think that engaging with art changes individuals who are willing to be changed by it. It changes me continually. But in spite of its socially critical nature, I think of this work that I do as a primarily meditative, self-indulgent activity.

On the other hand, I do believe in ripple effects, complex systems, etc., so, yes, there's indirect change--or resistance, anyway, which might be even more important. Most important of all, doing this work touches off a self-perpetuating awareness of both the danger and the dullness of these social tools we're all working with.

So, I'm going to go with "maybe." But do I believe that one is obligated to do more than only this.

:

A poem from Fruitlands by Kate Colby:


Fruit of the Season's Slush Fund

Being that     
she's always to be found
in space made by concertina wire
a drab and tattering habit fashioned
by many charming seasons

                            (the gray sound of spokes
                            yelled deuce behind the baseline--
                            courted trapping in a tennis skirt)

For what it's worth, preferring
a third, green rail, fifth wheel,
wrenched at the rhumb line, scabs
pushing barbs, ragged paths by what passes
for a pick-up in the night.

Picked up and driven home:
the Post Road pitted with sown salt, hitching     
posts adrift in dirty snow
and stonewalling
in the rearview mirror, a semblance
of permafrost
making all shoes insensible.

Let down, rather
than recoiled
from time
in time for the local pandemic

of porchlight, inoculating
a revival of whist    
under the weather.

What's more:
her paper fan-shaped frock
unfolding
into little dead places.

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

25 APR 07


This Friday night I'll be reading with Cincinnati poets Kristi Maxwell and Michael Rerick at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg. Starts at 7. Here's a map that shows you right where it is. (Take the G to Metropolitan or the L to Lorimer.)

I got to see some of Kristi's book, Realm Sixty-Four (coming out soon from Ahsahta), when Janet was working on the proofs in the back of the car while we were traveling in the west. Wow. I'm looking forward to starting from the start. I think I might even learn to play chess so I can appreciate it fully. (To which Max says, "You'll be learning chess... Yeah, probably right after you've mastered German...")

In other news:

Jeannine Hall Gailey reviews case sensitive here.

The long-awaited double issue of Xantippe is out!

with poems by
Julie Carr, Jay Hopler, Chris Pusateri, Kristen Yawitz, Jasper Bernes, Brenda Iijima, John Aragon-Chavez, Sharon Lynn Osmond, Lisanne Thompson, Tanya Larkin, K.Silem Mohammad, Juana de Ibarbourou (trans. by Liz Henry), Nathan Hauke, Noah Eli Gordon, Catherine Taylor, Colleen Lookingbill, Rodney Koeneke, Nick Bacon, Brandon Shimoda, Jack Martin, Margaret Ronda, India Radfar, Sam Witt, Elizabeth Marie Young, Gina Myers, Sandra Miller, Christopher Sindt, & Karla Kelsey

& an excerpt from Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus by Lisa Jarnot

& reviews!
Megan Pruiett: Around Sea by Brenda Iijima // David Harrison Horton: Saline by Kimberly Lyons // Miranda Field: The Last Clear Narrative by Rachel Zucker // Allyn West: The Babies by Sabrina Orah Mark // Denise Nico Leto: Emptied of all Ships by Stacy Szymaszek // India Radfar: Some Mountains Removed by Daniel Bouchard // Catherine Taylor: Often Capital by Jennifer Moxley // Tanya Larkin: Blue Collar Holiday by Jeni Olin // Jasper Bernes: Starred Wire by Ange Mlinko // Trevor Calvert: Meteoric Flowers by Elizabeth Willis // Anne Heide: Transiting Indigo by Susanne Dyckman // J. Michael Martinez: The Pitch by Tom Thompson // Stan Apps: Musee Mechanique by Rodney Koeneke // Brandon Shimoda: Apostrophe by Elizabeth Robinson // Matt Shears: Because Why by Sarah Fox // Tisa Bryant: a half-red sea by Evie Shockley // James Belflower: case sensitive by Kate Greenstreet.

To order by mail, send a check or money order (payable to Kristen Hanlon) in the amount of $12 to:
XANTIPPE
P.O. Box 20997
Oakland, CA 94620-0997

A new Coconut! New poems by Amy Gerstler, Melissa Koosmann, Rodrigo Toscano, Sara Veglahn, Max Winter, Julia Cohen, Donald Illich, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Denise Duhamel, Kate Schapira, Ray Succre, Anne Heide, Kaya Oakes, Sandy Florian, Sandra Beasley, Nick Carbo, Becca Klaver, PF Potvin, Dawn Pendergast, Ken Rumble, Eddie Watkins, and Amy King. Coconut 8: it's here.

Rabbit Light Movies, #2. These short movies are so cool. Episode 2 features poems by Sawako Nakayasu, Andrea Rexilius, and me (thanks to Andrew Kenower, who recorded Janet's & my Pegasus reading in March--right, the one that made some people lose their will to live, so you know it's gotta be powerful). Andrea Rexilius actually appears in her movie--it might be my favorite of the three. I especially like the part where she is rifling thru the 78s. (If I manage to complete my summer fall project, will everyone say I've made a JMW ripoff? or do I flatter myself?) Rabbit Light movies are limited editions of 99. Amazingly, they're free. Email rabbitlightmovies@gmail.com with your name & address if you want one. There are a few copies of Episode #1 left, too! (Julie Doxsee: The Knife-Grasses, Noah Eli Gordon: 5 poems, Joshua Marie Wilkinson: Wolf Dust.)

And Andrew Kenower's new MP3 blog has recordings of recent readings at Pegasus and other places in the Bay Area. Dodie Bellamy, Linh Dinh, Will Alexander, Juliana Spahr...

         
         

 

23 APR 07

How has your first book changed your life?

53. Nancy Kuhl

The Wife of the Left Hand

Shearsman is a British press, isn't it? How did it happen that your manuscript was picked up there?

I have long admired the rich and complex list of poetry published by Shearsman Books; I've also avidly read Shearsman magazine, edited by publisher Tony Frazer and often including his sharp and witty commentary and criticism about contemporary poetry. Certainly Shearsman Books is located in the UK, but it is and has long been a truly international poetry publisher (authors include Anne-Marie Albiach, Gustaf Sobin, Billy Mills, and Yang Lian to name just a few non-Brits.) I can't say how great it feels to be in the very good company of Shearsman's incredible poets.

I had more or less finished The Wife of the Left Hand about five years before I submitted it to Shearsman and in that time it had been a contest finalist or semifinalist about 15 times. I was about to shelve the manuscript when my husband suggested I submit the manuscript directly to a short list of publishers I admired. I had long since forgotten that contests aren't they only avenue to publication, so this was a crucial and eye-opening bit of advice.
 
I haven't published a book with a US publisher and I can't say with any authority, but I suspect there is not much difference publishing with a British press. Shearsman Books are distributed by Ingrams, Baker & Taylor, and SPD and they are available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers. I don't think many US small presses have markedly different distribution. Since my press isn't local, the publisher hasn't been very involved in setting up readings or events, but he has been active in seeing that books get where they need to be for US events, which has been essential. Plus, when I find my way to the UK, I will have access to setting up readings there that I wouldn't otherwise have.   

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

I received my first copy of the book while I was in the middle of a five-week-long residency at the MacDowell Colony, which was great, but also a little surreal. The people I felt close to there didn't have a relationship to that work for me and although they were terrifically enthusiastic and supportive, I was sorry in a way that I wasn't at home with my husband when the book arrived. Richard has played a truly central role in my writing life since we met almost fifteen years ago, so I was very anxious to share the book with him.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I selected the cover art--a painting by poet-artist Joe Brainard. The image is perfect for the book, and Brainard has been very important to me, so it meant a lot to me to have this particular image on the book's cover.

I was very lucky to have a terrific designer working on the book, Megan Mangum of Words that Work. Megan and I have been friends for several years and she really understood the kind of book I wanted The Wife of the Left Hand to be. It was very important to me that the book design work with the text, that the outside match the inside.

You have blurbs by Ann Lauterbach, Alicia Ostriker, and Elizabeth Robinson. That's an interesting range. Would you comment on that?

Blurbs are a kind of curious genre to me, so I was very glad that things happened quickly and easily on this front. Alicia Ostriker selected the manuscript as a finalist for a contest a few years ago and wrote a citation about it--when the book was accepted, I contacted her and asked to use the citation as a blurb. And shortly after I learned Shearsman would publish the book, I saw Ann Lauterbach and she offered to write a blurb before I had worked up the nerve to ask her. Finally, I asked Elizabeth Robinson and she agreed.

If blurbs help to locate a book, I hope those on my book map some of my most important influences, the territories I have read into and through, internalized, even written against in some moments. In different ways I think the writers whose words and names appear on my book reference, among other things, a complex and evolving feminist poetic tradition of which my work is a part. The three writers who endorsed my book are heroes of my writing life, women whose lives and work have influenced and inspired me and my work.

When someone picks up my book and reads the blurbs, I hope that his or her curiosity will be piqued by the constellation of writers, their different aesthetics. I am deeply grateful to these poets for their thoughtful readings of my work and for their continued influence.  

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

I know this sounds stupid, but I have been surprised by how "public" my work suddenly is... I've been caught off guard several times by people referring to specific poems in the book or by asking me complicated questions about its structure, rhythms, etc. "Oh," I find myself thinking, "you read it." Somehow I wasn't prepared for this.

How has your life been different since your book came out?

My life hasn't been any different really, but it is exciting to be able to hand my book--my work--to people, to share my writing with people in this way.

What have you done to promote the book and what have those experiences been like for you?

I've had a couple great book-launch parties--really fun events that celebrated the book but also gave me an opportunity to thank my friends and family for their support. I've also been scheduling readings--I've been glad to have this book as an excuse to contact people who host reading series and to expand my own poetic community by connecting with them, even if I didn't end up setting up readings every time. Finally, since I work as a librarian, I've been promoting the book by contacting other librarians directly, encouraging them to add my book to their collections.

I am conflicted by the whole process of promoting my book because, while I want very much to sell the book to support Shearsman Books, my own small press (www.phylumpress.com) operates exclusively within a "gift economy," so I am very accustomed to giving books away. As a result, I'm trying to find ways to promote the book and giving lots of copies away at the same time. I have been most gratified by trading copies of my book with other writers--at readings and conferences--and I've discovered amazing work this way. I am very invested in building and participating in an engaging and challenging poetic community and trading books seems a really great way to do both.    
 
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?

Well, Kate, I found your good and thoughtful questions in the Every Other Day first book interviews, and the wide variety of responses you've collected, to be very useful, inspiring, encouraging, and reassuring.

One very good bit of advice I'm glad I followed: "proofread it again…and again."

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

Maybe it's too soon to respond to these questions--the book's only been officially available for a little more than a month. Thus far there has been one short review of the book and I am very pleased that the reviewer, Simon DeDeo, took the time to respond to my work and I found his ideas useful in thinking about the book and how it might be read and located within a variety of poetic traditions.

But the responses that have been most gratifying are those of friends, poets I admire, the people who have influenced me and my work. I think writing is at once solitary and collaborative, so the opinions of those people who have participated knowingly or unknowingly in shaping my work have been most important to me. 
 
Do you want your life to change?

I'm very lucky--I have a great marriage (and my husband, Richard Deming, is a terrific poet and scholar), a vibrant and vital poetic community locally and at a distance, a challenging and rewarding career, and, when the stars are in alignment, time and inclination to write. I struggle most with the last--my writing life sometimes suffers because of my professional commitments and my other daily obligations. If I could change my life, it would be to find more consistent balance among all of these parts of my life.

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

I'm doing many things, with varying degrees of success...

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

Yes.

:

A poem from The Wife of the Left Hand by Nancy Kuhl:


Advice for the Bride

Be keen-eyed.
Be as alluring as ever.
Forget what you wanted

to say. The impossibility
of explaining will settle
on the room like dust.

The rumor it turns
out is true. Or almost.
The key is a care-

ful design, day by day,
the way it all adds up
to a fish bowl full

of ticket stubs and match
books. Day by day. This,
all the evidence there is.

Flirt into then what,
sweetdark and nearly
soundless, this.

Flutter of hands. Hips.
Downcast eyes. A bride
can fit her whole breath

inside a crystal vase. Be
so unforgettable. Because
one wants the marvel, the full

the faultless lips. One wants
a glance backward over
bare shoulder, a yellow jewel

at the throat. See, the dancer's
waist, how it anticipates the hand
that will guide it into the next--

next spin (skirt lifting
to a scalloped edge)
the next perfect turn.

 

21 APR 07

How has your first book changed your life?

52.  Jake Adam York

How often had you sent out Murder Ballads before it was chosen in the Elixir contest?

I was sending out manuscripts for about three years, maybe a little more, when Murder Ballads got picked up by Elixir. Altogether, I sent some version of the manuscript out between 40 and 50 times. But the manuscript wasn't always Murder Ballads.

When I got started, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't even think I was ready, but I was encouraged by Larissa Szporluk (Larissa, I've never told you, but you are wonderful, thank you forever) who told me that I had solid poems and that I should assemble a book and start sending it out, which is exactly what I did. In fact, I remember going home the afternoon after she said that to me and beginning to assemble a manuscript that would, after two years, become Murder Ballads.

In my first year, the manuscript was really just an envelope of poems, not really a book, but I got some encouraging responses, including being a semi-finalist in one contest. While I was watching the rejections come in, I was reading other poets' first books. I was reading the winners, trying to see if I was doing something wrong or doing something right. No one had ever talked to me about sending out a book or even about assembling a manuscript. When I got my MFA at Cornell, the pedagogical assumption, which I needed, was that things were going to be different for everyone, which is true, fundamentally, but I was never encouraged to think about the publishing world, or the contest world, as being a kind of market, so I didn't know how to address myself to those who would read and choose the manuscript. I didn't even know who those people were. But as I collected my notices and bought books, I began to learn about each contest, about subdivisions of the poetry world I'd never known, and I started to think about how I could shape my manuscript--not just the individual poems, but the manuscript as a whole--to greater success. What I was learning from the books I was reading was that the winning manuscripts read well as books. There was some principle in them--again, something I'd never considered. I began searching for some principle by which to organize my manuscript, and I tried several before I got down to the concept of the murder ballad and found a title, though that took some intervention (about which more in a few more lines).

The second year I sent out manuscripts, I had a stronger collection, and the manuscript was a finalist a few times, enough to keep me thinking I wasn't entirely daft but enough to dispirit me a few times. I thought I'd just keep changing the book one poem at a time, taking out the weak ones and replacing them with stronger ones, until I had a better book that would get a nod. But I wasn't much more successful.

Then the interventions.... First, when I was at an AWP, I met a poet who had judged one of the contests in which I was a finalist. He remembered my name from the list and, even more staggering, remembered my manuscript. He took me aside and told me he thought the manuscript as a whole was strong but that it needed a new title. I left a little confused, since I'd lived with another title for almost two years, but determined to make a break. I was considering abandoning the manuscript altogether and working on a new one, a second manuscript, that I was calling Murder Ballads. On the plane back home, I decided to make a list of the titles of the poems I couldn't do without, asked whether or not they could work under the title Murder Ballads and then began to rebuild the book. I had to write eight new poems to make the book long enough to send out, but I did it, dedicating most of a Spring and a Summer to create the book that is now Murder Ballads.

The second intervention came that summer when I was at Sewanee and one of the faculty members asked what I was doing with my manuscript. I told him how selective I was being, and he encouraged me to submit more widely, which I did. The result was that out of a dozen submissions I made in the fall of that year, six were finalists or semi-finalists, and Elixir picked it up.

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

I knew it was coming, and I was at my office, obsessively checking websites for tracking information, calling the loading dock to see if anything had arrived. I left campus for lunch and, on my way back, stopped into my favorite bookstore which had just received a whole box of Murder Ballads. I stood while the owner carefully razored the packing tape and pulled the flaps back to reveal four gleaming stacks of Murder Ballads, and I felt like I might go blind. I had seen a PDF of every page and had even seen a galley of the cover, but I wasn't prepared for it. I realized I had thought about the moment for a long time but had told myself not to think about it, so the experience was like what I imagine the return of repressed memories must be like, but this was at once the return of repressed fantasy and the realization of that fantasy which, because it had been fantasy for so long and because I had repressed it, I didn't believe as true. The owner assured me it was real. I drove back to my office in the most wonderful impairment ever and found waiting for me a similarly sized box of Murder Ballads, some kind of Christmas, which I opened and relished. And then I went to teach class.

Were you involved in the cover design?

Yes. When the book was taken, my publisher asked me if I had an idea for a cover image, and I did, but I couldn't get the permission of the artist, so I started over and after a few weeks found the Cezanne image that's on the cover. My publisher liked it, and we got a license that was affordable, so we went with it. I didn't make any requests of the designer when the book and image were sent to him, but he did everything I could have asked. The only change we made after the initial design was to make my name smaller. I wish I could say I'd thought through the cover's implications fully, but it wasn't until the book was in my hand that I began to realize how well the image worked as an analogue to the collection. I don't know if anyone else thinks so, but I think the image translates the fantasy of the Louvin Brothers singing "Knoxville Girl" in the book's second poem. In print, it's darker than I imagined it would be, but in a way that pleases me greatly.

Before your book came out, did you imagine 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?

I think I thought the book, had it come out a year or two earlier, would have had a profound impact on my academic career, maybe would have made me more mobile or have altered the circumstances of my work in Denver. The book came, however, after I followed another road to tenure. It didn't make me more mobile professionally--it didn't make more jobs available to me, at least it hasn't yet. But it did make me mobile in other ways, leading me into new communities, which I hadn't really expected. I guess I thought I was a certain kind of person and the certain kinds of people would be interested in me, while others would not--and all that has turned out to be wrong. I have had to learn the world again. The circumstances of my work have changed, but the change came more slowly than I imagined it would. I should not have been surprised, however: the poems came slowly, the book came slowly--why should the change have come quickly?

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

Mostly I've been reading a lot--bookstores, conferences, coffeeshops, high schools, colleges, universities, libraries, radio shows. The few reviews I've gotten have, as far as I can tell, translated into some sales (you know when a review comes out, and you can see your figures rise a little bit), but reading and talking to people is what has really moved the book, so I try to stay out, try to meet new people and to find new audiences. And I enjoy it. Often, I find myself entering a new room full of apprehension--not just the usual pre-reading jitters, nervousness about the performance, but a real fear that this room will be filled with people who will hate the poems, or me, or find what I do offensive in some way. But that apprehension has, so far, always been misplaced. Whether here in Colorado, back home in Alabama, or elsewhere--in Georgia or Illinois--I've found audiences very open to the work and very interested in dialogue about it, and that has been very fulfilling.

When I say fulfilling, I mean in part that finding receptive audiences has filled me with a kind of joy, the kind of joy one gets when one finds people who share one's interests. But when I say it's fulfilling, I also mean that the process of reading poems to an audience and talking about them also seems like the fulfillment of a kind of promise. When I write, I write in near-total silence, but I always imagine the poems being read aloud, and I try to write the poems so they will perform well, so they'll sound right read aloud. I mean for my poems to be read and to be heard. So when I read, and I find some listeners in a reading, I feel like the poems have arrived, have found the kind of home I'd always wanted for them.

Another thing I've been doing lately--in the last few months, since I found some of my books on remainder--is sending copies of the book to people I want to read it. Noah Eli Gordon told me some time ago that he took his Sawtooth Prize money in copies and sent the copies to all corners of the universe, and I wished I'd done that. Now I'm doing it more slowly, sending the book to other writers and musicians and artists whose work has helped me in some way. I just gave a copy to Charlie Louvin, whom I write about in the poem "Knoxville Girl," a musician from the part of Alabama where I'm from, a musician I grew up listening to. I don't know if he'll enjoy it, but he was very kind to me, and that moment will stay with me for a long time.

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

I'm probably repeating myself here, but, apart from the advice I got on the poems and on the manuscript, the best information I got was from a friend who'd won a major prize who told me that, realistically, I was the one who was going to promote the book, that it would be my show, that the reviews I got were going to be the result of my writing reviewers and journals and that the readings I got were going to be the result of my looking for them, and he was right. I had assumed that there were presses and writers and that writers wrote and presses pressed not just the plates to the paper but the books to the public. Most presses, however, don't have the staff to market a book of poems very aggressively or the time to push a book of poems for more than a few months. Your book, however, is your book, and you've got to front for it.

As I noted above, the advice I wish I'd got: take any prize money or advances in copies.

Your second book will be out next Spring--what are your plans for it? Will you do anything differently?

I don't think I'll do much differently. I just think I'll do more. I expect, once the book comes out, that I'll spend a few weeks traveling heavily, then retire for the Summer to push the book to potential reviewers before hitting the roads again in the Fall. I'm already trying to schedule readings for 2008, 2009, and even 2010, so I'm looking further ahead. You can psych yourself out, thinking that a natural hopefulness, that someone will want to read the book, is a kind of arrogance, but you've got to stay focused on that hope. I hope people will want to read my book and want to hear me read the book. If people do, I'll go anywhere. Seriously.

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

When Murder Ballads was published, I started looking around for other books that were coming out at the same time, and, again, I was struck by how strongly unified most of the books were. I'd tried in Murder Ballads to strike some kind of balance between thematic and narrative unity and textural diversity, a combination I still value, but I got to thinking about how I might achieve textural diversity in a manuscript that had even stronger thematic unity. Within three or four months of the publication of Murder Ballads I had the structure, and about half the poems for, A Murmuration of Starlings, the second book that will be out next Spring. Sending that book around was much different: I sent it to eight presses, and the manuscript had been named a finalist twice and then accepted within six months. It was much easier, maybe because of the stronger unity, though one never knows for sure.

It may be a matter of subject, too, though. My mentor Robert Morgan used to say that a poet had to find the right subject, and I feel that I found my subject, or at least a subject, rather late in the process of writing Murder Ballads, when my interests in elegy and Alabama history converged in the elegies for Civil Rights martyrs. In reading Murder Ballads, I found myself most strongly drawn to read those poems, which I came to feel really gave the book its structure, so when I started writing A Murmuration of Starlings, I was interested in writing an entire book of those kinds of elegies.

A side-effect of that decision was that I've split the other kinds of writing I do into separate streams, so now I'm working on a series of poems that are all based on small language experiments and a series of prose poems. Maybe all those will converge again at some point in the future, but for now I'd say I'm branching out in ways I couldn't have predicted, ways that are, somehow or other, influenced by the way I understand publishing now.

Who is putting out your second book?

Southern Illinois University Press. The manuscript took second place in this year's Crab Orchard Open Competition.

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

I don't know if a few reviews constitutes a "critical response," but the reviews have largely confirmed the sense I was getting from the readings, that the Civil Rights poems are the real core of Murder Ballads, and that, as I wrote above, has caused me not only to focus more severely in writing A Murmuration of Starlings, which I understand as a continuation of Murder Ballads, but to continue into the writing of what promises to be a third in a series of books I hope will continue until I have written poems for the martyrs whose names are on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. I now understand this as my central work. I'll continue to write poems in many different modes, but these poems are, this memorial work is, I think, my central work, and I'll put my strongest efforts into extending that work.

Do you want your life to change?

My life has changed in so many ways in the last three years, partly for personal reasons, party for professional reasons, and partly for artistic reasons. Every day, I think, requires us to understand ourselves again, to look for the change that has to come, and to learn to work through it.

I remember often these lines from Walden:

How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

I don't want to be "compelled to live" in any way. Compulsion leads to law and away from poetry. I want the change, in whatever way it comes.

So, yes, I want my life to keep changing. It will whether or not I want it to, but I do want the change. I have only to wait, to watch and listen.

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

Poetry changes people. People change the world.

:

A poem from Murder Ballads by Jake Adam York:


From A Field Guide to Etowah County

Bluets, larkspur, common violets in the jimson
and queen-anne's-lace, tangles of boxwood
and honeysuckle and smilax in hydrangea and pine,
thick from which Spring Azures drift,
among the first to emerge, the Swallowtails'
gunmetal iridescence, obsidian-with-stars
wings turning like pages in hands of wind.
Thrashers tear in the leaves for earthworms,
salamanders, some morsel, their stipple
of sunlight-in-leaves blending then reappearing
in a crash of meal. If a snake uncurls,
the bird will leaf it in bibles of territory, protection,
and someone's aunt or grandmother, passing,
will slow to note that summer is on us early.
But this one merely stands, its wing in a ray,
feathers a concrete mottle of grain and pebble
like a roadside table turned into brush long ago.
Here, there is no cankered plum or split persimmon,
sap or juice to bead, mimeograph bright,
on the grass's nibs, and the grass does not whorl
in cursives of moonlight and dark each night,
but this is where they found that postman
from Baltimore, walking his integration letter
to Ross Barnett, three hundred miles to go,
shot in his head and neck, copies of the protest
scattered and streaking in the April dew.
It was September, honeysuckle in full perfume,
the woods a riot of gackles and jays,
when the grand jury broke and let the suspect go.
The facts are simple, my grandfather said,
the D.A. said we couldn't make a case,
so the words they never wrote coiled
in field reports and requisitions, and three days later
a church-bomb in Birmingham
blew the stained-glass face of Christ
like a dandelion head in the roadside weeds.
Snakeroot, aster, and blazing star, some
toxic to cows, should not be eaten, though many take
the greens and fruit of poke, more abundant
in Spring, as correctives, small poisons
to set things right. Goldenrod blazes the highway's
shoulders, all the way to Birmingham
or Chattanooga, and starlings gather
like glass, like grackles in the trees, such
sociability an advance of colder weather.
The Swallowtails and Azures have disappeared,
but you may spot the Great Purple Hairstreak
bumbling, slow and easy to observe,
even in the clouds of goldenrod that dust
when they land. The cones are brilliant
but delicate as their gossamer wings. Touch,
and the color's written in your skin.

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

19 APR 07

We have until
Monday, April 23rd.

  
      


Postal regulators have accepted a proposal from media giant Time Warner that would stifle small and independent publishers in America. The plan unfairly burdens smaller publishers with higher postage rates while locking in special privileges for bigger media companies. The deadline for comments to the Postal Service is fast approaching. . .

 

17 APR 07

. . .

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