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30 JUNE 07

How has your first book changed your life?

67. Jill Magi

Threads by Jill Magi

How did your manuscript happen to be picked up by Futurepoem?

I sent Threads in to their open call back in September 2004. I saw who the editors for that particular round were and thought they had some interests in hybrid, cross-cultural, and historical works and this gave me a little confidence that they might read the book in a favorable way. I had just been rejected from another press I admired, so I was pretty doubtful and began to think that the book was flawed in some way, too "content-driven," too much of a "family story" for the presses I was submitting to. And because the book contains about 30 visual images, I thought that many presses were turned off by the task of having to deal with that aspect. But I thought I'd give Futurepoem another shot, even though they had rejected another version of the same manuscript in the previous year!

inside Threads by Jill Magi

inside Threads by Jill Magi

So I won't forget the day in March of 2005 when I heard it would be published. It was the first day of spring and it was a gray, kind of depressing Sunday. I was in the bathtub taking a soak after going for a run in the rain and I was sitting there trying to decide if I would spend the rest of the afternoon actually working on a new revision of Threads or if I would just blow it off and watch college basketball on TV. The phone rang and I heard Jonny (my husband) speaking in a professional voice explaining to someone that I was "in the shower" and would call right back. Then Jonny came in and told me that it was Dan Machlin (Futurepoem's editor) who "wanted to talk to me about my manuscript." I got out of the tub pretty quickly but wanted to try and keep my cool, anticipating a kind rejection, like, "we really loved your work, but..."  So I called Dan back and he asked me if the manuscript was still available and I think I answered, or at least I thought, "what, are you kidding me? Of course it's available!" After the phone call, I literally jumped up and down in the living room. Then we went out and had an expensive dinner--I had a big steak.

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

I was in San Francisco, getting ready to read at SPT and Dan Machlin made arrangements to ship a box of the books to them for the reading. The timing was tight so I was happy that the box had arrived. I remember seeing all of the books in shrink-wrap and not wanting to even unwrap a copy for fear of finding a mistake! So I just concentrated on the reading and didn't even really look closely at the books until about a week later, at home.

Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?

I thought (and still do?) that my chances of getting teaching positions would improve. I have taught as an adjunct for ten years and I am not a reluctant teacher--honestly, I love teaching and I actually don't mind teaching "creative writing." I see teaching writing as a way to open students up to new kinds of texts, to expand communities of readers, expand notions of writing's relationship to thinking, perception, and experience. And somehow, teaching isn't difficult for me. As an adult literacy teacher in the early '90s, I learned from fabulous colleagues how to structure and run a class and so I call teaching "my bag of tools." It's just what I know how to do for money.

I was hoping--and still am--that "having a book" will allow me to experience better job security, a decent salary, and secure health benefits--in other words, a full-time academic teaching job. We'll see what happens--I'm quickly learning that the MFA is quite the credential and I have an MA in English because I never wanted to specialize too much--my degree allowed me to study many genres and even visual art. It'll be an interesting story about labor, the arts, and academia as it unfolds. And I'm skeptical anyway about artists being "absorbed" into academia. At times it seems more clear to just work, then make art--to separate the two activities--though I think a good liberal arts degree program benefits by the presence of artists and writers. So, finally, put it this way: I have some back-up plans if a full-time gig doesn't come through!

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

Some things about my aesthetic confidence increased--after I heard the book was accepted for publication, I felt OK about my revision process and that I could write something publication-worthy. I began to feel more peaceful about my compositional choices and I felt a jolt of inspiration to continue with new projects.

The existence of the book has helped my friends--especially those who aren't writers--and my family to understand what I've been doing all these years. Now, finally, they can hold and read the project that's been keeping me in and up at night, taking up my vacation time, and making me tired when I worked full-time!

I also feel satisfied and glad that I stuck with this particular book project. I worked on Threads for ten years and it is the project that taught me how I wanted to write--it started out as a novel and then fell apart, happily, and kept accumulating historical material, visual material, and turning toward minimalism as I revised and revised. I was studying texts like Bhanu Kapil's and Susan Howe's and Myung Mi Kim's for clues about how to proceed aesthetically. And my friend John Calagione, the anthropologist, was continually pointing out articles and books on nationalism, literacy, and "the city" and all of these studies impacted the text. But I was mostly alone with the work and questioned my abilities deeply.

In January of 2005 I quit my full-time job as an academic advisor--a job that demanded lots from me and yet had no real flexibility or opportunity for "advancement"--so the news from Futurepoem made me feel a little surer that I had made a good decision. Also, earlier that March, Brenda Iijima told me she wanted to publish Cadastral Map, a chapbook of mine. So I began to feel "available" for poetry, ready to be committed to it, and perhaps "the community" could sense this? When I told my accountant the news, he told me that those around you sense when you are making time for art, that you really love it and want to do it. (I try to always believe and trust my accountant--is that the advice I have for new authors?!!)

Who the heck is your accountant?

My accountant is Howie Seligman--he's really the best!

But speaking of my accountant, and the energy of time and money, I also want to say that I'm lucky to own an apartment in Brooklyn whose value has tripled in the last seven years--and yet I'm aware how sinister that fact is because it means many people are being pushed out of the housing market even as renters. But my part-time teaching and subsequent availability for poetry is because we're living, in part, off of a home equity line of credit. And it was only because my grandmother, Elsie Harrop, who was always interested in my art-making and actually bought me my first computer, died in 1998 and left me with $10,000, that we could get a down-payment together for a spacious apartment that miraculously only cost $110,000.    

Creativity with money, personal, and larger economies, and figuring out how to live, lurks behind every book of poetry--especially in NYC. I'm really fascinated by the demographics of art and like to make explicit, whenever I can, how I have time for poetry to the extent that I do. (Maybe it's a sign of being from New Jersey where you always reveal how much you paid for your clothes because no one pays full price! Or it's the residue of a working class tendency in my family to apologize for moving into the middle class, for the decision to "make art"?)

Where does Sona Books fit in? When did you start publishing the work of other poets and why?

I began Sona Books in 2002. I was noticing that many of my friends were writing wonderful things and were not even trying to get their work out there so I thought I'd create a forum for them, and in so doing, I would find a way to connect with the larger "poetry scene." One of the first people I met was Matvei Yankelevich and then I met Anna Moschovakis and they were welcoming to me. They put together a small press fair in 2003 and offered Sona Books a table and I sat down in between Brandon Lorber and Brenda Iijima and they were kind of puzzled, but in a good way, asking "who are you? where did you come from?"

Anyway, back in 2002 I was thinking about Anne Waldman's "edict": poets need to publish each other. I had just begun to put some of my own work together in self-published chapbook form and was interested in the visual aspects of putting together a book and so it all just came together. Turning my attention to the works of others helps me understand revision, line breaks, the placement of work on a page. It also helps me realize that most work is good, solid--writers themselves are often too picky. If you are engrossed in what you're writing, if you read and study good poetry, don't hesitate, get your work out there! It's usually better than you think it is! So as a publisher, I'll gladly publish work that even to me looks like it might have some problems. I'll talk to the writer about the work, but always encourage them to put it out there and then see what they see in the piece as time goes by. Chapbooks can be this for people--a blueprint for something else perhaps more developed.

I want to say that running Sona Books is kind of playful for me. When I was a kid, my sister and I used to make up fake businesses, create sales receipts, create an office setup and phone, take orders, etc. and so now I get to run something that contributes, in a very small way, to the furthering of poets and poetry, but it feels like play.

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

First, the "non-critical" feedback I've heard has been important and touching. Like this, from my friend Mary who wrote to me last week: "I had a wonderful Mother's Day. The best part was sitting in St. Luke's garden on a perfect spring day as my daughter read aloud to me passages from Threads by Jill Magi." And from my friend Eldy: "Thank you so much for the book. I've started to read a little and can't help but think about the stories my relatives told of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II and the Adventist conversion of my own grandparents on my father's side." I also heard that Jonny's grandmother, who lives down in Knox County, Kentucky, liked the line "drunk on miniskirts" on page one and she wanted to know if this was going to be a funny book.

Then, on May 3, just a day after I complained to my friend Joanna Sondheim about the silence that rolls in after your book is published, she emailed to tell me that Ron Silliman had written pretty favorably about the book. In his write-up, he pointed out that it was a multi-disciplinary project and I'm glad he wrote that. Silliman's comments have made me realize that yes, I view my works as projects and I am not wedded to poetry as a form in particular. This has inspired me to keep working on a new project called SLOT which is about responses to landscaped and inscribed social memory--it's about museums, monuments, and memorials. The project will contain visual elements and when I perform from it, I'm including the works of sound artist Jonny Farrow (my husband) and I'd also like to include multiple readers and voices.

On that very same day that Silliman's note came out, and within minutes of reading his blog, my father called to tell me that my uncle, Eino Magi, had passed away. Eino is one of the voices in the book--page 93 is a transcription of a letter he wrote to me. He was one of the last family connections to real fluency in Estonian; my father, who also speaks Estonian, now essentially has no one left to talk with in Estonian. So on that day I understood something about the purpose of my book in our family, and I felt happiness that strangers were now possibly sounding out some of the Estonian words in the book.

I guess this task of contemplating silence is a direct result of having a book published and it's having an effect on how I think about text and art. I understand better now that texts do not necessarily break silences, but that they remind us of the existence of silence and that silence is not necessarily negative. And maybe I'm also understanding that, at times, when the silence seems too much, the universe sends something along--be it a note from Ron Silliman, or an email from a close friend, or sad news about a loved one dying, reminding us how small our selves and artworks are in the scope of things.

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

Yes. But happily, the change poetry makes is probably impossible to measure.

Lots of different kinds of actions create change in the world, but I am particularly interested in poetry's emphasis on relationship, reflection, and smallness. Reading a book, sitting with it, is a quiet and reflective act, yet it's collaborative. Books that invite a participatory meaning-making relationship between writer and reader--maybe they're called "experimental" and here I'm thinking of Juliana Spahr's thesis in her book Everybody's Autonomy--these texts, in particular, facilitate shifts in consciousness, shifts in awareness that might be imperceptible to others and to the world. They also invite a way of being with language--being flexible, being involved, becoming an agent of language and therefore understanding the malleability of one's own thoughts and perceptions.

Writing poetry helps me to understand that all webs of relationship--from the very small relationship one has with oneself, with a book, with language, to increasingly larger circles of relations with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, city, county, country, policy makers, politicians, strangers, world--all relationships are important and when the space for reflection and quiet is facilitated in relationships, harm can be detected, an opportunity for intervention is created, small violences can be remedied before gaining speed and becoming larger ones--change is possible. Art can facilitate this; poetry facilitates this on the level of the individual utterance.

I've been involved in larger-scale "activism" that frankly didn't "work." I look back and can see that my actions, honestly, were often driven by hubris and anger and naivete more so than by knowing and alliances and kindness. At a certain point, I turned to poetry and art-making to understand myself and others. It's hard to conceptualize, but the smallness of interactions around poetry and other kinds of reflective arts and practices can, I believe, make real the possibility of informed, kind, and intelligent large actions.

But, at the end of the day, I think it's OK not to know how or why poetry and art matters, but to like making it, reading it (which is a kind of way of making poetry), and to extend that kind of creative grace and playfulness toward every relationship one has with language and self and other.

I also think it's important to understand that making art and poetry doesn't mean you are a "better" person or interested in general betterment and neo-enlightenment projects--poetry encompasses everything that we are and doesn't look away. And, in fact, art has often been at the service of fascism and some really bad ideas. So art is ambiguous and delivers no salvation from the actual world. Still, we participate, inviting perceptual shifts and so I think it's important work.

Does this all sound mushy? Well, maybe I'm putting it into words to make it a little more solid--or maybe to make it even softer, some thoughts and ideas that can be revised by anyone reading this now.

So thanks, Kate, for asking!

:


seven pages from Threads by Jill Magi:

 

From far away.

Soul to bury.

I can't breathe anymore.

 

 

To sprinkle. I'll sprinkle some cold water on you

to rescue-- 

clever (leaving, to save)                         though clear regret.

 

 

 

Blue sea, clear sky, fresh air. I don't regret coming here.

 

 

:

Other prisoners sew my poems in their clothes.

But they were sent there for hiding me in their farm.

I had no right to ruin their lives.

I built my bunker on the latticework ceiling.

 

 

 

                                    A learned man, a lost letter.

                                    A mouth stuffed with clouds.

 


:

:

Dear--

I found the poems by Gmother we talked about. In translating them I took some "poetic" liberties with English grammar and syntax, as you will notice. In doing so, I felt, I was able to convey some of the mood and rhythm of the original language. I also found a sheet of paper with the translation of the Estonian national anthem and a poem by Lydia Koidula on it. The latter I attempted to translate quite literally. The word "isamaa" in literal translation is "fatherland." But "fatherland" sounds too tough, too robust in English, maybe too Germanic. To the Estonian mind "isamaa" is more tender and loving than "fatherland." Thus "native land" seems a more appropriate translation. Besides, self-respecting Estonians would not, God forbid, be identified with Germans, although they are a mixed race with a good dose of German blood in them. I also found the copy of a letter from Gfather with a translation of another Estonian poem in it. The poet--Juhan Liiv--incidentally attended the same high school in Tartu that I did, although he did it 100 years earlier. Juhan Liiv's poems are very melancholy. He suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide.

Greetings to you and J.

Love--

 


:

"The grandchildren" (we) "only point at me when--"

this I am told she wrote in letters from (my) America

sometimes in code (the use of certain Bible verses)

responding to pre-printed Soviet envelopes but

Estonia has now gone over to the common western style

and would not write Dear unless they meant it.

 

 

:

One who comes.

One who washes.

Who wishes.

Seer, prophet.

One who is dying.

One who is doing.

 

 

:

Rummaging through boxes of my anxiety in the basement looking for his naturalization papers for many years we call him "a man without a country" and he always answers "don't make fun of the poor refugee," laughing. The meaning of natural.

 

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

28 JUNE 07

7 sentences:

We might have seen it on the day we met. We had to get a couple of people, first, who'd agree. To make the history.

Think about how you want to live.

This is how a lot of things start. I mean "the new." At the border, it's just a line.

 

26 JUNE 07

How has your first book changed your life?

66. Susan Briante

Pioneers in the Study of Motion

How did your manuscript happen to be picked up by Ahsahta Press? Had you sent it out often before that?

I did the book contest thing for a while before I sent it to Ahsahta during their open reading period. Initially, Janet Holmes sent it back to me with comments and a few structural suggestions and asked to see the manuscript again. When I sent the manuscript during the next open reading, Janet took it.

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

Janet and folks at Ahsahta really pushed to get the book out for this year's AWP conference. They did a Herculean job. I went down to the book fair late on the first day. No one was around and a sheet was draped over the Ahsahta table. It was vaguely erotic lifting up a sheet to catch a first glimpse of my book.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I knew I wanted something graphic in the style of old jazz album covers like Coltrane's Olé. Janet passed that idea onto her designer, the very talented Jeff Clark, and after a few different versions, he came up with the cover image you see. In the end, everything fell into place down to the blurred author photo: a self-portrait taken from my cel-phone, which (incidentally) no one seems to like except me and Janet. Most people don't even think it looks me.

the author

For my next book, I think I'll use this photo­­

the author

which also doesn't look like me in a totally different way.

Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it? How has your life been different since?

I have an MFA, and I was getting near the end of a PhD when the book was accepted. Having a book under contract allowed me to go on the academic job market and find a job teaching in an interdisciplinary PhD program. There's much to criticize about MFA and PhD programs, which can feel like some type of weird pyramid scheme. There's a way in which the academic process also gives book publication a kind of weight that seems outdated considering the many different ways work enters into world today and the strange quirks of poetry publication. Still, until we have better local and federal funding for artists, MA, MFA and PhD programs can provide support for apprentice artists. My mom's family couldn't afford to send her to college. My dad went to college on a baseball scholarship but had to give up a chance to play professionally to support his family. I've made particular choices and feel particularly fortunate to be able to earn money to do what I love: write and teach. Now it's time for me to start seeing what changes can be made within academia--that and start paying off my student loans.

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

I was shocked when my parents told me they were buying a box of books to give out to family and friends. It was kind of endearing and horrifying all at once. I wanted to say to them: "You know, I reference 'nipple-clamps' on page 11."

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

I've mostly done readings, which provide a nice excuse to travel and see friends as well as get turned on to what other poets and poetry communities are doing.

What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published? What was the best advice you got?

The best advice I got was that I should not expect much to change. The best advice I think I can give is to not dwell too much in the book or its reception, but keep focused on new work.

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

Pioneers in the Study of Motion had a set of particular thematic and formal concerns (displacement, commerce, the erotics of cultural/political encounters) that feel different from the set of obsessions and problems I'm trying to work through now (cultural amnesia and memory, landscape, Civil War photography). My friend, the painter/poet Philip Trussell says: "A poem is the record of an attention willing to be surprised." My attentions have changed so that I find new elements of surprise and pleasure in my work.

Do you want your life to change? Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek? Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

In many ways, I'm very happy with my life now. At the same time, I want a dramatic change for my country and its policies not just in terms of the war in Iraq, but in terms of the corruption, the ineptitudes, the inequality and violence at home. Those concerns form part of my poetry, but I have to admit, I question whether that's enough when car bombs explode daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is one thing to struggle with the decision to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz. It seems to me that it's a somewhat different decision to write in the midst of daily atrocities committed by one's own government both here and abroad.

I've always held a lot of interest in those poets and critics who believe that the lyric can provide a space for social/political change. In The Prelude, Wordsworth insists on the lyric as a place of retreat and remedy against the corruptions of sensibility produced by "the great national events." More recently, Juliana Spahr wrote about the lyric's potential to "reveal how our private intimacies have public obligations and ramifications."

The control and manipulation of the images and discourse surrounding this conflict have been unprecedented. And yes, a poem provides a space where we can take back language, refocus the gaze, and explore the most complex intellectual and emotional responses. 

But there are more than 20,000 poems on the Poets Against the War website--and the war in Iraq continues. And we are certainly not going to change what's going on in America today by arguing over what Ron Silliman just posted on his blog. I have this feeling we all need to be doing much more, but it is not easy to know what: sign another petition, walk in another march, vote for another party, buy a Prius, switch out our incandescent light bulbs.... I think the changes will need to be radical, a rethinking of systems and ideals. Poetry and art will open those discussions, but in the end, I think poetry may only be the start. 

:

from Pioneers in the Study of Motion by Susan Briante:


New Orleans, Road Map, Filigree

A radio tower rises like an oil rig from the heat, the ceiling fan wobbles, blonde-haired girls gather in a corner by the jukebox. I imagine we have been dancing, I reach across the table--

4:49 on a July afternoon.

The sun stalks me 12 blocks through the quarter. A woman ascends the coffeehouse stairs while her companion gestures to a sidewalk table. He could map the insides of her. He laid her carpet and trued her blades; she shelved his books and filtered his water.

At such a moment it is important to examine your feelings: a chess set, an aria, the bougainvillea insists, blue glass of tequila, clear glass of ice on the nightstand, a set of keys to remember.

I sleep on the rug. Red peony

for our table, iron roses for our balcony, filigree to double back on itself and push us forward. I have driven 2039 miles clutching you like a key.

And if I rode to Cheyenne          2147 miles
and if I rode to Boston               1353 miles
and if I rode to Raleigh              805 miles

or Toronto or Wichita or Abilene (1655).

From all of this turning I wake with a rash on my knees.

A black dress flowers from the rail as wind chimes praise the fire escape. Rook pulls pawn. Your voice winds through me: cornice, tracery, spire. A girl twists from a payphone, a spectrum coiled to wire, a wire with a 'can't' in it.

It sounds like rain that car coming down St. Philip Street.


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24 JUNE 07

screening

recent & recommended

        in print:  
     the tiny       practice
  minor american
abraham lincoln           the poker
         
         online:  
little red leaves        pilot
  horseless review  
    parcel                how2

 

 

22 JUNE 07

How has your first book changed your life?

65. Katie Degentesh

The Anger Scale

How did your manuscript happen to be published by Combo Books? Had you sent it out much before that?

Mike Magee, the publisher of Combo Books as well as an excellent poet and critic (My Angie Dickinson) is a friend and member of the Flarf Collective. I am very lucky in that he has always been a big supporter of my work and expressed interest in a manuscript.

It took me a while to get The Anger Scale together and give it to him. I had never sent a manuscript out before--for one thing, I hadn't felt ready. But in general I always thought unsolicited manuscript submissions were a waste of postage, and I won't submit to fee-based contests on principle.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes and no.

Yes, in that I had the luxury of a long email conversation with the very talented designer, Christian Palino, who was curious about the book's poetic process and the MMPI test, and listened attentively. No, in that the lame-ass idea I halfheartedly suggested for the cover involved a photo of a sinister-looking rabbit. Using the scan-tron test response form from the MMPI was all Christian's idea, and I was thrilled to see its brilliant execution. When he sent his design via PDF it was the best email I've ever gotten.

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

It was raining, and I stayed home from work until noon to receive the UPS package.

After work my partner, the poet Drew Gardner, and I went to the Bowery Ballroom and saw Vashti Bunyan sing, which was a very intense, incredible experience. Vashti Bunyan is a sixtyish hippie woman with a thin quiet voice--so quiet that it sounds as if she's almost trying not to be heard when she sings. She put out one album in the '70s that got zero acclaim and then, heartbroken, stopped singing until Devendra Banhart and his neofolkie movement found her album and started a mini Vashti renaissance.

It's really not the type of music I'd normally go for, but there's something about her albums that speaks to me despite the fey lyrics, etc. And her concert was just amazing. She was clearly very happy and so beamingly overwhelmed by the fact that she was playing to a large adoring audience in New York City.

She made me think of my mother--a smart, exuberant woman who at different times in her life wanted to dance or write children's books and instead, through a series of choices she made out of fear, spent her life raising three daughters under the thumb of my paranoid, controlling dad. For a moment it seemed to me almost as if Vashti was my mother--a woman who knew her life's dreams were out of reach--yet in this case she had suddenly been granted them, at an age when most people's dreams are more comfortably forgotten. The whole experience moved me to tears.

Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?

No.

How has your life been different since?

Well, I have been stopped on the street in Manhattan a few times for autographs, but I think it'll take maybe one more book with a print run of about 1500 or so to get to the point where I need to hire a bodyguard.

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

I was really thrilled that Stephen Burt chose to review it in The Believer, and that he felt so positively about it. That--especially the quote comparing me to the Stooges, which I will forever treasure & requote in my self-promotional fantasies--was a bigger break than I expected to get.

What have you been doing to promote the book and what are those experiences like for you? Do you enjoy reading publicly?

I absolutely love to read and was lucky to get a slew of good bookings over the past months, most of which paid expenses or a decent fee--in Reykjavik for the Nyhil Poetry Festival in November; in San Francisco, my former home, at Small Press Traffic with Drew; in Providence, RI, at the La Tazza series; in Albany at the College of St. Rose, where I discovered that the ideal audience for this particular book is boys who watch South Park and attend a religious school. I also read in Baltimore, Washington DC, and at Dickinson College in PA with some of my favorite fellow Flarfers; and at the New York Public Library and the KGB Bar here in New York.

I have always enjoyed reading, but doing so many readings from the same material over a relatively short period of time reminded me how much I love performing. As the readings went on I started to do more and more with them, developing character voices for Jesus, etc., doing my best to make them as ridiculous and funny as I feel them to be. And the audience responded! I love when that happens!!!

Even more than the critical response, I've been happy with the way non-poets have responded. They seem to really 'get' my weird little book full of masturbation and anti-religious jokes--I never expected that.

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

I feel very good about the book, and satisfied with the way it represents my connection to poetry. I'm not sure what to do next, but want it to be something very different. Most of the projects I have in mind now would be in prose form.

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

I don't think I could possibly ask for a better critical response to a first book on an avant-garde press. I was particularly thrilled with the Believer piece that I mentioned earlier, and Michael Gottlieb's spot-on, super-thoughtful meditation in Jacket Magazine.

What was the best advice you got? What advice would you give someone who is about to have a first book published?

I would only say that I waited a long time to put a book out, and I'm glad I did. It's the right first book for me.

Do you want your life to change?

Yes, I want to quit my high-octane day job in order to spend winters snorkeling and diving from a small island in Thailand, spring and fall in New York doing nothing or touring the world reading poetry, and the summers in Finland at yoga retreats. Meanwhile I will become a person of quiet renown in the right avant-garde music and literary circles for both my unprecedented talents and my incredible beauty that seems only to increase with age. I will also bear three or four children without pain and manage to give them all the emotional and financial support they need without ever sacrificing a moment of time that I need for myself. And I will have many devoted lovers concurrently without inspiring the slightest jealousy among any of them. Oh, and I will never be sick or tired or grumpy again after l buy the Lower East Side and cordon it off with a huge ice wall in order to raise my parrot colonies within it.

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

I am learning to support myself in headstand on my arms alone. The key is keeping your weight in your hands, wrists, and elbows. The goal is to hold this posture for 108 breaths every day. I am up to about 20 on my best days.

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

My knee-jerk response to this is to quote Auden and say that poetry makes nothing happen.

But then I think about my book in particular and realize that I did go into that project out of a genuine activist sensibility against not only the rigidity and ridiculousness of the MMPI test itself--I still can't quite believe that this test is used to determine people's fitness for trial, for jobs, for raising children--but also of American social and religious rules and roles. I would love it if even a few people would read the book and develop a healthy skepticism and fear of these things; or at least of the test.

Maybe the answer to this question is that poetry can't create change in the world, but the reason most poetry is written is because its authors want to change the world. Good poetry can be a beautiful, complex complaint and at the same time a reminder of our own impotence--like photographs of people who are about to die violently. Only funnier, because no one dies for poetry.

:

A poem from The Anger Scale by Katie Degentesh:

The Only Miracles I Know of Are Simply Tricks That People Play on One Another


I know God can provide us
with more than one cover story
on the subject of black holes

it's how life was originally created
in the hospital those weeks
after I was electrocuted some 35 years ago
when my mom and I emoted as we'd never had

mustering energy for the "unconscious"
pain and frustrations that we were feeling

I never discussed this with the doctor, but
the seas don't part and mountains
made it really difficult for the whole province
to see pictures of the inside of my uterus

I do know that rule number one
is never to point your camera at the sun.

Just stay home and be a mom!!!
my last boyfriend punched me out
in front of my 5-year-old
and I have never been happier

a woman who learned to bend spoons from Uri Gellar
said that my uterus performed
the function of a small blanket placed over a cat
before giving the cat away or putting her to sleep

Baby dust to all, Sherry


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20 JUNE 07

Sina Queyras reviews case sensitive, here.

"I want to believe this is real."

 


18 JUNE 07

How has your first book changed your life?

64. Adam Clay

The Wash by Adam Clay

How did your manuscript happen to get picked up by Parlor Press Free Verse Editions?

The Wash is, for the most part, my MFA thesis with some poems cut, some added. I sent it out to contest after contest--it was a semi-finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Slope Editions Prize. One of those contests was the Free Verse Editions open reading period and Jon Thompson wrote me a nice e-mail along the lines that he liked the book but felt it wasn't quite realized at the time. He sent me some comments. Time passed. The seasons changed. I wrote a second manuscript (Nodaway River) and started sending it out. I had put The Wash aside for the most part, but when the Free Verse reading period opened up again, I sent a revised version to Jon with the idea that this would be the last place I ever sent it. Later that Fall, between classes (I was teaching composition at a community college), I checked my email and there was an email from Jon with "THE WASH" in the subject line. I almost cancelled class that day--it was so strange jumping right back into a lecture about how to synthesize sources knowing that my manuscript finally found a home.

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

I knew it was arriving on the day it did. I kept waiting for the UPS truck with a bit of nervous energy--for some reason I kept having these nerve-wracking thoughts about a typo that I missed or a poem I should've cut. That feeling didn't last long once I opened the box. We had dinner. I read the book before bed that night. The world did not end.

box of wash

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes. David Blakesley at Parlor Press was quite open to my suggestions about the cover. I found the photo and he sent me a few ideas for the design. I remember the process being pretty quick--the draft came to me in September and the book was in my hands by mid-October.

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

Not really.

How has your life been different since?

Once the book came out, my life was fairly different anyhow. Since the book was accepted, Kim and I were married, and we moved 768 miles to a different Hardiness Zone. I can say that it's strange to have a book that was written in one place published when you live somewhere else. It made me miss Arkansas. We still talk about moving back.

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

There was an expectation for immediate response and reviews. There always is. It's slow though. I think the book's been reviewed two or three times since it came out. There is a lot of waiting, which I knew to expect, but there's still this wish for more.

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

It was exhausting, but great--I met some amazing people, but toward the end of the Fall, I was just completely worn out. I read in Minneapolis, South Bend, Lansing, Providence, New Haven, Boston, Brooklyn, and some other places I'm probably forgetting, alongside trying to tackle a semester of graduate school. Some readings I would sell 15 books and some I would sell 2. It's easy to question yourself when you've spent $300 on a plane ticket and only sold 2 books. I did a lot of that.

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

"Cut it and send it."

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

I really had to rethink the poems. I really didn't read any of them out-and-about before the book was published so when it came out, I had to revisit my own work. In this sense, it was a new book to me. Alex Lemon and I talked a lot about this: reading the older work, promoting the book. I didn't remember the impetus for a lot of those poems so I really had to think about them again and fit them into a bigger context.

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

I liked Andy Grace's review at CutBank a lot. A good review should give the writer something to think about, and his review did.

Do you want your life to change?

Not in a drastic way. I want my neighbors to move.

:

2 poems from The Wash by Adam Clay:


Odd and Full of Love


Once along this path it was as if God stirred me

Between the eyes. My head fell from a cloud

To a meadowed land where woodlarks forever search

For twigs too heavy to carry. Upon waking, the stulp

Where I stood was no more. I witnessed beetles moving

Near my face as if for the first time free from the galling glow

Of the sun. Larks reappeared. The song of their hungry young

Sweetened the air. Beetles dropped to their holes,

And I thought of Mary and the many trees

It would take to build a ship to sail to her.

Hourly now a voice asks Well honest John how fare you now at       home,

And my reply is thrown to the pigs each morn.

 


From Essex


Now is the time to take the song from your throat

and unbury the bone you've tasted for years. The flesh

of bones is that which burdens the voice, the flesh

that feeds from the unspoken words in your throat

urging you not to pocket the flowers. Plunder

the scream of shades. Take the swarm of color

from the fields until the lack of color 

forms a rupture in the sky and plunder

all unheard sounds in the night. These sounds

are yours. Your mind holds the morning back.

This voice whispers each word back

to you and each stone you gather slows sound

and light. The bleached day urges you on and the throat

of the lapwing burns black with still no sound. 


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