kate greenstreet
kate at kickingwind dot com
about
HCE interview
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JHG interview
some poems online
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my book: case sensitive
available at your local bookseller
and online at Ahsahta Press,
SPD, & amazon.com


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30 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

77. Catherine Doty

Momentum by Catherine Doty

How did your manuscript happen to be picked up by CavanKerry Press? How often had you sent it out previously?

I have always been bad at the business of sending out, much as I love the idea of an audience. CavanKerry's Joan Cusack Handler contacted me and asked to see a manuscript, which I then hastily, carefully, and with the help of wise friends cobbled together.

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

I was delighted with all the things somewhat out of my control: the colors and proportion of the cover images, the typography and design of the pages, and the delicate heft of it all made me happy. I also had that "cleaned closet" frisson: here was all I had of usable good, and in one place.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I had several family photographs I wanted to use, but was not sure how best to use them. CavanKerry's Peter Cusack experimented, enlarging and cropping until he came up with something that didn't shout "memoir." I wanted the cover photograph to be evocative, but not narrative. I loved what he did with it.

Before the day you first saw Momentum, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?

I was a very old first-book person, so what changed in my life was that I was no longer bookless. That's truly all I expected to change.

Has your life been different since?

In situations in which a writer is only accepted or respected if sandwiched between two covers, my life has improved: I am much more likely to be perceived as a "real" writer. In more personal ways, my view of my work has changed. That first volume took me fifty years to accumulate; I haven't that luxury of time if I hope to have a second. Also, I tossed anything not deserving placement in the first book, so that shaggy pile of pieces in transition became book or compost. Very cleansing.

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

I really had few expectations. CavanKerry does a masterful job of publicizing its books, and it is thanks to my press that Garrison Keillor picked up a piece for More Good Poems for Hard Times and Billy Collins for 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. Hearing Keillor read my poem on his Writer's Almanac was very happy-making.

What have you been doing to promote your book and how do you feel about those experiences?

I bring my book to all the readings and writing/teaching events I am involved in. I could do more, I know. I've always wanted to make a good poem more than I've wanted to show that I've published one, and self-promotion takes both stomach and energy I lack. CavanKerry even helps its authors by gathering us to discuss such things as book pushing. I refuse to attack people in elevators, but I know I could do more.

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

I wish someone had told me to write a young-adult novel with a wizard in it. The best advice I got was from The Roches, in their song "Big Nothing," which describes the rocketing career changes they expected the day after their appearance on Saturday Night Live. I don't mean this in any cynical way; if one has a fairly satisfactory life, there's plenty to be thankful for, and it's not wise to expect a book--especially a book of poetry--to change it much. (Now a novel....)

What advice would you give someone about to have a first book published?

If that person were looking for a tenure-track teaching job, I would say flog that slender volume for all it's worth. If I were not teaching full-time in a public middle school, I would, because that's where publication can certainly give one leverage. Before and during the publishing process, talk to others who've been through it, and run all paperwork past a lawyer familiar with publishing.

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

I have a flat little pile of things live-and-in-process. I'm faster than ever to jettison weak stuff, and not romantic about revising ancient work.

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

I am very grateful for the few critical responses my book has gathered, and more grateful for the kindness with which it has been received. I have plenty of strong ideas about what I see as weaknesses in my work, and crafting those weaknesses away is my job. If a critic comes out with a crushing rejection of my stuff, I hope I'll see that as a means to strengthen my resolve to make good poems.

Do you want your life to change?

In many ways, yes. Are we still talking about books?

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

I'm trying to clear my desk for writing. My desk is metaphorical, but laden with stuff outside the realm of writing. To self: simplify. Say no.

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

Poetry changed my world, or kept me in it, at least. Anything can create change in the world, so why not this arcane and suspicious passion for words?

:

A poem from Momentum by Catherine Doty:


Living Room

Remember the Halloween night
I was sick with migraine
left alone with you
while the others went out
and we took your nap together
after the beer
you on the couch and me
on my back on top of you
I could smell the painted flames
on my devil costume
the devil's starchy mouth hole
damp with beer
I could see the car lights
stripe the living room ceiling
hear Halloween banging
at the door
hear your breathing
as I lay full-length
on that bony, crabby daddy
that man who never touched
who hardly talked
I was happier than I had ever been
I was petting a sleeping lion
I thought of turning five
the next day
I thought of the cake
the paints and paper
I'd asked for
a picture I'd make you
of two red devils sleeping
of bowls of candy
safe and untouched in the dark

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

28 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

76. Ashley Capps

How did your manuscript happen to be published by the University of Akron Press?

I saw an ad in Poets & Writers for the Akron contest, and the judge was Gerald Stern. He had been one of my "desert island" poets for years; I even wrote my M.A. thesis on him. Much beloved. I considered him an important teacher even though I had never met him. So I guess I hoped that since I'd been studying and admiring him for so many years, maybe something in my work might create an affinity with him. But when I answered the phone one day and heard this kind, dear voice say, "Hello Ashley, it's Jerry Stern"--I thought I'd choke.

That was the third contest I'd sent to. I hope this doesn't sound too awful, but, I was very ambitious, and in some ways very naive, and I think I had planned on only first sending to like a handful of big-name contests. But after getting rejected by the first two on my list, and in spite of knowing way better, I was crushed by those rejections; I developed even graver doubts about my strengths as a poet, and about that manuscript in particular. I decided to put it away for a year, work on some new stuff, then reconfigure the whole thing and start over sending to the same four or five contests. Then a few months later, I saw that ad and decided maybe a good way to choose contests would be to send to judges whose work you had sort of emulated or really lived with. I guess that worked, or I was very lucky.

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

I remember coming home from class and seeing the box on the porch and feeling nauseous and full of dread. I took my dog for a walk, rented a marathon of Sex and the City, and distracted myself for the rest of the night with a bottle of wine and a whole lotta Sarah Jessica Parker. I didn't open the box for a whole day. It just felt bad. I think I'd always sort of felt like I was just fooling everybody else into thinking I was a poet--that really if they knew how hard it was for me to come up with just one interesting line in eight straight hours of typing and staring at a screen, then they'd know I wasn't really a natural--just a big fat phony, albeit a good imposter. If I was the real thing, I thought (and sometimes still think) it would surely come a lot easier. Therefore the physical book was sort of like...being forced to stare under fluorescent lights into one of those scary magnifying mirrors that reveal your normally smooth-to-the-world- skin to be a clogged, hairy, strawberry-seed textured oilslick... Yuck, that's disgusting, but a lot like how I felt when confronted with my book. Like, Hey lady, the game is up; let's have a look at everything you've really been hiding and getting away with.

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

Yes. Back then I thought a book was the thing that would make me a "real" poet. I desperately wanted to be a "real" poet, the way the Velveteen Rabbit wanted to be a real bunny. I wanted to dance in a circle of other real poets on my own real-poet hind legs. But as it turns out, having a book does not make me feel real. My butt is still plush, and I'm still as tediously insecure as ever. I still look at other poets and wait for them to figure out I'm just a satiny, button-eyed poseur.  

How has your life been different since?

Well, I've gotten better looking.

Honestly, the only thing that's really changed is the book has lent a sort of legitimacy to my self-loathing, which was otherwise hazy and unfocused. It really is ridiculous to be googling your own name every day, in quotes, with the word poetry beside it, hoping to pop up in some blog that maybe 15 other people in the world read.

I only did that for the first six months. Now I'm down to once a week.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes. Akron and their designer, Amy Freels, were very wonderful to let me choose the cover image. My contract had said my ideas were welcome but that it ultimately wasn't my decision. I fell in love with that collage because it seemed to capture the mood of my book.

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

Like I said, having a book didn't turn out to be proof of anything. It didn't make me a "real" poet. Writing didn't get any easier. I realized the only proof I'll ever have of being a poet is in the dailiness of the thing itself--in devoting as much love and discipline as I can to the regular act of sitting down and writing--and by reading and just being as curious and open as I can to the weird wide world. Not watching too much TV.

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

I haven't done a lot. Self-promotion is really hard for me. It gives me existential dread. That said, put a couple drinks in me and I can fake my way through a reading pretty good. It's the organizing and setting up of that kind of stuff that makes me feel like the used car salesman of my soul. So I haven't really done much unless I got invited (anybody?)--and that's to my own detriment, and I realize I can't complain if nobody ever reads my book.

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

Some great advice I got just after my book came out, which I would've loved to've gotten before, was that what really matters is not so much which contest or press, but just getting your book out there in print. In the grand scheme of things, the harder sell and the bigger test will be your second book, in terms of showing that you're not just a flash in the pan; and a test because it can be very difficult to reinvent yourself in the shadow of your first book, to feel free or removed enough to write beyond it, to try new things, and not worry about any expectations or ideas people may have about your work because they've read the first book.

And the best advice I ever got was from my boyfriend: always hope, but never expect. I think that's wise.

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

Well here's the thing: personally, I wanted to win the Yale Prize or the Walt Whitman. Ha! I wanted to be a "famous" young poet. That sounds gross saying it, but I'm telling you anyway in hopes this might be helpful to someone. I mentioned earlier that I initially planned on only sending to like my top four or five contests, over and over till one of them (hopefully) took. Now I talk to people who say they did that for years, a bridesmaid one year, nothing the next. Or a bridesmaid four or five years in a row, and still no tamale!  I'm extremely glad I didn't go with that impulse. I'm not half as productive when I'm waiting on some kind of important answer, especially when it's a part of me that's being judged!  There's a constant low-level anxiety that sort of saps a lot of my energy and creativity in situations like that. I can't imagine being in that headspace for years. I'll admit, though, that after my initial excitement over the Akron, I actually got very anxious and gloomy that I never got to apply to those two contests, wondering if I were somehow hijacking my potential glory... Very silly and lame. But it's scary, because you work so hard, for so long, on your poems, they're sort of everything you've got to show for yourself, and you want to make sure you give them the best chance you can to get out into the world and be read. But winning a contest is no guarantee of a positive reception, or of career stability; and the kind of emotional and creative paralysis all that waiting creates--not to mention the quiet panic--I don't think it's worth it.

So that would be one piece of advice I reckon: don't attach too much importance to any one contest, just get your book out there with a press that you admire. Even with the biggest contests, the sponsoring presses often aren't interested in publishing the author's second book, because the aesthetic of the first book didn't represent the press's taste so much as the guest judge's. Or they just won't like the new book. And then you're gonna have to start all over looking for a new press anyway.

Plus, as much as they lead to good things, that whole contest mentality can really be a bad space to inhabit for very long. It can seriously cloud your perspective. I got to where just reading Poets & Writers made me nervous and I had to stop. It never even occurred to me that there actually was any other route to getting your first book published besides the contest--when in fact some of the best presses out there have regular, direct submission, open reading periods. And with the internet what it is today, the blog scene and all, there really are so many avenues to getting your name out there and getting your poems read. Just on your site, Kate, I read a Q&A with a poet named Jessica Smith who published her own book, which I thought was incredibly brave--and with the help of her own blog and sending her book to other bloggers like Ron Silliman, she seems to've gotten a hell of a lot bigger readership than I'd ever expect to get--bigger probably than a lot of first book poets going the conventional contest route. Brava.

The other thing I'm thinking on the advice front, and maybe this is just me talking to myself, but I guess I also feel like at some point you should try to let it go. Don't google yourself too much! All that wondering and worrying and self-regarding gets you nowhere. Once the book is out there, I mean--you've spent years writing it, probably at least another year organizing it and revising it and proofreading it and just being totally stuck in the headspace of its whole looming frigging imminent existence--not to mention how long you may have spent in the whole sending out phase, which is its own stalled-out bloodless creative limbo--you could easily spend a whole nother year or three in a kind of self-promotion mania, READ ME, READ ME, BUY ME BUY ME!!! That seems unhealthy, and can get a little gross.

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

That was the other big surprise! After the book came out, I think I didn't write for over 6 months, not one poem or even draft. I have always fanatically tried to structure my life so that no one or thing would interfere with my writing, and I had been writing at least two or three hours each day for a long time. But suddenly, I wasn't writing at all. I hated the book looking back at me--the poems that disappointed me made me feel like a bad writer, and the few I still loved, well I looked at them and thought, how did I ever write these? I don't know how to do it again! Somehow the book came to feel like a completely separate creature, full of poems I either wouldn't or couldn't write again even if I wanted to.

Thankfully, that stage has passed. From time to time I wonder if people who like my first book (you know who you are, I sent you your checks) will be disappointed by what I'm doing now, which hopefully becomes a second book--I think it's quite different, or at least I want it to be. I start to get bored with myself after a while and then I'll start experimenting trying to do something different. Usually I don't actually know what that is till I've written the poems and they tell me. But I hope it's not disappointing.

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

No effect on my writing, really.

I guess there hasn't been a whole lot of critical response. I've seen a couple of benign reviews online, and even a couple of very positive ones. People have been nice on their blogs. By April I sort of thought the window for getting reviewed had probably started to close, and I didn't really expect to see anything else. Then I got an email the last week of that month, that a review was coming out in the London Times Literary Supplement. Say what? I still have no earthly idea how that one happened. From what I could tell, when they did review poetry, it was usually British folks, or if it was American it was someone quite established. So how and why they decided to review a first book by a no name poet from a quiet university press--it still seems pretty crazy. And very lucky. It was a big feature review, and it was really smart and positive. I'm so grateful that happened. It was cool to think of British people sipping tea on a rainy Sunday and reading my book. 

And just today! I got a letter from a British novelist who is guest editing an international journal I respect very much, and who read my book (sipping tea, in the rain) after catching that review. And he wanted some new poems for a special edition! How happy that makes me. You just never know what kind of good thing might be heading your way, even as you're thinking that the silence, which must be permanent, has gotten deafening.

Do you want your life to change?

Yeah.

I want to have peace without God.

I want to be okay with death--but I want to understand it--I mean what happens to the soul, if there is a soul, and is there?, etc. I want to lose ten pounds. I want to be as calm on the inside as I seem to seem on the outside. I want to figure out which thing I'm supposed to do to support myself as a writer, that I can love, but that will not take too much energy and time from my writing. I make jewelry, love working with plants, loved working in Yellowstone National Park, enjoy social work, and taking care of animals. I dream about working on a farm sanctuary or being an interpretive park ranger. I'd like to figure out one of those things to do.

I want to become a better writer without having to live in a way that feels totally selfish and self-indulgent. I want to be socially responsible, to dedicate meaningful time and energy to social change. But I want to be able to do that kind of work with as much passion and enthusiasm as possible, without detracting from my commitment to writing, or from the quality of my poems. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it as well as it can be done. But I would like to be able to do many things well and not feel that I am cheating myself or those endeavors.  

I'd like to have a vegetable garden. And a pet pig. And someday own lots of land where animals taken from shelters and factory farms can run around and enjoy their lives.

I'd like to have enough money that I'm not always worrying about it. Health insurance would be nice.

If I am misguided in ways of thinking or if I worry about the wrong things or see dilemmas where there needn't be any, I hope that will be revealed to me so I can stop being wrong.

Mostly I'd just like to feel peaceful.

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

I'm the poster child for self-improvement. So, hopefully. But my answers are boring, even to me.

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

Argh.

I think you have to define change, or qualify it here, because otherwise the answer is Yes, because everything changes everything-- shifting ratios of energy and matter and concentration, etc., and that kind of obviousness I don't think is what you're going for.

A lot of people have answered that question by saying, Yes: poetry changes individuals and individuals change the world. But that's so vague!  And it's also not helpful because an individual's being changed by an aesthetic or intellectual experience isn't really indicative of what kind of changes that individual will go on to effect in the world. Somebody likes a book of poems, probably they'll want to write poems, or they'll read more poems, or they'll feel better about a given circumstance. Is that really the kind of change we're talking about when we talk about art's propensity to change the world?

Or: people say, Yes, poetry changes the world because it makes the world more bearable. Well, so do ice cream, new tennis shoes, and weekly episodes of So You Think You Can Dance. (Or is that just me? Go Dominic and Sabra!)  But those kinds of change--pacification, consolation--they also maintain the status quo by making people feel better about whatever they want to feel better about--better equipped to tolerate the very conditions that need to change. Consolation isn't really a huge catalyst for social change--agitation is... 

But I'm thinking about ornery abstractions like justice and equality, and I'm talking about change that is global, moral, economic, governmental, environmental. I mean holistic, systematic change--which sounds abstract but has everything to do with the quality of individual life on this planet.

Do I think poetry can effect that kind of change? No. And that bothers me. A whole lot. Not because I think poetry should create that kind of change, but because poetry is what I do. And for me, the doing means that poetry gets most of my energy, most of my love, most of my ability, most of my time. I am a glacially slow producer--a lot of the process of writing for me consists of reading other poetry and literature, letting outside ideas and texts and images absorb and coalesce with whatever is subconsciously brewing in my own head, till: marinate, marinate, marinate, TA-DA! A poem (or, more likely, a line) is born.

I absolutely do not believe that art has or should have any social or political obligations. That seems like the quickest way to kill it. But I do struggle with wondering whether poets--and that's poets, not poems--don't have some kind of obligation to act, to speak up, inhabiting as they do such a unique position with regard to language manipulation. Poets are capable of understanding maybe better than anyone how powerful and influential a metaphor can be; and it is metaphors the world lives by, metaphors shaping how we see and code information, shaping what we value. In that realm, how easily and quickly language goes from being a tool to being a weapon.

That's not to say if poets do (?) have some kind of obligation to social critique, it need take the form of "political poetry." Let the poems be esoteric and insular, so long as the poet's sphere of action isn't similarly circumscribed.

Maybe? I dunno. To me poetry feels like a pretty consuming activity. When I have tried to devote what felt like a responsible amount of time to more public involvements, like grassroots campaigns or regular editorial work, I haven't wanted to do those things half-assed, so most of my enthusiasm and energy went there--and I just let the poetry stall for a while.

Maybe a solution to the (my) conflict would be allowing poetry to be a more seasonal devotion--never abandoned, but sometimes laid down for other devotions--and then, with those duties attended, taken up again in all its single-minded glory. Maybe. Somehow I always seem to revert to total self-absorption with my writing, because I am so--what--unmoored without it. (But I worry that "bored" may be the more honest word). All the while though I'm wondering what the extreme carefulness and precision I try to practice in my own poetry might achieve if applied to, say, journalism or environmental writing. I'd still like to believe there is a way to do both, that it's just a question of balance to which I haven't yet found a tenable answer.

:

from Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields by Ashley Capps:


Hymn for Two Choirs

Best apple I ever had was three o'clock
in the morning, somewhere outside
San Francisco, beach camping, stars holding
the sky together like sutures. I was thinking
how I was going to get old and ask myself
why did I only live for one thing:
at the same time I didn't know how to change.
I thought I felt like my neighbor's huge dog--
every day stuffed into a small man's green T-shirt
and chained to a stake in a yard of incongrous
white tulips. Here and there a red bird, a train.
Way down the beach other tents glowed orange.
I heard a stranger call my name
and another stranger, laughing, answered.

 

What Constitutes a Proper Planet

I decided to drive to the beach, where I sat in the sand and dug
     a large hole.
There was a tiny translucent crab with eyes like my mother
and such a specific inner life I tossed it fast back into the tide.
The sop I scooped out made a kind of wall which slid in on itself
     if my pace slackened.
I had to dig quicker. I dug frantic. Kids appeared with plastic
     shovels--
I wanted to ask them not to collapse it, but they hung back, a
     cautious tribe.
Till at last, one poked me with a stick and asked why I was
     doing that.
And I said, to keep the ocean out. And then they all joined in.


. . .

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. . .

 

26 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

75. G.C. Waldrep

Goldbeater's Skin

Goldbeater's Skin won the 2003 Colorado Prize for Poetry--how did you find out? How often had you sent the manuscript out by then?

I sent my manuscript out to about a dozen first-book contests between October 2002 and January 2003. I was lucky: I was rejected by the first publisher to get back to me, was a runner-up with the second, and was selected by the third.

Stephanie G'Schwind of the Colorado Review called with the good news in early March. At the time I did not have a permanent address; I'd been using my parents' contact information in North Carolina. As it happened I'd been traveling and had just returned to my parents' house after something like 17 hours on a Greyhound bus. The telephone rang as I was standing in my parents' foyer, still clutching a suitcase. I answered, thanked the caller, and then fell (partly clothed) into a spare bed. I had to call back the following morning, both to make sure that I really had heard what I thought I heard and to apologize for my previous insensibility.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes. I was underwhelmed with Colorado's history of book design, but in the end both Stephanie and I were very pleased with the cover. It took some time to get through to Anselm Kiefer (via his New York gallery), but in the end he not only gave me permission to use his work, he also waived his usual fee. Which meant as much to me as anything relating to the book's publication.

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

My author's copies arrived in a box at my apartment door in mid-December, 2003. I was sick in bed with the flu at the time and didn't even make it to the door for another day or two.

Oddly, I can't recall what I felt, or thought, when I actually did open the box. Sometimes when we return from the country of illness we find certain pages have been ripped from our passports. I suppose I must have been very happy. I wonder whether I took a copy back to bed with me. I'm guessing that I did.

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

There is something ontologically affirming about seeing one's work achieve a presence in the physical world.
 
How has your life been different since?

Well, people know the book, and the work, and this is nice. Having a book out in the world opens other doors. I suppose the biggest practical difference was that when the time came to shop a second manuscript around, I was largely able to avoid the contest scene by querying editors based on the success of Goldbeater's Skin.

What have you done to promote the book and how do you feel about it?

I have an ambivalent attitude toward book promotion. On the one hand, I dislike and distrust the economy of self-promotion (which, when one publishes with a small press, is the only kind of effective promotion there is). On the other hand, I do like reading my work aloud. Having trained originally as a singer, rather than as a writer, the quality of the work on the tongue is important to me. Readings, then, are less a chore than a pleasure.

What kind of singing did you study? And how extensive was the training and why did you not become a singer (if that was among the reasons for training)?

I trained in early music while I was an undergraduate. The Boston area was, and continues to be, the center of early music performance and scholarship in North America, so I was in a good location. I also had access to very good teachers, including tenor Frank Kelly and countertenor Jeffrey Gall. I sang in several groups over the course of four years and took coursework in conducting.

In any human endeavor that requires both training and innate physical prowess (music, ballet, football), there comes a moment when you have to ask yourself whether you really have a sufficient gift to move forward with it, base your life decisions on it. I had a nice high lyric tenor voice that was suited to the early repertoire, which I loved. But my voice was rather undependable, for performance purposes (I have my father's family's tendency toward sinus infections). Nor did I have the theory background I needed to continue with conducting at the conservatory level. At the end of my senior year I received a fellowship to study U.S. history, so I did that instead.

Do you still like to sing?

Yes. I have distant family connections to the folk musical tradition known as shape-note singing. About the same time I began to think about not pursuing early music in a serious way, I started singing in that very different repertoire and tradition, out of the Sacred Harp and other nineteenth-century American tunebooks. I still do, as often as I can.

And did history somehow lead you to poetry?

No. I don't know what led me to poetry, to be honest. I had "wanted to be a writer" when I was a teenager, but mainly fiction; I even took an undergraduate fiction workshop at Harvard. I started writing poetry after I dropped out of academia and joined the Amish, in 1995. Suffice to say it's as much of a mystery to me now as it was then. I remember thinking "Poems? Why am I writing poems?" Sometimes we find what we were looking for. Sometimes what we didn't know we were looking for finds us.

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

I don't recall anyone offering advice, beyond the admonition that I should remember it was, in the end, my book, and should remain so through all subsequent negotiations with editors or publishers.

What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published?

As above. Also, be proactive in the process. Do not assume--especially if you are publishing with a small press--that everything is moving smoothly ahead just because you haven't heard anything lately. Small-press editors and interns are as overworked as they are passionate about poetry. Sometimes they make mistakes. Although I had an excellent experience working with the Center for Literary Publishing, not everyone I know who has recently had a first book published elsewhere was that fortunate.

Many publishers will not appreciate your attempts to infiltrate the design process--if this is important to you (as it was to me)--but if you go into the process with artwork you recommend in hand and a cogent take on what you do and don't want, you'll stand a better chance of being heard when the time comes. Do your homework ahead of time. Be prepared.
 
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

The existence of a book, however magical, has a residual tendency to reify the writing it contains--to somehow separate it from process, from the active, generative ground of a writer's life. I suppose in my case the publication of Goldbeater's Skin and my forthcoming collection (Disclamor) have both encouraged me to think "There, I did that, I'm done with that. What's next?"

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

Goldbeater's Skin received five reviews (that I'm aware of). I'm always grateful for the attention of others and vaguely surprised that anyone read, or liked, the work at all.

The strangest part of a book's reception is when it passes into the hands of persons unknown to the writer. Perhaps because the world of contemporary poetry is so intimate, it never really occurred to me (before the book was published) that the book would be read, and possibly even appreciated, by people I'd never met, or even heard of. This has proven both flattering and deeply unsettling.

Literature has always been, on some crucial level, a conversation, among poets, among poems. Poets and poems speak to one another in odd, unpredictable ways, both in the contemporary moment and across the chasm of death. The most rewarding critical response to my work is when another poet mentions that he or she read a poem of mine and wrote a new poem in response. This is how literature extends itself, unfurls in the culture and in our lives. It is deeply humbling to imagine playing some part, however small, in this ramification, this unfurling.
 
Do you want your life to change?

This question is, for me, essentially theological. Do you presume we get to choose?

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

That would be telling, wouldn't it? (grin)  But yes, in the end, I think it can. Not often, perhaps. I think poetry is essentially a response to this world, to the existential condition of being in this world. And, of course, to the parallel and even less tractable condition of being-in-language. When we read a poem--a poem that moves us, that marks us--it becomes part of our subjective, existential experience. We are changed. And, thus incorporated into the act of being, the poem influences what we are able to allow ourselves in the future: to witness, to hope for, to bear.

This is no small thing, it seems to me. Of course, other experiences may have the same effect. But poetry's peculiar distillation of being into language renders it voluble, I think, in the moments that matter most. It becomes a way of speaking the world back (in)to the world, which is not only an aesthetic performance, but also an ethical act. This is what I value in the poetry that most moves me, whether Stein or Milosz, and in contemporary voices as diverse as Carl Phillips, John Taggart, Anne Carson, Lyn Hejinian, and Brigit Kelly.

:

A poem from Goldbeater's Skin by G.C. Waldrep:

Varieties of Religious Experience

                             with apologies to William James


                             i.

I want to lie down in a room of blue sand.

The light is brighter here, or rather
this particular refraction suggests a specific intensity,
mass without weight.
The quality of light is important to me. Apparently. I stumble
from illumination to illumination on sharp miracles.

In the room of blue sand will be a
great moisture, unobtrusive. A cool glistening.

Walking out this morning I enjoy the presence of a companion.
We speak of small things. Around us
the world is busy telegraphing knowledge of surfaces
back to the light which adjusts
on a planetary scale, making due allowance
for velocity and distance. Our bodies take part in this exchange.
    Blood
rushes to the surface to hear what is said,
relaxes back to appropriate depths.

That I want what I cannot have
is no obstacle, of course. A goad rather.

My companion whistles beside me. 
He is an optimist, committed to narrative and therefore
the possibility of redemption. I envy him.

I want to draw a circle large enough in the snow
to hold us both.


                                ii.

Understand: that the room of blue sand presupposes
a house, any kind of habitable dwelling
is a fallacy, though an attractive one.
One imagines crisp linens
and silence punctuated only by a slight
occasional tapping, not unpleasant.
A second misapprehension:
that the mystery of circulation has been explained,
blood and lymph and water.
We know only the architecture of this motion,
a lemma, a kind of shell.
And the faint distant burst of the ram.

Third error: dream of a common language
beyond this spectrum.

For my companion there is no such room, nor should he want it.
Make no mistake, I am not the person
you think, I am entirely
more various than that. And less charitable--

I desire this room for myself alone.
Also, an exhalation of stars.


                                 iii.

In my dream, my companion and I stood in a snowy field.
Nothing to mar the new crust, not even
evidence of our arrival.
In my dream my companion and I stood a few feet apart, but
     together,
at the center of a snowy field.
We stood that way for a long time.


                                 iv.

To posit a mountain is to presuppose
moisture, in this dispensation,
also a certain gravitational flow.
One may add trees, evergreens at the higher elevations.

Phenomenon: subdued thunder of the ram from the spring-
    hollow,
a clean sound. Though perhaps it is indulgent to say so.

To posit a mountain is,
on the most basic level, to proscribe the idea of translation.
One cannot transcend height.
One can circumnavigate it, but that is not the same thing;
the border of altitude has not been crossed.
This is the difference between a mountain and a river
whose depth though finite implies a singularity.
One can cross a river.
Millions of people do this every day.
For with a river eternity is measured in two dimensions
which is not the same thing at all.

Phenomenon: flow of water from the spring-hollow,
trying to make itself into a mountain.


                                  v.

The faint tapping in the room of blue sand promises security,
which is really the illusion of rest.  Not unpleasant.
One counts each audible contact
then measures the silence.

That I wish to lie down at all is at best a grave impropriety.

Also a moist dripping from the walls,
beneath the level of my hearing.


                                   vi.

My companion and I walk down to the lower of the ponds
formed by the stream fed by the spring.
Ice spools within the plane of its expression.
By the race, a clutch of mallards.
The constricted flow creates friction which creates heat
so that a bed of algae opens, even in winter.

Phenomenon: stab of pale beaks in the cold water.

Seven today, four males, three females.
Yesterday there were six.
I cannot help myself--before I know it
I have assigned them a number.

We walk across a low causeway.
My companion is whistling again. He goes a little ahead of me,
his glance moving from side to side
drinking it all in,
the ducks, the ice, the pond,
snow in the branches of the hemlocks and white pines.
He throws back his head and laughs.
From here the ram is inaudible, to my ear at least.
Up a steep hill.  My breath comes hard,
visible in the noon sun. I feel the blush of cold-sting in my cheeks
(we know only the architecture of this motion).

I consider the possibility that the room of blue sand may be     subterranean.
I consider the possibility it may not exist at all--

I cannot help myself.  Before I know it
there is something like delight.

. . .

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. . .

 

24 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

74. William D. Waltz

Zoo Music

How did Slope Editions happen to pick up your manuscript? How often had you sent it out previously?

The short answer is that my manuscript won the second annual Slope Editions Book Prize.

Dean Young was the judge, and although the details are fuzzy with the passage of time, there's a bit more to it. My manuscript was a finalist or semi-finalist for the same prize the year before and one of the editors asked if he could hold onto it, and, of course, I said help yourself and I held out hope. The seasons came and went and nothing, so I moved on, which in this instance meant I gave my manuscript a fairly radical over-haul, cutting twenty or thirty pages, adding new poems, and giving it a new title.

I'd been sending out my manuscript selectively for years and it had been finalist a few times--after the first time that's small consolation--and like most first book manuscripts mine was slowly evolving or devolving, as the case may be. Finally, I decided to hone it down by purging poems that I really liked but that now seemed less related to the rest of the project.

Anyway, while the good folks at Slope were considering my old manuscript, I submitted the new and improved manuscript for the next installment of the contest.

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

I was thrilled and relieved. Really relieved. I was tracking the package via the Internet and I may have been on the front porch when the trucked rolled up to the curb. Once in the house I slowly opened the box, trying to savor the moment while yet allowing myself to worry about typos on the cover. Really relieved because my book release party was set for the next day. It's a good idea to have your book on hand at the book release party.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes, I was. I'd always imagined I would be, so I was glad that my financially strapped publisher gave me the option of handling the cover. I knew I wanted my long-time friend and collaborator Scott Bruno to work on it. Scott was my Art Director for Conduit, so I had total confidence in his abilities. My contribution was puny compared to all the work he put into it. He gave me six or seven covers to choose from! In the end, I talked my publisher into granting us total freedom to design the book cover to cover. I was lucky on two counts: to have such a great designer for a friend and to have a publisher so bold as to give up control.

Before the day you first saw your book, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?

I knew my life would change--it had happened already. I had been liberated, a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. Really. Poetry is a funny business. There's so little to show for one's labors, but a book can be held, a book can be caressed, and in a pinch a book can be applied to the side of some numbskull's head. Never again would I wonder if I was a poet. I had the proof. It's not that the bouts of self-loathing have ceased, but they are less cruel.

Has your life been different since?

I suppose it has, but it has more to do with being a father than being a card-carrying member of the book club. I became a father and published author in the same year. I'm still recovering.

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

I thought more people would read it--I have high expectations!--I thought I'd hear more feedback from friends and acquaintances. I thought my brother would buy the book. There's a temptation to think things will dramatically change but they usually don't. They change slowly. Your book enters bookdom and that's pretty darn cool, but the entrance more resembles absorption than celebration. I know I shouldn't have been, but I was surprised when someone at the book release party asked me about my next book.

What have you done to promote Zoo Music and how do you feel about those experiences?

Besides the book release party and a couple of other readings here in the Twin Cities, I went on two reading tours, one in the Midwest and one back east, so I read a couple dozen times that first year. I sent copies out for review and gave copies to writers and musicians that I felt indebted to.

I considered hiring a PR person but the cost-benefit equation didn't add up.

Hmmm, it doesn't sound like much. Does it?

I enjoy reading and it's an excellent way to give entry into your poems, so I loved road-tripping with my companion poets, and meeting the people at the readings. Lots of new people and a few old friends who came out of the woodwork. Besides, after reading a few nights in a row one begins to feel like a minor rock star, and that's not a bad feeling.

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

Best advice not given: Lie about your age.

Best advice given: I was fretting over some really ridiculous detail like what was the proper way to phrase the dedication and Dara Wier let me know in her way that there was no point in worrying about such things because any way was the right way and that there were better things to do during such a happy time.

How would lying about your age have helped?

Well, I think if I had been younger or thought to have been younger, my story would have been a sexier one and maybe my book would have gotten more attention than it did--whether or not it deserved more is beside the point. The poetry world is not immune to America's youth obsession. Youth is the juice that moves the market.

Since I graduated, the opportunities for young writers have quadrupled and that's great. But, I worry that poets in their thirties and forties might be overlooked because of their diminishing youth. We shouldn't forget Wallace Stevens was 43 or 44 when Harmonium was published.

Anyway, I don't really look my age, so I wish I hadn't blown my own cover and instead kept the mystery alive. By the way, I'm 29.

What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published?

Enjoy it, enjoy all of it. Feel strong and feel proud. Don't waste your time worrying how the book will be received. Some folks will love it, some won't, and none of it really matters.

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

One thing I have noticed is that I had become less meticulous as a writer, which is partly documented by fewer revisions. I'm not exactly sure what's going on, but I think it has to do with that sense of liberation and a growing confidence in my powers. Hopefully that won't disappear overnight.

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

I was fortunate enough to have my book reviewed a number of times and they were all pretty positive, so I can't complain, although I was hoping for more of them, so I guess I am complaining.

I read the reviews and it was interesting to see what impressions and insights the reviewers came away with. Reading your reviews is sort of like reading your horoscope when you're high. Some of it seems so amazingly true, and some of it reads as if it had been written about someone or something else.

I think it's had no effect whatsoever on my writing.

Do you want your life to change?

Oh, yes, I do. It's not really life if it's not changing and evolving.

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

I'm reading, and I'm purging, and I'm planning.

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

Absolutely, it changes the world one person at a time.

:

A poem from Zoo Music by William D. Waltz:


Bear Trap

I dug a hole

in the wet woods
behind the swinging bridge.
I felt productive.

The lousy rains

flushed the rabbits out.
I could've used a bucket,
a pick, a hand,

but I felt productive digging

a well with a spade.
I smoothed the clay
sides with a trowel

made of ash and bone.

From the bottom
of my hole, hands
cupped for communion,

I bailed. Was it

precipitation or the water table?
I built a ladder with sticks
and wild grape vines,

carried brush and branches

and leaves into the pit.
I camouflaged
the opening with these.

Still the hole's mouth was manifest,

so I unraveled my ladder
and placed each rung
over the aperture.

I crouched in the trap

with one round stone
the shape of a skull
in my lap.

The woods were silent

save the last rain falling
onto the forest floor
and nature gently bending.

I waited.


. . .

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. . .

 

22 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

73. Maryrose Larkin

The Book of Ocean by Maryrose Larkin

How did your manuscript come to be published by i.e. Press?

The Book of Ocean manuscript was assembled in 2003 during a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. I had been working on various manuscripts in various forms since the mid-1990s. I would send around to contests, where it would be a finalist or semi-finalist every once in a great while.

By the time I put together The Book of Ocean, I was getting rather frustrated with the entire book contest process. There's a whole school of thought on manuscripts where you keep revising, adding new poems and subtracting old ones, until the manuscript is accepted for publication. I did this, and it made me crazy. I wanted to be writing new poems, new work, and trying to fit new poems with old poems made it hard for me to write anything new. I also wanted the book to be done with, I wanted the poems in the book to be done with, and one of the best ways to be finished with a poem is publish it, but that wasn't happening and it wasn't in my control.

So during the ACA residency, I put together everything that I thought could be a manuscript, and edited it into a shape. Then, I counted all times a word occurred in the book, and banned the top 10 nouns, verbs, and adjectives for two years. It seemed like a way to get away from The Book of Ocean without having it published. And I sent it around in 2004 and 2005, and was a finalist several times, but no book.

The Book of Ocean is the first book from i.e. Press. I met Catherine Daly, the editor, when she came to Portland to read in the Spare Room Reading Series. I had given her the manuscript when she was here and she had reviewed it on her blog. She told me that she might be starting a press in the future, and that she would be interested in publishing The Book of Ocean. In 2006, she decided to start i.e. and my book came out in May 2007.

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

The day my books arrived I was in Seattle visiting Sarah Mangold of Bird Dog fame. We run FLASH+CARD, a tiny press, and I had spent the day gluing pictures onto boxes. I got home around 1 a.m. and there was a note on my door from the lady with dementia across the street (she always starts her notes with my name is ______ and I live across the street), which said she had a package for me. I couldn't wake her up at 1 a.m. so I went to sleep.

I was so excited that I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and went outside and my neighbor brought out the books. I had the irresistible need to open the box in the middle of the street to show my neighbor, who was kind of weirded out by the whole thing.

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

What I hoped for more than anything is that having a book published will make it more likely for me to continue writing.

How has your life been different since?

It hasn't been particularly different. I was asked to read at Open Books in Seattle and that was really wonderful for me.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Originally Catherine Daly suggested that we try to make an old fashioned cover that would look somewhat like an antique science book, but we couldn't seem to get that cover beyond conception. I suggested an ocean cover, but Catherine did all the design work. She's been an astoundingly supportive editor and publisher.

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

I'm not sure. The book hasn't been out for very long.

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

I've done some readings, and sent the book out to all sorts of people. I like doing readings, mostly because I like to meet new poets. I'm working on sending the book out for review, and I am also trying to set up readings.

I've also set up a blog, mostly to sell FLASH+CARD publications.

I'd really like to be better about promoting, and I'm not. I think poetry is a gift economy and I don't feel all that comfortable about asking for gifts in general.

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

Putting the book together really helped my writing move forward, especially when I banned the words I overused.

I've become really interested in the physicality of books. I hadn't realized how different writing looks when it is in a book vs. on a screen or on a printed page. The shape of a poem changes so much based on size. I've seen work on a screen and then on a page and then in a book and it all seems to be different work. So I'm thinking a lot about the book or the page itself as enclosure

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

So far people have been very generous about The Book of Ocean. I'm really surprised by how much people like it. I'm finding it a little easier to sit down and actually write now that I have the book. I'm somewhat less likely to feel that I have to clean the floor, and go food shopping, and take care of everything before I have the luxury of writing.

Do you want your life to change?

Yes. I'd like to be less sick, I'd like to be better read and I'd like to be a better writer. I'm really afraid that I won't get all the writing done I'd like to.

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

I work for myself, and although that means I'm usually really broke, it makes time for writing and reading.

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

I think the practice or process of anything changes the world. I write because it makes the world more interesting not because my writing is in it but because the practice of writing changes me inside and the world outside simultaneously.

:

2 poems from The Book of Ocean by Maryrose Larkin:

 

     introduction to Book of Gardens

She considers 1 as bone
paradigms placed on asleep
Diatoms and   He : mud meek and skin
gash a mouth rib pulled out
Lost notebook in Galapagos
She reads beak and induction

Gas stations punctuated highway but they had
not stopped for days
delinquent hands to metal tides
asphalt colliding with sky
the absolution of realm
Far back a snake lies dead on a meridian

 

:

     Changeling

We cross the phenomena of light

Here is what we have twisted
There is the nature of

A name is not description but ornament, becoming and
undergoing

To be wholly replaced as we travel

Look how quickly she becomes other, a changeling

We can be hidden The jump to replace The action of will

This light, juxtaposed, determined as balance
A substitute of the will for this object which rapidly
becomes different

The ornament not describing, the name clinging
To form a constant

How quickly, in order to color, you hide: juxtaposed, free
To render other To endure loss

The letter I as ornament To replace all possible light
the will like object undergoes loss, becomes other, serpentine

The light, naming, hides under balance, a constant,
under time, this

 

. . .

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. . .

 

20 JULY 07

How has your first book changed your life?

72. Joel Bettridge

That Abrupt Here

How did your manuscript happen to be published by The Cultural Society? Had you sent it out much previously?

Zach Barocas (The Cultural Society's editor) published a few of my poems over the years in his magazine, so we were in touch occasionally. And then last summer (2006) he wrote to ask if I'd be interested in doing a project with The Cultural Society; we started throwing some ideas around and ended up with the current book. Everything The Cultural Society put out previously was really well designed. Plus the work was all by poets I admired, folks like Pam Rehm, Peter O'Leary, Devin Johnston, Michael Heller, and John Tipton, so I jumped at a chance to work with Zach and join that company of poets. Importantly for me, they all merge a lyrical and innovative sensibility, and are in their own ways practicing what I've noticed Ron Silliman call a third way in contemporary poetry (recently in reference to Cole Swensen's work, which is also a crucial touchstone for me). I'm increasingly drawn to this aesthetic and The Cultural Society publishes largely in that vein, so it felt like a good fit. I had not sent the manuscript out that much, just here and there and to the regular contests, but it never went anywhere, which I certainly don't regret. Given how well I think That Abrupt Here and The Cultural Society match up, I couldn't be happier with how it all worked out.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I knew I wanted to use a drawing by Joe Biel, who is a terrific L.A. artist. I met Joe when we were both teaching at the same university in California; he is one of those few people you meet who reads a lot of poetry even though he is not a poet, and I think his work shows it. Joe sent me some images and I passed them along to Zach with the names of a few books with covers I liked, just to give him a sense of my taste. Zach then came up with a bunch of designs and sent them to me, at which point I told him the ones I liked the most. Zach pretty much took it from there, sending me new versions until we arrived at a cover we both felt strongly about.

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

Like many of the other poets you've interviewed, I remember most clearly how odd it felt--a strange mixture of pleasure and foreboding. When the UPS truck pulled up I was talking on the phone to my friend Richard Deming, who is a great poet and one of the people who took a lot of time to work on the manuscript with me. So I just stayed on the phone with him, got the box off the truck and brought it inside. Then I opened the box with my pocketknife and looked at the books sitting there for a while. Then I looked at them a little more. Then I picked one of the books up and sort of turned it around, like the ape does with the bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then I cut the shrink wrap off it and flipped through the pages to see how the page layout, type, and titles looked. Richard was encouraging and made some appropriately ironic but still generous comments. Then I called my friend Kim LaRocca who'd also helped a great deal with the book. Then I went back to grading papers.

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

Not really. Too many of my friends have published books--I had a good sense of what to expect. Mainly I was looking forward to having the book in the world. I saw it as a way to participate more fully in the larger conversation around poetry--responding to the tradition of innovative writing and engaging with the work that is currently being published. I've spent the last decade or so reading, writing, and writing about poetry, and much of that energy involved figuring out how poetry worked and what I wanted it to do; the book, even with all its flaws, was an outgrowth of that process, a way to make that conversation with contemporary poetry and its tradition material. A decade is not that much time, of course, but it makes up a large part of my conscious life. Publishing That Abrupt Here has let me feel free to move on to a new set of concerns in my thinking about poetry.

How has your life been different since?

I can't say my life has changed in any remarkable way. My friends, family, and colleagues have been very kind, so that is nice, although they were solid before. The one peculiar fact I have noticed, like some of your other interviewees, is the way strangers and acquaintances take the book as a legitimizing force. I don't feel different, but some people apparently would feel differently about me if I didn't have a book. The economy of that interaction is interesting, and as I think about it, it makes sense really.

There is a great moment in James Baldwin's Another Country where one of the main characters, Vivaldo, introduces himself as a novelist, "unpublished," and you think, not just that he is acting like an asshole, but that he is staking his identity on his writing, and so the fact that he does not have a book that people can read throws his very presence in the world into doubt, which is to say nothing about that potential book's quality, which adds another element to his "character" and its legitimacy. Perhaps, in some way, I've made a similar move, however unconsciously. I'm not sure I would accept as valid the forces that make me feel as I do (although the forces don't appear to care one way or the other), but as I try to answer your question I can't help but notice that I do at least feel less like an asshole, or a self-deceived pompous bore, when the fact that I write poetry becomes a topic of conversation, there being some physical proof of it now. I can't say it comes as a surprise to learn this though; each time I read that novel I discover more ways I'm like Vivaldo than I'd care to be. Too bad really.

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

I'm still figuring out what, if anything, I should do. I have sent the book to people I wanted to have copies; the announcement was posted on a listserve or two. Zach has set up a few readings and one or two other people have been in touch about readings, so those should be fun. I do enjoy going to and doing readings, even if the latter is nerve-wracking. I have not done any of these events yet, so what those experiences will be like remains to be seen.

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

Oddly, I can't remember any particular advice. I'd already talked with most of my friends who had published books and read the answers to this question your other interviewees gave and internalized most of that.

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

The poems in That Abrupt Here are anywhere between nine and four years old, and after I finished them I did a series of poems that drew on Presocratic philosophy and the blues. Those poems ended up taking on a more narrative and, I hope, humorous form. Going back to the older poems got me thinking again about the concerns and possibilities of innovative, lyric poetry. For the poems I'm working on now, I'm trying to further explore humor and narrative, but, at the same time, I'd like to invest the work with the lyrical energy I've become interested in again. It might very well be a disaster.

I know your book is still very new but how do you feel about the critical response so far? Has it had any effect on your writing?

Most of the critical responses so far have been people writing to tell me what they think of the book, which has been gratifying. Also, it's been great to be able to exchange books with people, and that has opened up some new conversations with other poets.

Do you want your life to change?

I fear change. Plus, at this point, I feel particularly privileged. I moved to Portland last year and now I have an interesting job teaching at Portland State University and I have gotten to know a small group of poets here who make up a great poetry community. There is a group of writers who run a series as a collective called Spare Room (David Abel, Maryrose Larkin, Lindsay Hill, Mark Owens, Chris Piuma) and they set up at least two readings a month. Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand run the Tangent series and just hanging around with them is a good time. Also, Rodney Koeneke moved to town from San Francisco about the same time I arrived, and, as luck would have it, some old friends from Buffalo, Alicia Cohen and Tom Fisher, live here too. Kasey Mohammad even lives down the road in Ashland and Tim Shaner (another Buffalo friend) lives in Eugene and they often come up and Jared Hayes is around town as well. There are plenty of other interesting writers here too, but the point is that it is great to be part of such a vibrant poetry community again. I'd rather my life didn't change actually.

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

Poetry changed both how I live and how I think, and so if my life contributes in any way to change in the world I'd have trouble separating it from poetry. As an undergraduate I was lucky enough to have Mary Leader as a teacher and she introduced me to Language writing. The more I read the work, the more excited I became. I decided to write my honors thesis on Bruce Andrews's Getting Ready To Have Been Frightened, which eventually led me to the Buffalo Poetics Program, and that experience was certainly a transformative one for me. But even before that, when I was just starting to read Language writing, there was a moment I remember when I was waiting outside my advisor's door reading an essay on how form affects meaning and I understood suddenly, for the first time, that Truth, a concept I'd been largely motivated by, was shaped by the means of its expression. I realize that for many people the idea that form determines meaning is not a startling discovery, but for me it was. Oddly, at that moment, my politics, philosophy--my entire worldview really--shifted radically all at once. All the poetry, poetics, and philosophy I was reading came together to form a whole new lens for thinking about the world.

It is hard to describe to people who grew up with a more leftist perspective, but for me, the insight that Language writing, and subsequently the broader innovative tradition, provided was life altering. Looking back on this experience I would say that I think poetry can put people in a position to live differently--challenge their familiar modes of thinking, ask them to believe in new ways and develop new cultural, political, or philosophical concerns. In that way I think poetry can create change. I don't expect, or even want, a poem to operate in the world in the way a vote or a bullet does; I don't think that is what poems are for. I do not share the worry, which appears to be on the rise, that poetry is not directly political enough. Poetry, for me, has been and continues to be a means of navigating my environment--it is one of the ways of thinking that allows me to act in the world deliberately, and, I hope, with more insight and care. I never actually feel outside of poetry; as a way to make sense of my experience I can't think about poetry (or a single poem) as a tool, or as something apart from me, something I use to execute or demonstrate my politics. I might use poems to figure out my politics, among other concerns, but I don't substitute them for political actions.

:

from That Abrupt Here by Joel Bettridge:


Maundering

 

Unbelievable what today has been
And each night the big outside

 

After next year
five years will be plenty    I think

 

I did not think
change changed much

 

of course it didn't    when
carried through the day

 

till morning    steal in and cover me
Jesus    I did not think    I think

 

our benediction
lags despite our stumbling

 

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

18 JULY 07

Sekou Sundiata

Sekou Sundiata

An official statement from his family:

At 5:47 AM on Wednesday, July 18, 2007, my beloved Sekou Sundiata passed away.

On behalf of Sekou and his family, thank you all for your expressions of love and support and for your prayers. Cards can be sent to 296 Stuyvesant Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11221.

Details regarding funeral arrangements and donations will be forthcoming.

Maurine (Kazi) Knighton


Donations in memory of Sekou Sundiata may be made to the National Kidney Foundation at 30 E. 33rd Street, Suite 1100, New York, NY 10016.

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