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August 2007
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15 AUG 07

from Max's diary, August 14th:

K said later that she didn't cry until she was telling me. It's often that way. (Usually things don't seem completely real to me until I've told her.) She said: "I just heard that Elizabeth Murray died yesterday." For a split second I thought she meant Elizabeth Robinson--our house is so full of people now, or not people but their images, like a translucent version, their names, so many names in the air, and their work, their phrases mixed together--our house is full of poets. But then, in my memory, I saw Elizabeth Murray's art. And I pictured her from photographs, and from a television show a few years ago about artists.

Elizabeth Murray


K and I talked about illness, about the weeks or months or years before a person dies. We spoke of Bob Holman--I think of their daughters as young kids but they're probably in their 20s by now. Still really young to lose your mother. We said something about being the one who goes on living when the person you love doesn't. It's the next day.

Elizabeth Murray


We were standing by the books. Kate went over to the shelves, found a book we have of Elizabeth Murray's paintings and drawings. We sat on the edge of the bed, looked at pictures, reading her words on the opposite pages, her comments about the work.                  [click image below to enlarge]

"Painter's Partner III" a drawing by Elizabeth Murray

"I was thinking of Pilgrim's Progress and of painters being pilgrims." - Elizabeth Murray


I thought of the day K and I came to New York together the first time. We'd driven out from Oregon to see if we could live here, and after about a week and a half made a handshake deal with Tom Jackson: he would turn that old mess of wood that'd been a shelter for pigs into a building where Kate could paint, and we'd come back and rent it and find someplace nearby to live, that tiny duplex apartment where we'd be then for two years, behind the Chevrolet dealership, next door to a schoolteacher who was learning to play electric guitar. ("Chris is playing 'Satisfaction'!") Following the handshake, before we drove back across the country, we went in to Manhattan on the train. I wanted to start with the Empire State Building. Old school. After going up and coming down, we walked all the way to Soho, 35 or 40 blocks, to the (old) Paula Cooper Gallery. By accident we entered on the side street, where they had a smaller second room, but we didn't understand where we were. We tried to fathom how this space could be the famous Paula Cooper Gallery. That place we'd seen in photos of Borofsky's installations, how could that have possibly been just this room?

On each of the 4 walls hung a huge painting by Elizabeth Murray. There was only enough room for one per wall, their great shapes standing out with four to six inches--maybe even a foot--of depth, about 10 feet by 10 feet or more and really strong in the room. How did these paintings ever fit through the little doorway? We were completely disoriented. There was another door in one corner, slightly ajar, and I walked through it and found myself in a cramped hall, what I later realized would've been the offices of the gallery. I paused, eyeing some pieces of art hanging there, trying in vain to uncover the experience I'd been anticipating for months. A guy at a desk turned and asked if he could help me, I said no, that I was just looking, and he said, "This area isn't open to the public." I didn't say anything, didn't ask him for help with my confusion, I just walked back into the tiny gallery space. Kate was looking at the paintings. I whispered again, "How can this be the Paula Cooper?" K said, "But these are pretty great, right?" gesturing to the paintings she'd been taking in, intently, one by one. We looked at them together then, their construction, their paintedness. These were actual pieces of art that Elizabeth Murray had made, not reproductions, not pictures in magazines read hungrily in a little town 3,000 miles away.

"Formerly Fleet" photo from ARTseenSOHO


This afternoon, Kate decided to put together a post about Elizabeth Murray. We read the New York Times obituary, found other articles online, gathered up photos. I turned back to the job I'd started earlier, Kate sat at her computer hardly clicking her keyboard. After a while I asked, "When you think of her, what's the first thing that comes to mind?"

Elizabeth Murray

"The first thing? The way she looks. I always thought she was a great looking person. I'd like to look like her."

What else do you think of? "She seemed strong. And friendly. Her work doesn't look like anyone else's work. There still aren't very many women artists who've gone as far as she did. And she went that far while being a decent person. She worked hard. She was determined, she had drive. And she got there. She seemed to have integrity.

"You just want to feel that there are women who are strong, who might have a good marriage, who have integrity, and who manage to get there. I didn't know her. I don't know who she really was. But you need people out there who can--is 'example' the word? You need people out there who inspire you to keep going. She's one of those people."

Elizabeth Murray

:

from Elizabeth Murray: Paintings and Drawings:

with excerpts from her comments [click on images to enlarge]

"Yikes" a painting by Elizabeth Murray

"Yikes is my favorite cup painting because it reminds me of a forest.

... I also was thinking very specifically of the hand bursting out of the head and a yell created out of the negative parts or the white of the wall."

"Sail Baby" a painting by Elizabeth Murray

"It's about childhood and using yellow."

"Beginner" a painting by Elizabeth Murray

"I thought of the little mars violet spiral as the voice of the heart or the real inner part of the shape."

. . .

Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray
1940-2007

. . .

 

14 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

86. Collin Kelley

Better To Travel

You published your first book yourself, using iUniverse. Why? Had you sent the manuscript out to publishers and contests previously?

From the late 90s to early 00s, I sent Better To Travel out in various forms to dozens of contests and open readings. It was like playing the lottery and I wasn't having any luck--not to mention the entry fees, printing, and postage were bleeding me dry. I had just lost my agent in New York, who was trying to sell a novel I had written, and was worn down by the whole experience. Many of the poems in the collection had been published in journals and magazines over the past decade, so I knew the work was viable. In 2002, Christeen Snell, the director of the Fayette County/Margaret Mitchell Library, secured a small grant from the Friends of the Library and told me to go publish the book of poems. I felt like I had nothing to lose and knew I had the savvy to market the book myself. Despite the flack and criticism from some parts of the poetry community, I have no regrets.

What form did this flack and criticism take? What beef did some poets have and how did they make it known to you?

The flack and criticism from other poets was usually in a dismissive tone or attitude once they learned Better To Travel was self-published. Sometimes it was almost an imperceptible change in voice or attitude, but it was obvious they found it distasteful. I had one poet--quite well known--who embarrassed the hell out of me at a table full of other well-known poets by directly asking what my "credentials" were. He used that exact word. After I stammered my way through a response, he sort of sniffed the air and never spoke to me again the rest of the evening. I was initially snubbed from being invited to some readings (including the KGB Bar in New York) and events and, of course, bookstores always rolled their eyes when I walked in with my stack of self-published books looking for shelf-space. I've read some self-published collections of poetry and fiction that are rubbish, so I can understand the attitude, but there are exceptions to the rule.

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

I felt both pride and fear. I was thrilled to have the physical book in my hand but also knew there was a long row to hoe in getting the collection to an audience, getting press coverage, getting reviewed and being taken seriously after self-publishing.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Since I am a bit of a control freak, being able to work with a designer to create the exact cover I wanted was satisfying. After finding the photograph of the winter tree in northern England, everything else fell into place. I was talked into having the "selected poems" tag added to the cover because the editor/designer I worked with thought it gave the book more weight. It's amateurish and inappropriate, and if I take the book elsewhere that tag will disappear.

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

I knew I was going to be busy juggling my day job as a newspaper editor and coming home in the evenings and being a poet. I didn't have any delusions of grandeur. I knew it was going to be a lot of hustling, traveling, begging and ass-kissing for at least a year.  I wasn't expecting to make any money either. I just wanted my work in front of an audience.

Has your life been different since?

I have made so many friends and met some of my poetry idols since Better To Travel and my chapbook, Slow To Burn, were published. I've also had the opportunity to travel all over the country and to the UK to give readings and workshops. My writing has improved by being able to work with so many people and have a whole new "critique circle" at my disposal.

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

I can't really point to any expectation I had that didn't materialize. One really sad surprise is how bitchy, territorial and condescending some poets can be, especially those who have already cemented their reputations.

Another was being told recently by a well-known publishing house that Better To Travel "didn't count" as a first book since it was self-published. They refused to read my new collection, Wake, suggesting I submit it to their first book prize. I sent a rather screechy letter back to the press and got up in arms on my blog about it. I know it chaps a lot of asses that my self-published book has sold so many copies, received good reviews and was nominated for a couple of big awards. I don't have an MFA, I'm not tenured, I haven't been published in Poetry. I've worked outside the mainstream of what a "successful" poet is supposed to do to reach this point in my writing life. I won't apologize for working my ass off, but I will cop to having had an incredible amount of luck and opportunity. I have faith that Wake will be judged on its literary merits, and a forward-thinking press will pick it up in the future. Did I mention that I'm also an eternal optimist? God only knows how many asses that chaps.

Probably the best surprise was meeting MetroMania Press publisher Tanya Keyser at the Austin Poetry Festival in 2005. She was a fan of my work and when she asked to publish Slow To Burn I was elated.

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

As a journalist, I knew exactly how to present the book to newspapers and magazines to get a response. The goal was to start locally and slowly spread Better To Travel beyond the southeast. Getting good reviews, especially a cover mention in the Lambda Book Report, helped. I gave business cards with the book title to everyone I met, posted up flyers around town for readings, created a website and blog and took books to indie bookstores and talked them into stocking it. I pretty much went anywhere I was invited to read--no matter how big or how small--and most of the time at my own expense. I was fortunate to hook up with two amazing poets--Cecilia Woloch and John Amen--and we all had new books out at the same time and did a lot of joint readings. Sometimes we'd have huge crowds and sometimes we performed for handful of people. At some readings we ran out of books and others we wouldn't sell any at all. It was a mixed bag of experiences, but I was meeting new people, getting my work in front of an audience and having a lot of laughs.

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

That it's okay to say "no" occasionally when it comes to readings and being asked to serve on boards and plan events. I am very active in the Atlanta poetry/spoken word scene and sometimes it's overwhelming, but I also feel I need to walk the walk if I'm going to talk the talk. So many poets don't want to support other writers, events or venues, but I think it's a vital part of being a poet and extending the community. Best advice: Patricia Smith told me to ignore the bastards who tell you that poetry has to be done a certain way--written, published, promoted--to matter.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get a first book published?

Enter the contests and submit to open readings, but also consider micro-presses and self-publishing. It really depends on what you want to accomplish with your poetry. Many poets are looking for a teaching job and a first book award or publication by a traditional press can be the key, but if teaching is not your thing or you're just looking for an audience, consider all the options. Your writing is ultimately about your self-expression and art--it shouldn't become bogged down in business.

Are you going to self-publish your second book?

I will if I have to, but I'm going to explore indie presses first. I've entered Wake in a couple of contests, but I've set a limit. I'm not so fussed about winning any more awards at this point. I want this work in front of an audience, so by any means necessary remains my motto.  I enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working with MetroMania Press on Slow To Burn so to work with another micro or indie press on Wake would be fantastic.

Has the book's publication had an effect on your writing?

Absolutely. I cringe at some of the work in Better To Travel. My line breaks are terrible, images are not fully fleshed out and some of it seems juvenile now, but I think it documents a creative time in my life when I was traveling in Europe and around America. I think my poetry has improved tenfold since Better To Travel. I've had great mentors these last four years who have emboldened and challenged me to improve my knowledge and craft. I've also become an absolute believer in revision, revision, revision. For Wake and the new poems I'm working on now, it's all about taking it further--exploring sexuality and politics and naming names. Better To Travel was a safe book, but anyone who's read Slow To Burn knows that there has been an evolution in both my voice and subject matter. And that was just a warm up.

How do you feel about the critical response and has it influenced your subsequent writing?

I was pleased that 99 percent of the reviews were all positive. Only one reviewer took me to task for being self-indulgent and I wasn't too upset by it. The good reviews didn't have anything to do with the subsequent work. By the time Better To Travel was published, I was already working on new poetry that would eventually wind up in Slow To Burn and Wake. I can't imagine my writing being influenced by a review. I have to go where the poetry leads me, not where others think I should go.

Do you want your life to change?

I would eventually like to make enough money writing (not just poetry) to retire to England. That's my spiritual home. I have many friends there and I find the muse is always in residence when the plane touches down in London. I've had the great fortune to perform and co-edit an anthology in the UK and those experiences have been the most rewarding yet since I embarked on this "career" as a poet.

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

I should be trying to pay off my credit cards and save my money, but I'm terrible about that. Travel is an impetus for much of my writing. If I can't travel, then I'm fucked. Travel ain't cheap these days, especially to Europe. Maybe I should spend some of my creative time looking for a sugardaddy. Hmmm...

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

I think every time someone picks up a book of poetry it subtly changes him or her. A book of poetry can open new worlds, thoughts and ideas. If someone is moved by what they read, or even if they dislike it, maybe they will be inspired to seek out more or write their own. The Internet, blogging, online 'zines, micro-presses and print-on-demand are definitely changing the landscape of poetry...for the better. It's no longer tied up in academia or controlled by The Academy. It's been set loose in the virtual world and there's a whole new group of young poets who are revolutionizing the way we will receive, read and understand poetry in the future. Amen to all that!

Poetry has certainly changed my world. If it weren't for Anne Sexton, Stan Rice, Sharon Olds, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, I wouldn't be answering these questions.

:

2 poems from Better To Travel by Collin Kelley:


The Gallows Coat

Black folds ripple,
your coat on the door.
It hangs there still,
a modern day shroud
in appropriate color.
Resurrected from the
closet floor, a misshapen
mass of fibers.
I smoothed the sleeves
once filled by your arms.
Pressed the cuffs that
collared fists.
Clenched or unclenched,
your hands were always
enraged.
I press the cloth close,
but never slip it on.
It is too large and consuming.
Pockets lined with old
delusions.
I make this door your
gallows and leave you
there to swing.


Better To Travel

The unused black
umbrella bit my
hand today.
Cheap, angry metal
and plastic offering
travel tips:
Take me someplace
where it rains.


. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

13 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

85. Logan Ryan Smith

The Singers by Logan Ryan Smith

How did your manuscript happen to be published by Dusie Press Books? Had you sent it out often before that?

Thanks for asking, Kate. I had written the first draft of The Singers in June of '05, and spent about the next 12 or 13 months working on the book. Not that I was working on it every day all of those months, but after those 12 or 13 months I decided I was done with the book. And on that very day I received an email from Susana Gardner of Dusie asking if I had a book-length manuscript she could consider for her new Dusie Press Books, with which I was familiar because Susana had sent me a copy of Elizabeth Treadwell's Cornstarch Figurine and Susana had earlier published my e-chapbook, 2 poems from the bottom of the barrel, in the 1st *dusi/e-chap kollectiv. Of course I was seriously flattered and sent her The Singers. The timing was just so ridiculous, because I was at that point of hating the manuscript, and at the same time feeling pretty good about it because it was the first book of that length I had ever written; and it was a troublesome book, originally over 200 pages, I think, that I had to whittle down to its current 80-whatever pages. So, it was tremendously flattering, but also a huge relief. I had this book that I lived with for a year and was pretty tired of, and now I can let it go. Sort of.

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

Well, Kate, that's not exactly easy to answer, because there is a little bit of thrill stolen from the whole process. I mean, I'm supposed to say that I saw it and was all, like, "Wowza," but that didn't happen. First off, I'd seen a handful of proofing copies, which were bound and done just like the final copy, except that the final version has a different cover. Plus, the whole process took so much time that by the time I saw the final book I was, once again, relieved. Like, "Thank fucking God that's over." Relief, Kate, I think is the key word here in this interview that I'm sure I'll revisit in later answers.

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

I dreamed of relief, Kate. See, we're there already. Didn't take long, did it? I dreamed of amber waves of relief. I dreamed of a day where my book would finally be really for reals "finished." It was a difficult, time-consuming, and tiresome process finally getting The Singers published. There were technical difficulties that required me downloading a trial version of InDesign so that I could get the file Susana was working on and fix the spacing, which had been fucked with throughout the entire book. Somehow my Word doc didn't like mingling with Susana's Mac, further instilling my absolute hatred of Macs. If I could wipe Macs off the face of the earth, I would. (Mac people, don't email me now trying to convince me of Apple's glowing capabilities and superiority. I don't fucking buy it. Macs suck. THEY SUCK!) Anyway, there were lots and lots of "little" things that kept coming up, and it was very tedious. So, Kate, I dreamed of relief. And, relief, Kate, is what I found. Sort of.
 
How has your life been different since?

People seem to think of me as a really for reals poet now. I guess the hundreds of pages I'd written before The Singers didn't qualify me.

Oh, I'm only kidding. I just love pretending I have a humungous chip on my shoulder. It's funny.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I was asked at first what I would like the cover to look like, and I wanted something that reflected the influence that New Wave and Post-Punk music had on the book, but in the end none of my input was put into the cover. So, no, I guess.

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

What I thought would happen is that no one would read it. Some people are reading it, or have read it. That surprises me. And the response has also been surprisingly positive. I was surprised, Kate, that people didn't hate this book. I mean, look at all that rhyme I used. Nobody likes rhyme anymore, right?

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

I've forcefully told people thru my blog that they should read my book. I was also recently invited by Mike Young to read with him at Pegasus Books in Berkeley. I had bought a bunch of copies of my book to sell at the reading. I didn't read much from it but a couple people bought it anyway. And I gave a bunch away, too. But, really, I don't know how to promote myself. Some people somehow have successfully used their blogs to become some sort of mini-celebrity, but I'm incapable of that. And not interested, either. Also, thinking about promoting myself is so BORING! So, I just go with the flow, Kate.

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

If somebody wants to publish your book, great. Awesome. If not, do it yourself.
 
What influence has the book's publication (or acceptance) had on your subsequent writing?
 
I would have to say it's less the book's publication or acceptance, and more its completion, its finalization that could be said to have any influence. And with it stamped with the "I'm done stick a fork in me" stamp, I can move on. I have to sort of carry a book thru all the way to the finish line before I can get to the next one. So, its finalization allowed me to write another book. But what The Singers did for me is show me I can write books of longer length, and still maintain that "bookness" without trailing off into a disparate collection of "poems." Bah.

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

I feel very good about the response so far, Kate. People have been very open to the book and have reached out to me to let me know they've read it and what they thought about it. I really appreciate that. So often you put something out there and it falls off into a bottomless pit--no echo, no nothing. And the responses so far are sort of more like emotional outbursts than critical thinking when people talk of it. And I like that. I like that when you take that little hammer and hit someone below the knee their leg involuntarily twitches.

Do you want your life to change?

Absolutely, Kate. I'm broke and lonely. But I look good doing it.

So, Logan, do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

No way.


:


from The Singers by Logan Ryan Smith:


Monks were somewhere in This. Scrolling through the Internet, probably. Cashing in their chips at the chanting tables, ahead by a prayer. Folding now their robes before hard beds. Song outlasts. Sentenced to absolutions. Solitude. A great fear and light. Before the night where one's been down, bedded down, criss-crossed the road and velvet sun. At the back of Hope. On top. In tune...

Battlement days breaking like San Francisco in summertime-
expected-quakes. Swords swinging like tongues and shaking the tops of things.

And I think you understand Song, by now.

You heard it as an unborn in the womb before your ears were made. If not, you're hearing it now, just somewhere else less anchored. A forest. One where leaves are made of honey, and bark is skin good
to fall asleep against.
                               Or bleed.

Granted. I'll take this song for its point. That is the point. I'll stay here, thank you, and talk to you from here. I can listen from here, see? That's the point that I've been dragging. Convincing you through them that I can be Here. Now. And There then. Later. Some other time, I can talk to you with equal matter.

We can sit down, now, you and I. Any time.


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12 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

84. Christine Hamm

The Transparent Dinner by Christine Hamm

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

I had sent out many, many manuscripts before (probably about 15 since 2001, which was when I started writing poetry regularly and seriously), but I had only sent out The Transparent Dinner to three places (all simultaneously). All three expressed interest--one ultimately decided it was "too raw," one wanted me to pay $3,000, and one was Mayapple. It took Mayapple a while before they were clear about it--they expressed interest a couple times over a four month period before actually committing.

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

As soon as I got it out of the box I generally acted like one of those National Clearinghouse Winners on TV--lots of whooping and dancing and typing emails in all caps.

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

I thought that I would magically and completely and instantly be changed into a "real writer" and I thought this change would manifest itself physically somehow, so people could tell just by looking at me. (Hence the tattoo that reads "real writer" across my left wrist.) I thought having a book published would make it a lot easier to get my work published in general. It hasn't.

Has your life been different since?

My book came out just after I started my first year at a graduate program (I'm getting my PhD in Lit) and once my professors found out, they all made announcements in class and read the reviews out loud to every one, etc. It was simultaneously embarrassing and a little thrilling. I think most of the students avoided me after that. Some became visibly annoyed every time a professor called me "the poet" in class rather than my name. (I've never seen eyes roll quite so hard).  

My fellow writers (outside of school) have been quite supportive. I think they understand how the book feels a little like a baby--they ask after it sometimes, make parenting suggestions.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yep. I designed the front cover. The painting on the cover is a collage and painting I made specifically for the book. I now wish I went with something a little brighter--but hindsight's always 20/20. The publisher designed the back cover.

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

I was surprised when one of my elderly professors cornered me and told me she really liked the sex in the poems--she found it "very realistic." I was surprised recently when one bookstore owner insisted that my book was self-published and was reluctant to stock it. Every time someone said they read and liked it I was surprised. Yet, simultaneously, I expected some sort of acclaim, perhaps a small parade. I'm complicated that way.

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

I've done a lot more readings, and I've bought a couple ads. I bought an ad on poets.org for a month. Didn't make a single sale through it. It was pretty though.

I've gone to a couple bookstores and asked them to stock my book. I hate promoting myself in person that way. Mostly I'd rather chew off my right hand than tell people how great my work is. I had one bookstore promise to carry it, then that manager got promoted and the new manager refused to stock it. That was quite humiliating, being turned down after I was promised. I did a reading at a bookstore in New Brunswick. The bookstore staff was wonderful. They bought 20 copies of the book and made a display. They put cookies out. Only one person showed up, and all he wanted to do was read his own poetry to me. It was so horrible I get flashbacks just thinking about it.

I like doing the readings (when I'm not by myself), but sometimes I get tired of reading from my book. I want to read my new work.

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 that I would not actually gain any superpowers--also that people would be shocked when they read it, and that some men would instantly think I was the physical embodiment of the poem "Slut." I also wished someone had told me that no one was going to be quite as impressed by the fact that I published a book as I was.

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

It's definitely given me more confidence about my writing. It's given me a sense of accomplishment--sometimes I go back to the book and reread it, and I realize it doesn't completely suck. I think the sequence of poems hangs together pretty well--the success of that kind of cohesion allowed me to consider writing more series of poems. The manuscript I sent out recently, The Saint of Lost Causes, is also made up of some very closely linked poems. This time, the book's even more like  a novel--there are repeating characters who grow and develop.

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

Many people have been quite complimentary (which always surprises me). I was very surprised by the fact that many people read the book as straight autobiography. In fact, the poems have about the same relation to my real life as my dreams do. I didn't realize some people would find it so disturbing--they said it gave them nightmares, and one person said my work made them "queasy." One of my supervisors at Rutgers (where I teach) said it brought up really bad memories from his childhood and he was sad that he had read it. I was really thrilled when I got a review from Jen Tynes, because she really understood the purpose of a lot of the poems.

Because of people's responses, my writing has become a little more subtle, but the subject matter has not. I just realized that I can imply rather than outright state, and readers will still get the point. I've also been working outside of the first person point of view a lot more--I think different points of view make readers consider the poem as something more deliberately created. They don't immediately assume that I'm just writing reportage (I hope).

Do you want your life to change?

I'm actually pretty happy with the direction my life is headed.  I wish my writing would change and always keep changing--I really want it to improve. I wish I could work on poems longer--they're always done within a week or so; Elizabeth Bishop took decades on her poems. I'd like to be able to enter a poem that way and be able to stay with it for a long time. I'd like to get a good teaching job in academia, but that's in the future.

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

I'm trying to study the work of other poets who I admire--see what makes them tick. I want to apply everything I learn to my own work.

I plan to do my dissertation on post WWII female poets. I think an intense scrutiny of their work will help me deepen my own process.

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

I think that's a difficult question because it's hard to say what constitutes change and what constitutes the world. I believe the world is made up of things both infinitely small and incredibly huge. I think people are changed by reading a poem, that it somehow enters them and rewires the language centers in their brains, even if only a little. I think that people are changed by everything they encounter, that everything is absorbed and processed somewhere, somehow. In terms of large cultural and political change, I think some anti-war poetry has been fairly successful in changing people's points of view. Randall Jarrell did a very good job with that. Also, Reed's poem, "Lessons of the War," seems to have influenced people. I haven't read any good antiwar poems that are post WWII, however. Maybe they're out there. I think e.e. cummings' poetry probably changed the world in that it made people less afraid of poetry--or maybe that was just my experience with it as a child.

:

2 poems from The Transparent Dinner by Christine Hamm:


Love is All Around

Your breath this morning, foul, loved,

out the open window, hammering, overlapping
   chattering

my tongue so far down your throat I can
           taste
                      Wednesday's dinner, corn and roses

an old man in army boots stumbles down
                                           a bright alley

marks from previous floods on the walls

stones older than Christ    the hum
                    of flies

screech of  birds, unseen

Now I lock myself in the bathroom
                    and shrink
                    I am small enough to slip under the door

sneak into the toe of your boot    you will wear me
squashed and red         a foolish tick

dark around the edges
shadows or burn marks  in the bedroom add
                                                 contrast

the negative space of your forehead  my thumb

smoothing your brows
left, right, left

 

Discount Heaven

The dogs that eat us so sweetly
are telling us they love us the only
way they know how
with their tongues

we are beyond choke chains here
beyond leashes
beyond spilt garbage cans
accidents on Mom's best sofa

beyond chasing a squirrel to the middle
of the street      beyond apologies
with tented sensitive brows for biting
the neighbor's boy as he held a tennis ball
just out of reach

beyond standing at their shoulders
as they strain forward      we are
underneath now

it is slow       this kind of loving
death       it is the kind God reserves
for angels

you can see it as they lick their dripping
chins        the sentient and caressing tongues
we are their angels

and we taste like presents  like the ripping

open of presents to them

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11 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

83. Joshua Poteat

Ornithologies

How did you find out that your manuscript had won the 2004 Anhinga Poetry Prize? How often had you sent it out previously?

Voicemail. My wife and I were out of town, so Rick Campbell of Anhinga left a message saying that I won, that Campbell McGrath was the judge, that kind of thing, which was nice of Rick, since time is of the essence. I kicked my PR team into gear (a lazy-ass pug named Ruben, two pencils, and a can of Coke Zero) and got to work immediately, i.e., I watched an episode from the first season of Veronica Mars. I don't mind voicemail at all, actually. Some find it impersonal and distancing, but that's exactly why it's so good, you know? My wife heard the message first, then threw the phone to me. Luckily, it was cordless. I was in our backyard. I wasn't too surprised, actually, since Campbell McGrath is an old family friend, and he said earlier that summer on the beach in Cape Cod when he finally got to judge a contest he would pick me no matter how bad the book was. Just kidding. I still haven't met or talked to the guy. But I do love his work. The Bob Hope poem? Holy crap.

This was my first manuscript, so I sent it to the requisite prizes for 3 years or so (after taking a number of years off from writing anything at all, but that's another boring story), gradually getting more finalist notices as time went on. Yale Younger? Hell no. Walt Whitman...who? But the T.S. Eliot Prize, National Poetry Series, Copper Canyon, Ohio University, Phil Levine Prize, New England/Breadloaf, and some other ones, yes. It's good to know that you're doing something almost right, you know you're headed in the right direction, et al., but most of the time I'd rather not know I'm a finalist in anything, including jury duty, dentist appointments, and parking spaces, because it doesn't matter that much, really, if you think about it. Knowing such a thing, that is. Ultimately, where does it put you? Also, I have to think about being a finalist for a couple months, and that's no fun. I'm kind of glad the ol' book didn't get taken right away (as if), since I kept subtracting and adding to the book. Looking at it now, I occasionally wish that I had waited even longer, worked on it harder, that kind of thing. My work ethic could use a little work.

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

I remember not getting one of the two boxes of books Anhinga sent. More than likely, someone stole it off our front porch. I would have loved to see that thief's face when he/she opened the box. (Ipods? Bars of gold? Pornography? No, my friend, something so much better. You're welcome.) It was quite nice, though, to see the non-stolen finished book. I'm kind of a pessimist about most things, especially concerning poems, but I admit to being slightly excited. They came right before x-mas, which was convenient.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yep. I wanted the book to look as old as possible without hiring underage workers to scuff and stain each book. That gets expensive. And illegal. I have a collection of old photos that I occasionally use to make things, such as light boxes, collages, scrapbooks, doilies, baby blankets, bible holders, bilge pumps, etc., so I used one of those that had water-marks, tears, abrasions, and I added bird images with a glue stick and my keen sense of spatial placement. My theory was to use the front of the photo for the front of the book, and the back of the photo for the back/blurb area of the book, so when holding said book, it is like holding an old fucked-up photograph. Lots of people ask me if the guy on the front is a relative of mine.

Lynne Knight at Anhinga did all the pushing of buttons, though. I know nothing about Photoshop. And she tilted the title just so, added a frontispiece, made the author photo look just as old, gave me a wide selection of fonts. I refuse to take credit for it. Well, most of it. It was actually lovely working with Anhinga on the book. I highly recommend them.

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

I went from a guy without a book to a guy with a book, which is exactly how I imagined it. If I had the self-confidence to imagine that my life would change with a book, I probably wouldn't be a poet. I would be a well-dressed project manager for a minor advertising firm managing accounts such as Shoney's or Miller Lite. I don't mean to be silly about all of this. I realize I should be honored in some way to even have a book, win a prize. And I am. I just have a few problems--one of them is believing that anything I do matters to the world. I have a hard time with that one. On a bad day, I think that writing could easily be substituted for any other sort of distraction, such as television, soccer, gardening, Trivial Pursuit. Anything to keep us from thinking about the end of our selves.

Has your life been different since?

I guess it's been a little different, despite the above answer. I picked up a few readings from places such as Nebraska, Colorado, New Jersey, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Florida, all lovely tourist destinations...and I met folks who I wouldn't have normally gotten to meet. If that is what having a book does, lets you travel and meet amazing people, then by God give me another. 

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

Promotion is a funny thing to me. I come from a punk rock background. I played drums in a few bands that toured here and there, put out records (the vinyl kind), booked shows at tiny clubs, big clubs, bars, houses, basements, garages, skate parks, record stores, colleges, motels, libraries (thanks Huntington Beach Library!). Keep in mind that this was pre-Internet, mid-nineties. Still, all one had to do was get the right phone numbers and you had a show, a string of them across the country, even in Europe if you were adventurous enough. I got used to playing in front of 7 people, so when 2,000 showed up, it was even better. (This did not happen often, and usually involved a bigger headlining band, such as Fugazi. Opening for Fugazi is like opening for Jack Gilbert.)

The poetry scene right now reminds me so much of my punk scene back then. Kind of underground, full of a strange energy, readings available anywhere, no money, sleeping on floors, cool people coming together from disparate backgrounds with the same idea in mind, small presses, set lists, PA systems, selling books after the reading, something pure underneath it all, etc. etc. I could go on. The only difference is now we have the internet. Blogs have become the new fanzines. A good review on a blog can turn a few readers your direction (thanks Jake York!). If that's what you're into. Oh, there's another difference. You can actually make money off punk these days.

So when Anhinga sent me on a week-long tour of Florida after the book came out (another reason why Anhinga is awesome...honorariums, expenses paid, what the hell?!), I suddenly felt nostalgic. And it was a lot easier than being in a band. No drums to set up. No sweaty bars and drunk dudes with attitude problems. I had done readings that involved travel before this, of course, but it was like touring without a record. What I've been trying to say is the book has made me realize how lucky I am to be a poet. And how joyful it is. Promotion is more than just accumulating sales.

Also, bad reviews are funny and helpful. A kid in New Jersey called me a "fucktard" on his blog. He hated the way I read. I think he was more used to a slam style of reading, in which I have no training. Good reviews are nice, too.

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

Shoot, I don't know. I kind of knew what I had to do going into it, and I did very little. The best advice after the fact, though, comes from Noah Eli Gordon, who takes the prize money in extra copies of the book. He then gives away tons of books, just to get the books out there. I highly admire this non-capitalist version of poetry.

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

Don't get cocky. Someone with a small moustache once said the only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless. No, it wasn't Hitler.

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

Closure, mostly. It let me move on to new projects. Otherwise, I would probably still be working on the same old book full of dead birds. How many dead birds can a guy fit into a book? A lot.

Do you want your life to change?

Mostly. I wish my dogs could talk. I eventually wouldn't mind changing jobs, from a junk mail proofreader to perhaps some form of teacher. I kind of miss teaching.

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

75 milligrams of Effexor every day seems to take the edge off. There's definitely something missing, though. Not enough soccer, probably. I realize I shouldn't complain. There are much worse things happening to people around the world than plain ol' white- male-middle-class-American-sadness. It's all I know how to do, though. Any advice concerning such issues would be wonderful.

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

This question is worded rather well. If it said can poetry change the world? I would probably answer no (keep in mind who's answering it). However, worded the way it is right now, with a full moon outside lighting up the alley, I think it probably can.

:

A poem from Ornithologies by Joshua Poteat:


Nocturne: For the River

I can't bear to be forgotten by any more people,
and walking home under these anonymous street lamps

it would be easy to slip under the cobblestones
and sleep away the nights, comfortable and alone.

Even the street lamps have forgotten me,
forgotten how to give their light,

the sickly powder-orange of a child's mouth
full of aspirin is all they can muster now.

It's sad, yes, but it's also a little too...participatory.
There's no avoiding them, no resemblance

to the living, to the morning light they mimic.
There's a Buddhist proverb:

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world,
and I've tried, believe me, smiling the pink smile

of a lamb, a quarter in a blind girl's cup,
but does it mean to breathe in this airy version

of asbestos or to keep walking these streets,
smashing each light to reclaim some small, hidden

memento from a time when there was hope?
Tonight, a south wind brings me the scent

of the tobacco plant across the river,
and the bread factory a few blocks away

has given up its loaves to the air,
which redeems us in a way, I think,

for redemption is nothing more
than a breaded wind pulling a night from frailty.

Tell me, Robert E. Lee, of the hundred-year sleep,
of mice skulls in owl dung, your bronze head

bearing the weight of catacombs hidden
in the itch of amputees, gas-lit, forlorn.

Tell me, J.E.B. Stuart, that everything will be o.k.,
that your horse is facing north because

she misses the snowy fields.
Tell me, sad horse, with doves nesting

under your raised hoof, in this century of longing,
how can I go on loving this ruined excuse for a city,

sleepy-sweet night, sweet cicada,
sweet oak, sweet old nothing?

Sad-eyed Matthew Brady, come down to me
from your glass-plated heaven of iodine,

from your tent-city of wagons in a muddy field
where my apartment building now stands,

years of smoke rising between us,
and watch the reflection of crows

roost far below the water in the tulip trees
as Whitman did once after the war,

from a skiff in the shallows of the James,
pale gold, the play of light

coming and going, bats and thrushes
alive with stars, woven over the musical trees 

and over the past, over the milky blossoms
of wild carrot, or, oblivion.

And so, like the river in the distance
humming the trestle-song of night trains,

its skin seeming to hold twilight, delay it,
I stand among these street lamps

a forgotten man, and let the South's last summer
rise up and consume me.


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10 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

82. Miguel Murphy

Your first book has been reprinted? Tell me about that. Who published it initially?

My book--what a fantastic thing to say, like the first time newlyweds must use the words "husband" "wife"--or the way new lovers first use the word "we"--

A Book Called Rats was selected by Michael Heffernan for the Blue Lynx Prize from Lynx House Press in 2002, and was published the next year, in August 2003. Lynx House was a small poetry press that published books since the year I was born, 1974--(they published Yusef Komunyakaa's early book, Lost In the Bonewheel Factory). In August 2006 I was contacted by Eastern Washington University Press, informing me they had acquired Lynx House, and would now be publishing the winners of their Spokane Poetry Prize as Blue Lynx titles. My book sold out, and they wanted to re-print it.

Publication is always such an unreal joy. The news is almost better than the thing itself. I was emotional about that first edition--stunned on the beaches, stupid with joy, though I'm actually much happier with the printing this time around. I felt that what ends up in print is the real prize, the garland, you know? --and it is! The book is a kind of mirror that should reflect not your actual life, but your imagined life. There's something beautiful about a book that is your own--whether you hold it or hide from it. I did a little of both with that first edition. It's beyond me how it's gotten a reprint, because I literally have done nothing to promote it. Not one reading. The little bastards ate their way through!

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

The news of a second printing is as stunning as finding out you've been selected for a prize. It lights you, accidental. Lustrous. I can't even begin to convey my naked absolute surprise. I thought last summer that it was a fluke, there must be some catch, this is not really going to happen. There was a minute after signing the new contract that I was informed they had found some copies of the first version, and I thought, oh. That's it. This will never happen. I sort of forgot about it. Then late spring things got rolling again. Everyone at EWU was my friend and accomplice--they let me fix some mistakes and help with the new cover.

Steve Meyers the marketing guy had sent me an e-mail telling me he had a copy in his hands and was mailing them to me, so I had an eye out all week. The day I got the package I was exhausted. My bicycle had been stolen so I had just walked home after 6 hours of summer school. I ripped it open like a piece of chocolate--and there were two copies of it with a little post it over the ass-crack, "hoola optional." It's just perfect. I called all my friends, went to my parents' house to show them. I sent my press a thank you box of gourmet chocolates and a note that steals a line from Willa Cather--that I felt "deliciously yet delicately fired"--I feel like I've won the lottery! Like I've fallen in love! It's unquantifiable this happiness. It's transformative and too big--This is the book that is my own. Proof of my existence. My heart's artifact.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

My mother is an artist and I've always had a very particular vision of the book as an object. I knew I wanted a say in the cover. The first time around, the cover I selected didn't work out. This time it was the first thing I asked for. I was told I could send them any images or ideas, as EWU was giving it a new ISBN and a new cover, if reasonable, was possible. I stalked the Mexican painter Julio Galan, a contemporary artist, one of the thorns in my crown of favorites--the same week he gave me permission he died. I then went through his family for permission and they've been terribly gracious. I couldn't be happier than in their debt. The painting itself speaks to the ugly erotics, the sad sexual glamour, the dangerous appeal of the darker poems in the book.

The cover is important. I think about how presses market while I comb the bookstores, and I feel like the good covers are more than marketing tools. I think as artists we need our books to really stand as beautiful objects. The cover is more than a mirror. It's a shield, a door, a flag. This is the thing that stands for us, for our poems and their struggles. I'm intensely grateful to Julio and his family, because my poems really do speak to his work. This sort of dialogue creates a kind of brotherhood between image and language, a symbolic kinship that makes the experience of buying, holding, reading a book complete. I remember a few years ago working at The Bilingual Review/Press and seeing other authors upset by the choices a press makes in a different interest than the author's artistic vision. For an author it can be both frustrating and disheartening. Suddenly your book isn't yours. I think it's important for writers to feel like the book is their own, a possession, but also a creation, something they can gift. I really feel that I share this book with the staff at EWU, who have been so open and supportive of this as a vision of my creative life. It's really "our" book, and the final cover, my cover, exemplifies that.

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

When I was in school, the idea was if you could get a book published you could get a job. This isn't necessarily the case. The job market has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. There are more adjunct positions than tenure, so not only do you compete with the yearly flood of new MFA's and now PhD's in creative writing, but also those of us with one or more books published. This has really changed my idea about the value of poetry and the different lives of poets. I know that I envy poets who are regularly published in "smaller" ways, yearly chapbooks, oodles of literary publications, even though the book prize eludes them. I wish there were a better way to share this, because I think our solitary natures can suffocate the poem, and there are brilliant poets at work who don't yet have a book. These other publications, in my own life, are founts of great courage and inspiration.

I think of Roethke, "I'll make a broken music or I'll die" and then I'm inside this religious pursuit, which is fanatical and awake. It's not easy, because people don't understand it, especially in Los Angeles, where the cosmetic self is god. No one seems to understand that to write a poem isn't about inspiration as it is about a daily struggle with craft. People want to know you've written a novel, or an article, or a screenplay, but poetry? It's juvenile and corrupt and impractical and it doesn't make sense. It certainly isn't going to make you any money! But I have this calling for it. Poetry is where I really seek to live. The anxiety, then, over whether or not you can be "successful" can be overwhelming.

The book is it. It's the thing that proves your fervor, your discipline, your perseverance, your ability. But the life of poetry isn't always satisfied by this end. It wants to speak to struggles that are private and difficult to articulate--so it's a terrorist. It's an activist. It survives into hiding. It wants to blow something up. It wants to rob your nights and amputate you from your contemporary sleeps. It wants all of your attention, more than you've got. In the end, poetry is the outrage of beauty against Nothingness. Sometimes this doesn't change your life with a job, or even with a book, but it marks your experience. It means that your experience for a moment is lit up by a depthcharge. Poetry is that bomb, and that consequential light--it's an xray flash radiating the vagueness of our living.

Has your life been different since?

Yes. Now I exist. If the first printing was a condemnation of my faults, this book is heroic! Monumental--I should be buried with it.

Life gets in the way. Everything has been different, but it had nothing to do with the book. The book had a life of its own. It was off somewhere doing shots, getting laid. I was reclusive and insecure and chasing down seansinger and writing creepy emails to ai and paisley reckdal--I was messy and loud and heartbroken and my book was savvy. My book didn't like me much. Only now, with this new print. This one is mine, it sleeps with me. We're in love. Yes its different. Its evermarvelous--

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

I thought my boyfriend would take me back. I thought I'd get a real job. I thought I'd be dripping with money. I thought my family would disown me. I thought I would grow up. I thought it would make publishing poems easier. Surprise! AWP is full of assholes with books, and you have to be able to face the important brag of it. How you feel about your book really determines what you'll do for it. This second printing is a real gift. It's like finding out your dick isn't small. Now I'll take it anywhere, shove it in your face. Tell you it's big. Ask you if you want to touch it.

It is big. I want you to touch it.

What are you doing to promote the book and how do you feel about it?

This is the real deal, it's my own, I don't care if anyone else likes it I like it I like it A LOT!--The reality of it is resplendent--I am a saint. This is my miracle.

As far as promotion, this time around I'm just beginning to get advice. I still can't believe that it did so well in its first printing without any promotion at all. If anyone has advice I'll take it--It's the second printing but for me it feels like the only printing. I started a blog last winter and I feel like there's another community for building a network that might support not only you as a writer, but your work in its life, apart from you. When I was writing some of these poems the internet was just beginning to be the necessity that it is. Now online journals and blogs are as important, if not more effective, than print sources in terms of reaching audiences, and there's a real loyalty I find, a real engagement on these things.

On the internet you participate in another kind of fiction, a choose-your-own-adventure, a new kind of theater where a good rule of thumb is people lie. But these are wonderful lies! And then you can imagine your book running off in the arms of all these liars, all these variable Hamlets--and this is a great mental pleasure. The internet is really just an extension of your life's fiction.

Basically it's really wonderful--I mean the experience of having a book. It blinds me. I love it so much I'll tell anyone, do anything--brag, sell myself. It feels like the impossible happening. I'm so proud of this book I really feel like I can admit it is my own--which is something I couldn't do before--and more--I want other people to have it, look at it, hold it, read it.

I begin with my family. I took a copy this last week to my grandfather's funeral to show everyone. Have I crossed the line? My grandmother on my mother's side is really the only other person who adores the book as much as I do. She's in her 80's from Sonora, Mexico. She lingered over it, like some relic in a church she wanted to slip into her purse. I gave it to her, the first copy. She clutched it to herself and said I just love it. I'm going to show all my friends. This is a real treasure. Then she sort of curled around it, pulled her dark rebozo down around her shoulders, held it over her chest and eyed everyone, smiling seriously.

I've spent so much time worrying in the last edition about how people, especially people I know, will respond--I was worried--this kind of attention felt incestuous--but this time I can't help myself! I have the strongest sensation that this book is a relic of my existence. It's really something...

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got? What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published?

I can't say that I really got any advice the first time around. It was all very clandestine and lonely. I ultimately shared the news with very few people. Maybe someone told me to enjoy it, but it was really impossible at the time. The advice I wish I got is the advice I'd give:

The book is what we live for--In print, our words are remains. They're ashes. They're us, a version of us that matter. The book is what we work so hard for for so long.

You have to really sleep with your press. Be co-dependant. Call, email, stalk, harass them. Make friends. Your press will have slightly different interests than you, so you have to be pro-active and thrust upon them your vision, from the cover to the editing. Don't be scared of them, or of pressing a point that you're unsure of. If they're good, they'll accommodate you--in the end I believe that the press has at heart the care of your work. No one wants a book they can't be happy with, but once it's printed there's no going back! Haunt them until you feel sure that you have fulfilled your duty to your work. We struggle so much for these little bastards, you know? It might be years before our poems end up in a book, after insomnia and tears and countless self-hatreds, so the last thing you want to do is to abandon them too soon. When it's in your hands. That's when your responsibility to the writing of the text is over. Marketing blah blah, you'll deal with that later. You want a beautiful relic for your life.

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

Writing is always the difficult part, and it doesn't get easier. I wanted to move beyond that book, to get better. Writing in the real world is different than writing at school. The university is a great safe bay, where your only goal is to read and write and attempt and think and dream. The struggle is to do these things while you're suffering over rent, debt, and rejection. For me that meant trying to write in different styles, or experimenting in ways that I wouldn't otherwise. After working a ten hour day doing temp work, it meant making what I could out of sheer will power, and that doesn't always equal a good poem. It also creates another struggle, as you're being weighed against your friends and sisters who've become economically successful. I've had people ask me when I'm going to give up playing around and get a real job.

Being in the real world has really cultivated a hardened sensibility in me as a reader. I want the poetry that I read to deliver something that really burns. I want to walk around while it's still smoldering against me. It has to, to matter, to save me from mediocrity, from the wallpaper of capitalist living. So I've found myself writing against the kind of poem I read, perhaps the kind of poem I fail, in journal after journal. Maybe this is a good thing (now that I write it) but it can feel debilitating. The problem is you're never really a poet until the next thing you write. And you're never really a writer until the next thing you publish. So you spend your life--at least I do--with infinite broken attempts.

Helen Vendler has written about her vocation as a critic. Other poets have asked her whether she ever wrote verse, and she says something about a different kind of dedication, a different need--that poetry demands a kind of restlessness, a kind of desire that wasn't true for her. Can a poet succeed without publication? That's a bitch of a question! Plath said that nothing stinks worse than a pile of unpublished poems. The book gives you a taste of something possible, something you want to keep doing. It casts its own spell on you.

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

I was thrilled by the blurbs I was given by my old teachers, because I wasn't ever sure that they actually liked my work as a student. I think we need our champions, and to find out they were mine was a great compliment. These things bolster you up, make you feel like you can do it again. They make you brave. They are a genuine help.

There's only been a single review by Rigoberto Gonzalez in the El Paso Times and it was very kind. I blushed all over it. It helps the way getting a poem published helps--it's a success, a confirmation, it makes you courageous--you feel as if you really are a writer! You feel as if the last fifty rejections, or hundred and fifty rejections, explode like balloons. It's a celebration and this can carry you for a time...

I don't know, I sort of feel that critics can only be regarded with suspicion--even when they're favorable. What they're really doing is marking their engagement with your text. They're writing for themselves, to hear themselves speak in a language that befits their own intelligence, their own ability to read and listen and place your text in context with other texts. This is useful for us as readers because we can relate to whether or not we might enjoy a book, or understand it's value as literature, but for the most part it's useless to us as authors, because it fans the ego of the critic, and doesn't necessarily offer us real direction or advice--I say this as someone who lately publishes reviews--the purpose of the critic is to mark the pleasures of a text in a larger literary tradition. But as an author it does you dangerous good to flame your ego and it certainly doesn't help to smother it. I think instead we need that smaller community to encourage us, and talk us through our work, even if they're lying. A flawed text may be nothing but an attempt at something brilliant, something you haven't yet written --so for the author, criticism is both a disease and a drug.

On the outside I think any criticism is good press. We have to be like Madonna, admit everything. Own everything. Flaunt it. Sell it.

On the inside we have to pretend to ignore it altogether.

Do you want your life to change?

So that my monstrosity is cured? So that my deformities are healed?  No. Never. The ruins here are beautiful.

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

I don't believe that poetry, or Art, has a purpose--I don't think that it can heal. But I do think it can tear down our elegant ideas about ourselves and that it can reveal the gruesome part of our nature, which doesn't deal well with mortality. Art, especially poetry, is nonsense, if you want to have a practical life. It's impractical, precisely because it forces us to consider our mortality, and our love, and the irresolution between the two.

Poetry is more an accusation, a means of rebellion--it illustrates the difficulty we have in this world to love the temporary above all else--our time is lightning in a wave--and to be unable to define our feelings to this changing, ever-leaving existence, memory and body. It's a mean anchor to the transcendental, to existential worry.

I guess the work of poetry is to get off on the world, as it is. Because it's beautiful and we love it best and ardently and because it's leaving us for good and because this is what we know. Because it faces these truths it enriches our lives. It can't be governed by the idea of permanence. It's inquisitive and vulnerable and open to human flaws and disaster. Its responsibility is to see, paint, enact, desire, summon, touch, disappear--

I seek a new poem. I'm holding still and thrashing about--I'm wringing my hands and closing my eyes to listen. I'm up late, I'm downing my fourth cup of coffee, I'm stuffing my mouth with a chocolate, I'm stripping down to my sex and my childhood and my first love and my family, I'm scratching a few words on the wall in the dark, I'm listening to the war news on the radio, to the dogs bark, I'm going AWOL, I'm running out to the beaches where the sea is black incantatory--I'm hunting the moon, dreaming of my thirst, working toward it because I want to really live--I want to hear the eucalyptus leaves shuddering high and inside--I want to condense this mania into a simple thorn and berry--I want to express the exquisite--to be happy for a moment that is crumbling me rapidly out of my own blood existence!

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

Poetry is a gun. You put it in your mouth.

:


2 poems from A Book Called Rats by Miguel Murphy:


The Devil's Arm

The child violinist dreams the ocean
reaches up to him through a window's
pitch black gape--a red
arm and violin strings

throbbing down the length of it.
He tells his mother the devil
fills his mind with songs
that make the maestro
shake with fear.

             He has sent me
home again, the boy cries,
to prostrate myself
before our Holy Virgin, Beacon
and Star of the Sea.

Without thinking, his mother grips
the violin by its stem

and laughs. Come play
the devil's tune--
the maestro may not hear it
but his nights are no less humid
with desire. We will

be satisfied.
And the quick note
sliding down
the violin's
spine

reaches from her fingers
in the boy a slender pleasure, darker
than memory's wine. The boy opens

his already opened eyes, as over water
where a man in the distance
is insisting his enemy worship him...


Capricorn

I love the ocean. The ocean sounds like war.
And I love salt, and lemon, and wounds healed with liquor.
And the trumpet.  The trumpet is a mad
bitch in my heart

who makes me strong.
I say goodbye to them, to the cliff that's mine
and the long night and the greenish pill
and the memory of an older man

who first saw me bare
my wrists.
I say goodbye to them: to the blade
that moves gently as a wave, to the sea of blades

and flames
and to the drink that I have put my mouth upon
and drank.
I wept at my waters and at my death.

With half my life, I loved like genius in the dark;
with half my life, I clapped across a desert
where love was. And where it wandered. I was
a weird fish that walked--

           I grew lungs
and hooves and hair.
I no longer fingered my gills.
I began to shave my face.

I was a stranger to myself and I longed for it.
I longed for the ocean
and when I couldn't have it

I went mad--I bleated
until the horns sprouted from my forehead
until I butted the stone wall
at the bottom of the cliff
that I wanted to throw myself from.

I was my own mad goat
in love--

Goodbye, I thought. So long.

To the coast, to the landscape of my orphanage.
I will eat myself.
I will thank no one.


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