about

some poems online
scheduled readings

my book: case sensitive
available at your local bookseller
and online at Ahsahta Press,
SPD, & amazon.com


August 2007
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eod archives
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here


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.oar.


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every other day


31 AUG 07

One of the first readings I did after case sensitive came out was in Wendell, MA, the ALL SMALL CAPS series curated by Jess Mynes. That was September 25th, 2006. I'd had the idea that for Every Other Day I would interview various poets who publish other poets or run a reading series, and Max and I drove up the day before the reading so I could interview Jess. We met him at the Deja Brew Pub in Wendell, where the ALL SMALL CAPS reading would be happening the following evening, and had a long cassette-taped conversation. In-person interviewing is more fun, but making the time to sit down and transcribe the tapes can be tough. Finally, though, here are the words in type.

:

a conversation with Jess Mynes

Jess Mynes

Let's start with an easy question: how long have you been writing poetry?

I guess, informally, since maybe my freshman year in college, and more seriously in the last five or six years. By "seriously" I mean being a little more active in attempting to publish it and engaging other writers. Developing the company of peers, so to speak.

Have you done an MFA and all that?

No. I never wanted to take a writing course. I didn't feel that was the way I wanted to pursue learning how to write poems. It was actually the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. Instead I studied literature and just wrote on my own. I thought the best way for me would be to read good stuff and also just to feel along. My writing is less analytically driven, more intuitively directed, so I felt pursuing it that way made more sense for my development, rather than trying to sit in a classroom and hash it out in workshops.

What was it that brought you to the desire to write poetry alonside the feeling that you didn't want to study how to do it?

Reading. Reading poetry. I felt that if I started taking it into a classroom setting at that point, I would fall into... I felt that in that setting I would write a type of poetry that was collectively sanctioned. We'd make poetry that was sanctioned by one another and our work would begin to resemble each other's. I had a sense of my own character and I knew it just wouldn't be right for me to try to develop my approach to poetry in that context.

And being in a classroom drains the life out of me. I find being in the garden, or in the woods, or walking down the street much more useful. The classroom works for some people and more power to them. But when I'm in a classroom I'm always thinking about what I'd like to be doing other than sitting in that classroom.

Where did you go to college?

I was an undergrad at St. Lawrence University, upstate New York. Canton, Potsdam area. Then I got a Masters of Library Science from University of Rhode Island.

Where did you grow up? How did you wind up living here?

I grew up in upstate New York. I spent a couple of summers in Boston when I was in college. After college, I moved to North Carolina for about a month, a very bad decision. I don't mean to badmouth North Carolina because there are some wonderful parts, but there's one not so great part where I happened to live. So I moved back to Boston again, lived there for a couple of years, but got tired of the city. Came out here with some friends, fell in love with the area. A good friend of mine bought a house just up the street here, I lived in his basement for a couple years. And I've been here since. I just really like this area: the combination of culture and the boondocks works for me. It's really beautiful here. It's also close to Boston. Close to New York.

Why did you become a librarian instead of a teacher?

I guess because I like having all of the benefits of being in the academy but I don't like playing by all the rules of the academy. As a librarian, you have an opportunity to work with students, to teach, and to turn people on to information--and about how to find information--but at the same time you don't have some of the obligations that you would as a professor. Also, though, you don't have some of those benefits--you have to work year round, things like that.

But it allows me to get my hands on pretty much anything that I want to, in terms of, say, finding a book by so and so that's been out of print and there were only 200 copies, that sort of thing. And I appreciate the whole ethos of librarianship: providing access for everyone, making information available to everybody. If that makes sense.

Sure. A while ago on your blog, you mentioned that somebody said to you, "Well, you're a librarian, you get to sit around and read all day."

[laughs] Yeah.

Just to clear that up, because librarians do different things--what do you do in your job?

Well, it's kind of unique because I'm in a hybrid position: I'm a cataloger and a reference librarian. As a cataloger, when stuff comes in, I process it for the individual library--which means I download and tweak the information. Essentially a cataloger organizes the information, providing access points so that people can find what they're looking for in a somewhat logical fashion. And the reference end is just the opposite: it's the outreach part, dealing with the public, teaching, collection maintenance, ordering books.

Being a librarian has a lot of responsibilities. You have to be technologically savvy, using the information in certain ways and being able to instruct people about how to use the information, and it's always kind of evolving. At the same time, as a cataloger you have this almost archaic, hierarchical organization structure that you have to learn well enough to let there be consistency from one library to another--so, say, a book in one library should have the exact same call number in one library as it would in any other library. That kind of thing.

You have a pretty active day, then. You're working--

From 7:30 to 3:30. I'm either at the reference desk, helping students, or I'm teaching, or I'm working in my office--

Tell me about the teaching part.

I'm the Humanities Liaison there. So I teach in all the art classes, all the upper level English classes, English 101, English 102, etc. Essentially there's a big push for information literacy--one of the requirements for students when they graduate from the college where I work is that they have to be information literate. Our big thing is to promote that information literacy, so when people find information they can evaluate it critically and use it more effectively.

So you've got a library gig that's unusual.

Yeah, that's what I love about it. It's both ends of the spectrum. I think when you talk to librarians, there's a certain stereotype of catalogers being very antisocial, you know, shrinking violets who don't necessarily want to engage the public. So to have a cataloger who is also in reference--though actually I think that's more the direction that things are going. More and more now, librarianship is about outreach and teaching, those kinds of things.

When did you start making books?

The first book that I made was Coltsfoot Insularity, collaborating with Aaron Tieger.

That was the first book you made? Wow, I had no idea.

So that was only about a year ago.

It's a beautiful book--I'm amazed it was your first.

Thanks. I appreciate that. For a little while I was talking about starting a magazine, but that didn't really satisfy what I wanted to do. So I decided to start a press. Aaron and I had this collaboration that we wanted to publish, but it was very difficult to find someone who'd be interested in publishing a collaboration. We decided to do it ourselves, and then I figured I'd take it on as my first project. But of course there were all these things that I didn't really think about. The fact that the manuscript was 50 pages long, for instance.

So we had to work out how we were going to do it. We couldn't just fold and staple it. Aaron helped me puzzle through it, as did Chris Rizzo and Michael Carr. All these guys, I kind of leaned on their knowledge. I decided to tape bind the book. Next was how we were going to do the cover. How would we get color on the cover? How are we gonna do this, how are we gonna do that?

I got big sheets, cut them down, then I had the idea of making a stamp and inking the stamp so I could stamp each book individually. I liked that idea of individually handling every book. Then as I started to develop that, I realized I could ink in different ways, I could have the inside of the leaf one color and the outside of the leaf another color.

How many copies did you make?

Just 150.

Even so, that's a lot to do that way. You did all the work yourself?

I did all the covers myself. I had the guts printed, and the binding done at the print shop. Chris's book and Joe Massey's book I did all myself except for the cuts. I printed them myself.

Mynes, Carr, Tieger, Rizzo

So you and Aaron and Chris and Michael--how was that connection made originally?

I went to a poetry reading of Aaron's in Amherst. Didn't know him at all.

Why did you go?

Because there were a couple of people I was interested in hearing, and I was just starting to want to attend more readings. I was attending some readings at Amherst Books. This was about three years ago, or somewhere in that neighborhood--my sense of time is really poor.

Things between you have really grown dramatically in a short time.

Yes. It has been a very quick arc.

I imagined that you and Aaron had been pals for 10 years or something.

No. It's three, maybe four. I went to this reading and I heard him read, then I emailed him and asked him some questions about the poems because I was interested in their architecture. I could hear them, but I wanted to see what they looked like, so I asked him if he would send me some of them. He sent some to me--eventually we started a correspondence. We had a lot of things in common. He's got a Library Science degree, I've got a Library Science degree. My girlfriend then had been an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith, his girlfriend had been an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith. Just all these weird little synchronicities. Then we finally met up and we just kind of hit it off. Then I found out that he did Carve. I sent him some poems and he liked the poems. And we kind of went from there.

Aaron had a reading at Michael Carr's house in Boston--I didn't know Michael. I went to the reading, met Michael, and we instantly started talking about Clark Coolidge and we were off and running. I met Chris Rizzo there because Chris had just released Aaron's Merge Point on Anchorite--I thought it was really beautiful and I told Chris that. Eventually Chris and I started to correspond, trading poems, that sort of thing--with Michael too. So it developed very organically.

How was Landscape Odes made? It has a really nice feel.

Thanks. I printed it on an inkjet printer. That's actually the same cover stock as Aaron's chapbook February.

February by Aaron Tieger

And [laughing] in our rush to get it done before going off to Austin--I ordered the paper, because I wanted to see it, and then I was going to send it on to Aaron. I ordered the paper and it came in later than anticipated, so, in a panic, I also had them send it directly to Aaron. All of a sudden I had double the cardstock. I wanted to use some of that, so I printed that and folded it--and the dandelion on the front is a stamp.

It's handsome. You can tell it's not letterpress, but it does kind of give that feeling, maybe because of combining the stamp with the inkjet.

That's one thing I love about the stamps. You can get some color in there, you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it, and it does have a different textural quality. And as I said, I love the idea of handling each book individually, so it's got that element. Also, because of the stamping, every book is going to be a little bit different.

Where are you making the books? Are you just doing it on the kitchen table or...?

It's funny you say that. Joe's book was printed in the kitchen--I was in the process of moving and I just set up the table in the kitchen and was printing in there. It has varied from project to project. Aaron's, he had a print shop near him that could do it. Actually it was really nice to have the poet standing there too. He could say, "Okay, that's exactly what I want." And with Michael's book, Platinum Blonde, we each did some printing at work and then we went to a print shop--but we printed the covers ourselves on an inkjet because that cardstock was really slick. We needed the right ink density. With Chris's and Joe's, I was strapped for cash so I did everything myself, except for the cuts. And then the cuts got screwed up. [laughs]

Property Line by Joseph Massey

Joe's book, Property Line, has been complicated because we wanted to do the cover full bleed and I'd already bought the cover stock. Normally you're supposed to buy a larger size and cut it down--I had no idea. I bought the regular size. So then I had to have the covers cut separate from the guts. When I got them back, they'd cut the covers probably an eighth of an inch shorter than the guts. I just wanted to jump out the window. Then I took it to the print shop where I work, the print shop at Mt. Wachusett, and the guy there offered to help me out. He's gonna do a little cut that will shrink the margins just a bit, but they were pretty generous margins to begin with so I think it'll be okay.

I think Clark's will probably go through a print shop because that's going to be a larger run. And Brenda Iijima's will probably be some combination or permutation of all of those. [find out more about the books from Fewer & Further Press at fewfurpress.blogspot.com]

The Breaks by Christopher Rizzo

How do you feel about self-publishing versus being published by other people? And are you a poet with a full-length manuscript that's making the rounds, say, or are you just not into that?

Actually, I have a full-length manuscript that has been accepted by Skysill Press, a British press that is just starting up.

Hey, congratulations!

Thanks. It's exciting. The manuscript is about 114 pages long, poems that are written as responses to Rothko's paintings. There are a couple of them in String of Small Machines--

Right. And Matt [Henriksen] was telling me about them, that he took a bunch of them for Cannibal.

Yeah, he took 8 for Cannibal and there were some in Small Town.

But as far as self-publishing versus publishing elsewhere, I like the idea of doing a combination of the two. Some people view self-publishing as...maybe being a little on the vanity side of things? But I don't think that's necessarily true.

I don't see it that way.

There's a tradition of a lot of great poetry being published in that form. I like the idea of looking at my own poetry as a publisher. I also like seeing what other people come up with for my poems--their design choices. So it's fun to have a little bit of both.

How did you happen to get hooked up with this British press?

I put a couple of the poems up on my blog and Sam Ward, the editor, saw them and asked me if they were part of a manuscript.

He just wrote to you out of the blue.

I had corresponded with him a little bit before that--he'd expressed enthusiasm for some other work. Then he asked me about these, and I said, "Yeah, but it's a full-length manuscript. And even though they're short poems, ideally I'd like them one on a page." Obviously, I said we could work that out maybe, depending on what he had in mind. Eventually I heard through somebody else that he was interested in doing it as a full-length manuscript.

You heard through somebody else?

Yeah, yeah.

[laughter]

So then I finally sent him the manuscript and he wrote back and was very enthusiastic about it.

That's great.

And actually a lot of the chapbooks that I publish are smaller parts of larger manuscripts.

Sure. How did your press come by the name Fewer & Further?

Like most of my stuff, it's ripped off from somebody else.

[laughter]

It's time honored!

Exactly. I always really liked Zukofsky's title Barely & Widely. And for some reason--I often translate things in my head, and for some reason I translated barely and widely into fewer and further.

That's interesting. Are you doing one of those translation things at Konundrum Engine Literary Review? Have you been asked to do one?

No. I haven't heard about it.

You'd be a perfect person for this--judging from the way you seem to think. The first set is up right now--it's Zach Schomburg and Mathias Svalina. I'm going to do it with Bob Hicok.

The idea is: they ask two poets to trade poems and translate each other's poems, also writing a short piece about the process. I think you'd find it interesting.

Yeah. I'm always interested in collaboration. Aaron actually did something similar to that with some of my poems. It was a manuscript, Recently Clouds, we did that as--I don't want to say a sequel but...in the manner of Coltsfoot. And at one point he started "remixing" my poems. He called it remixing. It would be interesting to turn the tables and do some of his. That'd be fun.

Well, speaking of fun, is there something you'd rather do than be a librarian or is that your perfect job?

Oh, you know--ideally? If I could just sit around and write poetry all day...

But would that actually take care of the particular things that are taken care of by doing your current job?

I don't know. It probably couldn't pay the bills like this job does. [laughs]

Ah, the bills. Well...

No, I know what you're saying. I might find that certain needs weren't satisfied by that, by just writing, the way they are by my job now. But...I'd like to give it a shot!

Get that Guggenheim and just see how it works out for a year.

Yeah! I could try it. I'd like to find out.

I managed an organic farm for about four years. I really, really liked that. But it became financially...untenable. Ideally, if I could find some kind of combination where I was spending a lot of my time outside and also doing the writing and publishing, that would be the ultimate.

Yeah... That would be fantastic, I agree.

But, for now, librarianship is more than fine. I like it very much.

And now you write, you make books, you run a reading series, you travel to read your own work. Where do you see yourself with all that in two or three years, say? How would you characterize your ambition?

I try not to think in terms of any grander picture than...just wanting to keep writing, to meet cool folks, make connections, and have an opportunity to go forward. To collaborate with people, to publish someone's work or have someone publish mine, to make manuscripts together, those kinds of things. Doing that, I think the rest will just take care of itself. The idea would be to keep expanding that circle. I tend to be attracted to a small circle, one that gradually enlarges. It's really important to me to make connections--to have correspondences with people.

We went down to Austin, to AWP, for the Unassociated Garden Party. And it was great to connect up with folks that I'd been corresponding with and to then hang out with them. And the readings were great. But the actual events--for me, they were just kind of overwhelming.

You mean the official events?

Yes, and even many of the unofficial ones. There were people up on stage reading and people kind of wandering around talking. I guess my expectations were a little unrealistic. I expected everyone to be sitting there listening. Which [laughs] is ridiculous because they'd been just sitting around all day, listening. I think my orientation is to avoid those larger get-togethers, because that's often what ends up happening: the attention gets deflected from the poetry to something else.

A similar thing can seem to happen with publishing. If I keep things small, if that circle gets larger somewhat slowly, then the energy can stay focused on the work--better than if I try to reach out and hit something in the distance.

How does this fit in with blogging?

That's something I haven't been able to figure out. I think, for me, blogging is mostly this weird dialogue with myself about the importance of personality in terms of writing.

Tell me how you feel about that. It's a real bugaboo, right?

Yeah. I think I have a distrust of too much personality. In one sense, I find myself naturally wanting to make the blog into some sort of diary. That runs counter to the feeling about personality--or then I feel like I'm starting to develop a personality that is a presentation.

At the same time, I don't want the blog to be me expressing too many opinions about x, y, and z, because I'm not interested in creating a camp, or saying this is me, this is us, separated from everyone else. But I also want to support people, or draw attention to work that I enjoy. You know, the librarian element comes into it, like, "This is out there. Check this out. Do you know about this? Have a look at this." Ideally it could be a place where people could come--I know this is gonna sound cheesy--a blog could be a gateway to something else.

It doesn't sound cheesy to me.

It could be a place where people could come to find out about things they might miss otherwise. A "conduit"--maybe that sounds less pretentious than "gateway."

[laughter]

continue

. . .

 

30 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

99. Matt Hart

Who's Who Vivid by Matt Hart

How did your manuscript happen to be picked up by Slope Editions? How often had you sent it out before that?

For a couple of years after grad school I was sending various versions of two manuscripts around to all the contests, but without much luck. Eventually some good friends and great readers suggested that I collapse the two manuscripts into one big monster. That's when Who's Who Vivid emerged and went on a rampage through the Vermont countryside. One night in a very injured state--those villagers are a bitch!--it met Ethan Paquin in a starlit meadow and had a few smores. Ethan then carried the manuscript on his back to Chris Janke at Slope Editions, and about six months later I got a call from Ethan saying they wanted it. I remember the beginning of the conversation exactly: "Hey Matt, it's Ethan Paquin, how are you?" "Good," I said. "Are you sure?" he said. "Yeah, I'm good..." To which he responded, "Well, you're gonna be a lot better in minute..." Then he spilled the beans. I was thrilled of course--in shock really. I remember I said, "Like, it's official?  Can I tell people?" He laughed at that, but I couldn't believe it. Ethan also had excellent suggestions re: both ordering the manuscript and the title--he was the one who suggested Who's Who Vivid, in fact--which was way better than any of the fifteen or so titles I had before.

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

It was a cold afternoon in late January, and I came home after a day of teaching to find the boxes waiting for me in the living room floor. I let them idle. I took off my coat and checked my email, ate an apple. Or maybe it was a tangerine... Anyway, I put my coat back on and took the dog for a walk around the block. My wife was out running errands, and I thought I'd wait until she got home to open up one of the boxes. But then, when she did get home, I hesitated, so we cooked dinner and ate it and watched TV. It was literally hours before I could bring myself to check out the book, and then it was days before I could actually read it. I was terrified that I would find typos or want to revise everything. In the end, I was pretty happy with it, excited by how it turned out and proud of the poems.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yeah, Chris and Ethan at Slope Editions allowed my friend Eric Appleby, who does Forklift, Ohio with me, to design the whole thing, so it was a homegrown endeavor. What's funny is that the picture on the cover wasn't the initial cover idea. In fact, I don't think I had an initial cover idea. I went to my friend Chris LaCoe's house to have some pictures made for an author-type photo, and he had these Indonesian monkey masks on the wall. Something about them struck me in the moment, so I put one on and grabbed a volume of an Encyclopedia off a bookshelf. LaCoe started snapping pictures, and suddenly we had a cover photo.

                 suddenly

I also love what Eric did with the title on the front cover--especially the eerie orange lighting and the rendering of the word "vivid" in that weirdo blue with its raised "i"s--like eyebrows, or missile silos, or me and myself (you and you), rising up literally out of the blue. I like too how he repeated the gesture of raising the vowels in "vivid" on the title pages and also how he raised the "a"s in "matt hart" on the inside title page, as well. Makes me think of mirror images, and echoes, and who's who. Vividly.

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

Honestly, I'm not sure what I thought. I mean, I was really excited and anxious about it, but I think that my previous experiences with having records and CDs released told me that things in my life wouldn't be all that different. There's no before and after, just more work--which is pretty great considering the sort of work I'm lucky enough to be doing.
 
Has your life been different since?

Nope. Though obviously there are more opportunities to do readings, teach, and think publicly in writing (like this). I both enjoy these opportunities immensely (especially the readings) and also find them severely frustrating/challenging (the writing in prose). I mean, it's weird--one writes some poems in lines and fragments, and then all of the sudden people want reviews and essays written in complete sentences and paragraphs with proper punctuation and MLA formatting. I'm not complaining. Truly it's an awesome honor to be asked to do these things, and it's even fun to do the work, but writing in prose is a ton more difficult (at least for me) than writing poems. Hats off to fiction writers, essayists, journalists, etc. I don't know how most of 'em live with so many rules--grammar, syntax, standardized punctuation, left to right, top to bottom down the page. It's enough to make one's head spin off into its own reality television show about the usual ways of sense-making, only to find in the process that sense-making hurts like an alligator to the face.

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

If anything, I think it's been all surprises. Things keep happening. Some people have even read the book and said they were moved by it, which for me is huge. I don't write in a vacuum; I want to work in the Vast, not the Void, and I want to work with (and for) other people, too. Maybe it's cheesy, but for me at the root of poetry is singing, expressive and energetic--a blurt into the world on the lookout for other people, who I can relate to and who will sing back better and louder than I do. In other words, I write to communicate--however strangely or far-fetched/stretched the notion of communication becomes in my poems. The long and the short: I've made a lot of new friends as a result of the book, which is maybe the greatest surprise of all.

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

Amanda Nadelberg and I went on a little East-coast-ish reading tour that Slope Editions helped organize after the book came out. We hadn't met each other before and agreed to drive around in a car together, so it could've been a disaster. As it turns out, however, the two of us hit it off immediately, bonding over BK Fish sandwiches and all manner of animated conversation. One funny tour anecdote: Amanda and I worked our way from NYC back to Cincinnati where I live, and she stayed with my wife Melanie and I. During Amanda's reading in Cincinnati, my golden retriever, Daisy, got into the guest room where Amanda was staying and ate 6 twenty dollar bills. When we got home that night there were little pieces of money all over the floor. The best part is that Amanda took the fragments and got the bank to give her 4 or 5 crisp new twenties. I still don't know how she did that. Anyway, Amanda's one of those new, post-book, out-of-the-blue friends that I mentioned in my answer to the previous question.

Beyond the tour, I've been doing tons of one-off readings, AWP, teaching when and where I can. I've been playing in bands since I was fourteen, so reading/performing in front an audience is something I've done a lot. I still get really nervous though. There's something really raw and nerve-wracking about reading one's poems in public--no tube-distortion-feedback, no squeal-crunch kick the drum set over--everything that happens is the result of the connection between the voice and the words and their delivery and projection to other people in (a) space. Bands--especially punk bands like the ones I play in--take the stage and the space and the audience and try to obliterate/overwhelm/win it. In contrast, reading poems I feel wrapped in the space and the audience--even surrounded/smothered by it--struggling to get it all wrapped up with me or be devastated it. Seriously, readings for me either go well or they're TERRIBLE. There is no in between. When they go well it's transcendent, when they don't I'm crushed. That sounds weird, but it's true. Oh well...

What was this question about?  Oh yeah, promotion... My blog has helped, MySpace helped, Amazon, Good Reads, public transit shenanigans--whatever--one more reader (even if they don't like the book) is another reader I didn't have before, and maybe even another reader of poetry in general.

How long have you been doing Forklift, Ohio? Would you say that editing a journal helps to promote your work?

Eric Appleby and I co-founded Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety in 1995. He does the design, and I do the editing. Tricia Suit is the Test Kitchen Director. And Dr. Kevin Eggerman is our primary Safety Consultant. Also, three issues ago we added Brett Price as an Associate Editor, and that's really been great for the guts of the journal. He keeps Eric and I (the old men of Forklift) on our toes. We've just finished issue 17, and 18 is already in the works. Initially, doing the journal was a way for us to combine our fascination with industrial graphics and big machines with our love for both poetry and cooking, but over the years the journal has also become a way for us to remain connected to the DIY grass roots of poetry where we feel most comfortable and inspired.

As for whether editing the journal promotes my work, I'm sure it doesn't hurt. If someone likes the journal's aesthetic then they very well might like my personal aesthetic as well. I mean, as much as I try to seek out a wide variety of work for the journal, I'm sure that something of my taste is fairly evident in the poems we ultimately decide to publish.

My writing is always directly influenced--even shaped--by the things I read. And as an editor I'm lucky to read a lot of great new work--much of it by younger poets who don't have many publications under their belts, and for whom poetry is (as yet) an activity of urgency, emergency, and joy. The benefits of this for my own work seem both obvious and incalculable, and I think I'll just leave it at that.    
 
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?

Be yourself. Do things your way, in your time, by your rules and standards. Don't compare yourself to anybody else. Believe in something, and demonstrate that belief in everything you do.

I wish that somebody would've given me this advice, and (weirdly) many people did. I just wasn't always able to hear it.

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

Besides the above, first and foremost, don't take a break. Write every day--even if it's only to revise a few words. Beyond that, read and think, and involve yourself in the world of poetry--give (and go to) readings, send your work out, read and comment on the work of your friends. Maybe start a journal. Maybe keep a blog. There's no one way to do it. How you get into the mosh-pit is up to you. And it is a mosh-pit--people get eaten and burned up by it--but once you're in it, struggle like hell not to fall down. Of course, you will fall down, which is why you must also all along the way be genuinely interested in other people and as generous with them as you would like them to be with you.
 
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

It's made me a lot more critical of my own work and process. I can't revise right now, because I feel almost compelled to obsess over, and destroy, work in a way that I rarely did before. I think I'm in a/the post-first-book phase--I call it a phase, because other people I know have told me they felt similarly after their first books appeared--where I'm putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself not to repeat myself (myself), to produce a second publishable manuscript, and to do both in short order. Everything seems so ridiculously great right now--all the conversations and the little bit of interest/attention that the poems have gotten--and I want to keep up the momentum. This is, of course, a ridiculous way to approach art-making (see advice above). So to counteract this feeling a bit, I've been trying to slow down--steadily writing my poems in whatever shape they come to me and setting them aside for a while, moving on. I'll revise later when my head isn't on fire with desire and worry.

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

People have said and written some really amazing things about the book--some of which I intended and some of which I had no clue about. It's always interesting to have someone connect your work to other work or the world in a way that you hadn't considered, especially when it seems right on in retrospect. For instance, I've always liked Walt Whitman and have read him off and on, but I never studied him until somebody mentioned that they found some connections to Whitman's work in what I was doing. Wallace Stevens, too. Really? Yeah. So in that way maybe the critical response has had a more profound effect on my reading than on my writing process--at least thus far. But, as writing is always an extension of reading for me, these new tunnels into the worm-hole of poetry will show up in my poems down the road if they haven't already. I'd say, too, that the critical response has made me consider and articulate my poetic positions (my sensibility, certain formal concerns, and various contradictory party memberships) far more deeply than I otherwise could probably stand to do.
 
Do you want your life to change?

I'd like more money and more time.
 
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

Yes, I'm spending money and spending time.

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

The short answer here is yes. How do I know?  Because it changed me, and it's changed other people I know. And me and the people I know are as much a part of the world as anything. I've quoted, probably a hundred times, Gregory Corso's poem "Writ on the Eve of My 32nd Birthday" where he says, "I love poetry because it makes me love / and presents me life." That's so good, I always think--not to mention (at least for me and mine) true. What's great is that it isn't just poetry that has the power to do this--to make us love or flip our wigs or fly off the handle. For me, it's the thing that works best, but for other people it's Sufi Mysticism, or carpentry, or clown college...

Yeah, my answer is evading/begging the question a bit. You asked if poetry can change the world, and I answered with what that means to me in terms of particulars--the change poetry has had in me and others who I know--and also with the notion that all creative, active, thoughtful human endeavors can be an equal (to poetry) force for change as well. But when it comes down to it, the "world" is an abstraction that I can't possibly contend with. It's a noun that doesn't stand for a containable fathomable object, but for an ever amendable, corrigible, shifting set of contexts and geographies and possibilities. Will poetry stop people from killing each other, or rectify social and political injustice? Will it feed anybody or adequately respond to a natural disaster? No, it will not. But the way I see it, none of those things are world problems, they're problems that individual people deal with in a variety of different (incongruous, even contradictory) contexts, places, languages, etc. And since it's also my belief that every human being has an imaginative creative urge--a need to express him or herself as a part of the larger universe--tapping into that--that is, each person tapping into his or her propensity for changing their circumstances in a creative, emotional and exuberant human way--will and does change the world. But god and the devil are both in the details.

:

a poem from Who's Who Vivid by Matt Hart:


As with Everything We Love

Someone says sparrow blown against a wall.
Someone says comparison. Then we're staring
at a portrait of two acrobats
on a scarlet background with flowers. We put on
our shoes of the alarmed. Someone falls
and someone shatters. At dinner, we revel

in the taste of Chianti, and the men who drag
the depths of the sea overcome us.
I say your name like a charm, and you say
I'm reading too much into sorrow,
the flashlight beam and the basket of fruit.

Then someone punches a hole
in my best attempt at a counterexample.
We sob all evening over glitter on the floor.
I can't help confessing anymore

my aversion to sour candy, my allergy
to honey bees, my anxiety at the sight of a hard hat.
You bring up daddy long-leggers and two stones
with one bird, but only briefly. I follow
with ice-chewers and mud slides

in the night. Somehow we realize, almost
at the same time, without repeating ourselves,
we're going around in a circle. Without
repeating ourselves, we're playing to the crowd
that never gathers or applauds. Think of it
as a movie, you say, so blue sometimes it's white.


. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

29 AUG 07

There were quite a few poets I would've interviewed about their first-book experience but couldn't, for this series, because they'd already had their second book published. I really wanted to strictly limit these first-book interviews to poets who hadn't yet had another book come out. When I invited Roberto Harrison to do an interview, I didn't realize he had two books out. But rather than miss the chance to share his answers, I decided to make an exception and include this interview. I guess a way to bring any series to completion is to put something in that breaks the rules that have otherwise defined it.

. . .

How has your first book changed your life?

98. Roberto Harrison

Counter Daemons

How did Litmus happen to pick up your manuscript? How often had you sent it out before that?

Tracy Grinnell came into town and gave a reading a few years ago. Stacy Szymaszek made that happen. At around that time, suddenly there was a community of younger writers in the area, and things were just coming together. I had given readings of parts of Counter Daemons here and there and found it to be well received. I hadn't really sent the manuscript out much, so I think Tracy was one of the first to see it. Poets in the area, Kerri Sonnenberg and Mark Tardi in particular, knew Tracy from school and had had books published by her. I sent her the manuscript and was happy that she found it of interest.

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

I'd asked Tracy to send a copy to me at work, so I could see it as soon as possible. I remember being happy and excited to receive it. I thought it looked beautiful and was very grateful to Tracy for publishing it and to Brenda Iijima for doing the cover. I also remember feeling all kinds of contradictory emotions. In addition to feeling good, I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean, though not really depressed. And I felt relieved. It added a new dimension to my way of relating with language as the most public as well as the most private thing we share.

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

I expected it would be a monumental event in my life, though how it would change me I wasn't sure. I'd been publishing things for a while, with Crayon, Bronze Skull Press, my old Croton Bug magazine, and other projects, so I had some idea of what it felt like to put things out there. Though I know from knowing amazing people who write amazing things and who don't publish much, that it's the act of writing that counts. Even though this seems to be true, I think publishing can help in bringing some kind of perspective to the writing and in letting the writing go.

Has your life been different since?

Yes, I think so. I've gained some confidence in myself as a writer. I think I've grown as a result of the book coming  out. I feel more determined than ever to do what I feel I need to in my writing and reading, in my life. And I feel more than ever that I'm at the beginning of something, and at the same time it seems that I still have some of the same old difficult terrain to work through, I'm reminded of that every time I try to talk to someone. Even so, I feel that my best writing comes from outside the self, when I get out of my own way.

Actually, another full length collection of my work was published a couple of months after Counter Daemons was--Os (subpress). Os is a collection of work that predates Counter Daemons. It'd been setup to be published for a while. The two are very different books. In Os, I was working mostly with the page, with single page poems, whereas I worked on Counter Daemons with a wider view. Os I think is where a part of me died. On some level I was going through a process of renewal in writing it, renewal from a life too far from poetry to a life more within it, or in a way that doesn't really have anything to do with poetry after all, perhaps. A process that I think continues. So that's significant in discussing Counter Daemons, as Counter Daemons uses the 'i' quite often, though not necessarily in a direct way, and as writing Os was necessary for me before getting to Counter Daemons. The word Os can mean bone, as well as mouth. So, in Counter Daemons, one of the important things that came out of the experience of writing it was that though I'd always self-identified as being Latino, after writing it I felt it important to mark a new place in my life. So I changed the use of my name back to Roberto. To be more clear, I was born to Panamanian parents in Corvallis, Oregon, while my father was going to school there. My birth name was Robert. We'd moved back to Panama before I was six months old, and I grew up there until the age of seven. While there, I was called Robertito, and then as I grew older, Roberto, even though my birth certificate indicated otherwise. When I moved to the states (Delaware, of all places, we were one of the few Latino families there at the time, though now there are many) at age seven, I began using Robert (though my family continued occasionally using the Spanish version of my name--especially when I got yelled at!). That's also when I began learning English. Then in eighth grade I began calling myself Bob in an effort, it turns out, to assimilate. I've had to work through all kinds of ethnic issues, confronting racism and ethnocentrism, etc, alongside these name changes. To make a long story short, I ended up having to deal with other, more overwhelming personal issues as an adult, and so my energy was tied up with that for twenty years, and then after most of that was worked through, I was finally able to come back to understanding myself better in a social context including my ethnicity. I started a new job about 3 years ago, coinciding with finishing up Counter Daemons, and at that time began using my new/old name--it was a convenient point in my life to do that. I really prefer Roberto now as it allows me to better see myself as having come full circle in some meaningful ways. So, basically, with the finishing of Counter Daemons, I'd worked through some psychic processes that made this possible, a coming back to myself to move past my self.

I think another way my life has been different since Counter Daemons appeared is that my writing concerns are now more easily apparent to me. Instead of forever being inside the process of working things out through writing, the book being in the world makes necessary, on my part, some kind of overall view on what I'm doing there. I studied Mathematics and Computer Science as an undergraduate and did some graduate work in Mathematics, and some of these early experiences needed to be addressed in what I found myself doing in writing. Given that Native cultures are more prominent in most Latin American countries, and perhaps because I was raised by an Indian woman, I found myself drawing Indians and horses constantly as a child. (I have some Indian ancestry from both sides of my family, like most Panamanians, though how much or of what kind, I don't know. At the same time, I don't want to overemphasize that.) In retrospect, I think I was trying, in a futile way, to return to my origins by exploring Native cultures from North America partly inspired by what I found in some children's books I had on Native American cultures. And the Math and Computer Science were an effort to reach toward some kind of universal language, the little that I knew of literature at that time being attractive though seemingly overwhelmingly complex given the psychological fabric I was trying to grow out of. In a sense, I didn't feel I could study something like English Literature in school given that English was my second language. And as a child I had a lot of animals: at one point 220 rabbits, 50 guinea pigs, 20 cats, 5 dogs, snakes, 100 or so mice (distributed throughout the house as families in small fish bowls and plastic boxes that they always gnawed through!), gerbils, hamsters, chickens and basically anything I could catch or otherwise find. And I remember there being very few books in our house as I grew up, in a modest suburb, but one stood out, something called Cyclomancy, I think, which I've just found out seconds ago by searching through WorldCat, was subtitled "the secret of psychic power control." Who knows why we had that book, except I remember my dad always telling me that he could read my mind, so I bet he was responsible for it being there. It turns out to be a cheap power-tripping book! But I think my father took it pretty seriously, for whatever that's worth. I use the word Cyclomancy in Os to indicate a divination through circles.

I remember deciding to go to graduate school in Mathematics for some off the wall reasons. I'm not a natural at doing Math as someone like Mark Tardi seems to be. Basically, I didn't want to get a job right away, and so going to grad school seemed like a better alternative. I chose Indiana mostly because of the name, I thought that perhaps there was something especially Indian about the state. Graduate studies in Math turned out to be a bad fit for me, though I met a lot of nice people there in Bloomington, and got turned on to a lot of writing, especially Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller and things associated with those writers.

After my first year in grad school I decided to take a year off and travel. I traveled around the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, and then Europe and Morocco on a total of around $2000 for the year.So my life has been different since Counter Daemons appearing because in it I was able to return to some of the energy of these experience, in the sense that my dreams seem a little more real, or reality seems a little more dreamlike, I feel that my life is more integrated the more I work things out in writing.

Were you involved in designing the cover of Counter Daemons?

I'd asked Brenda Iijima to do the cover. She did a whole series of drawings and I picked from that.

Brenda did the cover art for both of your books. Why was that--or how did it come about?

Brenda visited Milwaukee a few years ago. She'd published my chapbook, Mola, through her Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, and did a wonderful job with that. We took a trip together to visit Fort Atkinson and Lorine Niedecker's place, and had a great time driving around the countryside. We became friends and so I asked her to do the covers of my first two books.

3 covers by Brenda Iijima

What have you been doing to promote Counter Daemons and how do you feel about those experiences?

I've done a few readings here and there. It has been a struggle for me to do readings. I didn't come to it very comfortably, though I think I'm finally starting to get my work across the way I feel I need to. That's a big change for me. On the other hand, I'm not really a promotional kind of guy, so I haven't really promoted anything. One of the better things I think that's happened as a result of the book coming out is that I feel more energetic in hosting my Enemy Rumor reading series, named after the collection of poems by José Lezama Lima. I want to do more to include more writing as part of the discussion in the Midwest.

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

It has allowed me more freedom to explore other modes. Specifically, I've finished another longish manuscript, bicycle, that's structured a lot differently than Counter Daemons and Os are. In that, I'm going further in exploring the bridging of two wholes that has been, it turns out, a concern of mine for a while, and which I think is noticeable in Os and Counter Daemons. I like the metaphor of the bicycle, its good to think of in terms of the New World, with North America and South America, and Central America as a bridge. Of course Panama is considered to be the bridge of the world, and the heart of the universe to some. So I like the bicycle as an integrating of polarities, in whatever forms they might take--Sun and Moon, East and West, male and female, rational and irrational, virtual and real, true and false, Spanish and English, earth and sky, etc. My current project is culebra, a further, more organic in some ways, exploration of this. I used to catch snakes all the time as a kid, it was an incredible thrill, so I feel the need now to address something so primal along with my cyberworld concerns. I think somewhere down the line that everything in my writing is going to fall apart again, but for now, I'm putting things together. Though, actually, in culebra I think that things are coming apart at the same time that they're coming together. So in the future, further further falling apart, maybe, as I see it now.

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

I haven't seen any reviews published on it yet, so most of the critical response I've gotten so far has come through correspondence, on blogs, or after I've given readings. Stacy Szymaszek used to tell me that I read like Barry White sang, which I find funny and heartening.

A couple of people have told me that when I read Counter Daemons it sounds like a chant, trance-like and trance inducing. This is meaningful to me because of my Buddhist practice, and I think it's a good reminder for me that my life is coming together around an effort to come to terms with the sacred. Or at least to get a better idea or non-idea of what that is.

Drew Gardner described some of what I'm doing as a "private world colliding with poetic connotation" and that it sounds like something between Vallejo and Creeley. I'm glad to have my work bring to mind Vallejo as his work has been important to me, and continues to be. I admire Creeley's work but can't say at this point that he's been a big influence on me, except early on.

Tim Peterson said something about desire bumping up against technology in relation to Counter Daemons. I think this can be a sort of criticism and funny, but it makes sense. I've somehow spent a lot of time being surrounded by computers while being a sort of Luddite. I don't consider myself really a techie. So I find that I spend a lot of energy trying to rehumanize, reanimalize, and so on, the language that computer use has tried to lock down, and addressing some of the structures growing out of cyberworld, working through them. And I think this implies also a coming to terms with the limitations of this endless prosthetic that we're continually getting more and more dependent on and in some ways blinded by. In some ways I feel that we're not far from being able to psychically communicate with and through computers, and that the way is being paved for that now in how poetry addresses the cyberworld. I think that'll be the real, and the really traumatic, "Information Bomb."

Rodrigo Toscano and Karl Young both said Counter Daemons brought to mind Huidobros. I'm happy that my stuff brings to mind Huidobros, though I think I share with Vallejo more the earthy than the skies of Huidobros. Perhaps the sense of space of cyberspace in my writing is more akin to Huidobros' skies.

Alan Sondheim called it dirge-like and Vedic. There's something definitely funereal about what I'm doing. I'm having to confront death on a daily basis and have needed to do so, in my most honest moments, for a long time.

Peter O'Leary said something about it bringing angels to mind. I was glad of this comment because I'm constantly divided in my work, should I bring to light the evil that I know or not? I think the final answer is yes, to understand and to move through it. There's lots of work for me to do in that regard.

James Sherry said it seemed to concern itself with identity politics. I think this is true to a certain extent, though I don't think it describes the whole of the book.

Bill Fuller said it reminded him of Swinburne. Somehow much of Counter Daemons has a strong sense of a kind of meter. I'm not sure where that came from. It just appeared and made sense one day.

I'm grateful to receive thoughtful response. It helps me to understand what I'm doing and trying to do as a writer.

Do you want your life to change?

Yes, I want to learn to be freer, not just free to choose between products, as most Americans seem to understand freedom, but a freedom that I imagine has always been what life's about.

The time in my life when I was the most free, in some ways, was during my year of traveling twenty some years ago, though I've had many experiences since then, of what we'll call for purposes of this interview, alternate universe experiences, not at all drug induced, more like my natural state of being, where I've gone on to many other places never spoken of and unknown to most for long periods of time. I began my travels from Bloomington, Indiana, the center of the flowering Indian. I use Indian here as in Albert Ayler's 'Universal Indians,' hopefully not in an overly romanticized way, but in a way that I sometimes see the Indian in everyone, the true, and the circular, other country below us and above us, within us. Started there in Indiana and rode in my '72 Plymouth Duster, which I'd bought for $400, that I could sleep in the back of, and made a lemniscate* around the country, to the east coast, up to the northeast, back through Indiana, down to the southwest, to Navajo country, Canyon de Chelly for a few weeks with a friend, down through the mainland of Mexico, through small towns in the country, through large clouds of white butterflies, across on the ferry to the tip of the Baja, La Paz, with flying fish and weirdly colored sharks, up through the Baja, were I'd seen a flat landscape covered with large, perfectly round boulders, through Tijuana, San Diego, through California, Big Sur, to San Francisco. Stayed there for a while, climbed walls in the Mission, lived through some of what I'd only read about. Up through Northern California, to Oregon, where I saw where I'd been born for the first time, to Washington state and Seattle, into British Columbia, back through to the states, making the infinity sign, there with the Indian country always here.

*

Then across to Europe--was at the festival of the Black Virgin at San Marie de la Mer in Southern France, a gypsy festival. Back through to all the shores of Spain, from northeast to southeast, across to Morocco and to the Atlas mountains, Fez, Marrakesh, Al Hoceima, Nador, Melilla, and to Tleta Ketama for a month. Moroccans are the most hospitable people I've ever encountered. Then back through Spain, to Toledo, Madrid, across to Lisbon, up through northern Portugal and into Galicia and Basque country. All of it living in my tent and staying away from Americans, for the most part. Hardly any trains, mostly hitchhiking and walking and buses. Those were some the freest times of my life, along with my excursions into the other worlds. My writing tries to bring all of this together, to integrate for now, to walk on the ground with it.

Given that I came to writing late, in my early twenties, without committing to the practice of writing for another few years, I started off painting and drawing for a number of years after my failed attempt at graduate school, painted houses for a living for many years, made my way back to computers after a long time, found Jackson Mac Low's work, Hannah Weiner, Clark Coolidge, Larry Eigner, Ron Silliman and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the library at Bloomington, collected there by Barry Alpert I suppose, grateful to him for that. These writers made English sound like the first time I'd heard it, arriving to the states, without knowing the language, something magical, meaningful, far away and up close at the same time. Then moving to Milwaukee 15 years ago and living less than a mile from Woodland Pattern, my second home for all this time, has changed things further. Given that...

So yes, I want my life to change, in these directions, moving more toward what I know is free, but not necessarily easy. Also, my understanding of freedom is changing, more toward how Buddhists consider it, as being free from conditioning, but the experiences above are hints of this.

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

I ride my bike 20 miles a day, 6 days a week. It's like riding a lemniscate, an infinity sign. This allows me to engage with the landscape in a way that I hadn't for a very long time. I look at the sky every day, the lake, the ground, people doing their thing, huge prehistoric looking fish being pulled out of the lake, the fish being cleaned, different birds. I once saw a coyote here in town in a park. Joel Felix's "landscape without, landscape within" comes to mind. I generally say a mantra during my ride. I ride the same way every day. And I miss only two or three days a year due to extreme weather. I want to experience how exactly the weather is changing. Being outside so much like that makes me feel that I'm doing something people used to do for ages before being locked up with a TV or a computer.

I meditate an hour a day, 6 days a week. I generally write an hour or so a day, 5 days a week. (I'm into structuring my life these ways at this point, have done so for a few years.) I read on the bus to and from work and during my lunch break. I meet with friends every week to discuss and practice Dzogchen. I go to and rent movies and listen to as much music as I can. I draw pictures on a seasonal basis. I try to learn from and grow with others.

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

Yes, I think it can. It's changed me, so I know empirically.

:

A poem from Counter Daemons by Roberto Harrison:


[el camino de mi alma]


i go back
i go forth
i am home

i am crustaceous
in the land of canals
in the knot of 3 rivers

i am the moon
in the shine
of a Quetzal

i am the Choco,
the Cuna,
and the colorless loss
of each Mola--
each wood

i am the flush
in the face
of a veil

i am the colony
gone to die out
in starvation

i am the snake
that with ruins
can fly

i am the double
for northern cremations

i am the mute
that the pace
of the state
cannot gag

i am the Nanticoke
married to Moors

i am the straw
of the past
and the void
of tomorrow

i am the song
the refrain
the gashed neck

i am the shame
that jungles heat up
into sweat

i am the dust
on the roads
in Morocco

i am the water
medinas put out
to clear skies

·

i am the coast
of España
where i walked
every shore

i am the yawner

i am a stain on a cloth,
the deserted spring bath,
the arabic spire

i am the mountainous path
hidden in foliage

i am the mud
on the skin
of a friend

i am the ghost
that brings horses
to dream

i am the isthmus,
the seven,
the homeless

i am the wool
in the promise
of hell

i am the guise
of a magnet

i am the pepper spray
scenting the city

i am the sea
and the sun
of a cousin

i am each memory
shred in machines
for equators

i am the parallel word
that won't meet

i am the flower
that buries
the petals
of autumn
for eggs

i am the radio
filling the sky
with electrodes

i am an ocean of ships,
a broken armada,
a flood of the Latin

i spill words
like the cannons
that crater the planets

i make doors
for the blood
that returns


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28 AUG 07

How has your first book changed your life?

97. Gabriel Fried

Making the New Lamb Take by Gabriel Fried

How did you find out your manuscript won Sarabande's Kathryn A. Morton Prize? Had you sent it out often previously?

My wife Alex and I had taken our son, Archer, who was nine or ten months at the time, for a consult with pediatric urologist. He'd had a botched circumcision (there's a poem in Making the New Lamb Take about it), and we were trying to figure out what to do about it, if anything. The whole experience was fraught, as we'd been back and forth about doing the thing in the first place, and now here we were trying to decide whether to do it again, this time with general anesthesia. When I came out of the appointment, relieved by our meeting with the doctor, who was tremendously kind, but drained by our back-and-forth over whether to operate, there was a message on my cell phone from Sarah Gorham, Sarabande's editor in chief, saying she had good news. (In retrospect, that was an understatement, at least from my perspective.) I called her from the street, and just listened to her talk about me winning, about Michael Ryan's enthusiasm for the poems--Michael judged the contest. I don't remember what I said to her at all--probably nothing coherent. When I got off the phone, I had such a rush of exhilaration, pride, relief. A great sense of relief.

I had been sending the collection out for about six months. Initially, there was a real surge of good feeling for me in getting it out there. That lasted about three weeks. I know six months is nothing, that people send wonderful collections out for years before they're taken. But it didn't feel like nothing--I had real lows in that time--and I'm relieved it didn't take years. Actually, it's interesting, the original manuscript I'd sent out had a much more insistent architecture than what won Sarabande's prize: three sections, each supposedly tracing a different story (Persephone, Cain & Abel...I forget the third!). It was heavy-handed, and yet didn't really add up to anything. Some months after sending out my first couple of batches of submissions, I began to have my doubts about the structure, and asked Alex about it. She said, without hesitation, that she realized after I started to submit that it was flawed, but hadn't want to dismay me by saying anything. I reworked the collection into a simpler format more or less overnight. Sarabande was the first and only place I submitted that new incarnation to.

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

It was actually the day my second son, Nate, was born: June 3, 2007. I ran home from the hospital to take a shower and there it was. So the day was memorable--unforgettable--for more than one reason. I do remember wondering if I was supposed to feel more jubilant about the actual finished product, and it may have been that the newborn baby overshadowed the new collection of poems. Also, for me the real jubilation over the book came when I heard from Sarah. And it was more than a moment. That euphoria lasted weeks, months.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

I found the image by Gretchen Dow Simpson. I have used Gretchen's work for several poetry books in the series I edit at Persea Books. Her paintings and prints are so straightforward, on the one hand, but they are also suggestive of imminent change--the way she works with light, with intersections, with horizon lines. I can stare into her work endlessly.

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

I think I was nervous that my life wouldn't change.

Has your life been different since?

Absolutely. It doesn't change everything, but publishing a book has affected my interior and exterior sense of myself as a writer. Creatively, I have been able to move on from the work in the book in a way that feels almost topographical, like crossing a mountain range or a canyon. It's a feat that's over, as formidable, mystical, and confounding in its completion as it was in its execution. And I guess as far as the outside world is concerned, it's easier to be considered a professional writer once you have a book out. So there are differences in how I'm received. And I receive myself differently, too. Sometimes I'm actually proud of the book.

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

I've been surprised--and delighted--by how many people have expressed their thoughts to me about the book. I was expecting a lot of polite smiles and nods, but a surprising number of people have written letters containing real insight into the poems and descriptions of how they're affected by them. I find that really moving. I guess I hadn't wanted to presume that people would take the time to do that, or even that people would actually read the book in full.

What have you be doing to promote your book and how do you feel about it?

I've been giving lots of readings, which I've loved doing. I feel sorry for those loyal family members and friends who have come to three or four events only to hear a similar play-list--with similar preamble. I try to vary what I read--for my sake as much as anyone's--but certain poems are very well suited to readings and to giving a feel for the book as a whole, while others exist better on the page. Short lyrics, in particular, are challenging to read, to listen to. They're over before an audience gets its bearing.

I'm lucky--in so many ways--to be Poetry Editor at Persea Books. There's a kind of built-in promotion for my own book from having that position, which happily requires very little of me. I've met so many wonderful people in the literary world, and I can't deny that that helps get my book out there, if only through a generous kind of word-of-mouth.

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 think you reach a point after a book has been published, however long the festivities surrounding it last, at which you have to move on and think about what you're going to do next. Some people do that too quickly, and some no doubt wait too long.  I think the timeframe probably varies tremendously, depending on the individual and his/her process and circumstances. I do nothing quickly myself and am always anxious about that quality, so I've tried to be generous with myself about taking time to relish the first book. I guess the advice I would offer--and wish I had received--is that it's important to be honest with yourself about when it's time to move forward, keeping in mind that it might not be for a while.

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

Of course, I can't know that for sure--not yet, anyway. Certainly, there's a sense of not wanting to repeat what's in the first book. Louise Glück writes so well about not letting the idiom of one book become the tics of its successor. I'm still sizing up what I want to carry over and what I need to let go of.

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

The response in print has been great so far, but I know from my editorial life that reviews of poetry trickle in over the months and years after a book comes out. At this stage, the most affecting responses have been from readers and listeners, and those have been almost entirely uplifting. Again, I can't really say with any certainty how it influences my writing process, but I am surprised at how meaningful getting praise for the book feels.

Do you want your life to change?

I always want to find ways to be more thoughtful, considered, patient. Wiser. A couple of inches taller. But the facts of my life, the contexts I exist in, are pretty great.

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

Does Pilates count? My family and I just made a big move from New York City to central Missouri, and I'm waiting for the dust to settle. I'm really hopeful about the effects of this move, but at the same time don't want to put too much pressure on it.

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

I think art can influence individuals, and enough individuals can change the world, yes. How many people does Arlo Guthrie say constitute a movement in "Alice's Restaurant"? Fifty? I think poetry can influence fifty people, for sure.

:

A poem from Making the New Lamb Take by Gabriel Fried:


Noah's Dove

People rough you up,
then move on. They have
their orders, believe

in them, or need to
want to. I have seen this.
I have flown

in routes I did not choose,
gathering
twigs and branches.

I have found myself
above an endless water
I knew I shouldn't drink,

and have found sad pleasure
in the chores before me,
though I disappoint

myself fulfilling others'
missions; but they praise
my cleverness, give me

seeds I've been eying.
For this, I know I squander
life. I peck the ground

in stupid places, deliver
messages I care nothing
for. Of course I have

thought of change,
of flying off and leaving
their eyes straining.

I sense I know the way
to gems and soft heather,
to perfect houses that fit

me with a halo's safety.
I have my own missions,
and would launch them,

have launched them
each time out, falsely
assenting to some other errand,

only to remember--the ship
behind me, the feeling
that the earth protrudes

ahead--that I have been man-
handled and my mother
will never love me.


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