Wednesday, April 2, 2014

#82 - Wendy Xu

How often had you sent out You Are Not Dead before it was chosen for publication by Cleveland State University Press as a finalist for the first book competition in 2013?

Unbelievably, CSU Poetry Center was one of the two places I ever sent my book. The other was Wave Books. I dropped those two manuscripts in the mail at the same time, fully prepared for the long road ahead of many more trips to the post office. I got so very lucky.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been You Are Not Dead? Did it go through any other changes?

It went through so many title changes, all of which I kept in chronological order in a word document that I am looking at now. Some funny (very real) highlights are:

STAR VERSUS SIDEWALK
SEVEN HORSES AND THE OCEAN
IN LIEU OF A STUTTERING LOVE LETTER
YELLOW PORCH POEMS
WE ARE BOTH SURE TO DIE

The few weeks before I sent off the manuscript, I would run downstairs almost every day, to knock on my friend Lech's door who lived in the apartment below me, trying out new titles on him. He vetoed so many bad ones, and talked me through other possibilities. Though it is only a matter of time I believe, waiting for a book's correct title to reveal itself to its author. I like to say I had no hand in it. Like letting your kids name themselves.

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

I guess I was concerned with the possibility of winning a contest, seeing as how I sent to one. The other place I sent was an open reading period. But mostly, no, I don't feel that any aspect of the first-book publication process should be prioritized over giving editors and presses you deeply believe in the opportunity to read your book. Your relationship with the contest ends when the contest ends. Your relationship with that press and publisher/editor is only beginning. When I look in any direction in my apartment, I see Cleveland State University Poetry Center Books. I have loved and admired them for so long. If I could, I would have driven to Cleveland and put my manuscript in Michael Dumanis' trash can, if it meant he might read it. The delivery method shouldn't matter, what matters is the dignity and love with which you're assured your book will be treated.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

Many versions, many evenings of collapsing in and among its pages on my living room floor. Kind eyes of friends. Reminding myself to think less, intuit inter-poem relationships more.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.?

I was given the opportunity to be as involved or uninvolved as I wanted, which immediately made me feel super comfortable. I do a tiny bit of book arts stuff myself for iO Books, the chapbook micro-press I publish, so I wanted to stay in the loop, but mostly my role was choosing between impossibly beautiful font pairings that Amy Freels (CSU's designer) sent me over email. They made me feel so taken care of, and they let me suggest tweaks and tiny revisions to things that were so-close-to-perfect.

Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

CSU generously allowed me to entirely choose the cover image, which is a collage by the wonderful Belgian artist Jelle Martens.

A secret is that it also appears on the cover of this beautiful contemporary collage book, Cutting Edges.

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I mostly told myself I would begin sending out the book when it felt like a unit. A good number of the poems did end up finding homes in journals before that time, but, it was something I (surprisingly) did not overthink.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

The book went through two full cycles of editing, once for substantive edits, once for grammar. I learned that I have almost never spelled a hyphenated word correctly. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Frank Giampietro, CSU's interim director, pulling the book through the long process. It was amazing. We explored possibilities for almost every single poem, a better word here, a different line break here. The level of detail and attention was unbelievable. In the end, I chose to change or not change things based entirely on my own preference, and being given that kind of agency was really heartening.

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

When the proof arrived in the mail, I cried and touched it a lot. When they handed me a final copy at AWP Boston, I made a series of absurd faces and I remember someone took my picture. It's the worst photo I've ever taken. I was too happy to remember how to smile.
   
How has your life been different since your book came out?

Oof, this question! For a while after it came out, I couldn't write any poems. Then I gave up trying. Then I stopped reading poetry altogether and just read novels for a while. The poems came back though, as they always do. The plainer answer is that I've had the opportunity to give more readings, meet more poets, and just generally "do more poetry things." Publishing a book has also revealed to me a desire to write slower. I feel calm, I feel like plodding along at a different pace.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

This happened to me a few months ago, on my way to Cleveland to read. I said "feelings." Then I felt a little embarrassed, and offered something about "what happened to me when I became displaced and moved somewhere new." They were very satisfied with this second answer.

What have you been doing to promote You Are Not Dead, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I made my best effort to do a lot of readings since the book came out, and make it to things whenever I could. Also the book was taught in a few classes last year at U. of Minnesota, Florida State University, and UMass-Amherst. But that had nothing to do with my efforts, it was all the kindness of other poets and writers. The experience of being tied to a literature-object in the world has been humbling. I won't ever get used to it.

In March I'm finally going on a reading tour, basically a full year after the book was published. It's "promotion" for the book, but it's also my best excuse for getting in a car with my friends Brian Foley and Luke Bloomfield, whose respective books will be out too, and driving around the country seeing faces.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

I wish more people would have forced me to relax about aspects of the book coming out. It's amazing more people didn't hang up on me during that time.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

My language and my poems have been changing, and I'm working on some poems now that might eventually become a thing. They haven't quite taken on thing-ness yet, but, I'm excited about them.

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

Yes, always, yes.

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Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013) and two chapbooks: The Hero Poems (H_NGM_N) and I Was Not Even Born (Coconut Books), a collaboration with Nick Sturm. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, The Volta, Columbia Poetry Review, and widely elsewhere. She co-edits and publishes iO: A Journal of New American Poetry / iO Books, and teaches writing at UMass-Amherst. Find more at http://extrahumanarchitecture.tumblr.com
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#81 - Natalie Giarratano

How often had you sent out Leaving Clean before it was chosen for the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Award from Briery Creek Press?

I sent out a first version of Leaving Clean for about a year and a half—to over 30 contests and open submission periods—but didn’t receive so much as a nibble. I knew there was work to be done on the manuscript, so I spent the following year or so revising, reordering and cutting and adding new poems. That later version started to get some attention (three finalist nods) and after another round of 20 or so contests, Leaving Clean won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry in 2013.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Leaving Clean? Did it go through any other changes?

The title has been through a couple of changes. Dancing near the Surface was first and, though it is a line from a pretty dark poem in the manuscript, I ultimately decided it sounded too light-hearted on its own for the subject matter of the book and for me. I also imagined some editors rolling their eyes after reading that title and never getting to the actual poems. This made me cringe.

I also sent the manuscript out with a bit gloomier title, Almost Washout, which is what the title was when it won the contest. However, the insightful editor at Briery Creek Press, Mary Carroll-Hackett, requested a new title and gave me options from which to choose. I thought Leaving Clean, with that gerund always in action and, therefore, the leaving always and never happening, was the way to go.

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

I definitely sent out to more contests than open reading periods, but mainly, honestly, because of my ignorance of open reading periods. Any manuscript needs to be sent where it might potentially belong. But my best advice is to admit, to know, that it’s all a crapshoot. Good work or no, it takes that one or handful of readers that dig your work to get your book published. No matter how much work you do in learning presses and others’ work, you can’t absolutely know their evolving architecture and how yours might fit with it.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

Leaving Clean went through three versions before it was selected for publication. It began, essentially, as my MFA thesis and included many short poems that dealt with the grand “I” with which many first books deal. In many ways the final version does deal with what the original did but, I hope, in more complex ways. I think by the final version I had cut ten shorter poems, added two new poems—one of which is eight pages long—and edited the remaining poems and poem order, the latter pretty drastically. This is when it is great to have other writers and/or editors to see what you’re too close to see. My very good friend, Beth Marzoni, helped me put together this final version and was bold enough to suggest cutting so many poems and to suggest which newer poems to add. Without that other set of unflinching eyes, I might not have done what I needed to in order for someone to want to publish this manuscript.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.? Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

The interior design of the book is all Briery Creek Press, but I was totally on board based on the design of previous Liam Rector winners’ books that I had read.

As for the cover, when I signed my contract with the press, I knew I would have a choice of a handful of photographs taken by the students that help run the press. Having worked for a small press while in graduate school, I knew what beautiful work students could do. I ultimately went with the photo that is the cover because it was a bit more abstract and weirder than the other choices yet still works well with the poems.

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

Well, I sent out to all kinds of journals, as I’m sure most poets do. I’d say maybe half of the poems had been published prior to Leaving Clean being accepted for publication, but I never felt pressure to have most or all published. I think for most emerging writers working today that is a rare feat. Maybe some folks just work more diligently at the submission process than I do, though.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

I did some light editing myself—commas turned into semi-colons, a dash added here or there—but most of the manuscript is in the same shape as it was when I sent it to the contest. The editor did not ask for any changes to the poems or poem order as we went through the editing process, just a new title. I don’t know if this is usual for the press, but it made me feel much better about all of the edits I’d completed for the manuscript over the years.

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

It was unbelievable to see this thing that I’d been working on for, more or less, eight years finally in front of me. Something I had begun to think would not happen at all. I got to share that day with my husband, who knows those eight years well. Even the dog crazy-danced in the kitchen with us.
   
How has your life been different since your book came out?

Oh, you know, I get to pal around and talk shop with James Franco. So there’s that. Which is to say I lie more.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

My initial reaction would probably be “you should read the book,” since what one person gets out of a book is not always what others do, which is one of the things I love most about the reading and writing life. I’m not going to make a lot of friends with that, though, so I might follow up with: often when we fight off the person we don’t want to become, we’re also fighting culture, religion, family, and landscape—all of which can come gunning for you as soon as you turn your back to them.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

Don’t beat yourself up over what you have so little control. Dance. Be willing to let poems or a manuscript go or to work a lot more on them/it. And then dance some more.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

If anything, the publication of Leaving Clean makes me dare to think that perhaps my singular voice might be important to this world and, so, makes me want to keep writing and publishing because it might just matter. I’ve a near-ready-to-send-around second manuscript and have been thinking about a third that might have to do with cities of music during the Civil Rights Movement—a broad idea I had after visiting the National Civil Rights Museum and the STAX Museum on the same day while briefly in Memphis.

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

Yes, if even for just a few seconds at a time, yes.

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Originally from small-town Southeast Texas, Natalie Giarratano received her MFA and PhD in creative writing from Western Michigan University. Her first collection of poems, Leaving Clean, won the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry and was published in June 2013 by Briery Creek Press. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast, Isthmus Review, American Literary Review, Laurel Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. D.A. Powell selected her work for inclusion in the 2011 edition of Best New Poets, and she won the 2011 Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from Southern California Review. She co-edits Pilot Light, an online journal of 21st century poetics and criticism, teaches writing at American University, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Zach Green, and their pup, Miles. Find more at
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

#80 - Mark Neely


How often had you sent out Beasts of the Hill before it was chosen for the 2011 FIELD Poetry Prize?

I began sending out a version years before it was published—it was a finalist for a contest as early as 2004. But the manuscript has changed drastically since them, and I think it was fortunate that earlier version wasn’t picked up by anyone—I’m much happier with what it became. In its final form, Beasts of the Hill circulated for about two years before it was chosen for the FIELD Prize.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Beasts of the Hill? Did it go through any other changes?

The earlier version was called Dogs of Indiana, which was also the title of one of the poems. I abandoned it when I cut that poem from the manuscript. Beasts of the Hill comes from a poem I love, Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time”: “I live between the heron and the wren / Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.”

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

When I started thinking about publishing a book, it seemed like contests were virtually the only to get a first book published. Even now, a lot of publishers still won’t look at first books. But I sent to open reading periods when it was an option. My rule was, will I be proud to see my name on a book from that press. If the answer was yes, I sent to them, regardless of the editorial system.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

This book began as my MFA thesis, but only about three poems from the thesis remain. Over the years I took out poems I thought were weak, or ones that didn’t fit thematically or stylistically with the rest of the book. Sometimes I think I would have been better off burning the thesis—I see now it was apprentice work—and starting over. But I’m happy with the result. It just took a long time.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.?

My father-in-law is a painter and the image on the cover is his. I showed it to Oberlin and they liked it. Their book designer designed the final cover and did all the interior design, which was tricky because of the weird formatting of some of the poems (four square blocks of prose arranged in a larger square, like a crossroads, or a four-pane window).

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I think it helps to have a solid-looking acknowledgements page—it let’s first readers know
the poems have been appreciated by magazine editors, but no one’s going to publish a book based on the tastes of other editors. I’ve seen excellent books published with very short acknowledgements pages. Since this book took a while to find a home, quite a few of the poems were published in magazines before it came out. I don’t know if had any influences on the editors at Oberlin or not.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

Actually very little. My editors had some suggestions, which I took, and there were some minor things I changed, but I’d already been over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb by that point, so most of it stayed pretty much the same.

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

Joy. I ripped open that box of books and just stared for a while. Also relief that it actually happened.
   
How has your life been different since your book came out?

I’m better able to take genuine pleasure from other people’s successes, which is good. Resenting other people’s achievements isn’t healthy, and in a small group like the poetry community, it’s deadly. Oscar Wilde summed up this attitude when he said, “It’s not enough that I succeed; my friends must also fail.” For a while there I felt like I was the last writer I knew without a published book and that was a frustrating feeling.

I also have an easier time imagining people actually reading the poems I’m writing now, which makes it harder to write in a way, but also gives me a greater sense of urgency.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

I’d peek at whatever they were reading, then say the book was about a) the zombie apocalypse, b) a band of child warriors forced to fight for their freedom, or c) the American Civil War, depending on the book they were holding.

Or I’d say it was about love and death, and let my seatmate turn gracefully back to fiddling with his or her electronic device.

What have you been doing to promote Beasts of the Hill, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I’m not much of a social media person, which I know is how you’re supposed to promote your work these days. Instead I did a lot of readings the year after the book came out. I met lots of cool people, caught up with old friends, and generally had a blast. It was amazing and encouraging to see enthusiastic audiences for poetry in so many far-flung places.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

I’ve heard (and given) all the advice, and all of it is true and none of it means anything. If writing matters to you, write. Don’t worry too much about the rest. Of course it probably would take a lifetime of Buddhist training to not worry about the rest, but try. For a lengthier explanation of my thoughts on this, see here.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

I’m just finishing up another poetry manuscript, and I have a nonfiction project in the works. I’m not sure having the book published has affected my writing much, but working on it all those years certainly has.

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

Yes and no. 

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Mark Neely’s first book, Beasts of the Hill, won the FIELD Poetry Prize. He is also the author of a chapbook, Four of a Kind, from Concrete Wolf Press. His poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Barrow Street, Boulevard, and elsewhere. You can find out more about him at www.markneely.com 
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Monday, February 17, 2014

#79 - Ash Bowen


How often had you sent out The Even Years of Marriage before it was chosen for the 2012 Orphic Prize from Dream Horse Press?

I'm not sure. I've suffered two laptop implosions since 2012, so my records from that time are gone. I completed my MFA in the summer of 2008, and I know that I sent out that version of the manuscript a few times, but that was a very different manuscript that bears little-to-no resemblance to the book you see today. I got serious about revising the manuscript in 2012, and I sent out the revised version in late summer and autumn to three or four contests and three presses. The manuscript was a semi-finalist in one contest and a near-miss at one of the presses. I won the Orphic Prize at the end of December. 

Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Even Years of Marriage? Did it go through any other changes? 

The manuscript went through a bunch of different titles. Originally, it was called gravityANTIgravity, but that was when the book contained some poems that  I ultimately yanked. Corey Marks at the University of North Texas really worked with me and taught me how to view the manuscript as a book and not just a collection of poems. He suggested that I comb the manuscript for phrases that jumped out as potential titles. I poured over the poems in a coffee shop in Denton, Texas, and that phrase seemed to work as a frame for the book.  

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

At first, I just wanted my book to come out; I didn't care how. But then winning a contest became important because I'd been told a contest win was helpful on the job market. Since I was preparing to go on the market around that time, the contest route seemed the way to go. But these days, I'd be inclined to tell poets to be less concerned about contests and more focused on finding a quality press. Do a lot of research and find out which presses are publishing books that they'd feel honored to have their work sit beside.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

I won't lie: assembling the book was very difficult. For months my partner would come home to a living room covered with manuscript pages I'd lain out on the floor. She'd find me on my knees, reading the poems aloud to find the poems that resonated against each other. After I'd shuffled and reshuffled the pages about 10,000 times, I enlisted the help of poets Sandy Longhorn and Anthony Robinson, both of whom made useful suggestions about the order and structure.

When I'd been an MFA student at the University of Arkansas, I'd studied under Geoffrey Brock. One day we'd gotten into a discussion about the impulse to arrange books of poems in a way that gave them a narrative arc. I can't speak for Brock now, but at the time, we were both heavily against this.

When I went to the University of North Texas to complete my doctorate, Corey Marks let me see that the way I'd been ordering my poems was hurting my chances of getting the book into print. He convinced me to approach the book's structure in a much different way, and I honestly believe that without his direction, the manuscript would still be sitting on my computer. His input was invaluable to me. He taught me a lot.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.? How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

I wasn't involved in that aspect of the book—thankfully. I don't really have the patience for that kind of work.  As for editing, J.P. Dancing Bear sent the galleys to me, and those went back and forth a few times. I shuffled the order of a few poems but nothing major. We did drop one poem, as I recall, and replaced it with another. But other than that, we mostly looked at spacing and such. I don't think I touched the poems at all.

Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

Dream Horse Press makes beautiful books, which was one of the reasons I submitted my manuscript to them. When it came time to pick art work, Bear had a strong vision for the book.  He has a lot more experience designing books, so I deferred to him. I've had loads of people tell me how much they love the cover.

Earlier you asked what advice I'd give to other poets, and I'd advise them to try to negotiate some control over the cover art. This might be something a poet might not even think about in the excitement of a press saying it wants to put your work out, but this is something that will certainly come up later. I personally know someone who ruined her relationship with a great press because of disagreements over the cover art for her book.

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I once read an interview with Cleopatra Mathis where she said she didn't really send poems out much anymore because she knew the poems would eventually come out in a book.  I suppose that I just don't have that kind of confidence.  I wouldn't even consider sending out a manuscript until the poems had been field tested through journal publication (though one of my favorite poems in my book was never able to find a home). Having an acknowledgments page that shows publication in good venues doesn't seem like it would hurt a manuscript when an editor looks at it.

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

Not much, to be honest.  But I'm not really one to sanctify such moments. Plus, by the time the book arrived, it'd been close to a year since I'd won the contest. I was already deep into a second manuscript, so the book in many ways was like a relic, almost like it was someone else's book.  But don't get me wrong:  I was doing cartwheels on the day that I learned that I had won the book contest. I opened a 20-year-old bottle of scotch that I'd been saving for the occasion. 

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

Honestly, that would never happen.  Aside from my wife and my kids, my family doesn't even know that I have a book, so mentioning to a stranger on a plane that I have a book is hard for me to imagine. But I think I would describe the book as one of loss and regret. There are some moments of levity, but I resisted catharsis. I don't think there is catharsis in real life, which suddenly strikes me as something The Misfit might say in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

What have you been doing to promote The Even Years of Marriage, and what have those experiences been like for you?

All of my Facebook friends are tired of hearing about the book. I suppose I'm doing the usual things people with first books do. I'm getting book reviews lined up. I've scheduled readings. But I'm looking for new ways to pimp the book. I had some ideas that involved multimedia, but I'm still fleshing out those ideas. So not much, I suppose. Or not as much as some. I did just start a Tumblr page, ashbowenpoems, to help promote my work. 

The experience has been very positive. I was invited to read as part of the Kraken Reading Series, a fantastic series run by the great Kyle McCord and equally great Trista Edwards. Though I had a terrible cold, I had a great time at that reading. I've also been invited to read at a college back home and I'm reading at the Arkansas Literary Festival. 

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

Probably not to expect too much; that the book isn't really going to change your life all that much.

Are there any new writing projects in the works?

I'm pretty close to having a second manuscript completed. The new poems are different than the poems in The Even Years of Marriage. Two poems in The Baltimore Review are representative of what I'm doing now.  I had a burst of creative energy last April when a friend of mine and I agreed to do the poem-a-day challenge. We swapped poems every day to keep each other honest, and I ended up with 30 solid drafts at the end of the month. Many of those drafts fell together into finished poems pretty quickly, so I was fortunate. I've been writing steadily ever since, but the drafts have taken longer to get to a usable state. One new poem went through 70+ drafts. 

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

Absolutely, or at least your own part of the world. I remember reading Norman Dubie's poem, “The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922,” for the intro creative writing class I took as a sophomore.  A feeling came over me that I've never forgotten.  I tried to express the impact  the poem had on me to my professor, but I couldn't translate the feeling into words. The world changed that day, for me anyway.

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Ash Bowen lives with his partner and step-children in Alabama where he teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. His work has appeared in New England Review, Blackbird, Best New Poets, Quarterly West, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere in print and online.  
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

#78 - TJ Jarrett

How often had you sent out Ain’t No Grave before it was chosen for publication by New Issues Poetry and Prose in 2012?

I’m happier not knowing how many places I sent my manuscript when I carpet-bombed the universe. It’s generally depressing. Let’s settle with ‘I sent it out lots’ and be done with it.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Ain’t No Grave? Did it go through any other changes?

In the book’s first incarnation, I called it The Moon Looks Down and Laughs after the Billie Holiday song, but as I was working through it, I thought that the title wasn’t really reflecting the direction of the book. A friend of mine is a musician here in Nashville and invited me to see a show. I protested, but when I got there, I saw Mike Farris & the Roseland Revue sing ‘Ain’t No Grave’—a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I heard the first few bars, remembered the song and I knew right then that it was the title. Sort of like falling in love.

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

First: Charlie Sheen has ruined the word ‘winning’ for years to come. Fo’ sho.

I hear it’s completely possible to get a book published without being in a contest. But on the nature of ‘winning’: It feels so good to say that you ‘won’ something that it’s completely understandable that we fall into the trap that a contest is worth winning.  We stop thinking about what kind of press and what kind of books they produce and have the all-consuming quest for ‘a’ book rather than focusing on either writing our best book or finding a press who best matches our needs and will produce their best book as well. So there’s that. There’s also the fact that there are several open reading periods that will also pick up a first manuscript and these shouldn’t be discounted.

But I’ve been lucky: I was runner up (see: not winning) for the New Issues Prize in 2012 and won one of the Crab Orchard Open Poetry Prize slots in 2013. Winning is not the point. Getting the work out at a press you admire and is a good fit for you is. I’ve heard tell of manuscripts that have a push/pull with editors. I’ve not had that at all and have had the most enlightening and constructive interactions with my publishers. If you want, you can call that winning.

I did a lot of complaining while I was writing the book—that it wasn’t picked up fast enough (which means instantaneously in my limbic brain) and that it wasn’t being written fast enough (which is crazy because it came together in about 18 months)—but if I had any real regrets, it’s that when I finally turned it over to my editor, it seemed too fast. I wanted more time.  I always do.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

Oh, I must have written and rewritten into it at least 3 or 4 times. Not to mention little things here and there that make the book hold together. There were edits into poems that directly spoke to other poems because it could fit into that specific place. That’s the most fun part of the whole damned thing. I wrote both of my books in a bar, so I would just go in there, get all that ambient sound around me and get to work. I still can’t really write a poem without that sound.

NB. I’m trying to write without a bar because I’d like to keep my liver. Even though sometimes I wouldn’t even drink at the bar, I’d still want to be able to write without smelling of smoke and bad decisions. Let’s see how long that lasts. I always seem to crawl back to the bar when I want to get ‘real’ work done.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.? Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

New Issues has a design department, so I gave general thoughts on what I wanted and they gave me two covers and I picked one. I said that I wanted the moon in the trees and I got that. Maybe I’m low maintenance about it, but I think they did an incredible job with the cover and within their style guides. Also, Marni Ludwig (the winner of the contest and a production cycle before me) won the war with getting a serif font, so I ended up getting all that I wanted.

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

In the sense that I think that having publications get you closer to writing better poems toward a book, I think publication is a means to get you on your way. I also think that’s the best way toward building public anticipation for a book. I never really thought of publication of poems per se as the measure of a good book. I’m fairly suspicious about using the fact that a poem is published as the only yardstick for whether it belongs to a manuscript.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

William Olsen told me when we first met about the book that first books are often over edited. He was fairly adamant that I leave the order almost exactly as it was. I did some small tuning of line and a few word choice changes I’d had in my notes, but besides that, I let it roll as I sent it to them initially. Besides copy edits, I wasn’t all that hands on with the text after it was picked up. My second book was the exact opposite. The text that won is considerably different than the text that I sent in for publication. I’d just done an overhaul of the book when they called me. I shipped the book up to Jon Tribble and he was quite gracious about the changes in direction of the book. I think Zion (my second book) is a better book for those changes.

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

I’d like to say that I had this overwhelming sense of accomplishment, but I just sat at my kitchen table and cried. Because I’m a poet like that and too sensitive to be alive.
   
How has your life been different since your book came out?

I wish I could say it was completely different. I think my book sold me to my (admittedly awesome) new roommate. But really, I still buy my own groceries. I do my own laundry. I mop my own floors. Sometimes I take time off work to do a reading and I get a free meal. But then I’m back to my really dull, murder mystery BBC-a-thon that is my life.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

I rarely bring it up, because every sonofabitch has a book in them and they all want to talk about it. I’m quite cagey about it, like when I used to go to bars and claim I was an airline stewardess because it was easier than admitting that I’m a software engineer. But when cornered, the synopsis is usually: This is a book about the nadir of race relations between 1880 and 1930 and what a southern black family does to resist and embrace the weight of history. But you know, in verse. The synopsis is true, and maybe the book is about a lot more than that, like death, malice between men, and the burden of the living and memory. But most (if not all) books are about that on some level, no?

What have you been doing to promote Ain’t No Grave, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I am travelling to places where I’ve been invited and doing readings and selling books. I want to do more, but I can’t because well, I have a corporate job and they have needs too. But I do like the fact that my boss and coworkers are always intrigued about the places I go and what I ate and we can chit chat about it. I’ve worked at places where I have to be a Fight Club character about my writing. In contrast, my current life is quite nice.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

Dear pre-book Tanya:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Run your own race, your own best time. Spend time with your words and enjoy them. This is your only first book. Don’t be an asshole; listening to the theme song to 8 Mile won’t make it go any faster. You’re not going to want it to go any faster in the long run. Writing a book isn’t about proving anything to anyone. Say what you need to say—no more, no less. There are so many things that are more important than this. Spend more time with your friends. Love them. The words will always be there. Get more sleep. Take care of yourself. Rest. Rest. Rest. Live fully, drink a little less, laugh a little more. Work is work and your overdeveloped sense of responsibility needs to understand limits.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

I think I get a little bolder with each book I write. I don’t write from the ‘I wonder if I can write a book’ but from the ‘What is the most important thing for me to say’ place. That’s liberating.

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

Poetry rocks MY world. I think there are people to be reached and hearts to be touched and moved by words. 

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TJ Jarrett is a writer and software developer in Nashville, Tennessee. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boxcar Poetry Review, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Linebreak, Rattle, Southern Poetry Anthology, Third Coast, West Branch and others. She has earned scholarships  from Colrain Manuscript Conference, Sewanee Writer’s Conference and Vermont Studio Center; a fellowship from the Summer Literary Seminars 2012; a runner up for the 2012 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize and 2012 New Issues Poetry Prize; and her collection The Moon Looks Down and Laughs was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry.  Her debut collection Ain’t No Grave was published with New Issues Press in the fall of 2013.  Her second collection Zion  (winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition 2013)  will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in the fall of 2014. Find more at http://www.tjjarrett.com
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Friday, January 3, 2014

#77 - Kristina Marie Darling


How often had you sent out Night Songs before it was chosen for publication by Gold Wake Press in 2010?

Before sending out Night Songs, I had been publishing poems in small print journals, as well as online literary magazines, for years.  I was just thrilled to have poems accepted, but after awhile, a few publishers expressed an interest in publishing a full-length collection.  Although I didn't have one ready at the time, I kept track of the publishers who had invited me to submit.  When Night Songs was finally finished, I sent it to approximately four publishers.  Gold Wake Press was the first one to respond, and when I saw that my manuscript had been accepted, I was thrilled.  I'm a fan of Jared Michael Wahlgren's creative work, especially his full-length book from BlazeVOX.  He had also just published Zachary C. Bush and Donora Hillard, whose work I really admire. 

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Night Songs? Did it go through any other changes?

I had written a chapbook called Night Music, and I always thought that I would stick with the same title when the full-length version was ready.  I realize now that Night Music is not a very good title, but at the time, it seemed alright.  That all changed when I gave a reading in St. Louis at Dressel's Public House with Nick Demske and several other poets.  Nick called my chapbook by the wrong name, and told me that he really enjoyed Night Songs.  But I was so glad that he messed up my chapbook's title.  I decided that Night Songs was a big improvement over Night Music, and that's what I ended up titling the full-length version.  It still amazes me that accidents and missteps can be so important for the creative process. 

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

I usually tell people that it's a thematically linked poetry collection, with much of the work being inspired by my love of classical music.  I think that's accurate, but it's also very much inspired by my love of French prose poetry.  The book actually drifts in and out of French in certain passages.  I think that person on the airplane would also be surprised at just how strange the book actually gets.  I even start erasing my own poems at the end, which usually surprises the non-poets or non-poetry readers out there. 

Night Songs has just been reissued, correct? Can you tell me a little about the process of the how and why of the reissue? And why the new cover, font size, etc.?

When Night Songs was first published, I was just starting out as a poet, and it was also one of Gold Wake Press's first three titles.  It's really wonderful and exciting to see how much the press has grown, and to see growth in my writing at the same time. 

I'm so impressed with how Jared Michael Wahlgren has developed the press since those early titles in 2010.  He's expanded the catalogue, publishing poetry as well as cross-genre work (like Kathleen Rooney's novel-in-poems and Joshua Young's play-in-verse) and some really fascinating collaborations.  While the design of the books was always beautiful, Gold Wake Press titles have also become, in recent years, even more striking than those first few books. 

The idea behind the reissue was to create an edition of the book that's more in line with the press's current aesthetic.  When Night Songs was first published, all the books had glossy covers, and the back cover was always white.  The visual presentation of the books is much different now.  The current titles have matte covers and spine text, but there's also more room for the interior layout, cover design, and other visual elements to reflect the aesthetic of the manuscript. 

I really love what Gold Wake Press has done with the design of the new edition of Night Songs.   I feel like the design elements have breathed new life into my first book. 

Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

One of the great things about working with an independent press is that you have more freedom and choice when it comes to design elements.  I feel fortunate to have been asked for input about the cover artwork for both editions.  It's really wonderful to have the opportunity to choose cover art that you feel represents the book and your aesthetic. 

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

I never entered contests for financial reasons.  When I was sending out Night Songs, I was studying continental philosophy, so I really didn't have the money to pay entry fees.  But I think that open reading periods do have a distinct advantage over contests.  I say this because editors take into account your track record publishing in magazines, how active you are in the literary community (in terms of publishing, but also editing, reviewing, etc.), and the potential readership for the book.  These things tend to get overlooked in contests, where the submissions are completely anonymous.   So if you have a good track record of publications, and are active as a reviewer or editor, I'd definitely suggest looking into open reading periods, because these are the first books that tend to have the best chance. 

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

Even as a very young poet, I knew that journal publication was important for building audience.  That's why I worked hard to publish nearly every poem from the book in a magazine.  In my opinion, publishing in magazines is especially important for a first book.  For one thing, it opens up opportunities for reviews, interviews, and features when the collection is released.  And journal publication certainly helps generate interest in a new book.  Even if it's not The New Yorker, publishing individual poems helps build a potential audience for your poetry, which can be challenging with a first book. 

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

In 2010, when the book was first published, I was a residency at the Vermont Studio Center.  I had a nightmare before the copies arrived that I opened the box and the book was Xeroxed and stapled together crooked.  I was so nervous to see the finished product, since I had never published a book before.  When I saw the first edition, I was thrilled.  I remember being so happy that I carried the book around with me everywhere I went.  I literally wouldn't set the book down. 

When I saw the second edition, I was even more thrilled.  It helped me see the work in a completely new way.  I had been working in more experimental forms since publishing Night Songs, but seeing the finished book made me want to work on writing prose poems again. 

How has your life been different since your book came out? I know that you have many more books published since the original version of Night Songs is published. How do you find time to write so much and put together so many books of poetry?

I feel so grateful to Jared Michael Wahlgren for publishing my first book, since that one publication opened up everything for me.  The other Gold Wake Press authors are so supportive, and have been really generous as I've worked to promote my poetry.  After Night Songs came out, Cow Heavy Books published my second book, and the editor, Donora Hillard, is also a Gold Wake Press author.  I was thrilled to work with Donora, since she's a very talented poet, and she also did some beautiful design work on my book.  I might never have come into contact with her if it hadn't have been for Night Songs.  Likewise, Erin Elizabeth Smith is the editor at Sundress Publications, and we're getting ready to release my new book, Fortress, in 2014.  I also met Erin through Gold Wake Press.  I feel fortunate to be working with a press that publishes great poetry, but also promotes poets who are active in the literary community working on exciting projects. 

What are you doing to promote the reissue of Night Songs? How are you promoting it now versus how you promoted it when it was first published?

I feel like I've learned a lot about book promotions since my first book was published.  When Night Songs was first published, I sent review copies directly to magazines, which resulted in very few reviews.  Magazines often wanted to publish a review, but didn't have a reviewer.  Now I definitely see how important it is to reach out to individual reviewers whose work I admire.  I've also learned to focus more on web-based promotion, since a reviewer can be posted and reposted, and read by people in many different geographical locations.  Most of my readings, on the other hand, have been attended mostly by my friends, who already knew all about my book. 

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

The fiction writer Christina Milletti gave me great advice about book promotion.  She said that it's important to be your own publicist.  This doesn't mean being aggressive, or overbearing, but you should definitely follow up with people.  If someone mentioned that they'd like to review your book, you might check with them and see if they need help placing the review.  I can't tell you how many times I had an interested reviewer, and a magazine that wanted to publish a review of my book, but the reviewer and the magazine didn't know about each other.  So you can definitely steer reviewers toward interested markets. 

For me, getting my books reviewed has been a really enjoyable process.  I've made great friends, and even met a collaborator, when I was just trying to promote my books.  Poets shouldn't be afraid to reach out, because one of the most rewarding aspects of poetry is being part of a community. 

Are there any new projects in the works?

I'm working on a collaboration with photographer and costumer Max Avi Kaplan.  It involves Polaroids, disembodied hands, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.  Stay tuned for details!

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

I can't speak for other people, but poetry has certainly taught me to value things like community, collaboration, and dialogue.  If you ask me, changing one individual's consciousness does create change in the world.  

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Kristina Marie Darling is the author of sixteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress (Sundress Publications, 2014).  Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation.  She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at SUNY Buffalo.
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