How often had you sent out Lit Windowpane before it was chosen for publication by Main Street Rag Press?
Main Street Rag was the first press I sent Lit Windowpane to and also the only press I sent it to until the day it was accepted—I had to withdraw it from a contest I had entered that morning. An earlier manuscript went out about 24 times and was named a finalist or semi-finalist many times.
What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?
Initially I found it overwhelming. I had already published several chapbooks and had a lot of work that had never been collected. I had spent many years writing poems and not working towards a book. I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a collection made of chapbooks. And I knew I wanted a collection that had an arc, but it was very difficult to sort through all that work and find one.
It took about a year to draft the first manuscript. Once I felt confident that it was complete I began to send it out and I was happy when it started placing in contests. I remember the distinct feeling of closure and felt that I had moved on. I was writing new poems, poems that didn’t belong in the manuscript. Eventually the finalist notes began to lose their charm.
I went back to the manuscript and took it apart. Then I put it back together. Up to this point I hadn’t shared the manuscript with anyone since the early draft stage and the thought of sharing it with anyone besides an anonymous reader made me feel nauseous, still I knew I needed an objective viewpoint so I sent it to a friend. His feedback helped everything fall into place. All the new poems I had been writing, the ones where I had “moved on,” are in Lit Windowpane. Now that I look back it’s a little strange to realize that while I was putting together and submitting what I thought would be my first book I was writing what would become my first book.
As for the poems in the original manuscript some of them went on to become the chapbook, American Flamingo, and the others may make an appearance in my next manuscript.
What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Was there a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript, or was the focus primarily on assembling the manuscript without worrying about previous publication?
Credits weren’t a consideration when arranging the manuscript—the book was the main thing.
Often poetry books, first or not, can feel long. There are 47 total pages of poetry in Lit Windowpane. Most contests and open reading periods call for a 48-page minimum. Was there always such a focus on brevity when you assembled the manuscript?
In manuscript form there were 50 pages and during the layout of the book the page count changed. The book felt complete to me at that length, it wasn’t an intentional focus on brevity. My main focus was not to sacrifice the integrity of the book as a book and perhaps that’s where brevity comes in.
Not only that, but it seems like the majority of the poems in the book are very short, yet they don’t feel short. Who are some of your influences, and do you set out to write shorter poems, or do many of poems naturally seem to turn out that way by the end?
Thank you, what a nice compliment. My poems are definitely not long and are most often referred to as spare. Occasionally I try to write against this inclination and make attempts at a more lush, discursive type of poem, but eventually find myself reverting to the shorter poem.
It’s difficult for me to point to a specific influence because I believe everything you read influences the way you write and I read a tremendous amount. Some of the poets that I return to often are Dickinson, Ammons, Stevens, Bishop, and Auden. I also read a lot of contemporary poetry either in book form or in journals.
The book includes no sections—it starts with the first poem and ends with the last poem continuously—rather than multiple sections like a lot of first books. Was it always this way?
Yes. Once I started to assemble Lit Windowpane I discovered that each poem led to the next and felt sections would stop the momentum.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
All I remember is finding the box of books on the porch, carrying it in, setting it down, and staring at it a lot longer than a normal person would before I finally opened it. I had already seen galleys, but I wasn’t prepared for how lovely the book looked in person. I loved the cover, the way the poems faced each other, the scent of the book’s pages. I walked around for a week, picking the book up, looking at it, and setting it down, over and over.
Did you suggest the image that was used on the cover? Or were you offered choices?
Scott Douglass at MSRP let me pick out the cover art with the understanding that MSRP had the final say. Once I started looking for cover art I quickly realized I didn’t want something too literal, and that I would prefer an illustration rather than a photograph, or a painting. I found one by the artist Bodhi Hill I really liked, but wasn’t quite sure if it was right for the cover. When Scott sought Hill out he found his website and thought there were others in his portfolio that would suit the cover better. I went over to take a look and fell in love with the illustration we selected for the cover. I am really happy with the way it resonates with the poems.
Before the day you ripped open that box and saw your book for the first time, did you imagine that your life would change because of it?
No. I knew too many poets with first books who had readily and quickly disabused me of that notion. One of my friends said it best, “You publish your book and nothing happens. You’re still the same person.” In retrospect I’m glad I was prepared for nothing to happen.
How has your life been different since your book came out? Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
There have been some surprises. A lot of people have expressed an interest in reviewing the book and there have already been two generous reviews from people I didn’t even know were planning to review it. Verse Daily featured one of the poems and I’ve had requests for more interviews, and invitations to read.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what have those experiences been like for you?
I went all out with online promotion: emails, on my blog, and on Facebook. It felt dirty and necessary at once. As a poet publishing with a small press it was important to promote the book as much as possible. I had to do all I could to help MSRP sell the book. I’ll continue to promote the book through readings.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?
Tom Colicchio, one of the judges on Top Chef, often tells the chefs competing “You need to bring it. This is a competition.” I could have used a little of that attitude, and I encourage anyone else sending out a manuscript to take Colicchio’s advice.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? And are any new books or other projects on the horizon?
I’m not so sure it’s had a difference, although I do find myself returning to my first love, the essay, maybe that’s a difference or maybe that would have happened anyway. I’m also putting together another collection of poems, and working on the New Haven issue I’m editing for LOCUSPOINT.
Do you have any additional advice for first poets sending out their first books to contests and open reading periods?
Remember that you are more than your poems. Do not allow the submission process to turn you into a mass of dejection.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
In addition to Lit Windowpane, Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of several chapbooks most recently: American Flamingo (MiPOesias Press, 2008) Spring Tide, (Aldrich Museum, 2005) and Red Paper Flower, (Little Poem Press, 2004). Her poems appear in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Ecotone, Indiana Review, MARGIE, Poet Lore, and Conversation Pieces: Poems that Talk to Other Poems, part of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet Series (Knopf, 2007). She is the recipient of the Aldrich Poetry Award, and an Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.