Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#18 - Cecily Parks

How often had you sent out Field Folly Snow before it was chosen as a selection for the VQR Poetry Series?

I had been sending my manuscript out for a little over a year when it was chosen for the VQR Poetry Series. How many times? I didn’t keep track. I could look in my checkbook to count the contest entry fees, but it would be too demoralizing. I figured that I couldn’t really control when, or if, my collection would get published, and so I tried to remain slightly detached during the process.

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

Assembling the book was the hardest part. Before I began submitting the manuscript, I dedicated many hours to scattering the individual poems—all over this huge kitchen table in my parents’ house, or all over the floor of my apartment—and arranging and rearranging them. I wanted the order of the poems to guide readers in how to read me, so I decided to start Field Folly Snow with more accessible poems, and end with the difficult ones. Once I settled on this structure, I stuck with it. (Perhaps because I couldn’t bear to go through the assembly again.)

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?

I hadn’t ever thought, “I have to get all of these poems into journals.” However, being in journals had been (and will continue to be) a very good thing in terms of building a readership. Most of the book’s poems appeared in journals first, so I had a small, small fan base by the time the book came out. People I’d never met got in touch with me to say how much they’d admired my work in journals and looked forward to reading Field Folly Snow.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book won to the day the book was in its final proofing stage?

Right before I was scheduled to send the final manuscript to the publisher, I replaced seven of my least favorite (and probably oldest) poems in the manuscript with seven poems I’d written the previous month at a residency. It was kind of a scary switch, because the poems were so new. Any of the edits I made after that point were small, and were most likely suggested by my wonderful copyeditor at UGA Press.

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

I received the book in the mail, in a nondescript brown box. When I opened it, I gave a little yelp.

Did you suggest the image that was used on the cover? Or were you offered choices?

There are horse poems in the book, so I told the press that I wanted to have a horse on the cover. I sent them a .pdf of a Nicola Hicks drawing of a horse that I admired. In the end, they didn’t use it. The press gave me four wonderful cover choices, and although one of the choices was a horse cover, my editor, Ted Genoways, really encouraged me to choose the cover that I have now—bare, windswept trees in snow. I loved it once I decided on it (or, I should say, once Ted helped me decide on it). And, funnily enough, that horse image that I could have chosen appeared on the cover of novel—Split Estate by Charlotte Bacon—that came out shortly after my book.

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.

How has your life been different since your book came out? Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?

The most rewarding part of this process has been discovering how many of my non-poet friends and acquaintances bought and read Field Folly Snow. It’s meant so much to me to have friends, family members, and people I haven’t seen for a long time supporting me. Other lovely perks have included more invitations to give readings, and more invitations to teach.

I can’t say there were that many surprises. I’d worked in book publishing and knew something about the process. But it was all thoroughly enjoyable.

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

I’ve set up readings for myself, and I’ve said yes every time someone has asked me to give a reading or an interview. I felt like something of a celebrity last year when my friend Jennifer Chang (whose book The History of Anonymity was published in the same series as mine) and I went on a road trip / book tour in California. I find that I’ve become a much less nervous reader over the course of the last year.

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

Enjoy it. You only get to publish a first book once.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? And are any new books or other projects on the horizon?

For the past year I’ve tried to write poems that are as different as possible in form and subject matter from the ones in Field Folly Snow. But I haven’t written all that much, and the poems I have written are, I suspect, not that disassociated from those in my first collection. Mostly, I am writing slowly, and with the belief that I am not likely to have a second collection completed for at least five years.

Do you have any additional advice for poets sending out their first books to contests and open reading periods?

Although I can’t say that I followed this strictly, I would say: Resist the urge to fiddle with your manuscript once you’re happy with it. I feel like sometimes people fiddle and fiddle and fiddle, and what they end up with is a combination of their first book and their second book.

Also, only submit to places that you feel strongly about. And have the conviction that in the end, you only want to be with a press who really wants you.

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

Yes. I have been reading Emerson, and I like the way he states a poet’s aspiration: “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.”

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Cecily Parks is the author of Field Folly Snow (University of Georgia Press/VQR Poetry Series, 2008) and the chapbook Cold Work (Poetry Society of America, 2005). Her poems and reviews are forthcoming in Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, and Publishers Weekly. A Ph.D. candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, she lives in New York.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#17 - Randall Mann

How often had you sent out Complaint in the Garden before it won the 2003 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry?

I sent the manuscript out for six years, 1997 through 2003.

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

Oh, it went through endless versions the first few years. Early on it was just my MFA thesis plus whatever was lying around, yikes. But I wrote the last poem in the book in 2000, and after that the book stabilized.

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 publications?

I was very concerned about publishing as many poems as possible, and in good places, if possible; I was concerned about “building an audience,” which is maybe a touch na├»ve, maybe not. I think all but one of the poems were published in a magazine first.

Zoo Press no longer exists, but it seems like the book is readily available and still in print. Had you known that Zoo Press wouldn’t be around soon after the book was published, would you have opted to keep sending it out to find a different home for it?

Complaint in the Garden is technically out of print, though Orchises Press kindly adopted it and continues to make it available in its catalogue and on Amazon and such. I think I would have gone ahead and let Zoo publish the thing, even knowing what I know now; it was, is, such an honor to be selected by David Baker and have the book associated with The Kenyon Review.

One of the things that a reader may encounter upon first reading the poems in Complaint in the Garden is the many poems in traditional forms: sonnets, villanelles, heroic couplets, etc. The impressive thing about the poems is often you can’t recognize this unless you’re looking for it, which is a good sign the poem is successful. Was there a necessity to write in forms, or is this something you had been doing for a while? I ask because forms like sestinas and villanelles are often written out of not only obsession, but obsession for a certain repetition that only traditional forms can really satisfy.

I have always loved the gamesmanship of formal poems, the challenge and demand of constraint. I had a subject—for example, the selling of my dead grandmother’s belongings at a yard sale in the poem “Yard Sale”—and so I thought, in this case, the turning and returning not only to her stuff but to the past and to her death made a case for trying a villanelle.

Who are some of your influences, and who were your influences especially when writing Complaint in the Garden?

When writing Complaint in the Garden, some essential ones were Hardy, Auden, Stevens, Moore, Lowell, Bishop, Justice, Hecht, Larkin, Walcott, Ashbery. And always, always Frost.

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? Was this a conscious choice as you were constructing it?

Layout was always an afterthought to composition; I tried two sections and three sections but I settled on no sections I think because some of the main themes of the book—queer love, Florida landscape and history, disaffection—surfaced and overlapped in so many of the poems.

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

It was late March 2004, and I was sitting at my desk at work, and I opened the box and pulled out this beautiful thing that seemed to mean everything.

Did you suggest the image that was used on the cover? Or were you offered choices?

I suggested several collages by Debora Greger; this was one of them; Zoo was kind enough to send me several mock-ups of covers with her collages, and I liked this best.

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?

Yes, but not so grand, really; I imagined it would change because writers have books and if I had a book, well, the world might see me as a real writer.

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

I made sure it was sent to every possible magazine and newspaper that might take a look or give it ink; I sent to the gay press, which was very receptive. The Zoo publicity engine-that-could fell off the tracks fairly early on, so I took control, but it was difficult, and Complaint probably didn’t get considered for awards and such the way it should have been. But that’s the small-press life. I was determined, after almost a decade of writing it and six years of sending it out, that it would not go unnoticed.

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

Other than feeling good about being a writer, none.

Your second book of poems, Breakfast with Thom Gunn, will be coming out in the Spring of 2009. Tell us about the book. How long have you been working on it? What can readers expect from it?

As I have grown more ragged and unsure, so have my poems. The poems are mostly set in San Francisco. There is a queer, I hope unforgiving, anxiety, and a harsher take on love and loss and landscape. I worked on the book for nine years.

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

In its secret secret way, yes.

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Randall Mann
is the author of two poetry collections, Breakfast with Thom Gunn (University of Chicago 2009), and Complaint in the Garden (Zoo/Orchises 2004), winner of the 2003 Kenyon Review Prize; and co-author of the textbook Writing Poems (Pearson Longman 2007). His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, Pleaides, The Kenyon Review, Salmugundi, and Contemporary Poetry Review. He works as an editor and lives in San Francisco.
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