Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#33 - Gary L. McDowell

How often had you sent out American Amen before it was chosen for the 2009 Orphic Prize?

The version of the manuscript selected by Dream Horse Press went to exactly 5 places, and DHP was the first to respond of those five. However, well before that—for the previous two years or so—I'd sent various incarnations of the manuscript to 57 contests and open reading periods. I only know the number by heart because I often sit at my desk and mourn the hundreds of dollars I threw away by sending the manuscript out way before it was ready. I basically started by sending out my MFA thesis manuscript, which, for some people, might be a good idea, but for me it was a terrible idea. I did, however, gather 10 different finalists and semi-finalists nods in that time, so those were certainly encouraging, but I've learned my lesson about sending out a manuscript too early.


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


The title changed often. My MFA thesis is/was titled Young Teeth, a title I still really like, but the book simply outgrew what that title meant to/for me. From there, it was called A Poem about My Father Will Always Begin My Father and Salt Swells. As the book started to evolve past concerns of fathers to envelope other obsessions, none of those titles captured the overall thematic concerns of the manuscript, so I started over.


I was, one day in the spring of 2009, chatting with poet Amy Newman on good ole Facebook Chat about my troubles with titling the collection. She asked me why I didn't try to find a line or phrase from one of the poems that could stand as a title. I immediately thought of the repetition of the word “Amen” in the poem “Notes from a Sleepwalker.” But that wasn't enough on its own, so Amy suggested “American Amen,” and I couldn't—still can't—explain the visceral reaction I had to the suggestion. I just knew that that was it. That was the title.


As for other changes, of course the manuscript went through numerous reorderings. I couldn't, even if I desperately wanted to, outline all of them. A lot of those changes happened organically as I wrote new poems that fit into the scheme of American Amen. The manuscript had, at one time or another, as many as 6 sections and as few as one (which is how it was published), so it was in flux a lot as I shaped it.


Sticking with the title: what, in your mind, makes this book distinctly American?


I've anticipated this question from you for months, Keith, because I knew you'd ask it based on the fact that we've talked about it before. Here's the thing: part of me isn't so sure there's anything more American about my book than any other, but there's another part of me that thinks the title is simply a call to tradition. Whitman told us to “contain multitudes,” to sing ourselves because “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” and I certainly wanted to speak to that tradition, to that cosmic consciousness, but I didn't set out to do so on any large scale. I simply wanted to recreate the America of my youth as I remember it: fishing with my father, watching birds and squirrels run around the pine forests of northern Wisconsin, trying to understand divorce and the emotional upheaval of father and son relationships. I didn't want to write an American book, per se, but I did want to represent, imagistically and metaphorically, the landscape, both physical and spiritual, that surrounded me as a child. So in that way, the book is incredibly American. But in another way, America is subjective in the book, too. It's a personal America and not a cultural or societal one. Dickinson wrote in one of her letters, “Nature is a haunted house—but Art—a house that tries to be haunted.” In American Amen, America is a haunted house, but the poems are simply trying to be haunted by its presence.


You’ve mentioned in past interviews that fatherhood is a big part of this book, which anyone who has read it certainly knows. How many poems were written and included in the manuscript after your son was born? And because of your son, did the book keep changing a lot? In what ways?


The seed poems of the book, the ones that helped me know that fathers/sons would be its major theme, were written back in 2006 during my MFA program, a couple years before I became a father for the first time, but the poems dealing with my own experiences of fatherhood certainly, and obviously, came after Auden was born in late 2008. The poems about fatherhood are stylistically different, are mimetic of the lifestyle that fatherhood thrust on me. Taking care of Auden during the first few months when he suffered off and on with colic forced me to find little pockets of time to write rather than the long, sit-down sessions I was used to. The poems written during that time take on a more fragmentary quality, a more associative and disjunctive mode. Even the lines are staggered and tired; they fall away from themselves, drop-step and droop like a Charles Wright line. So the whole book became saturated with these new poems and it gave it a new life, one both simultaneously tired and rejuvenated.


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 was concerned about bringing the manuscript into the world so as to gain readers and participate in the tradition and conversation of contemporary poetry. That's it. Of course winning a contest entered my mind: the prestige, the cool tag line in my bio, the small—though probably insignificant—advantage it might give me in an already stupidly tough job market. But in all honesty, I just wanted the book to come out on a press I respected and admired. Somehow or another I was able to win a contest, but I'd have been just as happy if I'd placed the book through an open reading period.


The only advice I can proffer regarding sending out to contests versus open reading periods is this: only send your manuscript to presses on which you'd be thrilled to appear. If you aren't positive that you'd flip your lid and hoot and holler if/when you get that magical email/phone call, then don't send there.


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


As I mentioned above, the book went through so many changes that I can't possibly detail them all, but basically the book just changed shape as I wrote new poems that fit its mold, its themes and concerns. I tried to assemble the book as if I were an outside reader: what kind of poem would I want to read after this poem about fishing with a father? What kind of poem should precede this one about birds bursting through this speaker's wife's chest? That kind of thing. Over time, the book took myriad different shapes, but eventually the frame-work of organizing it around the “Aubade” poems happened and from there things, somehow, magically fell into place.


In addition to being the co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, you also have a good number of prose poems in American Amen. Was it your intention to have prose poems in the manuscript from the beginning? How do you decide what needs to be written in lines and what becomes a prose poem?


When I think back to the writing of the poems that I knew would be the essential building-blocks of American Amen—again, in or around 2006—the first two poems that really stand out are “Notes from a Sleepwalker” and “Tricycle,” both prose poems. So in a way, yes, I initially wanted to have a variety of free-verse forms in American Amen, but I never, for that manuscript or any other, set out to write a particular form. It may sound mystical and cheesy, but I honestly do believe in the notion of organic form: the forms choose me as much I as choose them. At that time—during the last weeks of my first year at BGSU's MFA program—I was experimenting with the prose poem form as much to irritate my professor who said they weren't poetry at all (that's a long story) as I was to find a way to make the oxymoronic thing itself work. Then, of course, that silly motivation of pissing off an instructor wore off and I started working in the form in earnest. I loved its freedom, its inclusiveness, its visual shape.


As far as deciding which poems beg for lines and which don't, I think it has something to do with the velocity of the voice. A lot of times poems will come to me in this dynamically narrative, fantastical, parabolic, almost fairy-tale-like voice, and most of the time those beg for the prose form. And there's also the bizarre mock-confessional voice of “Notes from a Sleepwalker.” Those poems also—though there aren't many in American Amen—usually demand the prose form.


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


J.P. Dancing Bear, the editor and head-honcho over at Dream Horse Press, asked me if I had any preferences about font. I told him I did. He then picked out a font that fit my descriptions and never once did I doubt him. He did an incredible job with the internal layout of the book. The book is, in my opinion, beautiful, inside and out. I'll address the cover in the next question...


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


Yes! And boy did I get lucky. I had, earlier in 2009, fallen in love with the cover image of F. Daniel Rzicznek's Divination Machine (which, beyond the cover, is an incredibly vibrant and imaginative book...an incredible poet, that Rzciznek). I emailed Dan to ask who had designed it. Dan put me in touch with Frank Cucciarre, owner of Blink Concept & Design, Inc. After I got approval from Bear to consult an outside designer, I asked Frank if he might be willing to create some original art for the cover of American Amen. To my astonishment, he said yes! From there I sent Frank some representative work from the manuscript and he did the rest. In short, I'm incredibly grateful for Frank's vision and for Bear's permission to use an outside designer.


What about the publication of the actual poems 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 wouldn't say there was a concern to publish them, but I was certainly aware that previously publishing the poems added both a sense of credibility to them and aided in attracting a potential audience for the book's eventual, hopeful, publication. I still believe, perhaps naively, that having at least half a manuscript's poems published prior to sending it out does send the message to the press that you're interested in getting your work out into the world, to gathering readers, to participating in the contemporary conversation...but maybe that's just boohickey. I don't know.


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?


Just a little. Like I said earlier, it took so long to finally arrive at American Amen's final shape that once I did, I sort of left it alone. I did some line-editing, of course, and a little tinkering with some of the newest poems in the manuscript, but I didn't do any reordering or cutting or adding of poems. From what I hear, this isn't the norm, but it worked for me this time around. Perhaps next time it'll be different? Hell, I just hope there is a next time.


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


I remember sitting in the car on a very late summer—or very early fall, depending on how you view mid-September—afternoon just staring at the first advance copy that Bear sent along. I was in awe of how Frank's vision had come to life. The book was just so damn pretty. The cover had the great mixture of color and sense of line that I'd always imagined it'd have. And I felt a deep bit of gratitude to Bear and Dream Horse Press for choosing the book in the first place as winner of the Orphic Prize.


But that day pales in comparison to the day I received my first box of books from the publisher: it was the day of my daughter's birth! Traci Brimhall, poet and baby-sitter extraordinaire, was at our house watching my two-year old while we were at the hospital, and she texted me as I held Jorie Elizabeth for the first time to tell me that the box had arrived and that I was now the proud father of two very important firsts. It was an incredible moment.


How has your life been different since your book came out?


It hasn't really. And yet it has. I'm now officially on the job-market, which is terrifying. I just finished taking my comprehensive exams and am trying to finish up my Ph.D. at Western Michigan University. I'm also trying to book some readings to promote the release of American Amen, so that's exciting, but all in all, I'm just happy to be writing two new manuscripts while simultaneously enjoying my family.


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 be the a-hole who would want to tell them that poetry isn't about any one thing, that poetry is more interested in the how and why of language and its relationship to our perceptions and dreams and sense of wonderment. But I wouldn't actually do that. I would probably tell them that it's about childhood wonder, about fathers and sons and fatherhood, about fishing, about nature and Nature, about fear and its inevitability. In reality though, I'm not sure exactly what it's about. I think I'm just so damn close to it still. I'd love to revisit this question in a few years...and I think I will.


What have you been doing to promote American Amen, and what have those experiences been like for you?


I've done only one reading so far, at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University, but I've got readings scheduled (or half-scheduled anyway) for Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Chicago, Milwaukee, and other mid-western locales for this coming winter and spring, so I'm trying to do my best to get the book out there that way. I love reading. I adore interacting with folks who are interested in the work. It's the best feeling a poet can have in the public world, me thinks: to be received, to be cheered-on, to be wanted. I hope all of these readings come through, because I'd love to keep that feeling going for as long as I can.


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


Don't expect to sell a lot of books unless you put in the effort to sell them yourself. You've got to do readings, appearances, interviews (which are awesome but hard to come by, which is why this thing you're doing, Keith—and Kate before you—is so damn important), and whatever else you can to get the word out. I guess I sort of already knew that, and I guess people did tell me that before the book came out, but it's the best piece of advice I've been given and the one that seems most important going forward.


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


It's freed me. I no longer feel restricted by subject matter or theme or style. I'm all over the place. I wrote the childhood/father/son book that I knew I'd have to write simply because of my obsessions and my prior life experiences, but now I'm free. I'm writing two different manuscripts now and both of them are wildly different from American Amen. It's been damn fun.


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


No. But I do believe that people can change the world. It's up to us to do it though. We simply have to. We must. Both Rilke and James Wright can't be wrong. Right?


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Gary L. McDowell is the author of American Amen (Dream Horse Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Orphic Prize, and the chapbooks They Speak of Fruit (Cooper Dillon Books, 2009) and The Blueprint (Pudding House, 2005), and he's also the co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His poems have won recent awards from The National Poetry Review and Minnetonka Review and have appeared in recent issues of Bellingham Review, diode, Indiana Review, New England Review, Quarterly West, and others. He lives in Portage, MI with his wife and two kids. He can be found online at http://www.garylmcdowell.com

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Monday, November 1, 2010

#32 - Mari L'Esperance

How often had you sent out The Darkened Temple before it was chosen for the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize?


I began sending the manuscript out in late 2006. By the time Prairie Schooner Editor in Chief Hilda Raz called me in June of 2007 to tell me that she'd selected my manuscript for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, I'd sent it out to 15-20 contests and presses with open reading periods.


Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Darkened Temple? Did it go through any other changes?


The title is a fragment from one of the poems in my book (“Grief Is Deep Green”) and evokes much for me—aesthetically, symbolically, culturally, and personally. I played with a few variations, eventually settling on The Darkened Temple.


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?


My primary concern was getting my manuscript published. Although contests are certainly a common avenue by which many first books of poetry are published, my thinking is that it's wise to also submit to open reading periods, as contests can be (are!) a shot in the dark and submission fees can be prohibitive for many. Whether one submits via contest, open reading period, or both, poets should consider the quality of the books published by a particular press and take note of the kind of pre- and post-publication marketing and promotion the press does on behalf of its books and authors. It's also important to consider the press's aesthetic leanings and whether or not they align with your own.


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


I put the manuscript together in the Fall of 2006, a process that transpired organically and intuitively. The manuscript stayed essentially the same during the submission process, which extended for about six months. Once the manuscript had been accepted and I was working with Hilda on finalizing it for publication, some minor edits were incorporated, a poem was removed, and three new poems were added.


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


I was not involved much at all. The University of Nebraska Press oversaw most of the production and design, including the cover selection.


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


UNP sent me the cover image they were considering, I responded with my impressions, and the press made their final selection—a painting by David Lewis-Baker titled Composition in Orange and Black (Homage to Rothko). My initial reaction was that the image was too overpowering for the book's content and I wanted instead to use a painting by my friend Suzanne Onodera. But Lewis-Baker's painting has since grown on me and now I quite like it—it has a powerful, alchemical quality that seems fitting for my book. It makes me think of a favorite quote by Brenda Hillman: “Below the furnace, the ash.” I've also received many compliments on the cover, so UNP clearly knew what it was doing, despite my early ambivalence.


What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Many of the poems have been previously published, and there are many that appear in an earlier chapbook, Begin Here. Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?


Early on, I sent out individual poems to journals long before I had any thought of a cohesive manuscript. I was simply writing poem to poem, although the idea of an eventual manuscript existed in my mind as a shadowy possibility. So, no, I did not concern myself much with having the majority of the poems published in journals prior to sending out my 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?


For the most part, the poems were fairly publication-ready at the time of acceptance and I didn't do much pre-production editing. Hilda and I had a couple of intensive phone conversations where we considered possible edits to the manuscript, most of them minor—some of which I incorporated, others of which I did not. I appreciated Hilda's sensitivity, sharp editorial eye, and willingness to allow me final say in most of these decisions. As a first-book poet, I feel fortunate to have been able to work with such a skilled and experienced editor.


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


I came home to a box waiting for me outside my front door. After surmising that it was from my press, I brought it inside and promptly ignored it for several hours. When I finally got around to opening it, I was first struck by the intense colors and glossiness of the cover. I didn't read it, but did scan the dedication page, acknowledgments, notes, and blurbs and flipped through the pages. I remember feeling grateful to have a book. Then I probably went out to dinner with my husband.


How has your life been different since your book came out? Did it become a factor in getting a future job for you?

My life hasn’t changed much at all. The prize and subsequent publication gave me encouragement and validation at a critical juncture in my personal and poetic development. People seem to take notice a bit more when they learn that my book won a prize. That, admittedly, feels good; I’m trying to learn how to enjoy my accomplishments! So far the book hasn't been a factor in securing a job, but that's not why I wrote the book. Although I haven't taught in a number of years (and currently work in another field), I have thought about returning to teaching in some form, as I miss interacting with students. Meanwhile, there's poetry and a life to live.

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 don't typically tell people that I'm a poet, but if we're speaking hypothetically... I'd say something about the central theme being one of loss and the integration of loss and would suggest that the questioner seek the book out and decide for her/himself what it's about.

What have you been doing to promote The Darkened Temple, and what have those experiences been like for you?


I’ve given several readings since the book was published, an experience which has been gratifying, and have met lots of people and made some good connections with poets. I've often been moved by emails and notes that I've received from readers who have been touched somehow by my poems. I’ve also been generously invited to visit classes and participate in interviews such as yours. Aside from readings and interviews, I belatedly (and with much ambivalence) put up a web site this past May, which has turned out to be a useful tool for organizing and presenting information. I have Allison Benis White to thank for encouraging me to do this, as I was quite resistant to the whole idea for a long time. Love it or hate it, Facebook has been a helpful networking tool and I've used it to play “catch-up” with the poetry world. Finally, I approached several book reviewers, which garnered me some reviews and new perspectives on my work.


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


Before my book was published I wish I'd familiarized myself more with the publishing/promotional landscape for first books of poetry. I'd been only peripherally connected to the poetry world for some years when my book came out and, as a result, missed some opportunities to get the word out in a timely fashion. In retrospect, I'd say: solicit reviews and send review copies out early—before the book is available, if possible; don't just count on your press to do the legwork. Use your contacts. Plan a local book launch party/reading and publicize it widely. If you have an MFA (and even if you don't), ask your graduate program or alma mater to host a reading/visit. The entire experience has been a huge learning curve for me and I will be better prepared the next time around.


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


It's been an enormous relief to have my book published—I'd been living with some of the poems for so long—and it's also been a source of tremendous anxiety. I sunk into a post-book trough for a while, feeling anxious and directionless and unsure of next steps. In recent months, I've been mulling, reading, gathering material, and writing what I've called “transitional” poems, which may at some point become part of a second manuscript. I'm also a very slow writer. My core themes continue to inhabit new poems—how can they not?—but I sense an internal loosening that's reflected in these newer poems, which seem more lyrically associative and intuitively shaped than my previous work.


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

That's a tall order. What I do believe is that the best poetry can reveal to us how to live more fully and deeply as conscious, feeling beings sharing life on a fragile, imperiled planet. If this is change, count me in.

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Born in Kobe, Japan, Mari L’Esperance is a Hapa poet whose first full-length collection The Darkened Temple was awarded the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and published by the University of Nebraska Press in September 2008. An earlier collection Begin Here was awarded a Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize. L'Esperance's poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Many Mountains Moving, Poetry Kanto, Salamander, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Creative Writing Program at New York University, former New York Times Company Foundation Creative Writing Fellow, and recipient of residency fellowships from Hedgebrook and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, L'Esperance lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

#31 - Rhett Iseman Trull

How often had you sent out The Real Warnings before it was chosen as the winner of the 2008 Anhinga Prize for Poetry?


I entered the manuscript that evolved into The Real Warnings in over 50 contests or open reading periods over the course of six years. I sent it out too soon and am glad it took that long for it to find its home. It changed significantly over those years and became a different book. About three years into the journey, it started being named a finalist in many contests, honorable mention or runner-up in several more. I became more selective at that point about where I sent it, seeking out my favorite presses and entering a smaller number of contests each year. At one point, though, I almost gave up. I had come close to winning six or seven times, and I thought maybe this book would be forever second-best. Maybe I should just stop sending it out. Luckily, my husband wouldn’t let me. Soon after that, I attended a poetry workshop with Roger Weingarten, who thinks about line in a different way than I do. That workshop gave me a new perspective, and as a result I was able to go back to the manuscript with fresh eyes and give it a major overhaul until it felt ready, all the wrinkles I’d been worrying over for years ironed out. That’s when I picked my top 5 presses, one of which was Anhinga, and sent it out.


Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Real Warnings? Did it go through any other changes?


Its first title was From the Glass Cage which became The Glass Cage. In 2008, a wonderful poet named Gail Peck, whom I’d met through Cave Wall, offered to read my manuscript and give me some notes. Among her helpful advice was the suggestion of The Real Warnings as a title and that seemed to me to better express what the book is about.


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?


For me, the process was never about winning a contest. It was about trying to find the right publisher for the book. My advice to poets is to keep a list of presses whose books you admire, both for the quality of the poetry and the beauty of the actual book. Send to those presses, whether it’s through a contest or open reading period. The important thing is to match your manuscript to a press that publishes the kind of books you want your book to be.


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


It went through at least six or seven different versions over the course of those five years. The opening poem remained the same, but almost everything else changed. Each year I’d cut some poems and add some new ones, shift the order of the poems. The most dramatic changes were on the individual poem level. I’ll work on most poems for years, decades even, before I feel they are ready to go out into the world. I continued to tinker with the poems in the manuscript every year, and some of them—some of the book’s strongest—started out as the weakest and needed five years to pass before I figured out what those poems really wanted to say.


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?


One of the great things about Rick Campbell and Lynne Knight at Anhinga is that they want their authors to be involved in every aspect of the book-making process. Rick told me early on that when an Anhinga author opens her box of books that first time, he wants her to feel 100% happy with what she sees. Lynne Knight is a gifted book designer and wanted a list of my favorite fonts, any ideas I might have for cover art, etc. The painting we used on the cover is called I Stopped in at the Farmhouse and is by a good friend of ours, an amazing artist named Dan Rhett. The first time I saw that painting I fell in love. When Lynne asked if I had any art ideas for the cover, it’s the first thing I thought of: the colors, the movement of these dark figures toward the light, the eerie but hopeful mood—that’s the mood I want the book to invoke, as well.


What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Many of the poems have been previously published. Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?


I didn’t worry too much about it. I just tried to send the poems to journals that published work I admired. The majority of those journal publications happened in those last few years of sending out the manuscript, when the poems were becoming more polished, making the book more polished as well. I don’t think it’s necessary for the majority of poems in a manuscript to be taken before the poet sends it out. I think if you’ve had at least 10 of the poems published by good journals, that’s enough to make a strong first impression. When it comes to getting published—individual poems or a manuscript—there’s no magic formula to it, and you have to remember that there are many fantastic poems and manuscripts out there circulating in the same places yours are. It’s a waste of energy to sweat over it. It’s also a waste to do big mass mailings, sending a poem out to twenty journals at once or a book out to thirty contests in one fell swoop. I’m lucky that I figured this out fairly early on in the submission process, so I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying. I just read a lot, chose journals and presses I loved, and sent there and then tried to let go of expectation.


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 had been revising and fine-tuning the manuscript for years before its acceptance at Anhinga, so most of its big changes had already been incorporated. The biggest change after acceptance was the addition of what I feel is one of the most important poems in the book—important, that is, to the book’s themes and vital to the sequence of poems, “Rescuing Princess Zelda,” that forms the center of the book. One of those poems, “The End of the Hour,” wasn’t in the manuscript that was accepted at Anhinga. It’s a poem I’d been working on for several years. I knew the series needed it but couldn’t get it quite right. One afternoon, finally and almost magically, it came together. About an hour later, I got the news that I had won the Anhinga Prize. The editor, Rick Campbell, was kind enough to allow me to add that final poem. The other changes were smaller. Lynne Knight is the book designer and copyeditor/proofreader. She went through my manuscript with what was obviously a loving attention and returned it with several queries, most of which were small items of grammar or places she noted where a line might lack clarity or the rhythm was awkward. She made sure I knew that the final decisions on these questions were up to me and whatever I wanted was fine. I took many of her suggestions and was grateful for the chance to look at those poems from a different perspective. One thing I love about Anhinga is the care they take with each aspect of the publication, the energy and time they pour into each book.


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


Mostly I remember this great wash of joy and disbelief, with an odd, brief wave of sorrow mixed in. I came home from lunch and there was a big box at the door with an Anhinga return address. I pulled it inside, sat down on the stairs, whipped out my pocketknife, and opened it. And there it was: The Real Warnings, my book. Did I really write a book? A real book? It was beautiful. I hugged it and smelled it, and then I just sat there and cried. I don’t know where the sadness came from—maybe just the feeling that something was over, something I’d worked on for over a decade now finished, a journey ending. But that sadness lasted about thirty seconds before being replaced by uncontainable joy and excitement. I think I screamed and was jumping around the house. The cats were afraid. I didn’t know what to do. I got in the car and drove straight to my husband’s office to show him. Then I drove around town and tried to find some of my friends who might be home so I could show them. I’ve never felt anything quite like that feeling: an almost crazed thrill brimming over.


How has your life been different since your book came out?


The main change is the reading opportunities that have come my way, the chances to travel to different cities and universities and talk about poetry. I’ve had some wonderful experiences, gotten to connect with many new friends I might not have met otherwise. I love talking to students, especially, and getting to read with poets I admire. And a recent opportunity has come about because of the book: I’ve been invited to be a visiting writer at Lenoir-Rhyne University next spring. I’ll be teaching an undergraduate poetry workshop, and I can’t wait.


You’ve been editor of the print journal, Cave Wall, for over three years now. Why did you start Cave Wall? Has being an editor helped shape your own writing in some way?


Cave Wall has become one of the greatest blessings of my life, for many reasons. I think it’s made me a better person by increasing my gratitude. I love to celebrate poems that move me. Always I’ve been the kind of person who, upon reading a poem I love, gets so excited about it that I just want to grab a megaphone and share it with the world. And Cave Wall lets me do that. Even though it is a lot of work and demands time and energy that could have been spent on my own writing, what it gives back to me is worth it. I’ve learned to balance it with my writing time in a way that works for me. While I have less writing time now, I come to it more inspired and with a better attitude than I did before Cave Wall. I feel more connected to the world of poetry and am less demanding of myself as a writer. I guess I feel like even if I never write another decent poem again, I’m still contributing to and engaged in the world of poetry in a valuable way. That feeling lets me take some pressure off myself, and the more pressure I step out from under, the more I tend to write—or at least, the more I enjoy what I do write.


Do you have any advice for others who want to start their own journals?


Well, for one thing, I’d say make sure you’re starting a journal for the right reasons, not as self-promotion, not to make money. Most likely, you will spend far more of your savings on the journal than it will ever make in profit. But if you love to read and love to celebrate and share with others the writing that excites you, then you should research, plan, and go for it. Publishing a literary journal is more work than you can imagine so be sure that it’s something you’ll love spending your time and energy on. Talk to other editors and plan with care first. And once you start, once submissions come rolling in, just try to cultivate a grateful attitude and approach each aspect of the work that way. When it gets frustrating and exhausting, when the submission stack gets overwhelming, just remember how lucky you are to be in a position where people send you their writing. Treat each piece of writing that comes your way with gentleness, care, and gratitude.


What have you been doing to promote The Real Warnings, and what have those experiences been like for you?


I mentioned the many opportunities to give readings and talk to students. I’ve done several interviews, as well. It takes a lot more work than I ever knew to promote a book. I wasn’t quite prepared for that, and it’s taken me almost a year to find a new balance between book promotion, Cave Wall, and working on my own new writing. It’s the latter that got lost in the chaos (happy chaos) for awhile. But I have at last found that balance again, I think. It’s been about a year since The Real Warnings came out, and it was a wonderful, exciting year that still sometimes doesn’t feel real to me. Some of the best experiences have been getting to read and discuss poetry with people who aren’t that familiar with it: My first reading was at a book party my dentist threw for me, at her office, with the hygienists in charge of refreshments; later, I read to a group of 200 eighth graders (that was the scariest reading but it went well); next year, I’ll be reading to my mom’s garden club.


I wrote those poems alone, in a very safe solitude, and I’ve found that reading them aloud, connecting with a live audience, adds something new to the way I experience my own poems. I like to give readings. I used to want to be an actress so I enjoy being up there in front of an audience. Sometimes I worry that I enjoy it too much. But I know when I’m in the audience hearing a writer share his/her work in her own voice, it feels like such a gift, a moment of profundity and beauty that takes me out of my daily routine and out of myself and sort of plugs me into the world, into life, in a new way. And so I think it’s okay for me to enjoy giving readings and to feel good about sharing my poems because a reading is less about me than it is about that connection with other people; whatever side of the microphone I’m on, a reading is a moment when whatever’s being read belongs to everyone in the room, connects me to everyone, makes me disappear a little out of myself and into the world. Gone are the thoughts that I don’t deserve any of this or the fears that I’m telling too many of my secrets or worries that my poems aren’t good enough. For those minutes in an audience or onstage, it stops being about me, nor is it even about the poems themselves; it’s about the fact that we’re all in this life together, trying to live well and love well and be well.


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 have yet to figure out a good way to answer that question. I guess the best I can do is say that it’s a collection of poems about many different subjects—from superheroes to falling in and out of love to mental illness to family—and I hope the message that comes through the book is that no matter how difficult and dangerous it is to love, love is always worth the risk.


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


Not to be in too much of a rush to get a book out. Once I had over fifty pages of poetry, I thought I had a book. I now realize a certain number of poems don’t make a book. I’m not saying all the poems need to be connected or anything, but there does need to be an overarching idea or two or three that can weave through the poems and create the feel of a lot of parts that can stand on their own but also, when brought together, make a whole that is more than the sum of those parts.


Also, perhaps most importantly, I wish someone had told me to be selective in seeking a publisher. This goes for getting work published in journals, too. As soon as I started paying more careful attention to the journals and presses where I was sending my work, I started getting published more. Seek out those places that are putting out work that you want to read and that are making journals/books with care, with attention to the details. Those are the places you should send your work.


What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? Are you currently working on a second collection?


I’m working on poems, not thinking about a collection yet. Having a book published hasn’t changed too much about the way that I write. I guess that’s because when I’m writing a poem, I’m not thinking about anything but the poem—not thinking about The Real Warnings or where this new poem might end up. It’s just me and the poem and everything else disappears for awhile—which is maybe one reason I come to the page in the first place.


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


Sure it can, although that change will be mostly on the personal level. But it’s people who change the world, collectively and individually. I know poems wake me up to the world in new ways every day, make me think about life and people and our world from different perspectives, fill me with compassion and hope and gratitude. If that happens over and over to enough people, the world will change, from the inside out. Poetry alone can’t make the biggest, most necessary changes, but it can get us moving in the right direction. I know that poetry changes me and makes me a better person—to myself, to others, and I hope to the world, as well.


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Rhett Iseman Trull's first book of poetry, The Real Warnings (Anhinga Press, 2009), received the 2008 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, 2010 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, 2010 Brockman-Campbell Book Award, and 2010 Oscar Arnold Young Award. Her poems and essays have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2008, Iron Horse Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, storySouth, Waccamaw, What Doesn’t Kill You (Press 53, 2010) and other journals/anthologies. Her awards include prizes from the Academy of American Poets and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received her B.A. from Duke University and her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she was a Randall Jarrell Fellow. She and her husband publish Cave Wall in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#30 - Alison Stine

How often had you sent out Ohio Violence before it was chosen as the winner of the 2008 Vassar Miller Prize?

I started sending out the book that would become Ohio Violence when I finished school. It took five years for the book to be accepted.

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

The book had one previous title for most of the years I worked on it. Then, I was standing in the kitchen of our apartment in New York, making dinner with my husband, and I just thought of the phrase, Ohio Violence.

I wanted the title to catch you by surprise, but I also wanted to counter the idea of a tame Ohio. I had been thinking a lot about the difference between NYC and the Midwest, where I grew up: how poverty, which is a kind of violence, is treated. There was always a real sense in Ohio that people are aware of violence and are taking precautions against it, whereas in other places, NYC say, people are too broken or jaded or just plain tired out to do anything but stare—or worse, look away.

I had already been working on the piece that would become the title poem. As soon as I renamed the book, all the old poems seemed to fall in line. I realized a lot more clearly which ones fit and which didn’t. The first time I sent the book out with the new title Ohio Violence, it hit. I had found my backbone.

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 was just concerned with getting my book published. Getting someone to actually look at your work is hard enough, I don’t think it matters what route you go, as long as the publisher is reputable. Contests cost money to enter, but so do most so-called “open” reading periods. The advantage of a contest is that the judge changes, so you might find someone who understands your music better, or is more open to new things, than the regular series editor. The first round of a contest is often judged by students. That can be a great thing. I don’t really understand all this pandering to the old guard of poetry. The old guard dies off—and soon those young students will be in charge.

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

I went through a lot of drafts, but I mainly changed order. The poems mostly remained the same, though I would add in some new work over the years, and I did take a lot out. My books get thinner and thinner. I’m more slash and burn than let a bad thing be.

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?

I was very involved with the cover. One of my oldest friends, Brad Daugherty, an artist in Columbus, designed it. I knew how it should look on some level, but Brad crystallized exactly what I wanted it to be, in part because he understands my writing so well. I knew it had to be fall. This is a fall book. I knew there should be a storm coming.

What about the publication of the actual poems 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?

Most of the poems in the book were previously published in magazines, if for no other reason than they were so darn old! Some of the poems in Ohio Violence were written when I was a teen: “Fields Beyond Fields,” “Fall Burning.” They had time to find a place. Although I’m suspicious when I open a book and very few of the poems or stories have been previously published, you shouldn’t worry about getting all of them into magazines, or wait for that. If the book comes out, that work will find its audience.

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 a lot of work. I didn’t think the book was done when it was first accepted. I felt the same way with my second book. Once you know publication is imminent, looming, that really crystallizes things. It helps you make hard decisions fast.

Both my first and second books I put together, finally, in the same place: at the Reynolds Young Writers’ Workshop in Granville, Ohio, a creative writing summer workshop for high school students where I’ve taught for the past ten years. I’m very inspired and motivated by children and teens, and being around my students in that setting helps me see things better. I can hear their voices and I know what to say, how to say it better for them. Because it is for them. I’m also motivated a great deal by the teaching assistants at the workshop, many of whom are former high school students of mine, and all of whom have become good friends.

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

Well, I made a video about it. They delivered the box of books to the wrong address. I was leaving to go to a conference the next morning, so I had to drive three hours to fetch it in the pouring rain. The book was shiner than I would have thought. I loved, and still love, Brad’s cover. I studied the cover and flipped through a bit, but I didn’t read it. I didn’t read it at all until one night, about a year later, when I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed and read the whole thing, straight through, cover to cover. Then I could sleep.

How has your life been different since your book came out?

I realized that my readers were those I had always hoped for, those I was actually writing for all along: teenagers and young adults. That’s not a change so much as a realization, an awareness on my own part. I knew that, I wanted that, and now I don’t have to pretend anymore that I care what contemporary poets or professors think. Because I could care less. I only care what your kids think. That’s all that matters. Saying that aloud—that’s a change for me.

I’ve stopped pretending to be or to want anything else, to fight for a place in world I despise. I think I write for a different world. I write for people who are still growing up—that’s who I am. And I know that now. And I expect my life and my husband’s life will change much more, in deeper ways, soon: this winter, I will be giving birth to my first child.

What have you been doing to promote Ohio Violence, and what have those experiences been like for you?

Every event is different, and you can’t predict what’s going to happen. The University of Scranton gave me the chance to connect with the son of my late teacher and friend, the fiction writer Richard Kraus. Nearly everywhere I’ve read has given me the chance to have a meaningful interaction with at least one younger person, which is why I do readings. I mostly read at colleges, but would love to do more at high schools. My background is with bands and with theatre. I was very involved with the music scene when I lived in Washington DC, and pretty much all my ideas about touring and promotion come from those experiences. Have a set list. Bring snacks and your own water. Be on time. Be professional. Use lip liner.

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?”

Well... I wouldn’t tell them that! I avoid telling people I write. It seems pretentious, and it brings up questions that are difficult. I’m a teacher. That’s what I was trained to do, what I’ve done since I was fourteen, when I got my first job, helping at a performing arts school. Teaching is my job, and I love my job.

I was on a plane once where a flight attendant figured it out. She asked me if I had published a book, and then she wanted to know the answer to your question. I told her the truth: my book is about a young girl in a small town who gets in big trouble. I didn’t tell her it was poetry. If I’ve done my other job, my job of telling a good story, that shouldn’t matter. They’re just stories. If you’re interested in the story I’m telling, you won’t mind the form in which I tell it.

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

I don’t have a mentor. I’ve learned my own instincts are correct, but following them is sometimes hard. I told myself: do something else now. And I did.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Your second book has also won a prize and is going to be released next year. Tell us about that book. Were you completing it when you were constructing Ohio Violence? What’s different about your new book when compared to Ohio Violence?

I hope the teen readers who liked my first book will stick around. They’re a little older now, in college or maybe grad school, and this book is older too. It’s darker, rougher, more black magic. It’s about that last year before you find your way, when you’re still very deep in the woods—and you’re not alone out there. Except for the first poem and a few near the end, the stories are all set before I married my husband, when I should have waited for him. And didn’t.

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

No.

I believe that stories can create influence in the world. Genre has nothing to do with it. Helping someone feel not alone; giving someone, especially a young person, hope for her life—that’s the only reason. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, to tell those stories.

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Alison Stine was first published in The Kenyon Review and Hanging Loose when she was a teenager. Her work has since appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, Tin House, and many others. Her awards include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Ohio Violence, her first book, was published in 2009. Her second book, Wait, winner of the Brittingham Prize, will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in early 2011. Formerly the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, she has taught at Fordham University and Grand Valley State University, and presently teaches at Ohio University, where she is a PhD Candidate. She is married to poet and critic Jordan Davis.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

#29 - Jehanne Dubrow

How often had you sent out The Hardship Post before it was chosen as the winner of the 2008 Three Candles Book Award?


I would like to be coy and say that I have no idea how many times I sent out The Hardship Post before it was accepted but, unfortunately, I keep really excellent submission records. So, I have a very clear chronicle of that demoralizing time: nearly 40 submissions to contests and open reading periods over the space of approximately two years. What misery that was.


Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Hardship Post? Did it go through any other changes?


The Hardship Post came pretty late. First, I spent several years cycling through a series of extremely abstract titles that made the book’s project sound too gauzy, too gentle. No, worse than that, precious. Finally, I hit upon The Hardship Post, which is a term used by the U.S. Foreign Service to describe overseas postings that involve physical or economic hardship. Since the manuscript examines my experiences as an American Jew through the lens of my upbringing as a “diplobrat,” focusing on the post-Holocaust landscape of Poland where I spent nearly seven years of my childhood and adolescence, the concept of a “hardship post” felt apropos.


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 some point, I decided there was no way that The Hardship Post was going to win a contest (it was too quiet a book, too ethnic, too formal, and definitely too uncool). I then let go of the idea that my first book needed to receive some kind of award in order to satisfy me. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the book had won a contest.


The best advice I ever received about first books came from my mentor and former teacher, Hilda Raz, who said, “Don’t worry too much about where your first book is accepted, just get the manuscript published so that you can move on to the next project.” She was right. I know too many people who feel frozen as long as the first book is unable to find a home. As a result, they stop writing new poems. Then, once the first book finally finds a publisher, many of these poets have so lost the habit of writing that they have no idea what’s next. I know one poet who has been revising a first collection for 15+ years. This poet can’t move on to something new, because the first book remains a looming and oppressive presence.


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


I love reading first books of poetry and thinking about the meta-narrative that each collection constructs. The first poet I ever read deeply was Charles Baudelaire, and there’s no question that the poems in Les Fleurs du mal tell a story. People who complain that too many contemporary poetry collections focus on being “book projects” rather than compilations of really good poems, need to remember that the meta-narrative is not a new thing. Just ask Baudelaire. Or Whitman.


In putting together The Hardship Post, I always concentrated on shaping the story that I wanted the book to tell, even as I revised individual poems, moved them around, or cut them altogether. I really struggled with how to tell the story, working through at least 100 drafts, because I didn’t want the book to open with the dark hole of Auschwitz. Eventually, I ordered the manuscript so that it begins with the personal mythos of “the diplomat’s daughter” and slowly moves toward issues of cultural translation, religious identity, and at last the Shoah. Above all, the book’s order needed to make clear that I wasn’t a tourist, that my attempt to represent trauma was the result of having spent many years in Poland, and that I myself was a scholar of Holocaust studies.


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


Steve Mueske, the founder and editor of Three Candles, let me have a ton of input about the book’s appearance. As a poet himself, Steve is very sensitive to the significance of a poem’s shape on the page. I never had to explain to him why a certain line break should be preserved or a particular word italicized, because we already spoke the same language.


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


I found the close-up image of a Polish train station board and sent it to Steve. I loved the way the schedule board evoked my nomadic childhood but also gestured at the important Holocaust trope of train stations. But, as much as I liked the image, I knew it was going to be difficult to design around. How would we incorporate an image filled with names—of Polish towns like Warszawa and Krak√≥w—in a way that wouldn’t interfere with the necessary bits of text on the cover, such as the book’s title? I think Steve’s solution was both elegant and appropriate to the quiet tone of the collection.


What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Most, if not all, of the poems have been previously published. Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?


I wasn’t too worried. Having administered a major book prize for two years, I understood that poetry manuscripts need to demonstrate the ways in which they’re part of the discourse of contemporary literary publication. Having a solid acknowledgements page is one way to prove a collection’s viability and engagement with the current literature.


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 finalized manuscript barely resembled the manuscript I initially submitted to Three Candles. By the time the book won the contest, I had already reordered the middle sections of the book and cut an entire grouping of poems. Fortunately, Steve agreed with the re-envisioned manuscript, and we only made a few more changes to the text in the months leading up to the final proofs.


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


I was tired. Very tired. I had just come home from a long day of teaching. Hours of ungraded English 101 papers stretched out in front of me. I had no idea what to make for dinner. And, besides, my refrigerator contained little more than a bottle of stuffed olives, a near empty container of soy milk, and some rotten zucchinis that just weren’t going to be edible, no matter how much I trimmed their edges. The box of books was waiting at my front door. I carried it in, dumped it beside the couch, and didn’t open the carton until a few hours later. Then, I laid one copy of The Hardship Post on the coffee table and spent the rest of the evening picking it up and putting it down again.


How has your life been different since your book came out? Did it become a factor in getting a future job for you?


Initially, having a book made me feel more vulnerable. I felt like an easier target for the snarky reader, the MFA student who still believes in his own entitlement and grand literary destiny. Having a first book changed me; I became more empathetic, more inclined to suspend or temper my judgment when reading a poetry collection that didn’t please me. Now, when I read a book of poems that I don’t love, I’m much likelier to say, “writing a collection is an important achievement in itself.” I guess what all this means is that I began to hope others would treat my work with this same kindness and understanding.


I’m sure that having a book (and then, later on, books) was a huge factor in my landing a position as assistant professor. The market is such a shark tank—it’s not enough to have an MFA and a PhD. One has to have significant publications as well. That means fancy-schmancy journals and books with pretty covers.


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?”


Here’s what I used to say in my cover letters for academic jobs: The Hardship Post uses personal experience to meditate on the slipperiness of Jewish identity.” Thrilling, no? On an airplane, I would answer, “The Hardship Post describes my childhood as a diplobrat growing up in countries like Poland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Zaire.” Then, the insurance agent sitting next to me would probably leap from his seat, run screaming down the aisle, and fling himself out of the airlock. No one wants to make small talk with poets.


What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? I know two more books of poetry have been published since The Hardship Post. Tell us about these books. How are they different from The Hardship Post? And how have you remained so prolific over the last few years?


On the surface, my second book—From the Fever-World—appears to have a lot in common with The Hardship Post. It’s very Jewish, it’s set in Poland, and it’s shadowed by the Shoah. But, the book is written entirely in the persona of an imaginary poet, Ida Lewin. The collection is a series of linked fragments “translated” from the Yiddish. For this project, I really tried to leave behind received forms, which sets it apart from the “high formalism” and iambic lines of The Hardship Post.


Stateside, my third book, examines my experiences as a “milspouse,” looking at the Before, During, and After of a deployment. The poems in Stateside often play with traditional, fixed forms, but there’s a good amount of free verse in the collection too. A few of the poems are quite rigid in their handling of form, but that rigidity is mimetic of the strictness of military life.


I guess I’m prolific because I keep myself on a very strict writing schedule. I also love book projects, which allow me to stay focused from poem to poem, maintaining momentum and immersing myself in a series of interesting, provocative obsessions.


What have you been doing to promote The Hardship Post (along with your other books), and what have those experiences been like for you?


I had no idea how to promote The Hardship Post. But, by the time Northwestern University Press published Stateside, I had come to appreciate the power of the niche market. With this current book, I’ve made a point of reaching out to the “milspouse” blogging community, contacting literary journals that focus on the relationship between war and literature, and seeking out the advice of other military wife authors. I’m also very lucky that my mother decided to adopt Stateside as her first project in the world of poetry promotion. For instance, it was my mother who landed me a gig on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Not too shabby for a first-time press agent.


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


This is a tough one: be prepared for changes—sometimes difficult and painful ones—in your friendships with other writers. The publication of a first book may not alter the landscape. But, not everyone will be thrilled when Book #2 and Book #3 arrive. Work hard to preserve these friendships, even when some of your friends’ reactions disappoint you.


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


I spent a large portion of my childhood in the Eastern Bloc. If there’s anything that the Polish poets teach, it’s that an artist must believe in the power of art to change the world. Even if such belief is quixotically misguided, it remains necessary. Otherwise, we end up writing bloodless poetry: cold exercises in music and image.


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Jehanne Dubrow is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Stateside (Northwestern UP 2010). Her work has appeared in The New Republic Poetry, Ploughshares, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. She is an assistant professor of creative writing and literature at Washington College, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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