Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#35 - Brent Goodman

How often had you sent out The Brother Swimming Beneath Me before it was chosen for publication in 2009 by Black Lawrence Press?

Thank you, Keith. The short answer is, as it was published, just once.

The slightly longer answer is Black Lawrence Press had been considering a previous draft for the St. Lawrence Book Award when I completely overhauled the manuscript and emailed them to withdraw my name from the contest. Instead they kindly asked to consider the newer version, and that's the one they published as a finalist.

The longest and most realistic answer is I had been sending out drafts of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me on and off (mostly off) since 1995. It's been through 50+ arrangements, revisions, incarnations, and considered for over 30 contests.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Brother Swimming Beneath Me? Did it go through any other changes?

I wrote the title poem in grad school and it's always been the center of the manuscript, though 95% of the book now differs from its original genesis as a creative thesis. The title became the groundwater for the book - the landscapes may change, but no matter where you take a drink, all the poems sip from the same source.

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?

Strong, surprising manuscripts will always get published . . . eventually. It's tempting to believe that the only important books being published are those seen advertised as contest winners in Poets & Writers, but this is not the case. Do you want to be the poet recognized by the imprint, or the poet who earns the imprint recognition? It's the living manuscript that ultimately finds its readers, so the circumstances surrounding how the book gets published shouldn't concern us much.

The up side to sending to contests is response time, as the press has a schedule and obligation to keep in announcing each year's finalists and winners. Outside of that, during open reading periods (as I'm finding out with my second manuscript), you may not hear anything for over a year! Editors are very busy, and sending to open reading periods requires exquisite patience.

What was the process like assembling the book?

The Brother Swimming Beneath Me came together into three sections: opening lyrics, central elegies, and finally a series of concrete prose poems. Within each section, I tried to arrange the poems like one jazz soloist nodding to the next, with the opening notes of each poem riffing off the scale and rhythm of the last.

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 trusted Black Lawrence Press 100% on the cover design, font, everything, because I knew Steven Seighman (Dzanc Books Art Director) was large and in charge.

Inside the book, my only regret was not insisting (or even mentioning!) that the final prose poems be published in the justified 2"x5"concrete nonce form that gave them their shape in the first place. Instead they orphan like prose paragraphs, and appear "slack" to me, when in fact they are the most formal poems in the book! I held my tongue, but you shouldn't. Honor your poems, not how fast the big box arrives on your porch. It's my intention to publish a future edition of the book retaining the intended format of the final series.

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 love sending poems out, love getting rejected, and rejoice to see revised poems find homes after months of tinkers and tweaks. When a certain number of those published poems hit a critical mass, it felt like a solid manuscript taking shape. I wouldn't say that getting a poem published in a journal qualified it to make the final cut, as I dumped several "credible" publications for brand new poems that made better fits.

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?

One's vision dilates when you realize you're now staring at a manuscript that must catch more than an editor's eye, but a reader's inner ear. The book is going to print, so let the most important revisions begin! I cut, shuffled, rearranged, and got excellent advice from poet friends. I'd suggest (trusting your editor is as open and accommodating as mine!) to send your accepted manuscript to a critic friend and ask them for feedback, then listen to most of it.

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

I remember being so worried that UPS wouldn't deliver without a signature, I taped the note "OK to Leave on Porch" to my front door in big black Sharpie scrawl. I remember opening the box for the first time, and pillars of light shooting out like the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones. My face melted.

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

The only difference is now I get invited occasionally to give poetry readings, and sometimes to visit colleges and teach. I still enjoy the same 8-5 day job as before, and feel no pressure to publish poetry as criterion for career advancement.

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 hand them a free copy of the book.

What have you been doing to promote The Brother Swimming Beneath Me, and what have those experiences been like for you?

Initially I organized a book launch at a book store in Madison, WI, sold signed copies from my blog, and was happy to see several online critics and journals take interest in writing reviews.

Though looking back 2 years later, time has collapsed, but I do remember a good 4-6 months where I felt like I was holding a handful of multi-color balloons for myself but no one else was showing up to the party, no matter how many invitations I sent out.

It takes a while for momentum to build, but trust that it will.

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

Being an overweight, burger-eating, hard-boozin' smoker will lead to a heart attack sooner than you might expect.

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

Confidence. And the pledge not to mention my brother in my second book.

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

Every creative thought changes the universe.


Brent Goodman's first full-length collection The Brother Swimming Beneath Me (2009 Black Lawrence Press) was a finalist for both a Thom Gunn Award and a Lambda Literary Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Diode, No Tell Motel, Barn Owl Review, Zone 3, Gulf Coast, Diagram, Pebble Lake Review, Verse Wisconsin, and elsewhere. He lives and works in Rhinelander, WI, where he's a professional copywriter, a poetry instructor in the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions, an assistant editor for the online journal Anti-, a Certified Reiki Master, and the dad of three cats. He can be found online at http://www.brentgoodman.info