How often had you sent out Oblations before it was chosen for publication in 2011 by Gold Wake Press?
I sent the manuscript to several small press open reading periods, but was fortune to get a very quick response from Gold Wake, so I withdrew the manuscript elsewhere.
Tell me about the title. Had it always been Oblations? Did it go through any other changes?
The title has always been Oblations--the lead poem in the collection existed before the book became a project, and later felt appropriate to the collection as a whole. The traditional definition of the word is an ecclesiastical one--offerings to God--but I wouldn’t consider the book purely devotional. I am Catholic, though, and there is a sequence of parish-based poems in the book.
It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?
I did withdraw Oblations from several contests, so never learned what its possible fate would have been, but I knew it was a long shot based on the prose poem form. The contest system has led to the presentation of excellent poets (so many to name, but Alison Stine and Traci Brimhall are poets I’m reading now), but it does have its potential issues. The word “prize” is beginning to accumulate some interesting connotations; at least for me, it felt like a prize to simply have a book published. I’d advise poets to research a press before submitting, and not to submit wildly. I sent to Gold Wake because I read Blake Butler’s review of Donora Hillard’s Theology of the Body at HTMLGIANT. Gold Wake sounded like a publisher open to progressive representations of faith, as well as a supporter of the prose poem form.
What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?
The book coalesced quickly, as I knew I wanted to have a consistent number of poems per section. The ordering of the earliest version was very similar to the final book.
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?
Very involved--and that’s a nod to Jared Michael Wahlgren, the publisher and editor at Gold Wake. My wife contributed the cover photograph of a local historical barn, and people have said that image sets the tone for the collection, which is nice to hear. Jared was great about communicating layout possibilities and font changes--I can’t imagine a smoother publication experience.
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?
Only when individual pieces began to find homes in places like West Branch and Beloit Fiction Journal did I begin to really view the project as a full book rather than a chapbook. In the end, nearly half of the poems were published elsewhere, but it was cool to have certain poems only available in the book.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like most of your focus is in short fiction. Can you talk a little bit about your ideas regarding the prose poem versus flash fiction, or why you chose to publish a book entirely comprised of prose poems?
Although I’ve published a good amount of stories, and had a fiction concentration in the Rutgers-Newark MFA program, one of my professors (Jayne Anne Phillips) said, listen, your tendency is toward the poetic. I appreciate the distinction between poetry and the poetic. Some people who read the book call it flash fiction, others look to the weight of the final sentences as similar to the punctuating final lines of poems. The baseball poems feel the closest to stories, while the barn poems feel comfortably within the realm of the poetry. I think a reader’s inclination and experience moves him or her toward one of those alliterative titles of form.
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?
Most changes were cosmetic, as I’d given the content of the poems a few drafts before collecting them into a full manuscript.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your published book for the first time?
I received a proof copy in the mail while I was between houses (we’d just sold our first home and were about to move into a new place). We’d been staying with family, so I had about 4 different potential addresses, and was worried UPS would send it to the wrong location. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with it--was it bad luck to read it? Every other book I’d ever read was written by someone else. But I finally sat down with it and the reading was a wonderfully affirming experience. I’m still thankful that it exists.
How has your life been different since your book came out?
I guess I’m more comfortable with publicly saying I’m a writer, at least when prompted. I still teach public-school English in New Jersey and adjunct at Rutgers University, but I guess my slightly-mysterious second existence is now becoming a bit more palpable to people. Life was great before the book, and now there’s that little bonus.
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?”
Barns, baseball, miscellanea, work, and parishes: those subject headings work as a tagline response. Beyond that, I’d say quirky sketches of eccentric people meant to reveal the oddity, and sometimes beauty, of the mundane world in front of our faces.
What have you been doing to promote Oblations, and what have those experiences been like for you?
The release party for the book is at CakeShop in New York City on August 7th, as part of the PoleStar Poetry Series, a great program curated by poet and publicist Melissa Broder. It will be nice to read again alongside Paul Lisicky, who actually saw a few of the poems in their earliest versions while a visiting professor in the Rutgers program. Earlier this year I read from the book as part of the Soda Series in Brooklyn and at a few NJ bookstores. Support has been incredible, which is quite humbling.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?
Be absolutely thankful and gracious to any and all support you receive, whether it’s someone coming to your reading (which is a decision they’ve made and time they’ve given to you), buying a book, sharing their appreciation for the work, etc.
What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?
I have 2 poetry manuscripts making the rounds (one lineated, one prose poems), both written after Oblations was accepted. I finished other manuscripts also: a novel, a short story collection, and a proposed anthology. Fingers crossed that some of that work makes it out into the world.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
One’s individual world, certainly. And at least focus or refresh our understanding of the world. Slow us down, a bit. Help us to accept that the world can be concurrently imperfect and beautiful.
Nicholas Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Sou’wester and The Collagist. He lives with his wife in New Jersey.