Thursday, March 7, 2013

#66 - Alex Dimitrov

How often had you sent out Begging for It [view the trailer for the book here] before it was chosen for publication by Four Way Books as a Stahlecker Selection in 2013?

I had been seriously sending it out for a year and during that year I was constantly changing it so different versions were sent to different publishers. I tried to forget who I had sent to once I had. I didn’t want to focus on my expectations for the book, I wanted to focus on having exactly the book and the poems I wanted.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Begging for It? Did it go through any other changes?

The title was American Youth for the first three years I was working on it—I began writing the book in 2007 and I finished it in 2012, though it was taken in 2011. I wrote a chapbook called American Boys during that time period but I had changed the title of the book to Begging for It well before the chapbook. And none of the poems in the chapbook are in the book—they are very different projects.

America is one of the big things I think through in Begging for It, which is full of lovers, America being one of them. So for a while, it just felt like I needed to include America in the title. But ultimately I decided against it. America, You Darling was also a possible title. That’s a poem in the book. I don’t know, I’m not Andy Warhol so that title didn’t quite work for me. I like what I went with.

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?

I actually have always wanted an editor to take my first book as opposed to having it win a contest. Obviously it’s an honor however one’s book is taken. But I’m happy that it was taken by Martha Rhodes.

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

I was changing the book until the last possible moment. I can’t tell you how many versions it went through—probably over twenty. I took out many poems, it was originally a longer book, but I had a rule that I needed to absolutely love every single poem in the book. No filler. No poems that were a “bridge” from one poem to another or from one section to another. Every line, every poem had to stand on its own and together with the others. And that took a long time and was difficult for someone like me who is not patient at all. But I knew I had to be patient because my poems are the most important things to me. And so I waited until I had exactly the book I wanted. You only get to debut once.

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 wanted a photograph from David Wojnarowicz’s “Rimbaud in New York” series. I knew that. When I first moved to New York, in the summer of 2007, I would look at those photographs and think about Rimbaud and being an artist and New York and Wojnarowicz. That series was very instructional to me. Those photographs were an education. So for the book cover, it was a matter of getting permission from his estate, and they ended up giving us permission.

Everything about this book, from the design to what’s in it, is very personal to me. It’s all been thought through really carefully. So yes, I was involved in the design process. I can’t imagine not being involved. I’m someone who’s concerned with both depth and surface. Visual presentation and aesthetics are incredibly important to me. But I mean, they are to most artists, right?

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?

Almost all of the poems in the book have been published in magazines, journals, anthologies. I never set out to do that, it just happened. I don’t think it matters either way. The only thing that mattered to me was that I was happy with the poems. There are a few poems in the book that haven’t been published anywhere, and they are some of my favorites, and I think some of the best. So what does that tell you.

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 never stopped editing. Before it was taken, after it was taken, a day before my final proofs were due. I have a hard time letting go of work.

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

I was sitting at my desk at the Academy of American Poets and just looking at the envelope. I sat there and looked at it for a few minutes and allowed myself to have those last possible thoughts about the book before it existed in the world, before it was real, in front of me. And then I opened the envelope. And I loved it. I’ve worked so hard and for so long on this book. If I don’t love it, what’s the point.
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?”

Begging for It is about youth, love, and sex in America. It’s also about the past, religion, death, obsession, New York. It’s about people. It’s about me.

What have you been doing to promote Begging for It, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I’m doing a lot of readings this spring at NYU, New School, Harvard, Yale, Poetry Society of America, a lot of places. And I’m also going to San Francisco. I want to go to LA and I want to go to Portland because I’ve never been there and the poetry community there seems great. I’ll go anywhere. This is not a New York book. So many different kinds of people from different parts of the country have written to me, and I want to give them these poems, physically, in person.

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

I don’t really wish for things like that. Wishing is mostly a waste of time. I’m lucky, my teacher in graduate school was Marie Howe, who as well as teaching me how to make my poems better, taught me how to be a person in the world. She’s one of my best friends. And I really value all the advice and help Brenda Shaughnessy has given me. I love those women. They care and they’re such role models. And so many other friends have helped me as well.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

I don’t think the book being published has had any influence on my writing. I am working on a few projects—one is a series of poems, some of which are portraits that I wrote about people I have never met from the internet—people who answered a questionnaire I wrote, consisting of 26 questions, which I posted on my Tumblr, and which asked them about love and death and what they really want in life. Here is a link to it if people want to read it.

I am using their answers to write poems, to make something out of the lives of people I don’t know, but also out of feelings, their feelings, that I often relate to quite a bit, and other feelings I don’t relate to at all. And I’ve also been seriously working on new poems, the internet project aside. Right now I feel like the internet poems/portraits will be a part of my second book, a section perhaps. I’m not entirely sure but I’ve been writing a lot. I also throw away a lot. The world doesn’t need bad poems. Or poems just for the sake of poems.

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

If I didn’t believe that I would have a very difficult, impossible time, justifying my life. 

Alex Dimitrov is the author of Begging for It, published by Four Way Books. He is also the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. Dimitrov’s poems have been published in The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, Poetry Daily, Tin House, Boston Review, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize in 2011. He is also the author of American Boys, an e-chapbook published by Floating Wolf Quarterly in 2012. Dimitrov is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and frequently writes for Poets & Writers.