How often had you sent out Night Songs before it was chosen for publication by Gold Wake Press in 2010?
Before sending out Night Songs, I had been publishing poems in small print journals, as well as online literary magazines, for years. I was just thrilled to have poems accepted, but after awhile, a few publishers expressed an interest in publishing a full-length collection. Although I didn't have one ready at the time, I kept track of the publishers who had invited me to submit. When Night Songs was finally finished, I sent it to approximately four publishers. Gold Wake Press was the first one to respond, and when I saw that my manuscript had been accepted, I was thrilled. I'm a fan of Jared Michael Wahlgren's creative work, especially his full-length book from BlazeVOX. He had also just published Zachary C. Bush and Donora Hillard, whose work I really admire.
Tell me about the title. Had it always been Night Songs? Did it go through any other changes?
I had written a chapbook called Night Music, and I always thought that I would stick with the same title when the full-length version was ready. I realize now that Night Music is not a very good title, but at the time, it seemed alright. That all changed when I gave a reading in St. Louis at Dressel's Public House with Nick Demske and several other poets. Nick called my chapbook by the wrong name, and told me that he really enjoyed Night Songs. But I was so glad that he messed up my chapbook's title. I decided that Night Songs was a big improvement over Night Music, and that's what I ended up titling the full-length version. It still amazes me that accidents and missteps can be so important for the creative process.
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 usually tell people that it's a thematically linked poetry collection, with much of the work being inspired by my love of classical music. I think that's accurate, but it's also very much inspired by my love of French prose poetry. The book actually drifts in and out of French in certain passages. I think that person on the airplane would also be surprised at just how strange the book actually gets. I even start erasing my own poems at the end, which usually surprises the non-poets or non-poetry readers out there.
Night Songs has just been reissued, correct? Can you tell me a little about the process of the how and why of the reissue? And why the new cover, font size, etc.?
When Night Songs was first published, I was just starting out as a poet, and it was also one of Gold Wake Press's first three titles. It's really wonderful and exciting to see how much the press has grown, and to see growth in my writing at the same time.
I'm so impressed with how Jared Michael Wahlgren has developed the press since those early titles in 2010. He's expanded the catalogue, publishing poetry as well as cross-genre work (like Kathleen Rooney's novel-in-poems and Joshua Young's play-in-verse) and some really fascinating collaborations. While the design of the books was always beautiful, Gold Wake Press titles have also become, in recent years, even more striking than those first few books.
The idea behind the reissue was to create an edition of the book that's more in line with the press's current aesthetic. When Night Songs was first published, all the books had glossy covers, and the back cover was always white. The visual presentation of the books is much different now. The current titles have matte covers and spine text, but there's also more room for the interior layout, cover design, and other visual elements to reflect the aesthetic of the manuscript.
I really love what Gold Wake Press has done with the design of the new edition of Night Songs. I feel like the design elements have breathed new life into my first book.
Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?
One of the great things about working with an independent press is that you have more freedom and choice when it comes to design elements. I feel fortunate to have been asked for input about the cover artwork for both editions. It's really wonderful to have the opportunity to choose cover art that you feel represents the book and your aesthetic.
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 never entered contests for financial reasons. When I was sending out Night Songs, I was studying continental philosophy, so I really didn't have the money to pay entry fees. But I think that open reading periods do have a distinct advantage over contests. I say this because editors take into account your track record publishing in magazines, how active you are in the literary community (in terms of publishing, but also editing, reviewing, etc.), and the potential readership for the book. These things tend to get overlooked in contests, where the submissions are completely anonymous. So if you have a good track record of publications, and are active as a reviewer or editor, I'd definitely suggest looking into open reading periods, because these are the first books that tend to have the best chance.
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?
Even as a very young poet, I knew that journal publication was important for building audience. That's why I worked hard to publish nearly every poem from the book in a magazine. In my opinion, publishing in magazines is especially important for a first book. For one thing, it opens up opportunities for reviews, interviews, and features when the collection is released. And journal publication certainly helps generate interest in a new book. Even if it's not The New Yorker, publishing individual poems helps build a potential audience for your poetry, which can be challenging with a first book.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your published book for the first time?
In 2010, when the book was first published, I was a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I had a nightmare before the copies arrived that I opened the box and the book was Xeroxed and stapled together crooked. I was so nervous to see the finished product, since I had never published a book before. When I saw the first edition, I was thrilled. I remember being so happy that I carried the book around with me everywhere I went. I literally wouldn't set the book down.
When I saw the second edition, I was even more thrilled. It helped me see the work in a completely new way. I had been working in more experimental forms since publishing Night Songs, but seeing the finished book made me want to work on writing prose poems again.
How has your life been different since your book came out? I know that you have many more books published since the original version of Night Songs is published. How do you find time to write so much and put together so many books of poetry?
I feel so grateful to Jared Michael Wahlgren for publishing my first book, since that one publication opened up everything for me. The other Gold Wake Press authors are so supportive, and have been really generous as I've worked to promote my poetry. After Night Songs came out, Cow Heavy Books published my second book, and the editor, Donora Hillard, is also a Gold Wake Press author. I was thrilled to work with Donora, since she's a very talented poet, and she also did some beautiful design work on my book. I might never have come into contact with her if it hadn't have been for Night Songs. Likewise, Erin Elizabeth Smith is the editor at Sundress Publications, and we're getting ready to release my new book, Fortress, in 2014. I also met Erin through Gold Wake Press. I feel fortunate to be working with a press that publishes great poetry, but also promotes poets who are active in the literary community working on exciting projects.
What are you doing to promote the reissue of Night Songs? How are you promoting it now versus how you promoted it when it was first published?
I feel like I've learned a lot about book promotions since my first book was published. When Night Songs was first published, I sent review copies directly to magazines, which resulted in very few reviews. Magazines often wanted to publish a review, but didn't have a reviewer. Now I definitely see how important it is to reach out to individual reviewers whose work I admire. I've also learned to focus more on web-based promotion, since a reviewer can be posted and reposted, and read by people in many different geographical locations. Most of my readings, on the other hand, have been attended mostly by my friends, who already knew all about my book.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?
The fiction writer Christina Milletti gave me great advice about book promotion. She said that it's important to be your own publicist. This doesn't mean being aggressive, or overbearing, but you should definitely follow up with people. If someone mentioned that they'd like to review your book, you might check with them and see if they need help placing the review. I can't tell you how many times I had an interested reviewer, and a magazine that wanted to publish a review of my book, but the reviewer and the magazine didn't know about each other. So you can definitely steer reviewers toward interested markets.
For me, getting my books reviewed has been a really enjoyable process. I've made great friends, and even met a collaborator, when I was just trying to promote my books. Poets shouldn't be afraid to reach out, because one of the most rewarding aspects of poetry is being part of a community.
Are there any new projects in the works?
I'm working on a collaboration with photographer and costumer Max Avi Kaplan. It involves Polaroids, disembodied hands, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Stay tuned for details!
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
I can't speak for other people, but poetry has certainly taught me to value things like community, collaboration, and dialogue. If you ask me, changing one individual's consciousness does create change in the world.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of sixteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress (Sundress Publications, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at SUNY Buffalo.