I think I sent it out kind of occasionally for a few years. It was never anything I focused on or thought enough about so I don’t remember exactly. I was lucky that YesYes asked to see my manuscript, because I suck at this kind of stuff.
Tell me about the title. Had it always been If I Should Say I Have Hope? Did it go through any other changes?
It was for a while When California Arrives It Lasts All Year, which I still love, but the title was one of the few things my editor, Katherine Sullivan at YesYes, wanted to change about the book, and I get it. If I Should Say I Have Hope encompasses more of what the book is.
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?
Those contests are a crapshoot, it seems. There are a hundred billion poets in the United States! I would advise poets to send to presses whose books they admire. I think one nice thing about going directly with a press is that you have more of chance that they’ll publish your second book, should there be one. A lot of contests are a one-off.
What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’m a slow-as-fuck writer and obsessive reviser of each poem. So it’s not like I had to choose which poem would go in a manuscript. They pretty much all did.
How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.?
I’m a terribly un-visual person. My editor said to me, when we were first discussing the book, something like “I’m sure you’ve been thinking for years what your book cover would look like.” And I was embarrassed because I hadn’t at all. But YesYes’ designer, Alban Fischer, is a freaking wizard of book design and he made my book an astonishing beauty.
Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?
Yes. I decided I wanted an image of Los Angeles, of a certain kind of Los Angeles, but I just didn’t know what image exactly. I crowd-sourced my LA and art-world friends and I got so many amazing suggestions. My friend Merrill Feitell, who is a fiction writer, went to school with someone who is friends with the artist Zoe Crosher, and that’s how I came across her work. When I saw her photo series “Out the Window (LAX),” I stopped breathing. The image I finally went with “The LAX Best Western Suites, 2003” is exactly where my book lives, where my mind lives. I’m eternally grateful to Zoe Crosher for allowing us to use her work on the cover.
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?
Ha, no, that would be so nerve-wracking for me, to think so methodically about publication strategy, although it’s impressive, those who do. I was also very fortunate that most of the poems had been taken by journals over the years before YesYes got in touch with me, so I guess I didn’t have to think about it, really. Then again, it took me about a decade and a half to finish my book and let it go, so there’s that.
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 changed the title, as I mentioned, and I cut one poem that Katherine didn’t care for. I was only keeping it in there because it had hot pants in it. So I wrote another poem with hot pants in it, along with two other poems for the last section. Katherine felt I should get a little more hopeful toward the end of the book, and I tried. I also got the courage to remove a poem that I loved that just wasn’t right for the book. It was an elegy. The poem still exists online though.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your published book for the first time?
It was also the day of my book party and so suddenly I was in a room with my book and over 100 people, which was a mindfuck in so many ways.
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?”
Someone would have to strike up a conversation with me, I’m kind of shy. If I were to answer that question I guess I would say “love, sex, violence, death, and California.”
What have you been doing to promote If I Should Say I Have Hope, and what have those experiences been like for you?
I’ve been doing my best. I didn’t post on social media when my book was accepted for publication or came out for sale, and I suppose I should have but I was bashful. But I’ve gotten several nice reviews in nice places and I did a shit ton of readings in NY and also California and a few other places and I’ve been getting slowly better at advocating for myself and my work.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?
“You will open yourself up to more personal scrutiny than you thought possible.” I think maybe it’s because of my subject matter, but I get a lot of trolls who get turned on by my book and/or seriously angry about it. Also people feel like they can ask you personal questions during Q&As, like they want to know why you look so sweet but you write about fucking and drugs so much. But, you know, this other weird thing happened, sort of the opposite. I was always so worried about feeling exposed, and I certainly feel raw and anxious about being public in any way, but then I realized that the sky didn’t fall in when my book came out, that I can write about certain things and put them out there and keep going. So my new poems are even more dark and explicit, I think.
Are there any new writing projects in the works?
I’ve been writing a lot of poems, as well as essays and book reviews, and I’m also in the process of revising a novel. Also, a book I co-edited with the poet Brett Fletcher Lauer (whose terrific first book of poems, A Hotel in Belgium, came out last March) called Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation is coming out next spring with Viking.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
“If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?” – Alice Walker