Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#18 - Cecily Parks

How often had you sent out Field Folly Snow before it was chosen as a selection for the VQR Poetry Series?

I had been sending my manuscript out for a little over a year when it was chosen for the VQR Poetry Series. How many times? I didn’t keep track. I could look in my checkbook to count the contest entry fees, but it would be too demoralizing. I figured that I couldn’t really control when, or if, my collection would get published, and so I tried to remain slightly detached during the process.

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

Assembling the book was the hardest part. Before I began submitting the manuscript, I dedicated many hours to scattering the individual poems—all over this huge kitchen table in my parents’ house, or all over the floor of my apartment—and arranging and rearranging them. I wanted the order of the poems to guide readers in how to read me, so I decided to start Field Folly Snow with more accessible poems, and end with the difficult ones. Once I settled on this structure, I stuck with it. (Perhaps because I couldn’t bear to go through the assembly again.)

What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Was there a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I hadn’t ever thought, “I have to get all of these poems into journals.” However, being in journals had been (and will continue to be) a very good thing in terms of building a readership. Most of the book’s poems appeared in journals first, so I had a small, small fan base by the time the book came out. People I’d never met got in touch with me to say how much they’d admired my work in journals and looked forward to reading Field Folly Snow.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book won to the day the book was in its final proofing stage?

Right before I was scheduled to send the final manuscript to the publisher, I replaced seven of my least favorite (and probably oldest) poems in the manuscript with seven poems I’d written the previous month at a residency. It was kind of a scary switch, because the poems were so new. Any of the edits I made after that point were small, and were most likely suggested by my wonderful copyeditor at UGA Press.

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

I received the book in the mail, in a nondescript brown box. When I opened it, I gave a little yelp.

Did you suggest the image that was used on the cover? Or were you offered choices?

There are horse poems in the book, so I told the press that I wanted to have a horse on the cover. I sent them a .pdf of a Nicola Hicks drawing of a horse that I admired. In the end, they didn’t use it. The press gave me four wonderful cover choices, and although one of the choices was a horse cover, my editor, Ted Genoways, really encouraged me to choose the cover that I have now—bare, windswept trees in snow. I loved it once I decided on it (or, I should say, once Ted helped me decide on it). And, funnily enough, that horse image that I could have chosen appeared on the cover of novel—Split Estate by Charlotte Bacon—that came out shortly after my book.

Before the day you ripped open that box and saw your book for the first time, did you imagine that your life would change because of it?


How has your life been different since your book came out? Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?

The most rewarding part of this process has been discovering how many of my non-poet friends and acquaintances bought and read Field Folly Snow. It’s meant so much to me to have friends, family members, and people I haven’t seen for a long time supporting me. Other lovely perks have included more invitations to give readings, and more invitations to teach.

I can’t say there were that many surprises. I’d worked in book publishing and knew something about the process. But it was all thoroughly enjoyable.

What have you been doing to promote the book, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I’ve set up readings for myself, and I’ve said yes every time someone has asked me to give a reading or an interview. I felt like something of a celebrity last year when my friend Jennifer Chang (whose book The History of Anonymity was published in the same series as mine) and I went on a road trip / book tour in California. I find that I’ve become a much less nervous reader over the course of the last year.

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

Enjoy it. You only get to publish a first book once.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing? And are any new books or other projects on the horizon?

For the past year I’ve tried to write poems that are as different as possible in form and subject matter from the ones in Field Folly Snow. But I haven’t written all that much, and the poems I have written are, I suspect, not that disassociated from those in my first collection. Mostly, I am writing slowly, and with the belief that I am not likely to have a second collection completed for at least five years.

Do you have any additional advice for poets sending out their first books to contests and open reading periods?

Although I can’t say that I followed this strictly, I would say: Resist the urge to fiddle with your manuscript once you’re happy with it. I feel like sometimes people fiddle and fiddle and fiddle, and what they end up with is a combination of their first book and their second book.

Also, only submit to places that you feel strongly about. And have the conviction that in the end, you only want to be with a press who really wants you.

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

Yes. I have been reading Emerson, and I like the way he states a poet’s aspiration: “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.”

Cecily Parks is the author of Field Folly Snow (University of Georgia Press/VQR Poetry Series, 2008) and the chapbook Cold Work (Poetry Society of America, 2005). Her poems and reviews are forthcoming in Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, and Publishers Weekly. A Ph.D. candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, she lives in New York.