Monday, July 12, 2010

#25 - Steven D. Schroeder

How often had you sent out Torched Verse Ends before it was chosen for publication by BlazeVOX Books?

Not quite enough times for the odometer to roll back over to zero. On the other hand, I’m not that jerk who gets to say “It got picked up the second time I sent it out!” I’m jealous of that poet, if he or she exists.

Though it may be early to ask this question, it seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets without books 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 and open reading periods?

If I win a contest, I hope it’s one that pays a little better than a poetry contest. I’m going to a poker tournament this weekend where they’re raffling off a wheelbarrow full of liquor (in bottles, not loose)—a poetry-appropriate prize. The last trivia night I went to, they raffled a complete pool table set, which would have been stupendous but which sadly I did not win. For advice on choosing presses, I will defer to my childhood friend GI Joe: “Knowing is half the battle.” Preferably both the books and the editors.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out? Tell us about your process of writing the poems that constructed the book.

Saying the manuscript had versions would be like saying a fog bank has versions. It went through at least three titles and had between one and five sections at various points. One of the titles was The World Folds Inside an Envelope, and the other one I can remember sucked, so I’m hoping it’s gone for good. The process itself was about as well thought out as these factoids make it sound.

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

Not only were most of the poems in the book published by the time the book came out, many of them were published before I even said to myself “Hey, maybe I should put these here poems in a book sort of thing!” I didn’t just put the cart before the horse there—I pushed the cart down a steep hill and let it drag the horse. That last statement made a lot more sense in my head, I think.

Though not all of the poems in Torched Verse Ends are short, necessarily, looking at the Table of Contents, one can see that not one poem is longer than a page. However, there are many different forms the poems take on, and sometimes a poem can go from humorous to tragic with a flip of the page. What are your thoughts on the poem length and tonal shifts?

A very nice poet friend (let’s call him Jake A. Y.) suggested to me that a lot of my poems get readers primed to laugh but then punch them in the gut instead. He may have been saying this to allay one of my many insecurities, but it’s something I’d like to live up to. (Unlike many of my answers here, the previous was true and intended sincerely.) And my poems do tend toward the short, probably because I like to waste at least half of every sheet of paper, or because my attention span—bunny!

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 tinker so much you could put “Originally Published in Different Form” on my tombstone, if I didn’t want my body to be dragged out into the woods and left for the wolves. After book acceptance, I went through a fit of trying to make my hyphen use and portmanteau compound words consistent through the entire book. Cumulative effect the reader would notice: zero.

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time? How has your life been different since your book came out? What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I took a picture of the books in the box when they arrived because it seems to be the thing poets do. As much as I’d like to get the key to St. Louis or at least my weight in chocolate, I can’t say my book has had a huge effect, except that now I drop the phrase “my book” obnoxiously into conversations much more often. Actually, and again in all honesty, I’ve been very pleased with how many people have helped support the book and offered to publish my new poems and asked me to read. My writing, like the Dude, abides.

Did you suggest the image that was used on the cover? It seems like a nice change of pace to have an “action shot,” if you will, on the cover, instead of a painting or a photographic landscape. Why did you end up choosing this photo for the cover?

Yes, I did choose that image, a photo by Page Loudon, also known as the Giant Surfer Child to readers of poet Rebecca Loudon’s blog. It was originally part of an art submission for my journal Anti-, and I liked it for the action and the fire. My other top choice was a photo of the Coal Seam Fire from the Rocky Mountain News, but apparently Pulitzer-Prize-winning photos cost a wee bit of money to use as book covers. On a slightly related topic, there’s apparently such a shortage of poetry covers to choose from that a William Logan book recycled an Olena Kalytiak Davis cover image, and now a Tony Hoagland cover looks eerily like John Gallaher’s Map of the Folded World.

Pardon me for mentioning that I saw this on your blog, but you’ve referenced Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit in the past for how there’s an “Index of Selected Subject Matter” at the end of your book also. It seems like a nice addendum to the end of a book, and it certainly works well with Torched Verse Ends. That said, did constructing the Index actually help you better construct your book to your liking in the end? Was it constructed more as a novelty? Both?

No need to apologize: I had to check my blog to remember when I inserted the index (2007, I guess). I’d already had an Index of Fun Words in The Eleventh Muse when I edited that journal, but for the book I went a little more general to get a handle on the larger themes. Alcohol, falling, monsters—fun stuff. It was through building the index that I found out the book has a body obsession (both whole and parts) I hadn’t been aware of. Stupid subconscious and/or lazy metaphors!

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

All the usual methods: graffiti tagging, sponsoring UFC fighters, bitching about the death of poetry/reading/literature. Really, though, I’m glad I have a lot of friends and family, because those first few months it was almost exclusively them who bought the book. Once I started reading and getting reviewed, I managed to sell a few to people who haven’t had a drink with me or played basketball with me or parented me.

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

I have no good answer, flippant or otherwise, for this question. Probably “Slow down.” Which people tell me from time to time anyway. Sometimes they add “motherfucker.”

It seems like you’re currently writing your way to an eventual second collection. On your blog, most of your new drafts you post (though there are some in Torched Verse Ends that employ the same technique) have a “stolen” title. Poets do this, of course, but do you use this “stolen” title as the impetus to write the poem? Or do you try to find something fitting once the draft has been written? And are you looking for influence in particular places for these titles?

I worry too much about titles, so I figured it would save at least 10% of my poetic effort if I stole them all. I’d also like to be the first poet to rip off Emily Dickinson, George Orwell, Public Enemy, and Futurama in the same sequence. Or any four of my title sources. As far as which comes first, the title or the poem, I have as much consistency there as in any of my poetic processes. One out of every ten or so, the title and the poem content arrive completely organically. Oh for that poetic simultaneous orgasm!

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

I figure the mass of all that poetry will eventually spin the earth right off its axis. Or maybe that’s just what I feel like when I’ve been in the slush pile too long.


Steven D. Schroeder’s first book of poetry, Torched Verse Ends, appeared in 2009 from BlazeVOX [books]. His poetry is available or forthcoming from New England Review, Verse, The Journal, Indiana Review, The Laurel Review, diode, and Verse Daily. He edits the online poetry journal Anti-, serves as a contributing editor for River Styx, and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

  • Visit Steve's website to read his blog, read sample poems, and to get more information about Torched Verse Ends