doris davenport 

request (Imaginary Friend Press, 2014)  request-cover

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Naming my favorite chapbooks could take a while since my favorites change often or rather, the list keeps growing. i have chapbook collections that date from the 1960’s; the writers of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) inspired me, especially the works of Haki Madhabuti (then Don Lee), Saundra Sharp, Sonya Sanchez and others. When i started submitting poems, at the height of the wimmin’s (women) cultural movement in the late 1970’s, several chapbooks / authors were influential and necessary: Linda Jean Brown of azalea; Michiyo Cornell, Chocolate Waters’ books, Mab Segrest, and Luisah Teish. Often i buy a chapbook just because i like the cover art.  Lately, i am inspired by chapbooks from Julie Enszer, Jaki Shelton Green, Kay Byer, and Shelby Stephenson. i even have a self-published chapbook (1979), and all these works created  “revolutionary” possibilities; because of them, i was inspired to create and self-publish my first chapbook in 1980 and to continue self-publishing thereafter.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

Mainly, i believe, these chapbooks demonstrate that i appreciate a wide range of poetry and poets; that i am inspired by and interact with diverse poetry, poets and poetics on infinite levels of engagement.

What’s your chapbook about?

i read this question as “What kinds of poems are in the book?” As always, there is an eclectic range, but i honestly chose the poems based on the publisher’s descriptions and preferences, as much as i could, since “request” started as an entry in a chapbook contest. The poems are: quirky, suggestive; political critiques, love poems, reflective quiet poems, and 1 – 2 very long ones, and several haiku too. The process was to read through recent poems and “simply” choose those that were most finished, that fit the publisher’s criteria, and that worked well (style and content) together. Most of the poems were later included in my latest book, 65 poems.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

it’s like this (1980), the first chapbook, contains some of my first published and most favorite poems, reflecting the context of the lesbian-feminist communities of Los Angeles of that time.

a hunger for moonlight (2006) is a book of re-emergence, written and produced after a difficult time in my life when i felt my identity erased . . . except that of poet. The poems in a hunger. . .  are in part, about a kind of celebratory re-birth.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

Since 1980, i have published eight additional books of poetry using essentially the  same writing process. For example, i always keep a small journal and a pen with me, and in recent years, a smartphone with a writing app. i write at least one poem a day, sometimes several, and when it is time for the next book, i go back through and do *hard* editing, as i choose poems for their relationship to a chosen theme and their readiness. My major revision strategy is to eliminate excess words (prepositions, auxiliary words, gerunds – HA!) and to focus on the poem’s intended impact – humorous, descriptive, playful, satirical, etc. HOWEVER, i long for the more disciplined approach of a set time (maybe 2 hours) daily for writing. That’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions . . . so far, not kept  . . .  :(

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

The poems in request were arranged based on rhythm, flow and juxtaposition. The titling process – sometimes the hardest part – depends on each poem’s contents. In this instance, i wanted brevity, one word, and a connection to one of the best performance poems, in my humble opinion, in the book.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Dan Nowak designed the book, inside and out. i suggested cover images, but i am glad he ignored them, since i like the simplicity of his choice better, both front and back. (Included here, below) That was refreshing, since i get real OCD-ey and proprietary about all aspects of my work.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

Yes: what, if anything, would you change about your chapbook(s)?

ANSWER: i had my own artwork (sketches) in the first book, so i wish i could have included some in the next two as well, or maybe, photographs in request.

What are you working on now?

This interview. (Smile.) As soon as this is done, or at least starting sometime in the next week, i will be working on two new books of poetry, one for a contest and the other, my next book of poetry (for April).

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

What and how do you conceptualize your audiences and ways to involve them in the poetry?

What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?

Since i am also a performance poet, i would emphasize the performance or theatrical aspect more. As for promotion – i would / will concentrate more on this aspect. i tend to focus on the artistic aspects to the neglect of the business aspects.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions?

i am always hearing and reading my poems “out loud” since orality or the sound of the poem, the sound of the poem in my voice, is a major component of the overall composition and presentation.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry? 

Novels.  Especially sci fi (Octavia Butler), fantasy, murder mysteries, and horror.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook?

A wide, inclusive range of people – individuals and groups.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

With request, i certainly did. i set out to win that contest and although i did not, the book was still published.

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

Yes, my family reads my poetry or at least, some members do and no, they know i am and always have been, a poet. They ask when my next performance is or where is the next book. That is very gratifying, in fact.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer?

i wish i had been told to find and keep a writer’s support group at all times.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

What inspires me . . .  my backyard, leaves falling, the rain, clouds, mountains, little children; injustices perpetrated by psycho-males and countries against wimmin (women); crimes against “humanity,” crimes against the environment, mountains (did i say mountains?); travel, road trips, memories & desires, sunrise, sunset . . . what inspires me? Everything, and nothing.

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doris davenport is an Educator / Writer / Literary & Performance Poet from Northeast GA with a Ph.D. in African American literature from the University of Southern California. She has published nine books of poetry, articles, reviews and an essay in the recently re-published classic anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color  4/e  2015 (eds. G. Anzaldua & C. Moraga, 1981). As some people believe in money, love, religion, or sex, doris still believes in the transformative power and magic of mountains, friendship, art, & excellence.

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it’s like this (digital reissue)

request

brief performance video  

interview by Alexis Gumbs on The Feminist Wire

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Request (in 3 versions)

Shimi. Shimi. Pretend i
am a pole, please, sinuously wrap
your lithe body slowly around,
around and around
me.

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Request (again, shouted)

Shimi. SHIMI. (Pretend) i
am a pole, please, sinuously wrap
your body slowly around,
mine.

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Supplication or Supplicant

Long afterwards, realized
a better title than mere
“Request” for our Shimi to
treat me like a pole & wrap her
thighs, particularly, around my
body. Supplicant but that bus
pulled off, way up past New York by now
still there are others . . .

O Universe, be my Shimi
enwrap me in your MA’AT
divined purpose until we
both shimmer & glow, satisfy &
grow as One and
still i want

an iPhone 5, s.

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At Home Now (northeast GA)

pecans ripen
apples become wine (again)

davenport

Katherine Soniat

The Goodbye Animals (FootHills Publishing, 2014) Soniat

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

Chapbooks “at a slant.”

I am thinking more loosely here of chapbooks as any “small poetic book-forms,” such as the fragments of Sappho and, in particular, of Mary Barnard’s beautiful translations and arrangement (Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard, University of California Press). Through selection, Barnard creates six spinning universes. Or we could say six small chapbooks within the whole, ones that are united from the remnants of Sappho’s life. Limited boundaries create precise focus and jewel-like texts in these six sections. Through sequence, Barnard creates a narrative, one that was not present before. Linearity derives here from fragments. Kaleidoscope in motion, stops…the puzzle of Sappho’s poetry in place … for a while.

Chapbook brevity encourages concise language and many times an exact lyric intensity. For instance, Mary Barnard drew from the disconnected remains of Sappho’s verse, then through her own knowledge of Greek and dream-smudged narrative, she threads each section with bright instances of the poet’s life. From within each of these six “ribboned packets,” Sappho speaks anew. We grow to understand her broken language in varied new ways.

Sequencing is also key in a chapbook when the poet has very disparate subject matter to assemble. Odd juxtaposition can create sudden awareness in a reader—those “at a slant” connections. What surprise and pleasure we have when rereading any collection that focuses on the muffled ghost narratives. Experience and idea unfold, then refold into new fabric—a bit thinner and awash with colors.

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Two from Sappho 

(translated by Mary Barnard ) 

#20  We put the urn aboard ship/ with this inscription://  This is the dust of little/ Timas who unmarried was led/ into Persephone’s dark bedroom// And she being far from home, girls/ her age took new-edged blades/ to cut, in mourning for her,/ those curls of her soft hair.

#21  Cyprian, in my dreams// The folds of a purple/ kerchief shadowed/ your cheeks—the one// Timas one time sent, a timid gift, all/ the way from Phocaea

What chapbooks influenced your writing?

I am still using my wider definition of “chapbook” when I speak of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. In those ten poems is a universe of lyric linkage, of agitation and relief—within and between poems. When reading these masterpieces, I find small phrases that bind line to line and then push into a flash of thought. Subtle strategies too come from an overview: precisely how one elegy prepares us for the next—(all while the sea beat on stone of a borrowed castle. And there Rilke sat, writing.)

Rilke always has been a deep influence on my work—his poetry offers me a visceral knowledge of what it means to reach for the next trapeze while still in midair. To study these ten Elegies is to fly. Our own chapbooks offer likewise this chance for speed and lyric economy. Strangely placed lines (or poems) jolt your reader into a third awareness. No one quite knows where they are, and a voice is saying, let go and connect but never in the same breath.

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from Rilke’s The Tenth Elegy

Only those who die young, in their first condition/ of timeless equanimity while they were being weaned/ follow her lovingly. She waits/ for girls and befriends them. Shows them, gently,/ what she is wearing. Pearls of grief, the fine-spun/ veils of patience—With young men she walks/ in silence.

What is your chapbook about?

This is the question always asked, and, for me, the hardest to talk about in a meaningful way. BUT, I have many times wondered what is it in the human psyche and in earth’s dynamics that “requires” different forms of life to always say, Goodbye? Never to settle, but ever to jitter ahead. Rilke knew that one well: creatures in love with leaving and, always, on the cusp of farewell. And indeed there are many ways to do that. Does one choose or is one chosen to leave; is another forced to exit?

And indeed we humans are part of this—my “animal” collection.” In many ways, humans have forced the animals, collectively and individually, to go away. To become extinct. We have literally taken the land away, “backing them off this planet.” Because we too are animal, we share those archetypal patterns of “goodbye” with mammal, bird, fish. Earth too is in the process of leaving. The nourishment of relationship, in the largest sense, of being “next to” that which nourishes—from rock and water underground (‘fracking’ got that one) to a hand we can hold, and hold dear.

And do you and I (with wisdom or ignorance) choose to leave parts of ourselves behind? Is our own notion of home (domestic or planetary) a definition we back timidly away from, or finally are exiled from? The Goodbye Animals places humanity, more now than before, in direct relationship with its animal/ natural counterparts: What might it mean to respect and be in “right relationship” to other life? It might feel very different, but not in a visionary way. To stop this habitual ease of “goodbye,” we must feel absence so that we come to love presence(s), and become responsible for other than ourselves.

How did The Goodbye Animals come about? It arrived as surprise, Like emptiness knocking and saying fill me up in a hurry! Not quite, but it felt like that the day I was asked to make a chapbook, one ready to go in two weeks. This initially was not an intentional book of poems, as many are. Having two unpublished manuscripts, I selected a first poem, “The Goodbye Animals,” and that choice led me to the rather quick work of one-to the-next until I had thirty pages. Though I sensed pattern, I would have been unable to articulate what these pages focused on.

Maybe a story about writing the poem The Goodbye Animals” will best offer some details, the import of which I only understood in hindsight:

Once upon a mountain, I was handed a bucket of water and a sack of clay—me and six others. Create pieces of life, we were told. Marvelous creatures came forward from our damp hands! Everything was given shape that day…from the human foot to Noah’s smallest animals. Then there was the heart-shaped bowl for flowers that contained a tiny rustic human heart. And yes, we the creators were pleased. Our clay art sat in a field on boards to dry. Two heart shapes, big and small, sat on a shelf in the hot summer shed.

At midnight a storm whipped in. Wind, rain, lightning, and the next day each hard-won form was mostly washed away. Pretty lifeless, these once-storied chunks of clay. And later that poem about a day twenty years ago gave the animals a context in which to say goodbye. They had to. The rain was insistent. But later, once their poem was picked to start a chapbook, the rest almost jumped into my lap. Poetry has its own sly intelligence.

And while I was assembling that chapbook, I was NOT thinking: everything is in the process of saying goodbye. When the chapbook was published, and I was asked WHY this group of poems, I saw straight to the bottom of the well, where each of my animal/ earth forms dozed. And there too were the poses of goodbye—in each poem is a partial gesture, a nod to that final word. How uniquely goodbye arrives—and in fragments. Some leave by choice and others sense life here is no longer sustainable (wherever that “here” may be).

What other chapbooks have you written?

Winter Toys (The Green Tower Press, 1989)

The Fire Setters (Web del Sol Online Chapbook Series, 2003, re-issued 2012)

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

Small

I mark the patterned weather, the design
of the slow, returning whale. Clouds roll
in, a whole new species with no purpose
yet in mind. They cast illusion on the
rhythm of the whale. By evening I want
a nocturne of a formal instrument. Wind
blows on the bare branch. It turns me
small, my shadow long.

This poem embodies my chapbook refrain: we must exist in conjunction with all life, and that of our planet: Right relationship. Pattern counts, not habit. Radical pattern that has proved its worth. Recall how migration works—meet species that have hung around earth for a long, long time.

Did you collaborate on the cover image?

My Facebook friend, an artist whom I have never met, graciously offered this stunning photograph. (See Pd Lietz’s work here.) Her words and imagery are “art” in the truest sense.

What are you working on now?

I just finished proofs for my seventh collection, Bright Stranger, forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in spring, 2016. It took about ten years in the writing process, and then lengthy revision.

What would you do differently next time?

Well, as you probably know by now—my interpretation of an interview question often is counter to what was asked. So, about strategies for my writing, things I might do differently next time, or keep . . . . What I do know of my “next time” in writing poetry is that each time is the first time. There are certain unspoken things I enjoy doing with my imagination, and I really emphasize the word “with”: me and my imagination (or unsecured recollection) have had a wild and bumpy relationship! Many details of which I have discovered in responding to this interview… some habitual protocols I do have. They nest inside process, and they are the “keepers.” These good habits are my good friends to share: Let go the narrative idea of a poem. Imagine, instead, what dwells on top and beyond your known thoughts. Wiggle into every shadowy angle. Furnish those spaces. Don’t say, I can’t remember. Make it new. For you see, “Your Story” is very tired and wants to go home. Regard any writing as you would dream fragments and interpretations. Remove every pointed notion that pins down your imagination; see this creation (you right now are making) begin to shift like mercury. Turn the lights off (in your head). Nod a while. Dream your way to the center of the poem, touch it, then swim way far across  … to the other side of the circle. You are a great dreamer, so swim. This is what you do well. Love the process of “moving between,” (and outside of).  It’s is who you are.  Or maybe you have an idea in place of who you will become. Write that down too, and go to sleep. A long cold winter is predicted next time—to hold you in place. The biggest concern of all….

Katherine Soniat’s seventh collection, Bright Stranger, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press, spring 2016.The Swing Girl (LSU Press) was selected as Best Collection of 2011 by the Poetry Council of North Carolina. A chapbook, The Goodbye Animals, recently received the Turtle Island Quarterly Award. A Shared Life received the Iowa Prize for Poetry. Poems have appeared in World Poetry Portfolio #60, Hotel Amerika,The Threepenny Review, The Nation, Poetry and Connotations Press. She was on the faculty at Virginia Tech, Hollins University, and teaches now in the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC-Asheville.

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www.katherinesoniat.com

foothillspublishing.com/2014/id96.htm

moonglows-reviews.blogspot.com/2015/03/katherine-soniats-goodbye-animals.html

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Anima Mundi

In my mother’s house there was no heart.
In my mother’s heart she was always looking
for a home. I threaded stories of her, ones neither
of us had ever heard. Soft ones with feathers at the bottom.
When my son had a daughter, she came into this blueness
knowing details with a past.
____________________At night in bed playing puppets
with the covers, she whispered, You know, there’s so much
sadness in the world. She was three, and I almost couldn’t
hear her.

It was dark in the bedroom, and inside her head. She didn’t hesitate
but thought in stride with nothing. Hem of the sheet humped up—
cave in a city on earth that soon would go away

_______________________________________________— for Olivia

Anna George Meek

engraved225Engraved (Tupelo Press, 2013)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

The first chapbook I ever read was Susan Yuzna’s Burning the Fake Woman. The poems are intense, and I was a teenager. I needed the book to be short so I could take in each poem carefully, uncrowded, and see its relationship to the other poems. Later, the chapbook became a core of Yuzna’s full-length book Her Slender Dress, and I liked them too, but they read differently somehow.

Two other chapbooks I’m fond of are Kathleen Jesme’s Meridian (she won the Tupelo Snowbound Chapbook prize the year before me) and In Kind, a collection of poems dedicated to poet Philip Booth by his illustrious students.

And now in response to this question, I’m fingering all the chapbooks on my shelves, ones by Mark Vinz and Elizabeth Spires, Marianne Boruch and Tom Hennen, and others; handmade volumes from Red Dragonfly, or small press works from New Rivers. They are so different, some of them as tiny as two inches tall. Some come in sleeves, some look almost like full volumes with glossy covers, one comes in a little box with a black ribbon.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think it’s all part-and-parcel of my sense of chapbooks as intimate, intense, and thoughtfully made.

What’s your chapbook about?

Each poem in the book is based on an engraving made for the Webster’s Dictionary in the latter half of the 19th century.  These were created by some of the best artists of the time.  Their artwork represents the late 19th-century imagination, their preoccupations with the microscopic, the cosmic, the gothic, the mechanical, and taxonomies of each.

This is the description I wrote for the jacket, and it’s pretty concise:

Inspired by nineteenth-century engravings for the Webster’s Dictionary, Engraved explores a fantastic land at the edge of obsolescence and loss. The poems teem with whaling schooners, passenger pigeons, a bayonet, cupola furnace, clavichord—words and objects at the brink of extinction, placed in and around the death of the poet’s father. But these poems also create, or recreate; through illustration, music, and myth, the imagination here allows the dead to reappear, mostly, and sometimes also lets them go. Located at the intersection of art and grief, these poems honor anyone who has set down lines and vanished from the earth.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

In college, I studied as a journeyman printer, and with the help of a more experienced classmate, we used a vintage Chandler-Price to print a chapbook of my poems, Familial Places. We used hand-made paper, my friend created an original woodcut for the chapbook, and I hand-sewed the binding. The experience shaped my understanding of chapbooks as a beautiful thing whose every inch is crafted.

Since then, I’ve made little collections of my poems by hand for fun, for family and friends: accordion books, or quarter-sized hand-sewn things.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

“Ribcage” is the first poem I wrote in the collection. I knew before writing it, though, that I would write a series.

I thought I’d never write again after my father died in 2007; he was also a poet, and I cared for him in the last 4 years of his life as a fast-moving, early onset Alzheimer’s robbed him of every word. But a year after his death, a friend put a book in my hands, Pictorial Webster’s: A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities by John M. Carrera. It’s a phenomenal collection of the engravings created for the Webster’s Dictionary in the 19th century, and as soon as I opened it, my mind began spinning. I saw gorgeous renderings, I saw words, I saw the ghost of my father and many others, I saw what gets left behind long after an artist dies.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. 

I started with “Ribcage” and just kept going. Flipping through Pictorial Webster’s, I picked engravings that somehow haunted me. It was a bit of a frenzy, and I wound up with a collection that is twice as long as the one in the chapbook. I do think I could have kept going. But when I came up for air, it was clear that some poems were stronger than others and had a more natural relationship to one another. I didn’t dither too much about what got included; it seemed clear—and my writing group, who watched this whole thing happen, unanimously agreed.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? 

The original title was Engravings: A Pictorial Dictionary of Visual Curiosities 1851.  Cumbersome, overly close to the title of the book that prompted the collection. But I liked the diction of the title, its emphasis on the visual, and the specific history offered. My wonderful editor, Jim Schley, recommended the shorter and ambidextrous title, Engraved, and said he felt the poems already created the environment I was trying to make right in the title. He was very convincing.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The editor and the designer and I were all in agreement that it needed to be an engraving of some sort. Of course, the press wanted something in the public domain to avoid costs. The current cover was the designer’s first suggestion, and it seemed too perfect: a skeleton, standing gesturing to something off the page, its spine in line with letters from the title as if it’s holding up the word.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a series of essays about those last four years of my father’s life—which also happened to be the first four years of my daughter’s life. Words in, words out. It’s tentatively titled Filament and Flicker.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Love every inch. Make a version of it by hand. Experience how the poems speak together on the physical page, and experiment with the physique of the page. Hold onto your vision of what you made.

Then submit to presses and let it go.

(Submit, submit, submit.  Who knows why presses take things? I was ridiculously lucky in that Tupelo’s Snowbound Prize was the first and only place I sent Engraved. But that’s never been true of anything else I’ve written and published. And then when your work is accepted and you start working with others—editors, designers–you’re collaborating. That’s a good thing.)

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

How do you think we chapbook writers and readers can get more chapbooks circulated to new readers?

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

Sure. Relevant especially to my own book, chapbooks are not really participants in the consumer market, and thus the material inside never has to wrestle with winning the dollar. Knowing that I was writing a chapbook, I felt that I had license to create the strange, the difficult, the experimental. The poems in Engraved are very, very different from the poems in either of my full-length books. And I’ll confess, as I put those two larger collections together, I did ask myself about “readability” and even, to a small extent, market appeal.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

A late Victorian world, populated by extinct species, odd machines, strange scientific findings, a sense of wonderment and grief, both.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“Harlequin Duck.” It’s long, though not the longest, and moves differently from all the others. It’s definitely part of the “family,” but the others don’t talk to it much.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Oh, I suppose my head was populated by many different voices. My father’s, the work of my writing group (especially that of Becca Barniskis, who was writing a series about Melville at that point), Dickens, a whole mess of strange characters. I tried to keep the images speaking most loudly.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

In regards to the themes and images I’ve described in other responses, absolutely—the chapbook amplifies them. As a small series of related poems, these pieces are isolated.  There are no distractions. The engravings and the issues that haunt them even become an obsession, something to be worked through in the course of the book. As one whole collection, there is no world but the one in these pages.

What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?

I’d love to know the secrets of promoting books of poems. I’ve given tons of readings, and I enjoy those. Wait–let me revise that first statement: I’d love to know the secrets of promoting poetry volumes in such a way that does not conflict with the resources that also might be used to write. I have friends who go to conventions and shake hands with the express purpose of trying to get gigs; they spend a lot of their money and energies to make their material visible in the larger world. Bless them. I’m exhausted by that work, and my bank account is shaky enough as it is.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different or your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

I’d always intended the collection as a series. The question was only in the order. Finally, I decided against alphabetical order. Instead, I put the poems in the order for which the ideas seemed to amass most naturally.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

The poem that comes first in the book: “The Engraver.” I knew I had to write that poem, and kept putting it off.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

John M. Carrera’s essays in his own book Pictorial Webster’s are phenomenal. Do have a look.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

People I don’t know.

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

Yes. And yes. Or: they are waiting for me to sell the option rights of a book of poems to Hollywood. More car chases.

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?

My own experience winning over new readers to poetry?  I’m a professor at a community college, so regularly, I show poems to people who’d never known anything beyond nursery rhymes and whose imaginations as a result unfurl; I’m proud to say I’ve seen some of them go on to MFA programs. I’m also part of a large arts community here in the Twin Cities, and I know a lot of composers and singers personally. One of the poems from Engraved has been set as a choral work for high school students; I had a chance to talk to the high school students who sang the piece about the poem, and that was fun. I don’t think they had thought before about the poetry of the pieces they sing. Another poem from Engraved was made into a 45-minute ballet, with original music commissioned by the dance company and based on the poem; the ballet was performed as part of the company’s season, and so storms of ballet-lovers were exposed to the poem. I’m not sure what they thought of it.

New readers of poetry and the chapbook format? I think there could be something very appealing about the chapbook format to those who don’t normally purchase whole volumes of poetry. First, there are usually fewer dollars at risk. Second, it’s an easier collection to make it all the way through, and from which to feel that satisfaction of completing. Third, for readers perhaps not used to thinking about poetry collections, it’s an easier thing to wrap one’s brain around.

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Anna George Meek has published in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Yale Review, and dozens of other national journals. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships. She has also been a finalist for the National Poetry Series (three times), the Minnesota Book Award, and the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her first book, Acts of Contortion, won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; her chapbook Engraved won the Snowbound Chapbook Competition and was published fall 2013; The Genome Rhapsodies will be published in fall 2015 by Ashland Press, from whom she received The Richard Snyder Memorial Prize. Meek lives with her husband and daughter in Minneapolis.

https://www.tupelopress.org/books/engraved

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2006/12/24

http://blogs.mprnews.org/state-of-the-arts/2010/06/minnesota-poetry-anna-george-meeks-muscle-memory/

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Vampire (True Vampire), Vampire (False Vampire)

Tilted up, the heads of two bats, jaws
open and fangs parted. False:
large soft ears and a glittering eye.
True: a skull. The dangers are real
and imagined. Portraits of these creatures
come by night and break the skin
of my heart as if piercing fruit.
I dream of winged joys, and their images
fly with me by day. Some moods
flicker in and out of shadow. I must draw
distinctions. Perhaps others
have been bitten, have looked through
dictionary illustrations, searching for
how they dive and disappear. Frightening,
to identify the kinds of intensity,
give them names, examine their shapes.
None of this is to scale.

Molly Gaudry

Wild+Thing+-+Molly+GaudryWild Thing (The Cupboard, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

I really love Jennifer Denrow’s From California, On (Brave Men Press); Claudia Smith’s Put Your Head In My Lap and Myriam Gurba’s Wish You Were Me (both from Future Tense); Evelyn Hampton’s We Were Eternal and Gigantic (Magic Helicopter); Mathias Svalina’s Creation Myths (New Michigan Press); Rachel Levy’s Necessary Objects (Tree Light Books); and everything The Cupboard has released.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I enjoy single-sitting reading experiences. I like to laugh and be surprised by images and languages; I like to feel sad and tender toward characters and speakers; I like a bite-sized reading experience that fills a person like a feast (or an all-you-can-eat buffet).

What’s your chapbook about?

Wild Thing is about ghostliness, isolation, and the long, slow process of healing.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

2009 – parts (Mud Luscious Press): This excerpt from We Take Me Apart is about flowers, dresses, women, and fertilization. Stylistically, it is quite different from the rest of the book (most likely because it was a very, very late addition).

2009 – Bloody Floral Sandals (Scantily Clad Press): This is a small collection of some of the first poems I ever published.

2010 – Anatomy for the Artist (Blossombones): This long hybrid fiction / found poem is a piece that bears no resemblance to We Take Me Apart. But it was the first draft of what would later become WTMA. And it is the pitch that got JA Tyler at Mud Luscious to sign me, on the promise of these early pages. WTMA was my first book, and it was the first full-length title Mud Luscious ever printed, so “Anatomy” is very special to me. And I am grateful that Blossombones gave it its very own home online.

2011 – Portrait of a Modern Family (Featherproof Minibooks): This, too, was the result of patching together found text. There are a number of characters, each with their own storyline, but one character in particular—the teacher—has stayed present in almost all of my work since then. Today, she is “the tea house woman.” And you can find her in We Take Me Apart, Desire: A Haunting, and Fit Into Me.

2012 – Lost July (YesYes Books): These long prose poems / flash fictions are also crafted using found text. I used the same deconstructive/reconstructive method I had used for Portrait, and it was wonderful to have KMA Sullivan as the editor for these pieces.

2014 – Shadow Memories (Black Warrior Review): An excerpt from Desire: A Haunting, which includes the tea house woman’s sections.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

All of the pieces in Wild Thing emerged from Jennifer Atkinson’s poetry workshop, called 79 Works. In this class, for the entire semester, we wrote eight poems a week. As this is one more than a poem a day, we were to feel relieved of the burden of producing “good” poems. Our goal was simply to create. It was wonderful. Of course, of the 79 poems I wrote, very few made it into Wild Thing.

How did you decide on the title of your chapbook?

Wild Thing comes from DH Lawrence’s poem “Self-Pity,” which, along with GI Jane, is referenced in one of the poems.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The cover of Wild Thing is not the first one proposed to me. I’m grateful to The Cupboard editors for being open to rethinking it.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

Perhaps something about the ending—whether it’s hopeful or defeated. My answer at the time would have been, “I don’t know.” Today, my answer is: “Hopeful, I think.”

What are you working on now?

I am working on a book about adoption. It’s too soon to say much other than that.

What is your writing practice or process? Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

Marguerite Duras says, “Writing comes like the wind.” I believe this. I do not force myself to write every day. I do not feel guilty about not writing. Years can pass without writing. But when I feel something spark, I attend religiously and I devote every spare minute to the project, whether I am writing, thinking, or journaling about it. As for a favorite prompt, I suppose it’s probably safe to say that I like working with found text. As for revision, as cliché as this phrase has become, I nonetheless kill my darlings. Ruthlessly.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

A chapbook is a special thing. It’s such a small vessel. Allow yourself to work in miniature, without the troubles and worries of a full-length project.

What question would you like to ask future chapbook authors featured at Speaking of Marvels?

What is the most beautiful chapbook you have ever held in your hands?

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

I think Wild Thing exists in a world of the unknown. A world of longing, fear of longing, healing, and fear of not healing.

Which piece is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

Maybe “Elegy.” I’m not dead, yet.

What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?

Nothing. I’m very pleased with how it all turned out. When my next full-length book comes out, though, I’ll be sure to find ways to give away Wild Thing as a bonus. I like giving away small things at readings especially. I have given away quite a lot of copies of Portrait of a Modern Family, which is easy to reproduce since it’s a Featherproof Minibook (e.g. you can print it, fold where you are told to fold, and voilà! A chapbook!).

How do you use computers/ digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?

Obsessively. I am addicted. I have no idea if I should be ashamed for this confession. (Should I?)

What was the final piece you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

I can’t say this with total certainty, but I’m pretty sure “Epilogue,” the final piece, was also written last. I think it was written in order to create the sense of an ending.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

Mild TBI survivors, particularly those struggling with sensory processing disorder.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

I think I set out to write a full-length, but in the end these few pieces are all that were necessary. They got the job done. (Although I should add that Desire: A Haunting is, in many ways, the mostly fiction version of Wild Thing, which is mostly nonfiction.)

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Molly Gaudry is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Utah, a core faculty member at the Yale Writers’ Conference, and a certified AntiGravity instructor.

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www.mollygaudry.com

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Day One

A woman walks into a bar and hits her head and falls down dead. Her ghost gets up and tries to go about the rest of the day. She orders a beer but the bartender doesn’t see her. She tries to hail a cab but no one stops for her—it must be the way she looks. At home, she can’t get the key to work. She tries to call her landlord but she can’t seem to manage her phone. She walks to a friend’s house but nobody hears her knocking and she just stands outside the window and watches the friend’s whole family through the parted curtains, first as they eat dinner, then as they gather around the fireplace and go about their evening entertainments, the kids playing a card game, the adults flipping through magazines and occasionally looking up toward the news on TV. Outside, our woman is cold and hungry and tired. She curls up on the friend’s front porch, waiting for morning, hoping for someone to find her before then so they can help her through this strange world where nothing is as it was and where everything is at once familiar but also so new.

Cecilia Woloch

WolochEarth (Two Sylvias Press, 2015)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

I love Louise Gluck’s chapbook, October. And there’s a less well-known chapbook – maybe influenced by Gluck’s? — called October Again, by Kathleen McGookey, that I love even more. McGookey has a new chapbook out, too, called Mended, which I think is terrific. The way she uses language — very stark and straightforward language, but used to mysterious and startling and lyrical ends — always puts me in a mood to write and seems to alter my approach to the process, so that I enter through a different door.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

That I’m drawn to interiority in poetry; that I want a poem to take me to a place that only words can take me.

What’s your chapbook about?

I don’t think I’m the best person to say what my poems are “about,” but my best guess is that the poems in Earth have something to do with my relationship to the physical world, especially the natural world, which for a long time seemed forbidding to me, mysterious and possibly dangerous, probably because my spirits, my ghosts, are so rooted in earth, and there’s so much tragedy in my family’s history. So it’s an ancestral thing, and I had to wake up into it, if that makes any sense. The earth of these poems is haunted, but in a way that I hope is rich. And of course there’s love in that hauntedness, too, love moving in all directions through time.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

I published a chapbook called Narcissus in 2008 with Tupelo Press. Those poems are about the shattering of some illusions about romantic love, and about a deeper love beyond those illusions. In truth, I put together the manuscript for Narcissus in much the same way I put together the manuscript for Earth. I saw the notice for the contest, and that prompted me to think about the poems I’d recently written, and what kind of shape they might make if I tried setting them against one another. So the manuscript arose from work I’d already (mostly) completed, individual poems that were speaking to one another in various ways. In retrospect, at least, it seems as if both manuscripts came together kind of magically, but I think the creative unconscious is hard at work when we’ve been working hard, and it knows what it’s doing. And in both cases, I felt as if putting a chapbook manuscript together was also giving me a way to see how a full-length manuscript might be shaped; the chapbook manuscript became a kind of zygote around which to assemble a larger body of work.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The poem called “Teta” is a poem I started writing in 1994. I’d put it away and forgotten about it and then only stumbled across it by accident last year. The draft I had was awkwardly written, and thin, but there was something there I felt I could pick up again; there was a spark, some heat, some energy that was still there — mostly in the ending, which seemed to take this leap that I didn’t fully understand. So I went to work. I probably wrote another 70 or 80 drafts. The finished poem ended up with the same opening line and the same ending as that first draft — it was as if I’d had to work toward that ending, to earn it. And I realized, when I’d finished, that I couldn’t have begun that poem today — only the very reckless writer I was 20 years ago could have done that — but I couldn’t finish it until I’d learned all I’ve learned in the past 20 years about that great-aunt, and my family, and myself. I had to absorb all that history, to become, in some way, a different person, but one who could still go back and collaborate with her younger self. It was a very humbling experience, and also a very heartening one. Patience has never been my strong suit, but I’m glad patience came into play in the making of this poem. It’s a poem that feels very necessary to me. And I think it’s emblematic of the poems in Earth, a kind of center.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

No prompts, no strategies, no tricks. I work and I pray. Nothing happens exactly the same way twice, and I probably wouldn’t trust it if it did. I’m the kind of writer who has to write every day, probably out of a kind of anxiety that, if I stop, I’ll forget how to do this thing I really don’t know how to do.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

I can’t remember what I had in mind when I put together the version of the chapbook I submitted for the Two Sylvias prize; but later in the process, I decided that sequence needed to be revised, and I drove myself a little crazy trying to work it out. I just kept shuffling and reshuffling the poems, wanting there to be a kind of flow from poem to poem, and wanting the repetition of certain images and words to seem purposeful and cumulative. As to titles, I’ve always thought that I’m terrible with titles, so I try to just keep things simple. Often a poem comes with its own title. After I put the initial version of the manuscript together, I saw that it centered around this notion of being “earthed,” so the manuscript seemed to have chosen this title for itself, whether I liked it or not.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The publisher allowed me to solicit art for the cover from an artist whose work I love, Jonde Northcutt. Jonde has provided the art for the covers of most of my books. She and the designer at Two Sylvias were enormously patient with me as I tried to make up my mind; everyone just kept saying they wanted me to be happy with the cover. Finally, I settled on this image that Jonde had made quite a while ago, and the designer loved it, too, and I think it turned out beautifully. This was the most input I’ve ever had on a cover, and it was kind of nerve-wracking for me, since I’m not not an especially visual person and tend not to trust my judgement about visual things, but the results well worth it, I think. The interior design was all the work of Two Sylvias — I think I made one suggestion about a font — and I’m very happy with how that turned out, too. I’d have to say that this whole process with Two Sylvias was a joy. The women who run the press are poets — really fine poets — and they seem to have struck a wonderful balance between the business side and the artistic side of things.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a full-length manuscript of poems, with poems from Earth at its center. But I’m working on that in a sort of peripheral way; it’s a project on the corner of my desk, and I’m not in any big rush about it. For some reason — maybe as a reward from the gods for having walked away from a future-less academic job? — a lot of the work I’ve done over the past 20 years is finding its way into print right now in a way that seems almost effortless. (Of course, I remind myself that there are 20 or 30 years of constant effort behind that.) And that’s had the effect of making me patient, making me think that everything has its time, will have its time, so long as I consistently put my shoulder to the wheel and don’t get too caught up in judgments about the work — my own or other peoples’.

And I need that patience especially now, because I’m coming near to the end, I think, of a project I’ve been working on for at least ten years, and the project I think of as my true “life’s work.” It’s a long prose work that recounts my search for clues to the life of my paternal grandmother, who was murdered before I was born — as was my paternal grandfather. It’s turned into a kind of geopolitical murder-mystery,  but it’s also, at heart, the story of a family and its woundedness.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Don’t aspire to be a chapbook author. Aspire to make the best poems you can make and then see what happens. Things will happen. The poems and the process of writing them will teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to know.  Put other aspirations, like publishing a book, aside, at least for a while; get them out of the way. The late, brilliant James Baker Hall said, “Don’t let your worldly ambitions drive a wedge between you and the work that’s most sacred to you.” Publishing a chapbook matters much less than doing the work that’s most sacred to you.

Why a chapbook?

I love the size and shape of a chapbook, how portable it is, how it fits into the hand. I think the chapbook may even be a more perfect vehicle for poems that the full-length book. I love how tightly woven the poems in chapbooks mostly are, how the chapbook can seem like a very compact jewelry box.

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

I think the chapbook form, because its a tight-knit form, makes a demand that the poems in it speak to one another, and I think that’s an excellent thing and makes the chapbook in some ways more democratic and populist than a full-length book, where poems have more space to move away from one another.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

A world in which the veil between worlds is thin, and in which the dead and the living coexist in close proximity. A world full of mud and flowers and birds and spirits.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

The title poem, “Earth,” which I wasn’t even sure was a poem. It’s a small piece of prose that I wrote from deep in a meditation about the above-mentioned family history, about who we’ve been, as a “people,” and how we’ve had to keep moving to remain who we are, and how I’ve finally understood my own place in that continuum I’ll have to call “soul,” and in the soul of the world. Waking into the realization that my small soul is part of a larger soul. It seemed to me like a very strange piece of writing, but true. I asked two of my closest and most trusted writer friends if it should be included in the manuscript, and both of them said yes. I pretty much knew right then that this small collection of poems would have to take its title from that poem and be called Earth.

Which poem is the “black sheep” in your collection and why?

All my poems are black sheep. I come from a family of nothing but black sheep — bootleggers, bookies, fortune-tellers, Communists. I think all the best poems, like all the best people, are outside the law.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

Dwell. A book about finding my home, at last.

To what degree is your work with writing about binding to form? To what degree is it about freeing ________from form? Is there writing, for you, without the work of writing being a form-married requirement? If so, what does (or could) that look like?

Hmmm, I don’t think I understand the question, but I write formal poems as well as free-verse and prose-poems. I think the material determines what kind of vessel will carry it.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

I always read my work out loud and, yes, I read the whole chapbook manuscript out loud to myself several times as I was trying to determine the final sequence of the poems; the way the poems sounded in concert, in sequence, was a determining factor in my final decision. I think when we listen to our own poems, when we hear them, we engage the body as well as the mind; and, when we’re not privileging the mind, we get a better sense of the music and the dance.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I read sort of obsessively, but I mostly read books — nonfiction with my coffee in the morning, poetry throughout the day, fiction at night before I go to sleep. I’m very particular about language, but anything that’s well written is a joy and an inspiration to me.

Whose work helped you in the writing of the chapbook?

I wrote the poems that are in Earth over such a long span of time — as I mentioned, at least one of the poems was something I’d started twenty years earlier; other poems had been written ten years ago; and some were very new — that I think it would be impossible to pin down or even remember what I was reading and where I was finding inspiration. But the poems written more recently owe a lot to Lucie Brock-Broido’s latest collection, Stay, Illusion, which is wonderful, on many levels — most importantly, to me, the sheer, unabashed beauty of the language and imagery, the swerves the poems take, and their deep interiority. When so much poetry has become clever and facile and monotonous, to come across the strange beauty of the poems in Stay, Illusion felt like being given permission by a wise older sister to say just what I needed to say and didn’t know how to say.

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

Yes, my family reads my work, even those family members who aren’t at all “literary.” My older sister, who’s a retired hairdresser, is one of my biggest fans and most astute critics, and I value her responses as much or more than anyone’s.  But she’s also waiting for me to finish this “big” prose book about our grandmother — in fact, she’s helped with a lot of the research and helped by sharing her dreams with me — so she’s there, cheering me on, gently encouraging me, and that means a lot to me. I have six siblings and, before our mother died, we were all very close, and all of my siblings and my mother were great supporters of my writing. My father had had a series of strokes before my first book was published, so he never saw my work in print, but I think he understood what I was doing, and I think he’s listening when I write to him now.

Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?

If I think about an audience at all, I hope for a general audience, not an exclusively academic or literary one, and not one composed primarily of my peers. Maybe the best moment in my life as a poet happened when my second book, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem, had just come out. I walked through the screen door of my mother’s house in Kentucky one evening after dinner; my mom was leaning back in my dad’s old recliner; my teenaged niece was sprawled out on the living room rug; my sister was curled on one end of the couch, reading my book aloud to them. When I started to say something, I was promptly shushed. “We’re listening to this,” my mom said. That’s my ideal audience, right there. I don’t think winning the Pulitzer Prize could beat that. I know that a lot of poets  are writing for their tenure committees, or for the editors of journals where they want to be published, and I think they’re making a grave mistake. I’ve never written with my mother or sister in mind — that would probably lead to some heavy self-censorship and really bad poems — but I do write in the hope of making that connection from soul to soul.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Language, and human stories, and love.

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Cecilia Woloch is the author of six collections of poems, most recently Carpathia (BOA Editions 2009) and Earth, winner of the 2014 Two Sylvias Press prize for the chapbook. Tzigane, le poème Gitan), the French translation of her second book, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem, was also published in 2014. A novella, Sur la Route, is forthcoming from Quale Press in 2015. Recent honors include The Indiana Review Prize for Poetry and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Cecilia teaches independently throughout the U.S. and around the world.

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http://www.ceciliawoloch.com

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2006

In the year of the poppy year of the cornflower
year of the meadow of yarrow and buttercup
year of the thistle and ox-eyed daisy
in the spring of the year of our lord
of the train the engine the ticket the map
of the landscape of leaf shadow willow white birch
blurring past in the smoke of the burning fields
in the blue mist of evening the ringing of bells
ringing out for the living the living the dead
of the last great war which is one long war
of the ancient soldier come in his uniform
to stand hopefully at the door
of the house of no mirrors swept of ash
(in which I was a guest of the dark bread and rain)
to ask Have the Germans already left?
sixty years after the forests were flushed
of the last of our enemies last of the partisans
of the holy republic of mud
of the blood mixed with earth of the bones of itself
of which no one knows but the trees anymore
of which no one speaks but the child made of grass.

Lynn Pedersen

pedersen rainTheories of Rain (Main Street Rag, 2009)

Tiktaalik, Adieu (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

One of the first chapbooks I bought was The Scottish Café by Susana H. Case. It explores mind and imagination through a group of mathematicians who met prior to World War II at a café in Lvov, Poland. Case’s incorporation of place along with an academic subject in her poems captured my attention.

What might this chapbook suggest about you and your writing?

I’m drawn to poetry that Pedersen_Lynn_COVincludes a wide range of
topics—history, medicine, science, art—combined with bits of personal narrative and insight. My earliest poems were short lyrics, and my current interest lies in longer research-based poetry and documentary poetics. The challenge is to incorporate facts into a poem without the finished piece sounding like an encyclopedia.

What are your chapbooks about?

Theories of Rain explores grief, parenthood and the impermanence of things. This chapbook was an exercise for me in how to incorporate personal experience with the language of science, mathematics, history, and art. I discovered that I can write about some topics and individuals in history—Michelangelo, J.M.W. Turner, Darwin, and Vermeer—and not others. The key is whether or not I have a strong emotional connection to a particular event or person in the past. I’ve yet to write a successful poem about Copernicus, for example.

Tiktaalik, Adieu has some of the same themes as Theories of Rain—loss, the passage of time—though the poems focus more on science and extinction. Darwin is a recurring figure. Every few months as I was writing, a new Darwin poem would emerge. Several of these poems appear in this collection: “Something About Darwin,” “On Reading About the Illness and Death of Darwin’s Daughter Annie,” and “I Hate Darwin.” Darwin has a dual role in the chapbook for the personal family losses that he suffered as well as the scientific theory of evolution he proposed.

What’s the oldest piece in your Tiktaalik, Adieu? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

“Begin” explores journey, story, imagination and the necessity of leaving people/ places/ objects behind. I am fascinated with the Oregon Trail, and I was able to go and stand in the wagon tracks of the trail near Fort Laramie in Wyoming. This experience is reflected in the poem: “You can never be sure / what you will need, and so the Oregon Trail is littered— / trunks, clothes, pianos, chairs, silverware— / anything to lighten the load / before crossing the mountains.” The poems in this chapbook keep returning to the idea of things left behind, and it is interesting to consider how we as individuals carry or don’t carry our losses with us.

Describe your writing practice or process. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?  

My process is to let a poem remain in a state of development for as long as possible before I make any revisions, so that I can get a sense of what the poem contains and how it relates to other poems I may be writing at the same time. I tend to write very controlled poems, so I’ve always been encouraged by mentors to become wilder and not let my logic-brain takeover, and it takes time for me to get to the wildness.

How did you decide on the arrangements and titles of your chapbooks?

The title Theories of Rain was taken from a line in “The Classification of Impermanence,” one of the poems in the chapbook about Luke Howard, the amateur British meteorologist who developed the classification system for clouds.

Tiktaalik, Adieu was a tougher title to pick. I wanted the title to reference a fossil or an extinct creature to reflect the science focus of the chapbook. One of my mentors suggested Tiktaalik, Adieu after reading the poem “Platypus: Hoax,” in which Tiktaalik appears. The extinct Tiktaalik was the first creature to move from sea to land, our ancestor fish.

The poems in both chapbooks are arranged by how well they complement each other, with art poems interspersed with science poems and more personal lyric poems.

What are you working on now?

I’m at the beginning of the next writing project, so I’m doing a lot of research and experimenting with language to see what poems emerge. Prose interests me—lyric essays, prose poems and cross-genre work in flash nonfiction—since these may overlap with my current research focus. I have a full-length poetry collection coming out from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2016, so I’m gearing up for that as well.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

 Writing chapbooks is a great opportunity to learn how your poems work together as a collection. Not every chapbook will have an arc or theme, but poems can still speak to each other. A chapbook is also a good introduction to publishing and book marketing.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I’ll read just about anything as long as it’s nonfiction, primarily science, natural history and biography. Reference books and maps are a rich source of words and images, too, and I like the personal voice of diaries, journals and letters. Many of my poems are a response to my reading.

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?

For the second chapbook, Tiktaalik, Adieu, I’m working to get copies to scientists and others who might enjoy the poems based on a common connection to the content. So far, a paleontologist has read the chapbook and sent good feedback! There is a misconception that science is clinical and devoid of emotion. Scientists have a tremendous passion for their field, and they are very excited when artists create science-based work. Friends and relatives who do not normally read poetry have also read the chapbooks because they know me. Whether this introduction to science poems can translate into a new reader of poetry in general, I’m not certain. I don’t know that a new reader to chapbooks would necessarily distinguish between shorter and longer length collections, but the smaller size of chapbooks is less daunting to me as a reader and a writer.

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Lynn Pedersen’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including New England Review, Ecotone, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, and Other Countries: Poets Rewiring History. She is the author of two chapbooks, Tiktaalik, Adieu (Finishing Line Press, New Women’s Voices Series) and Theories of Rain (Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Choice Chapbook Series). Carnegie Mellon University Press is publishing her collection The Nomenclature of Small Things in 2016 as part of the Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series. She is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her website is www.lynnpedersen.wordpress.com.

Rachael Katz

KatzAny Berry You Like (iO Books, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

There is a little beautifully illustrated book by Matthew Salesses called Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) that I read a lot. It’s “fiction” but really it’s its own thing, bittersweet headspin.

May-Lan Tan also wrote a little fiction chapbook called Girly (FutureTense) that is so precise and pucker-sour in that good way, and she handed it to me like it was nothing in a bar after I went to hear her read, and man, she is such a good reader too.

Leonard Schwartz’s The Library of Seven Readings is a conceptual marvel. I go there when I’m tripping over my own cord. Ugly Duckling’s chapbook catalogue is one of those rare diverse collections in which each chapbook is always as riotous and remarkable as the next.

I will read and reread Lisa Robertson’s heady panoramic Cinema of the Present over and over again because I cannot stop, and because every time there is a new glint at the bottom of something I thought I’d already gotten to the bottom of.

No, Dear/Small Anchor put out Emily Skillings’s Linneaus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants and David Feinstein’s Woods Porn within what seemed like minutes of each other, and both impart a kinky kind of empathy that I can really get into.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I like books that make their own genres. I like books with trapdoors. I like a formal treasure hunt. I like books that think they’re sculptures or sculpture parks or the maps of sculpture parks or the page of links to the various maps of sculpture parks. The book itself doesn’t have to do something flashy, it’s just that a good piece of art can do all kinds of things, and I’m into the horizontal moves.

What’s your chapbook about?

What is any chapbook about? Sex, probably. And growing up. And growing up without having a lot of sex. Then probably growing up while having unpleasant sex. Then, finally, being grown up and having good sex. That’s not entirely true. I just said that to sound really wise. The chapbook is mostly about trying to resist compartmentalizing and commodifying my experiences and the people I meet into oblivion. I hope it’s demonstrative of that and not the opposite. Sometimes you read a book that flips that script and it’s icky, but I guess that can be fun too. I’m still interested in sincerity and fragmentation.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

I think Dakota Fanning came first. I remember I was writing a lot of grudge poems/ love letters to hot girls I went to middle school with. This is years after the fact. I wrote this poem during my second year of grad school. It was the first poem I had written since my actual teenage grudge poems/ love letters, and it felt right to drop right in where I’d left off.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

Every prompt I love is based on placing constraints on the writing. Anything, really. Formulaic or formalist or fantastical, I crave constraints—I need them to get anything done. Dottie Lasky actually wrote a beautiful polemic against this kind of project-based thing that is much more graceful than anything here, but I want to come out in defense of the project. For me, the project is the beating heart of the work. Even more than I want to make the poem, I want to make the rules of the poem. I think it’s because this restraint doesn’t come to me naturally. It even scares me a little. I make a project to safely explore the limitless space that’s flinging me apart all the time.

In revision, I like working with “mundanities” like they’re a poetic unit of measure. Looking back at a poem that’s creating too much drama, I can be like, calm down poem. Take these three “mundanity” capsules and just coast. Hard to go a whole day without making a pharmaceutical analogy, isn’t it? My poems are self-medicating.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

The title was an item on a grocery list given to me by my girlfriend, a benevolent grocery list. She writes the grocery lists that write the poems.

The arranging was weird for me because these poems were born so far apart from each other. In time and space, but especially in levels of maturity. Not maturity of craft or anything: I mean within the world of the poem—the maturity of the speaker. There are a few of the middle school grudge/ love letter poems in there shuffled in with some where the speaker is doing this macro reflection afterschool special thing. These impulses come from very different places, and so I wanted to alternate between them. I like making a chapbook that’s balanced in this way. I want to explore whether or not it’s possible to evolve and devolve simultaneously so the gross balance is always zero? Gross. Gross.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The design was all Wendy Xu, who I would have trusted with just about anything, aesthetic or otherwise. If instead of “send iO a chapbook,” she had said “I am going to be picking out your clothes every day from now on,” I would have been like, thank god—when can we start?

What are you working on now?

I wrote a one-act play that opened in Buffalo last November, and I’m working on a three-act play right now. I’m self-publishing a limited-run chapbook this spring. Right now I’m making things out of absolute garbage, refuse, ignored real and imaginary objects. Most of what I’m doing goes namelessly on. The next drumset I make will be a flowerbed.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Get a dayjob doing something that feels like it’s rotting whatever part of you may have at one time been a soul, and then one day by chance find a scrambled email from the CEO of a war criminal corporation to your boss that can become a poem because it has to become a poem because it is such a phenomenal representation of the opposite of poetry, and then continue to make things that undermine carelessness and ambivalence in the world, even if it’s just whatever, a birthday card for a baby.

What question would you like to ask future interviewees featured at Speaking of Marvels?

What might appear on a playlist accompanying your chapbook?

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

I think the chapbook creates a world that anyone could live in uncomfortably, as I do.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

The first and last poems in the chapbook both feel a bit like outsiders to me. The first because it’s doing something so outlandish and loud that not many of the other poems are bold enough to try. The last poem just freaks me out because it’s reckless and too close to me. I never read it in front of people. I never read it.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I read a lot of instruction manuals, pamphlets, board game instructions, receipts, and these other disposable things when I’m writing. I like this kind of writing. This dissonance: so obligatory and so ignored. I also like reading things that aren’t typically read as texts: sheet music, diagrams, maps. Especially maps. Have I mentioned maps?

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Rachael Katz works as an artist-in-residence at the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. She is a teaching artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Her work has appeared in jubilat and 90s Meg Ryan.

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Gravel Toss

The new fever is the old one
doorbell; anterooms, quick
hallways, those gentlemen.
How do I get heaven breakfasts
and not to wear that red dress but
to turn the house lights on, to star
the star. I will become famous
only because I float and I fling it
in there. I will play the matador
with the paper towel roll, be the
diving bell drain stopper. If I
am on the bottom, I swim dark
centimeters of improvised space.
Pinking with blues to cut, penniless
as a pea trellis powerline I toothache
down the duvet. I’ve won a watermelon
eating contest called what we are about
takes a long time. I sit in the tub and shoot
martians looks like water chestnuts.