I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012)
What’s the oldest piece in the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest poem is “Electric,” which I wrote in the spring of 2004 as part of my MFA thesis work. I was reading through the letters of Keats at the time and loved the language in them. The original title for this piece (under which it was published in Natural Bridge) was “there is an ellectric fire in human nature tending to purify.” I remember that the first draft of the poem came through in the first draft pretty close to what the published poem looks like, with only minor tinkering here and there.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
In 2006 or so, a friend of mine came across some books from the Wick chapbook series and said that I would like them. She was right; I’ve been a fan of that series since. I remember in particular being drawn to Jason Gray’s How to Paint the Savior Dead for its examination of religious themes in contemporary contexts, and to Catherine Pierce’s Animals of Habit, which was more of a “project” book—many of the titles start with “Love Poem”: “Love Poem to Sinister Moments,” for example. I’d become fascinated with the rhetorical elements of love poems, and so I enjoyed reading Pierce’s work.
I remember wishing I lived in Ohio so that I could enter the Wick contest. It wasn’t the reason for my 2009 move to Ohio (the doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati was), but I was reminded of the Wick contest soon after.
What I loved about both Gray and Pierce’s books was the clear, coherent, taut statement a chapbook can make through its careful choice of poems. No filler here.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
My chapbook is my earliest published work, but it’s a stronger version of the type of poems I was writing during my MFA years: use of—and interrogation of—the lyric address (an “I” addressing a “you”), employment of images from the natural world, and tracking the emotional distance in a few stages of relationship: attraction, commitment, and breakup. The poems use personal information in some cases, but they were written over seven years, so it’s not a personal narrative by any means.
What made you decide to gather your pieces in a chapbook instead of another format? When did you realize you were working toward a chapbook?
Seeing the advertisement for the Wick contest made me want to re-evaluate the full-length book manuscript I’d been working on for several years, which included the “relationship”-type poems as well as many others (about childhood, faith, etc.). I decided that I wanted to pull out the best poems and try to weave a tighter narrative than the full-length book had been able to do, and the result was a much stronger (though shorter) manuscript. The principles I’d used to form the chapbook helped me later revise the full-length collection.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
The length was determined in part by the contest requirements and in part by the decisions I made about which poems were strongest and thus deserved to be in the collection. A loose narrative arc (attraction, commitment, breakup) helped determine the arrangement. The title (also the title for a long, cumulative poem in the book) was one I’d been trying for the longer collection for awhile, but it felt better for this short assemblage of poems, carefully “collected” for the reader in the form of a chapbook.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted the chapbook to only a few contests—maybe three at most—over two years.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The Wick series has a distinctive brand in their cover art (a border design that uses the same color for the two chapbooks published that year), so I didn’t need to collaborate with the press about any design issues, but because I was familiar with the series, I had complete faith in their work.
In what ways did your chapbook change between the version you submitted and the final published version? Did you revise, rearrange, or make other changes?
Maggie Anderson, the judge, had some specific suggestions for the book, including deleting one poem (that covered the same ground as others but wasn’t as strong), and moving one poem up in the sequence. She also had a few line edits that tightened the poems. Her advice was invaluable.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I had readings in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and I suggested that the press submit it to Poetry Daily and Verse Daily (both of which decided to feature poems from it). I filled out a long publicity questionnaire for the press, who may have sent it other places, but the readings and submissions to the daily poetry websites were the most helpful publicity things that I did. The press also ran ads in the AWP Conference program and magazines, their standard procedure.
How have your goals as a writer changed since your chapbook was published? What are you working on now?
Some of the chapbook poems appear in my first full-length collection, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), winner of the Stevens Manuscript Competition sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, but I’ve moved from considering the relationship between the “I” and the “you” of a poem to a critique of the courtly love tradition (which often employs that lyric address in a different context). My poems now explicitly feature personae, including Petrarch’s Laura and Gemma Donati (Petrarch’s wife), and I include translations from Gaspara Stampa, a Renaissance Venetian sonnet-sequence writer.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Keep crafting. Take the advice you get from readers of your work; I was a finalist for the Wick chapbook competition the year before I won, and Maggie Anderson generously wrote me, telling me that I needed to get rid of the titles taken from the letters of poets. I immediately did so.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What is your own experience of reading a chapbook like? Do you read through it in one sitting or pick and choose pieces to read?
Lisa Ampleman is the author of Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), winner of the Stevens Manuscript Competition, and I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012), winner of the Wick chapbook competition. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Massachusetts Review, New Ohio Review, New South, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. She is a recent graduate of the PhD program at the University of Cincinnati and was the Mona Van Duyn Scholar at the 2013 Sewanee Writers Conference.
I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You
A storm came through, strong from eating
through empty prairie, the sky lit solid
by lightning. I could feel the thunder in my toes.
I turned off the lights, stood near the window–
though not supposed to–and watched,
the hotel parking lot a pock-marked river.
The rain frantic on the roof drowned out
that sarcastic turn your voice can take.
___________________A tornado took off
roofs ten miles away.
I nearly wrote this down on hotel stationery–
but you have seen storms before
and do not need to know
____________I write these letters to you
____________in my head.
If I scribbled some note and put a stamp on it,
it wouldn’t be true by the time it arrived.