My Father’s Speech (Apprentice House, 2008)
What’s the oldest piece in the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“Spit Can” is the oldest poem in the chapbook. I remember distinctly trying to capture the beauty in the ugliness of my grandfather’s spit can. While it was everything that I knew (and could see as a child) was unattractive—it held a strong attractive appeal in its foul-smelling adult land of decisions made for pleasure and habit, as opposed to the ones I was required to make as a child.
What’s your chapbook about?
This chapbook provided a topical home for my poems about mining, family history, and generational connection. It examines family pictures from my father’s youth in a coal mine in West Virginia and gradually moves forward to include my own poetic mining, a half of a century later, in Maryland.
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?
The chapbook was an appropriate size for the amount of material that I had regarding mining (both mine and my relatives’). Initially, the poems were part of a larger, full-book length collection. However, when I separated them from the collection, their strength increased through the new independence. Suddenly, I was not trying to arrange them within another work, but allowing them to speak to each other on their own terms.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The poems are arranged in a loosely chronological order, beginning with the title piece, “My Father’s Speech,” which explores the connection between past family history and present circumstances—and the inability to disconnect the two entities.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted my chapbook to a contest by a relatively new press (at the time), Apprentice House (Loyola University, Maryland). It was the first poetry chapbook contest that the press offered. Up until that point, they had only published a variety of non-fiction work.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was very lucky to be included in the cover image process at Apprentice House. I brought in my grandfather’s scrip (coins which were the form of currency used in mining camps), and the editor photographed it and used it for the cover and for some of the internal opening pages.
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?
I made a few revisions after the chapbook was accepted for publication, but they were minor. For the most part, the chapbook remained in its original submission format.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I worked extremely hard to promote the chapbook. I scheduled local readings and signings at bookstores, received four reviews in local and national publications, and contacted the West Virginia Library Commission, who purchased one hundred and ten copies of the chapbook—one for every public library in West Virginia!
How have your goals as a writer changed since your chapbook was published? What are you working on now?
I am actually working on my third full-length book since the chapbook’s publication. Apprentice House, the same press which published my chapbook, released the full-length memoir that I had completed before the chapbook contest (Halfway: a Journal through Pregnancy, 2010). They will also be publishing my epistolary book, I Remain Yours: Secret Mission Love Letters by my Mormon Great-Grandparents, 1900-1903, by December 2014. I am currently working on my Ph.D. dissertation, which is a critical examination of love letters (hopefully, to be published in the next few years!)
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Love your chapbook collection like you would an unruly child. It will eventually find a home, though sometimes it can take many years. Keep your faith in its existence and in its potential contribution to the world. One day, when it blooms, you will see that it needed that time to reach its full potential.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
I don’t have a favorite prompt, but I always remain open to unexpected changes and shifts in my work. Most of my work goes through multiple revisions—stretching its muscles, then resting, then stretching again. I try to view each poem as a completely separate being, with its own needs and growth time.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
If you had to describe your chapbook in one word, what would it be? This would be both a difficult and telling question, because it would require the condensation of ideas into a “chap” word, and it would show the author’s core intentions in writing the chapbook.
Katherine Cottle is the author of My Father’s Speech: Poems (Apprentice House 2008), Halfway: a Journal through Pregnancy (AH 2010), and the forthcoming I Remain Yours: Secret Mission Love Letters of my Mormon Great-Grandparents (AH 2014). She is completing her Ph.D. in Writing and American Literature at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She teaches writing and literature at the University of Baltimore, Goucher College, and through Johns Hopkins University’s CTYOnline program.
My Father’s Speech
It isn’t a twang that escapes
from your voice when Uncle Charlie calls,
but a deeper country that surfaces
when you think no one is listening.
If I could pull it from your mouth
it would be black as coal dust,
the tiny grains of rock that climbed
through the miners’ lungs,
leaving your father’s chest a wilt
of ragged breath.
If I could taste it, it would be
grits and coleslaw, greasy gravy
over biscuits and egg.
But you keep the edge hidden well,
tucked behind a white button down and tie,
your body aging as quickly as a young boy’s.
It is hard to believe that it is the same body
as the one in the picture I dig out
from beneath your dresser each Christmas–
the class picture, the one without
your front tooth.
The boy there is smiling,
words about to escape from his mouth.
The accent does not matter.
All he knows is what he has known:
that he is a boy,
that the ground becomes cool each evening,
that his father comes home after dinner
from the day shift,
that the mountain with the tallest pines
is the last point the sun will hit
before his mother will call him
into the house for the night.