The Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013)
What’s the oldest piece in the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I think the earliest poem is “Down Home,” which appeared in decomP in April of 2010 and must have been written in mid-to-late 2009. I used to have this wasteful tic where I would have to handwrite a poem over and over from the beginning every time I wanted to make a revision instead of just crossing out or erasing. It was the only way I could hold the voice and the idea in my head. So somewhere in the trunk of old notebooks in my office the evolution of that poem probably exists on twenty separate pieces of notebook paper. The idea behind it was to string together characters from old folk songs as a tribute to my grandpa, who taught me to love old music.
One other thing I remember: I was asked to record it for an episode of Indiefeed, and that was a lot of fun. I put a fiddle loop behind it and really tried to perform it, which is not my usual reading method. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I think you can still hear it here: (http://indiefeedpp.indiefeed.libsynpro.com/justin-hamm-down-home).
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
I’ve read a lot of really good ones, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to a few, but I’ll give it a shot. One I admire a lot is Cindy Hunter Morgan’s The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker. Each poem is about a different person who works a different job at a different point and place in history, but they’re all tied together through beautiful language and emotion and a subtle magical realism. It’s probably my favorite chapbook ever.
Stealing Dust by Karen J. Weyant is another favorite. Karen writes working class poems with true grit. Michael Meyerhofer’s Pure Elysium is fantastic, too. Every individual poem in it is a small masterpiece. And my pressmate at Crisis Chronicles Lisa J. Cihlar’s This Is How She Fails is a powerful little book of prose poems that I’ve enjoyed several times.
One thing I learned from these chapbooks is how the form lends itself to a certain cohesiveness. Chapbooks are great because they can be read a poem at a time or in a single sitting. Because they are likely to be read in a single sitting, unity and concept can be used in ways that might not work in a full-length collection. Each of the books above, except maybe Meyerhofer’s, which is unified but draws its strength more from the individual poems, needed to be a chapbook. The concept probably wouldn’t have worked quite the same at double or triple the length. I read full-length collections that carry out a concept for eighty or ninety pages and a lot of times I think, “I wish they’d made it a chapbook instead.”
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
I hope there are a number of themes at work in The Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records. But most of all I hope it’s about everyday people and the “music” of everyday life. It’s printed so that it has to be flipped over halfway through, like a record, and I definitely tried to channel the spirit of the Folkways label in my head as I was putting it together. Their goal was to preserve all the sounds of the world. That included music, obviously, but also the everyday sounds of a place. They’d put out records of noise on a busy street, the sounds of the junkyard.
Everyday/Alone is similar to my first chapbook, Illinois, My Apologies, in that there’s an undercurrent of place. In I, MA I tried to deal openly with place, and maybe that isn’t as out front in Everyday/Alone. But I think it’s still there in the background. Otherwise, I’d say the difference is that I’m slowly maturing and growing more comfortable with my own voice, so maybe the poems read as a little more relaxed and airy and contemplative?
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?
Well, I talked a little already about why the format appeals. I’ll add that I think where I’m at right now just lends itself to a shorter, thematically tighter presentation. I work in passionate bursts. This goes for how I learn, too. I get obsessed with a subject for a few months—medieval monasteries, the history of furniture, George Caleb Bingham—and burn through it before eventually cooling and moving on to something else. Eventually, I cycle back. I like to be able to follow these obsessions freely and if I were committed to a longer project, I think I’d feel like I had to . . . stay on task, I guess?
This isn’t school or a job. So I’m going to do it in a way that I enjoy. I have two or three shorter things going at once and I bounce between them or start something new as I feel drawn to it.
I’ve worked at carving a full-length collection from what I’ve written over the last four or five years, and eventually I’ll have one, but I’m not in a hurry.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
A lot of these matters were settled when I decided on the album concept. I tried to think about how albums used to be ordered and divided in the past. The songs on each side would need to work together in some way but also work with the songs on the other side.
The way it ended up working out was this: Side One dealt more with everyday life, with music always hovering in the background, while Side Two dealt more with music, and ordinary, everyday life became a background theme. As for length, I just tried to get close to the same number of poems on each side for balance.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted to one contest at Gribble Press and was lucky enough to be a finalist. But I didn’t have a ton of money laying around to spend on more contest fees, so I submitted it to John Burroughs at Crisis Chronicles Press during an open reading, and he took it.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Obviously, I had a concept in mind before I ever sent the manuscript along, and John liked that. So some of what would need to be done was already decided beforehand. We did talk about the finer details, such as exactly what kind of record label we’d use on the cover, where the blurbs and the acknowledgements would go—because of the unique layout, these things took more consideration than they normally would—and John was open to a lot of my ideas. So I got to be closely involved with that whole process, which was great.
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?
Between acceptance and publication there were a couple of unexpected but unavoidable delays. And during that time, I did tweak the manuscript. I pulled a couple of poems and put in a couple of newer ones that I’d written and published in the meantime. The title changed from The Everyday Parade/Elegy for Sounds Forgotten to The Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records. Also, due to page constraints, a couple of poems that had been published in online lit magazines had to be rethought from a line standpoint, which actually ended up making them better and more natural within the collection.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I’ve done a couple of interviews, and I’ve been in touch with the editors of magazines and journals that have published my work. They’ve shared the news through whatever means they have available. I’ve also used my website/blog and Facebook, and to a lesser degree Twitter and Instagram. I did a reading last month at the Vachel Lindsay Home in Springfield, Illinois—I’m from central Illinois originally—and the folks there were so friendly and receptive. I sold a lot of copies through that event. Recently I sent out a handful of review copies, too, so hopefully that will lead to some attention. And I’m hoping to schedule a couple more readings in the near future.
How have your goals as a writer changed since your chapbook was published? What are you working on now?
My goals haven’t really changed much at all. I’ve always wanted to write good poems, to have people read them and be moved by them. Hopefully, that will always be my goal. Recognition and respect are matters that are beyond my control so I try not to worry too much about them.
Right now, I have two different projects that are in the complete/near complete stage. One is a new chapbook-length manuscript called Lessons in Ruin. It was recently a quarterfinalist for the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize from Casey Shay Press. I did some small revisions and sent it to a couple of other places. I hope it’ll get picked up before too long.
And then I have a little bit weirder project. I’ve written a sequence of surreal flash fictions/prose poems about meeting Bob Dylan, which is something that actually happened to me this summer, and I’m collaborating with an artist to make it into a comic. I have no idea who might publish something like that. Anybody out there interested?
Other than that, I’ve been revising some poems from the summer and trying to get myself back on my normal writing schedule. I’ve had kind of a crazy year—new job, new baby, new chapbook—and so my rhythm has been off.
What is your writing practice?
When I’m in a good writing period, I write at least an hour every night before I go to bed—by hand, while my wife reads or sleeps next to me. Often, it’ll be longer, and sometimes I’ll be out of the groove and I won’t do it for a couple of weeks. But that’s the basic ritual I’ve been able to use to make sure I keep creating in the midst of a busy life.
Of course, a lot of writing gets done in my head throughout the course of a week, so I’m able to bring it to these before-bed sessions. And then, if the writing’s going good and I need more time, I’ll sneak it in on the weekends. I’m lucky in that my wife is incredibly supportive and knows how necessary writing is to my well-being. Sometimes my four-year-old will sigh and say, “Daddy, you need to stop writing and spend time with me now.” And I do. Maybe it will limit me in the end, but I’m just not the writer who will sacrifice time with the kids, nor am I bitter about that.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Write the best poems you can and pick the ones that hold together. And have fun with the project. Chapbooks are versatile and relatively low-risk, so they provide a lot of opportunity to try out creative ideas. Also, support chapbook authors and presses by buying, reading, and reviewing chapbooks. There is a lot of great work coming out in this format; you will be well rewarded for your time.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
I like to use paintings and photos and songs and novels to inspire me. I try to take in whatever energy that artwork has and then use it in whatever I’m writing. It’s less a craft influence and more a—I don’t know—a spiritual influence? Maybe it’s the mood or the tone. I call it the energy of the piece. Soul would be another good word for it. Not the easiest prompt to pass on to another writer, but it usually works for me.
As for revision—that’s an area I have to be careful with. Given too much time, I am guilty of over-revising or revising the original energy straight out of a poem. So I have to walk a fine line. Something I have done successfully in the past, however, is take two poems that are clearly not working and force them into a mashup. Even if I don’t get a good poem out of it, I generally get a few great lines or a spark for a brand new poem.
Here’s a question from Katherine Cottle: 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.
I’d call it sincere.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What’s the most interesting concept or design you’ve seen for a chapbook?
Justin Hamm is the founding editor of the museum of americana and the author of the chapbooks Illinois, My Apologies and The Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records. His work has appeared, or will soon appear, in Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, Cream City Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work has also won The Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center, been featured on the Indiefeed: Performance Poetry channel, and been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize.
In Case You Were Wondering
what I was thinking
that blazing afternoon in August
when suddenly I put down
and looked over at you leaning
elbows on the porch rail
fitter and wiser and infinitely
than when you were twenty-two.
I was overcome in that moment
with all you’d become
and I wondered if you felt the same
way about me
and my heap of books
on blind bluesmen and manners
in 17th century France
or if you secretly liked me
better when I was younger
and spoke in that big
foolish beer voice
that carried and made people laugh
two rooms over
and I tried in all sincerity
to hunt the wild turkey
armed only with a laundry sack
and the charm of all the things
I didn’t know.
“In Case You Were Wondering” first appeared in Big Muddy and was later awarded the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center.