Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt (Main Street Rag, 2012)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
The very first chapbook I ever read was The Regulars (Liquid Paper Press) by Lori Jakiela. Jakiela’s slim collection details the inner lives of people in Pittsburgh (mostly working-class people), and I am still haunted by her one poem titled “Pittsburgh is a City of Bridges” where a woman comforts a fellow waitress: “Wendy likes her coffee/with a touch of cream/so I bring it to her/and tell her what we’ve both heard/since we were children/the lie of bridges/that there’s always a way out.” Jakiela’s collection was not the first book of working-class poetry that I have ever read, but I really do believe that this poem gave me permission to write about the blue collar world – in all its rusty truth and lies.
Now, I have shelves of chapbooks, and really too many favorites to list here, but I will try: Anchor Glass by Karen Dietrich; Illinois, My Apologies by Justin Hamm; The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux; Rescue Conditions by Carrie Shipers; and Flood Year by Sara Tracey.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“Buck Season” is the oldest poem in my chapbook; it was written over 15 years ago (!!!) and originally published as “On the First Day of Hunting Season” in Pennsylvania English. I remember writing a group of poems that explored the rural life of Pennsylvania through the eyes of a child, and this poem was in that series. The poem has undergone many, many revisions and almost didn’t make it into my chapbook. But it did. I have been told that it’s a favorite with many readers.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt is a coming-of-age collection of poems about growing up in the Rust Belt of rural Pennsylvania. The collection reeks of dust, debris, and doom, but the natural world, in the form of blood moons, cockleburs, dead animals, and split milkweed pods, also shines through. Indeed, those who have read my collection say that many of the poems have an apocalyptic tone, and that is true. Wearing Heels is different from Stealing Dust, my first chapbook collection I published with Finishing Line Press. Both collections focus on blue collar life, but Stealing Dust focuses on the lives of factory workers – both at home and on the factory floor.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Believe it or not, I only submitted Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt to two contests, and it won Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook Contest. I was shocked – believe me, publishing is never that easy. I have a list of other rejections to prove it.
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? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Since my chapbook won a contest as submitted, I did very little revision with the manuscript – just tweaking a few poems here and there. M. Scott Douglass, Publisher/Managing Editor of Main Street Rag, was great to work with – offering suggestions about the format and design of the book’s cover. I had a lot of input, but I also had a lot of good advice.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I have to admit that I haven’t done as much as I should to publicize Wearing Heels. I live in a rural area, so the outlets for artistic expressions are limited. However, I did do a few readings, and this past fall, my chapbook was used as part of a poetry training session for high school teachers. I also have done some self-promotion on my blog (which is always awkward for me) and some interviews about the chapbook. I am still learning to maneuver the poetry world.
What are you working on now? What is your writing practice?
Currently, I am working on a full length collection of poetry, but am struggling a bit with length. I have a collection together, and even have a publisher who is interested, but am not happy with my work, so the collection has not made it away from my dining room table (except when my cats knock it off!) I feel there are a lot of holes that need to be filled before the collection is complete.
In many ways, however, I have put poetry to the side for now and have focused a bit on prose writing. While I am still new to the world of literary nonfiction, the few pieces I have written focus on landscape of rural Pennsylvania – both natural and manmade.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
I would say, go ahead and try it! However, I would also encourage authors to research chapbook publishers and markets to see what they like or don’t like.
A question from Bianca Spriggs: Which poem is the “black sheep” in your collection and why?
I would consider “August Night at the Beer Distributors” the black sheep poem in this collection. Most of my poems are semi-autobiographical; in other words, I really believe that I know the “I” in my work, even though the narratives may not be 100% true. However, in this poem, I was inspired to write about the landscape of a Pennsylvania beer distributors store on a Friday night, making up the story of a woman (with beer case in her arms) I spotted in the parking lot.
A question from Kathleen Jesme: If you have a theme or a topic you are working on, in what ways do you approach it?
I tend to write about the blue collar/working-class life; however, sometimes, when I get stuck, and feel like I am writing the same poem as the one I wrote last week, or last month, or even a year ago, I revisit some of my favorite poetry collections, including The Palace of Ashes by Sherry Fairchok, Rust Fish by Maya Jewell Zeller, Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods by Paula Bohince, and The Pattern Maker’s Daughter by Sandee Gertz Umbach. All these collections feature girls and women in working-class environments, and while I love poetry by working-class male poets (including Jim Daniels), I believe in more attention needs to be paid to women in blue collar environments.
A question from Lisa Ampleman: What is your own experience of reading a chapbook like?
I love chapbooks! I love how they give the reader a taste of a poet’s work and often leave you wanting more. I have discovered many of my favorite poets’ work through their chapbooks — I have purchased full length collections of Joe Wilkins, Gary L. McDowell, Jesse Millner, Jessie Carty, and Erica Wright after reading their chapbooks.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
If you could have a soundtrack for your chapbook, what songs would be playing?
Karen J. Weyant’s work can be read in 5 AM, Barn Owl Review, Cave Wall, Conte, Copper Nickel, and River Styx. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Stealing Dust (Finishing Line Press, 2009) and Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt (Winner of Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook Contest). Her poem, “The Summer I Stopped Catching Bees,” was included in Sundress Publications’ 2011 Best of the Net Anthology. She lives and writes in Pennsylvania, but teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York.
Karen Weyant @ Main Street Rag
Karen Weyant’s Blog
Landscape with Scarecrow
The last year of your family’s farm,
we took credit for the crops,
told everyone it was the scarecrow
we had built months before. He stood
stiff and stuffed, splinters for bones,
straw as skin scratching stonewashed jeans
and a red football jersey blotched pink
by the bright sun. Autumn brought corn,
husks green, ears heavy, rows bowing
low to the ground. We shook kernels
from the folds of our t-shirts, found tassels
tangled in our hair, silk snagged in the soles
of our boots. Weeks before, Joe Miller
asked you out, and you turned him down, twice.
For nights, he parked at the end of the road.
We only saw the shadow of his Ford,
his silhouette in the driver’s seat,
but we imagined his forehead furrowed,
like a burlap bag pinched by a hard frost,
his smirk pulled tight above chin stubble,
clipped short and uneven, a field
after the last harvest. A thin strand
of cigarette smoke twirled around
his left thumb. But we weren’t afraid.
We were country girls who carried penknives
in our pockets for protection, kept
our fingernails long. Stalking, we
would call it now. But back then, we
wouldn’t have known that word.
We would have thought it had something
to do with the corn.
“Landscape with Scarecrow” may be found in Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt and was originally published in Cave Wall.