All Black Everything (New Michigan Press, 2012)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
I’m worse and worse at this: I like poems and specific poets, and I’m hugely keen on *books*, but chapbooks, less. That’s not to say I don’t like them, just that the stuff that means the most to me largely happens to be from full-lengths. That said: most of what Hollyridge Press does blows my mind (Matt Hart’s and Olena Kalytiak Davis’s, specifically, are phenomenal), and lots of what Finishing Line Press does as well, and then there’s Poor Claudia and YesYes and Gold Wake, all of which are doing such amazing work it’s staggering. I really like the new Lily Brown chapbook from Ugly Duckling. Influence? Dunno. I suppose it’s like anything: I fall for things, and then I want to make things that I hope are as cool as the things I’ve fallen for.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I’m pretty sure it’s the one down below—”Lovesongs for Boxwrenches.” Maudlinly enough, I’m pretty sure I wrote it right after my grandma died, late ’04 or early ’05, I think maybe when I was in New York. What I remember most about it was feeling like I’d gotten to some place I hadn’t in other poems–those poems you do that sort of mark a new muscle for you? A new way forward? This was one of those. It’s now nearly 10 years old and I still believe in it totally fiercely and love it, even if I can see how I’ve hopefully found other muscles since.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
I don’t know what it’s about. I suppose part of the reason for putting it together was to find out what it’s about–that the doing will reveal some essential aspect of what’s being done. I don’t know though. I’m anxious that all my work’s basically the same, chipped translation of some fragment of the great big Poem that’s inside my own life (or inside Living, or whatever). I’m sure that sounds precious.
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?
This one’s interesting: animating the Q is the idea that a chapbook is its own end. I suppose so, though I guess I don’t think of it that way (I hope to eventually have a full-length book which’ll have at least a couple poems from the chaps). I guess I don’t know the answer. I like DIAGRAM a whole lot and like their chapbooks and I was doing stuff (in writing as much as in living) when I submitted this that made me feel like lots of it might be worth considering together, so I tried it. That was really it. It was much more of a gathering (someone picking apples from a tree they’re already standing before) than a seeking (someone setting out to find an apple tree).
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
Length: I’m sure there was a limit set by the press, and I just used theirs. So: arbitrary-ish. Arrangement: I wanted it halved, but have no smart reason for why (same as I can’t explain how the next chapbook is tri-sectioned). Title: it’s from Jay Z, and the line was/is this massive thing to me, how it’s both hugely propulsive yet also literally saying total darkness. This gets into psychological stuff so maybe I’ll just stop there, but it’s one of my all time favorite phrases.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Just DIAGRAM, honestly. One of those lucky scenarios where it hit the first place.
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?
Not much change, I don’t think–I didn’t instigate any, and Ander Monson (DIAGRAM’s Kahuna) I don’t think asked any. The cover was really fun: my cousin’s a painter and prof at ISU in Bloomington-Normal, and I’ve had his stuff on whatever published work I can (he’s got the cover of my short story collection, too). I sent a scan of the painting, Ander did the design, we went real briefly back and forth on it, and the result is the result. I’m obviously hugely biased, but even with that, I think the thing’s just a gorgeous physical object–I have a hard time even imagining having a nicer book than that.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Directly? Little to nothing. I’ve done I think one reading, and I know it’s been reviewed twice. Like (I’d guess) lots of folks, the writing’s the glory–I love the book, it’s great, and I’d happily do anything to promote it, but left to my own devices I’m more likely to just write more. Maybe that’s unwise.
A question from Bianca Spriggs: Which poem is the “black sheep” in your collection and why?
Hard to even know. I feel like everybody who writes stuff knows the experience of writing something and feeling the thing, on completing it, insufficient (or, at least, like the written thing doesn’t quite address or allow access to the idea that started the writing). This is me already hedging instead of just giving an answer and moving on. What I’d say is maybe this: there are poems in here that I had deep insecurities regarding but then, once those doubt-inducing poems were Oreo’d by other poems, they worked. For my own personal take, I thought “|||||||||” was the darkest sheep (which is fairly telegraphed: I couldn’t even title the thing with a word—that’s the scope of my reluctance), though I’m not sure I could say why. It seemed terribly soft (still seems so). It was more overtly dark. It was more dashed-off, less torqued and slaved-over, and (I’d imagine, like everyone) I presume not just that good work demands effort, but also the converse—that effort can in some way be used as a metric for something’s value or significance. This is now heading toward noodleville, so I’ll stop, but that’s the answer: “|||||||||”. For what it’s worth, I now have a grudging love for the thing.
A question from Justin Hamm: What’s the most interesting concept or design you’ve seen for a chapbook?
Pretty much everything that comes out of Graying Ghost—design-wise, I don’t know much better. Concept: harder. I like Floating Wolf Quarterly for the cool idea, pairing a well-known and less well-known writer. I’ll happily admit that both those places are venues which’ve published chaps of mine: I guess I’d just say I like to take part in the things that seem good/cool to me.
A question from Kathleen Jesme: If you have a theme or a topic you are working on, in what ways do you approach it?
Blindly. Cluelessly. With it in mind but without trying to be direct in my approach. I rarely have a topic or theme. Say you pick up a pair of socks that for whatever reason you left on a table, and as you stuff them in your back pocket you grab the pile of magazines the socks were lying beside, pile of mags which, for the record, you’ve been meaning to read for awhile, but suddenly you think I just don’t care that much, so you grab those and clutch them under your arm, and on your way to the kitchen to put the magazines in the recycling you nab the empty cup of coffee left on the table behind the couch, and then you notice the dog’s water bowl’s in need of refilling, so you grab that, too, and then as you’re filling that up, you think I could go for another cup of coffee, so then there you are, suddenly, at the kitchen sink, filling the dog’s water dish, and then filling the kettle to make coffee, all the while with a stack of magazines under your arm and, of course, socks in your pocket–which socks were, ultimately, the only thing you’d really set out intending to do anything about. Whenever I’ve got something I’m ‘approaching’ in writing, it feels like those socks.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Did you write this chapbook while listening to anything, or do you listen to anything when you write in general, or is it all silence?
Weston Cutter’s from Minnesota and is the author of the story collection You’d Be a Stranger, Too and several chapbooks, including Enough, coming soon from Burnside Press.
Lovesongs For Boxwrenches
I built this mobile because I believe
in gravity but not Calder and I built these
lips because I wondered how you’d
taste after and I wrote all this music, these
lovesongs for box wrenches and ballads to
leafless trees and fugues for the confusion
of constant movement, just so I’d have
something to sing when it got too dark
to look you in the eye. I wrote all this yet
still god leaves, the earth slips the nets
we set each night. We wear our layers like
the leaves of autumn trees, whole rivers swim
within fish, the oceans pull moons from
my infinite body but my next song has
only the word Goodbye and it’s incorrectly
whispered. I built these legs because
beauty is its own reason (though not
the reason for these legs) and I built this
house to hide in but I built this window
for you, for you to come see me. My next
song will begin soon enough with the last
words of the first Bible but until then
come sit at my window and pretend again
that god is lightning and thunder. If god
is not these fingers nor these guns nor
the squaredances people shake to ask
for rain, come sit with me and try not
to pray as the thunder finds its home.