Emilia Phillips

Bestiary of Gall (Sundress Publications, 2013)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?

Most of my experience with chapbooks comes from my chapbook omnibus review assignments from Blackbird, one of which appeared in 2012 and another is forthcoming in spring 2014. Right now I’m spending time with chapbooks by Aubrey Lenahan, Philip Metres, Matthew Minicucci, Michele Poulos, and Steve Scafidi. I suppose any chapbook with which I’ve spent a significant amount of time has influenced and challenged my notions of what a chapbook should be, but I don’t think I could point to one chapbook and say it did some voodoo on mine.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The two oldest parts are two sections of the long poem “Bestiary”: “IV. Equus ferus caballus, a veterinary log (diagnosis)” about a mare that eats fence posts and “VIII. Equus ferus caballus, Vivarium at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado (anti-venom).” Both of these poems were stand alone poems for a long time and originally appeared in early versions of my full-length collection. When I took them out, I thought I’d drop them totally but once I started realizing I was writing quite a few poems about animals, I placed them in the same document and started to realize how much they informed each other. That’s when I started to see that this might become a larger project.

What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?

Bestiary of Gall is my foray into experimental voice modulation (combining voices into a chorus, for instance) and form (with the macro form of the fable and micro formal choices like in line white space). I do a tiny bit of this in my full-length collection but not as much as the chapbook.

What’s it about? Fear, animal and human.

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?

Once I had the sequence of “fable” poems together and the “Bestiary” poem, I knew that they had to go together. Then it was just a matter of ordering them.

In what ways did your chapbook change between its earliest versions and the version accepted for publication? How did you go about revising it? How did it shift or develop?

The chapbook didn’t change that much once I realized it was a chapbook. I had been working on and revising each of the poems or sequences for so long there was very little revision needed. I did, however, add a couple more “fable” poems once there was a manuscript.

How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? 

This is a tough question because I don’t recall this process very much. The chapbook came together so quickly that the work of arranging seems like it’s been erased from my memory. I do know that I simply went on instinct and didn’t agonize too much about the order of the chapbook. Around the same time I worked on ordering my book, Signaletics, and that process took much trial and error.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

Contests initially, but then I became excited about what was going on at Sundress Publications. I sent to them then.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

I posted about it on social media and haven’t done much else, I’m ashamed to say. It’s odd though, because a friend’s boyfriend’s mother asked her one day if she had ever heard of a chapbook named Bestiary of Gall. It floored me when I heard that, especially because I don’t know how she found it.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my second full-length collection, Heaven and Men and Devils, and so I’m in a fallow period in which I’m teaching, working on some personal essays, book reviews, and interviews.

What is your writing practice or process?

I used to be more of a compulsive day-to-day writer, but since a health scare this fall, I’ve allowed myself to step back a little and let the poems come to me.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

My own preference dictates that the chapbook should largely be its own project and not simply an excerpt from a longer manuscript. If I have read a chapbook and later find the poems in nearly the same sequence in nearly the same order in a full-length, it somehow discredits the chapbook. It’s a matter of length and what one hopes to accomplish in that form. Of course, now that I say this, I’m sure I’ll break that rule one day.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? Would you answer it?

Who’s speaking in some of the “fable” poems? Some of the poems are actually in my voice, but fractured. Elsewise, I imagine the voice of a mother and a violent husband. There’s also Vulcana the strongwoman and a chorus of elementary school teachers. A distant and parabling narrator who seems to respond to the personal with the probable.

A question from Jane Wong: what are some chapbook presses you admire and why?

I’ve gotten really into letterpress and hand-made chapbooks as well as e-chapbooks. At this point, I’m less interested in chapbooks with perfect binding. I’ll mention that I love Songs for the Carry-On (Q Ave Press, 2013) by Steve Scafidi. It’s a long format of letter press. Gorgeous and simple and . . . rustic. Just gorgeous. I think Ross Gay is responsible for its design.

A question from Sara Tracey: if your chapbook was scratch and sniff, what would its scent be?

“Zoo.”

A question from Darius Stewart: would you feel comfortable with publishing only chapbooks?

No, but I do like the idea of having a chapbook project alongside a longer project. Each informs the other, and the forms balance each other. I found working on the chapbook to be a great relief from the revisions I was doing for my full-length collection.

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

How does the chapbook allow you to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a full-length collection? Why does it allow you to do it? Is it because it’s more under the radar? Or is it because of its format? Its length?

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Emilia Phillips is the author of Signaletics (University of Akron Press, 2013) and two chapbooks including Bestiary of Gall (Sundress Publications, 2013). Her poems appear in Agni, Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, U.S. Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio Center. She is the prose editor of 32 Poems and the 2013–2014 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.

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