Liz Ahl

ahl_talking-about-the-weather_cover-011

Talking About the Weather 

(Seven Kitchens Press, 2012)

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 title poem, which is the result of mashing two separate poems together (both written during a 30/30 National Poetry Month challenge), is definitely the boss and catalyst of the collection. It’s not so fancy, actually – I had this poem, “Talking About the Weather,” and I thought – “hey, I have a lot of poems that talk about the weather. I should put them together!” Such is the complexity of my genius….

“On the First Sunday of Severe Weather Awareness Week” is the oldest poem – written when I was in graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska. There’s some serious weather out there.

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

I have two earlier chapbooks, and I think this one is probably the most clearly built around an obvious theme: weather. Not just atmospheric weather, though, or the seasons, but how we move through the weather, talk about other things through talking about the weather; how we make home in the weather. It’s also a bit of a love note to rural New Hampshire, where I have lived for twelve years.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

I’ve used Facebook, and my little Word Press blog, as well as Goodreads, which I think is a great source for readers and writers. I gave a couple of readings as well. And now this! (Thanks!)

What are you working on now?

A back-and-forth poem correspondence with a great friend and poet. Also I am returning to an old and ongoing project about the U.S. space program – in particular the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions of the 60s/70s. Not sure where it’s headed exactly, but the opportunity to meet Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell last summer re-ignited my interest.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

For revision, “slash and burn,” which involves getting a “disinterested other” (willing warm body who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings) to cut 50% out of the draft. Like, with a sharpie marker. Really obliterate. Like a censor. Even if the reader doesn’t want to cut more than 32%, she has to cut fifty. It’s intentionally arbitrary and dramatic, meant to jostle the poet (that’s me, Ms. Long-Of-Wind) into a new (streamlined!) place. Just to see what someone else thinks is “most essential.” Not that you’d necessarily cut everything they suggested cutting. Though in my case….that’s often not a bad idea.

A question from Justin Hamm: What’s the most interesting concept or design you’ve seen for a chapbook?

I’m a huge fan of the Combat Paper Project, which has veterans pulping their uniforms to make paper, with which they create various kinds of art. Some veterans have written poetry about their experiences, and they have made covers for these chapbooks out of their own pulped uniforms. The whole project is amazing to me – the literal transformation of the experience/uniform into art. That extra tactile part of the reading experience is really something.

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

Obviously, I have to mention Seven Kitchens Press, which has produced a vast multitude of chapbooks, and so many I have enjoyed adding to my collection. The sense of the handmade – the hand-tying and numbering – I just love that. And the smaller size of the books. They are really beautiful. My earlier chapbooks were published by Pecan Grove Press (Luck, 2010) and Slapering Hol (A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, 2008), which is affiliated with the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. They do gorgeous chapbooks for their annual competition – mine’s got this terrific die-cut window in the cover, with a vellum inner page, it’s hand-tied, and a hand-numbered edition as well. Depending on who you ask, some might consider Luck to be a “full-length” collection, but editor H. Palmer Hall and I both referred to it as a chapbook, so that’s what I’m sticking with. Palmer, who passed away almost a year ago, was a great champion of poetry and poets, and published a great array of chapbooks and full-length collections.

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

Woodsmoke.

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

I think I would. To me, the only major drawback is the challenge of distribution – and even over the last five years ago, it’s gotten much better. With smaller presses, it’s sometimes a little challenging to pitch to my local bookstores because of occasional complexities in ordering, and the fact that some chapbooks are a little more delicate than regular books. But I love the serving size of the chapbook, and I love the smaller print run. I love the idea of the “limited edition,” especially in this age of seemingly limitless mechanical reproduction. That’s why I especially love letterpress projects – chapbooks or broadsides – because once you take that type apart – you can NEVER reproduce exactly that first edition.

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Liz Ahl is the author of the chapbooks Talking About the Weather (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), Luck (Pecan Grove Press, 2010), and A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, which won the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Measure, Blast Furnace, Crab Orchard Review, and Conclave. Luck was recipient of the 2012 New Hampshire Literary Awards “Reader’s Choice” award in poetry. She has been awarded residencies at Jentel, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Holderness, New Hampshire and is a professor of English at Plymouth State University.

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lizahl.wordpress.com

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Splitting Firewood

The hydraulic splitter’s motor sputters,
then catches, racketing our agenda
against the clumsy log-heaps.
Gasoline rings in our ears,
and the steel blade makes the first
of a hundred slow passes
through bark and splinter and grain.

Evicted from their woodpile crannies,
dusky red newts are numbstruck
by the light’s bright blade, then dart
into whatever scraps of darkness they can find.

One cleaving reveals the Sanskrit tunneling
of the pine grub; and then the author itself:
fat pinky, pulsing against its own nakedness,
retreating into its last moist cavern.

We hoist, halve and quarter
chunks of hardwood for the woodstove,
pitchy sticks of pine for campfires.
Stacking, we invent architecture as we go,
build a wall of wood
against the almanac’s dark promises.

What was green and wet and alive
will dry out; September’s steely air
will breathe open spaces
in which the smallest spark might feed.

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