Cameron Conaway

Bonemeal (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s about silver linings. It’s about how shit happens and how shit will always happen but how there’s always some sliver we can take with us to improve the future. Things happen for a reason? I’ll never be able to buy that. Things happen? Absolutely. Now where to once they do? That’s what this chapbook tries to get at.

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

Through poets I respected I had heard of Finishing Line Press, how they accept submissions year round, how they put care into their handmade chapbooks. When I felt ready to let go of the manuscript I filled out a check for $15 to cover their reading fee and mailed the manuscript directly to them. Call me new school, but I no longer have the patience to mail a manuscript out for a contest and wait 6-9 months for what basically amounts to playing the lottery. Something about it all feels criminal. Time between submission and acceptance for my forthcoming books from Salmon Poetry, Iris Press and Michigan State University Press all took place in under 30 days.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The cover for Bonemeal was the brainchild of Bangkok-based artist Frank Pereira. I was fascinated by bonemeal as a product. Here we have the architecture of a dead animal, yet it’s still so alive with nutrition that it can be ground to powder and spread over plants to help them grow. Talk about bursting for invention and metaphor! I approached Frank with an idea…something about how I wanted a femur on the cover and how maybe it could taper into dust. He created ten or so images but we both felt a rush come over us when he unveiled the image that is now the cover. The way the bone tapers not into dust, but into roots…into the Earth. The dead and gone giving back. He nailed it. Poets! Connect with Frank if you’re interested in a cover artist. He’s one of the most genuine, talented men I’ve ever met.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

Interviews like this certainly help! I’m a pretty terrible marketer, but I’ll put out a Tweet or Facebook message once in a while just to let people know it exists. I also listed Bonemeal on Goodreads.

What are you working on now?

I’m in a self-created poetry writing detox right now. Malaria: Poems took seven dedicated months of my life to complete and I knew upon the final read-through that some part of me needed to rest. I’m now working to grow the community at The Good Men Project. We’re talking about a variety of issues – from the shipbreaking industry and platonic touch to a modern genocide in the Americas and what happens when emotions stay in our bodies. We’ve started a unique and desperately important conversation and my goal now is to continue to foster that while allowing the poet within me to rejuvenate.

What is your writing practice or process?

As many poets, I struggle with what I want my process to be and then what it actually is. But to reframe: Man have I learned much because I haven’t had total control of my process! Ideally, I’d wake up at 5am, steep tea, do an hour of yoga, 30 minutes of sitting zazen, shower, make a smoothie and to the poetry writing I’d go. But for the past few years I’ve been writing in airplanes and on trains, in coffee shops, from within the mosquito net at a cheap hostel or simply while standing outside of 7-11’s that have free WiFi (thank you, Japan!). Sometimes we writers will put off writing until we have that perfect place or that perfect Moleskin notebook. Being a poet in the 21st century often means that ourselves need to be our favorite place. Though we may long to come home, this body and this mind are our first true home. If we can love and be content in the home of ourselves then everything else, even as the infinite uncontrollable whirls on all around us, is a bonus.

A question from Weston Cutter: 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?

Interesting question! Most other kinds of work, including prose, I can usually do with some background music going – even if it’s the music of the clanging and chatting and espresso hiss of a coffee shop. But I prefer silence for poetry. I want to hear my thoughts think and I’ll often talk out loud to myself so I can feel it in my mouth and hear how it moves.

A question from Curtis L. Crisler: Did your chapbook start out as something larger whose parts you made into a chapbook? Or, if it started out as self-contained, is it something that can be changed into a full manuscript?

It actually started with the poem “Givings.” I’ll never forget the man in Laos, how he sat on the sidewalk and sold shards of weaponry that had once been meant to take human life and were now reconstituted into peaceful jewelry. How the blazing orange of the monks walked as though each barefooted step was a kiss to the earth. How the modern world swirled around it all. That man on the sidewalk. The smiling woman who has spent the past 30 years of her life on the same street corner making the same coffee for 16 hours each day. These are the people I most admire. There’s something about compression, confinement. It’s likely part of the reason I’m drawn to mixed martial arts, to fighting in a cage. What’s the best you can do in a small space? There’s something immensely beautiful when the total density of human expression is compressed into sidewalks and street corners and cages. The ideas embodied in “Givings” set the tone, shape and length for the chapbook. How great that publishers like Finishing Line Press give us poets the chapbook option!

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

The little guys who straight up love poetry and want to further its development. I’ve seen Crisis Chronicles Press do some interesting things and I recently saw beautiful collections from Epiphany Editions and Red Berry Editions. Chapbook publishers tend to embody that Lawrence Ferlinghetti renegade spirit and I’m always drawn to that.

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

What role does emotion play within your creative process?

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Cameron Conaway, Executive Editor at The Good Men Project, is a former MMA fighter and an award-winning poet. He is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet (Threed, 2011), Bonemeal: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Until You Make the Shore (Salmon Poetry, 2014). Conaway’s work has appeared in The Guardian, ESPN, Rattle and The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @CameronConaway.

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cameronconaway.com

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Givings

Thinning was the liquid
night when the orange ray
of lined Buddhist monks
walked the walls of graying
streets. Laos. Almsgiving.
We sat on the sidewalk
and gave sticky rice to each
though giving gave all over.
Finger muscles to dense rice.
The skin of their bare feet.
The shards of shrapnel dug
out of the dead rice farmer
then melted down and shaped
into a spoon necklace pendant.
The local man who showed it
and tears and said: Here,
feed peace not fear,
make spoon not war.
Giving gave all over.
Moment to history.
Stillness to movement.
The heat within our bodies.
Our heat within the bodies.
The beat. The bodies.
The illusion of our.

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