What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
When I was in graduate school at Florida State, I had the good fortune to hang out with a number of poets who were very into making and distributing handmade chapbooks – Sandra Simonds and Jay and Kristine Snodgrass in particular. I should admit they were always more ambitious with theirs than I was. Their chapbooks were real chapbooks, but for my part, I was more interested in the physical process of assembling the book (the day I discovered I could use my sewing machine to sew the binding was a ridiculous triumph) than the contents. I didn’t think much about how the poems went together or whether they coalesced into a thing of their own. So some of my favorite chapbooks are the ones my friends made –I particularly liked one Sandra made called Steam, most of which were just distributed among other poets or mailed out by request. Years later, I was thinking about those times and thought I’d try to put together a chapbook for real, to be thoughtful about it like they were. Without their influence, I would have never tried to make a chapbook on my own.
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?
I think the oldest poem in the chapbook is “Actual Animals,” which was also included in my book, Vow, from Cleveland State. But the majority of the poems were written at the same time, in the wake of Vow, and it’s hard to place them chronologically.
I’m not sure there was a catalyst poem, but the closest to that might be “Dominion,” which was a poem that I ultimately cut from Vow. Vow is about a lot of things, and one of them is a doomed love affair – but the poems are concerned with the love affair while it happens. “Dominion” is concerned with the aftermath of that affair, as many of the poems in Bad Star are.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
I see Bad Star as a coda to Vow – a continuation and conclusion of Vow’s story. So there’s similarity to Vow in subject matter, but this chapbook is a goodbye to certain subjects and obsessions that aren’t fruitful for me anymore. In Bad Star, I’m using persona less, and the first person less. I’m interested in a more distant speaker these days, even an attempt at objectivity, though I think that’s a fiction.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
There were no earlier titles – it was always Bad Star. I had looked up “disaster” for some reason, and saw that “bad star” was its literal meaning. That was it for me.
As for length and arrangement, some of that was determined by practicalities. I wanted to see if I could get it published, so I looked at the typical ranges for page lengths in the contests I was interested in, and that determined the length of the book. As for arrangement, that was an intuitive process for the most part, though I think there is a faint line running through of a relationship beginning and ending.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I think I submitted it to about three or four chapbook contests. There are probably open reading periods for chapbooks, but I wasn’t aware of any. I chose to submit to certain presses I felt were supportive to their writers. The enthusiasm and support of a dedicated small press really matters when it comes to anyone reading a chapbook at all. Yes Yes Books was one of my top picks because of this, and I was delighted they chose me.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Katherine Sullivan at Yes Yes was very open to suggestions. We sent each other a few artists back and forth, and the piece by Exit Deer really spoke to both of us. Oddly, when I found the cover it was a fairly low-resolution version, and the male figure mostly looked as if he were crouching and cautious, which was unusual and I liked. Then when I saw the high-resolution version, I realized he’s a bit monstrous, with an inhuman jaw and frightening teeth. Then I liked that even better – mistaking someone as helpless when they’re really something else entirely is a mistake many of us make in love, so what could be better than that for this book?
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Not enough, I’m sure! I’m living in a small town right now and my traveling is limited for various reasons, including money. But I recently attended AWP and read from the chapbook there, and of course I’m grateful for this interview as well! There have been a number of people who have shared their copies on Twitter and Tumblr, and that’s been great to see.
What are you working on now?
I don’t have an easy answer to that. I’m in a transitional period, which is always uncomfortable, and necessary. Bad Star, as I mentioned, was a goodbye, but now I have to figure out where I’m going and what I’m saying hello to. I’ve been working on poems that started as ekphrastics of work by Julie Heffernan and Cindy Sherman, but have really jumped far from those sources. I have a lot of unrevised work I need to sift through, which is hard for me.
What is your writing practice or process?
It’s always changing. There are periods in my life where I am most productive when I stay up late and am exhausted, and periods where I write my best poems in the morning, just after a cup of coffee. What I always do, though, is read other poets until I get an idea. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that I respond to, or an entire poem, but there are also entire books that have kicked off long sequences of poems for me, and I’m grateful to those poets. Richard Siken, Carl Philips, D.A. Powell, Inger Christensen, and Mary Ruefle made parts of Vow and Bad Star what they are, so you have them to blame I suppose.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Chapbooks offer you a chance to work on the smaller scale, and are a wonderful opportunity to produce something cohesive and complete, which can act as a launching pad to larger books. They are also great for odd projects that might not be appropriate for a full-length book – Brittany Cavallaro and I, for instance, have a chapbook coming out from Black Lawrence Press called No Girls No Telephones in which we write “opposites” of John Berryman’s Dream Songs. A chapbook is the perfect length for a project like that.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
My favorite revision technique is to walk away from a poem and come back to it a few months later, when I’m smarter, hopefully.
Have you ever written a fan letter to a writer? What did you/might you say?
Oh, absolutely. I write them pretty regularly, though they are often more like fan notes. That’s one good thing about social media – well, good for me, bad for them, I suppose – is that it’s not that hard to contact a writer you admire and let them know how much you enjoyed their work. I used to be very shy about this, and now I’m less so. I’ve had a few notes myself and they’ve always made my day, so I figure no one minds hearing that someone is out there listening to your poems. So much of writing is isolating and can feel thankless – why not share our thanks?
Rebecca Hazelton is the author of Fair Copy (Ohio State University Press, 2012), winner of the 2011 Ohio State University Press / The Journal Award in Poetry, and Vow, from Cleveland State University Press. She was the 2010-11 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Creative Writing Institute and winner of the “Discovery” /Boston Review 2012 Poetry Contest. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Southern Review, Boston Review, Best New Poets 2011, and Best American Poetry 2013.
sample poems from the chapbook can be read here
The cord around a lover’s wrist
tells her to remember. The red passion, the braid
overlap of one body to another. Knot to knot,
mouth to mouth, no one doubts anymore.
She wears it rather than red the wrist otherwise.
She read there was a cord from one dream
to another, that the dreamers might meet
while walking down the twist of thread.
She has worn and worn it down. The memory
reforms from stray fibers. Symbols are easy.
Harder his mouth to her ear, the promise
of further cruelty, how her heart sang
at the mention of her own breakage.
It was one room with poor lighting,
and in it they had some measure
of their shadows. The city around them
took up her cry and echoed it in siren,
a volley of distress. He left a mark
on her wrist. She wears it to remember.