Guiding the Stars to Their Campfire, Driving the Salmon to Their Beds (Gazoobi Tales, 2005)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
Denise Duhamel collaborated on some chaps and I have some of those. I think I have a chap by Nin Andrews, also. Georgia Tiffany published a gorgeous chapbook called Cut from the Score which was so delicate it stays in its plastic container and cost more than any book aside from a textbook I’ve ever purchased. Deborah Miranda was always making her own chaps — gorgeous things she handmade herself. Chaps are wonderful in that they exemplify artistic or literary artifact. They seem to me often times to be these wonderful and portable art installations. And because so often poets make them themselves, or finance them themselves, they are rarities, collector items, and of course limited editions.
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?
Probably the poem “The Woman Who Married a Bear.” It appeared in Poetry Northwest in 1994. From there I wanted to play with the idea of interspecies congress, which is prevalent in Indigenous origin stories, and serves also as a metaphor for mixed race identity — the idea of hybridity.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
It’s similar in the sense that it interrogates notions of mixed-blood identity, but differs in that it uses metaphorical devices to explore that terrain. My first book Outlaws, Renegades & Saints: Diary of a Mixed-up Halfbreed was more explicit in its intentions, but with the chapbook (which the bulk of is now in my newest full collection, soon to be published) mines these themes as well as other themes, but it’s more lyrically driven, more language driven and more cognizant of form.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
The title came not from a poem’s title, but from a couplet at the end of one of the poems. I didn’t have any particular strategies for length or arrangement. In the case of a chapbook, or at least in my case, there’s less pressure in arrangement. It isn’t an 80 page or more book; there’s no need for sections, because chapbooks are less than 30 pages much of the fussing around is eliminated. Also it could be said that a chapbook allows for a single theme to be penetrated, focused upon, told from many different angles without it becoming redundant or tiresome. I’ve read full collections that have a strong, prevailing theme, which are ultimately meditations, and it feels like they run out of gas before even reaching the middle. Kind of like what happens a lot of times with sestinas. Certain things become overstated, or placed on loop. Chapbooks discourage that from happening.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I selected the cover art from a cache of drawings and sketches by a wonderful artist, Laura Corsiglia, and the publisher, Thomas Hubbard, designed the rest.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I created flyers, it’s showcased on the website for Hubbard’s press Gazoobi Tales, I toured some for it, was invited to present at universities and such, there were some reviews or mentions in different lit journals.
What are you working on now?
Many of the poems from the chapbook were included in the full collection The Woman Who Married a Bear, which won the Kenyon Review Earthworks Indigenous Poetry Prize last year, but has not yet secured a publisher. I’m still shopping it around. I’m working on a memoir right now. There are a couple of other fiction manuscripts sitting around, and another poetry manuscript I’d like to polish and shape also.
What is your writing practice or process?
I’m a great procrastinator. And I’m easily distracted. So my writing time isn’t as regimented as it could be. But when I make myself, I’ll put down between 1K (minimum) and 3K (good day) words a day, and on the other writing days, I’ll revise. Poetry is another animal. I think I am working on poems all the time. And I’m always reading stuff, and talking about ideas.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Pay attention to the unusual and arcane; pay attention to subject matter that enthralls, fascinates, incenses, or perplexes you and research everything; mine for words, language.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
My current prompts have to do with theatrical productions, so I’m exploring a lot of themes from those and applying them to my personal life experiences. In revising my poetry manuscript, The Woman Who Married a Bear, I shifted a lot of things around; for instance I changed many of the poems from first person to second or third person speakers, which expanded the energy and breadth of some of the poems, I think. I also revisit tenses a lot in poems — shuffle present tense to past tense and visa versa.
Have you written any other chapbooks?
Yes. But I’ve not printed/published them except as individual poems.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
How do you feel about long poems versus shorter poems? Could a chapbook be a good medium for a long poem?