The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013)
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’m pretty certain that the long poem, “Days Spent in One of the Other Worlds,” is the oldest. It’s divided into twelve sections of individually titled twelve-line poems. It’s a really unusual poem for me, very unlike my other work. I think that’s why it seems more at home in a chapbook than it would in a full-length collection. In The Use of the World, it’s surrounded by a number of dissimilar poems. In a full-length, it would be surrounded by a lot of dissimilar poems, and its variation would seem stranger, less natural. I began working on this poem in 2002, soon after I had completed my MFA at UNC Greensboro. It began as an experiment to do something outside my usual approach to poetry, and then took on a life of its own. I think it’s the first poem I ever wrote that grew out of thinking about my own life in metaphorical terms.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
Thematically, it’s very similar to my earlier work. I “honor my obsessions,” as Natasha Trethewey recommends, so I think you’ll always find the same general threads running through my poems: silence, familial dysfunction, denial, mortality, literary history, etc. What’s different in The Use of the World is the number of poems written in some sort of formal verse. My first collection, The Boatloads, was entirely free verse, but over half of the poems in the chapbook employ form in some way. Some of that is traditional (there are four ghazals, a villanelle, a sestina, a pantoum), and some more “experimental,” for lack of a better word (two poems in a sonnet form of my own design and a sestina cast as a prose poem, for example).
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. This chapbook actually inherited its title from a dead full-length collection. I had been struggling to put together my second book, and the working title of my early attempts was The Use of the World. Those early versions contained “Days Spent in One of the Other Worlds,” and as I said above, that poem was standing out in an unhelpful way in a collection of 60+ pages. Ultimately, I wrote a lot of new poems in 2012 that entered the second full book, and its title changed to Millennial Teeth (a book which is coming out in the Crab Orchard Series from Southern Illinois University Press in September, I’m happy to say). “Days Spent in One of the Other Worlds” then left the full-length and found its natural home in the chapbook.
The title The Use of the World, by the way, is taken from John Keats’s “vale of Soul-making” letter, written to his brother and sister-in-law in 1819. From that letter: “The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is a ‘vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven—What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making’ Then you will find out the use of the world . . .”
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I sent a photograph I had taken of a bricked-up doorway to Andrew Saulters at Unicorn Press as a cover possibility. He then created the amazing watercolor for the paperback. What’s remarkable about that is the fact that I sent him only the photo of the bricked-up, arched doorway, and he extrapolated the entire side of a building with nine bricked-up windows. What he didn’t know when he did that is that the actual building where I took the photo has multiple bricked-up windows as well.
The only other input I had in design was requesting Minion as the typeface. I couldn’t be happier with Unicorn Press—they were very easy to work with and very responsive to my wishes. And in addition to a 375-copy paperback edition, they also produced a 100-copy library hardcover, and a 26-copy signed, lettered hardback edition! Truly extraordinary. I feel incredibly lucky to have published this book with them, and I’d recommend them to anyone.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I’ve done signings at Unicorn’s bookfair table at AWP the last two years, and I’ve given a few readings in South Carolina. I went on a small reading tour in April that took me to Michigan, Montreal, and Maine. I also participated in that “Next Big Thing” series of self-interviews that was winding its way through social media about a year ago. That’s still accessible via the online journal storySouth (www.storysouth.com/the_next_big_thing/dan-albergotti.html). Unicorn Press was also very good about sending out review copies, and there have been reviews in Poets’ Quarterly and Birmingham Poetry Review, and I believe another is forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review. And then I did an interview with this very cool project called “Speaking of Marvels” . . .
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
If there’s no room for filler in a full-length collection, then there’s really no room for filler in a chapbook. If you have any question at all whether or not a poem belongs in your chapbook manuscript, shed it.
And as general advice to those who are putting together a first full-length collection and struggling with manuscript structure, I’d recommend assembling a chapbook manuscript with the best poems from that collection. I put together my first chapbook (Charon’s Manifest) after I had initially formed my first full manuscript, and I discovered it was much easier to see how poems worked together in that smaller format. I really believe that the experience helped me see how my poems could be better organized in the larger manuscript when I made my next revision of it. Putting together a chapbook can help you put together a longer book.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
True or False: The chapbook is to the full-length collection as the EP is to the LP. Discuss.
Have you ever written a fan letter to a writer?
When I was an MFA student, I wrote an effusive email to David Kirby to tell him how much I loved his book The House of Blue Light. I didn’t expect a response, but got one in less than an hour telling me that my email had made his day. His reply was so generous and kind and humble; it taught me that great writers can be great people too.
If your chapbook wasn’t a chapbook — if it was in some other form — what would it be?
I don’t know what it would be, but I’ll tell you what I’d want it to be. I’d want it to be the Joy Division “Licht Und Blindheit” 7-inch single (“Dead Souls” / “Atmosphere”) released on the French Sordide Sentimental label in 1980 in a numbered edition of 1578 copies. Why? Because that’s the coolest record ever made.
Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and a limited-edition chapbook, The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). His second full-length collection, Millennial Teeth, won the Crab Orchard Series Open Competition in 2013 and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2014. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Five Points, The Southern Review, and Pushcart Prize XXXIII, as well as other journals and anthologies. A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, Albergotti now teaches at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
I don’t have a personal website, but this might be helpful for the interested reader: www.southernspaces.org/2008/shadows-along-waccamaw
And here is a link to the chapbook’s feature page at the Unicorn Press website: www.unicorn-press.org/books/Albergotti-The-Use-of-the-World.html
of severed cord
and flesh, lord of fever,
sweat, dementia, and meat cleaver,
lord of curtains set ablaze, of burning,
lord of tumors, of remission, of returning,
lord of time and time alone, lord of space and empty space,
lord without body, without soul, lord without feet or face,
lord of statistics, lord of bodies, lord of death,
lord of breathless hope, lord of hopeless breath,
O lord of every deafened ear,
I know you’ll never hear
in vacant air