(originally Tilt Press, 2008)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
The first chapbook I ever read was Ravenous by Jan Beatty. I got hold of it in high school, when I attended a youth poetry workshop she facilitated. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Militello’s work, and after she published Anchor Chain, Open Sail with Finishing Line, I sent my work to them. Some of the recent chaps I’ve enjoyed are Jess Poli’s The Egg Mistress and Simone Muench’s Trace.
Did these favorites influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own? How so?
I wouldn’t say they influenced me directly, but ever since I encountered the idea of the chapbook, I thought of it as an accessible way for me to get my work out there as I was growing as a poet.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I think the oldest piece in my chapbook is “Hurricane Scale,” which I wrote in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I had moved to Bowling Green, Ohio to begin my MFA a few weeks before the storm. I remember standing in my kitchen listening to the nonstop coverage from NPR, hearing interviews with survivors. One woman’s testimony in particular struck me; she was talking about how difficult it was to think about how to adapt her life to this new reality.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
I struggle with the idea that poems are “about” anything. Instead, I think of them as experiences, or spaces where experiences can happen. I think of my chapbook as a kind of “kingdom” that the reader can visit, I suppose.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
My chapbook began as my MFA thesis, which was much longer and was called Uncanny Valley after Freud’s essay and the aesthetic phenomenon. That iteration contained a bunch of poems that I later decided didn’t quite fit.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I did send mine to both. I received some encouraging feedback from a few places, and I think I was even a semi-finalist for the Boom chapbook contest from Bateau Press.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The image on the 2008 printing of my chapbook was one I chose myself. The publisher asked me to find some artwork that wouldn’t be pricey; I found an old botanical print of mushroom varieties that was in the public domain. For the 2014 reprint, I worked with Margaret Bashaar and with the artist who did the cover for another Hyacinth Girl Press chapbook, Susan Slaviero’s A Wicked Apple. The artist created a kind of chimera of all the different animals mentioned in my chapbook.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Not a whole lot, I’m sorry to say. Shortly after my chapbook’s initial publication, Tilt Press became defunct. At the same time, I was working on my Ph.D. and trying to establish myself in a new discipline. I sort of lost touch with the landscape of literary poetry in the country, and was a bit jaded by my experience with Tilt. Now that the chapbook has been reprinted, I’m working on having more realistic expectations about what will happen with it. I’d love a few reviews. We’ll see what happens.
What are you working on now?
I have a busy job as a professor and writing center director at a small university, and my career now depends on publishing more scholarly work. My dissertation was about how poets use digital technology, so I’m hoping to pull a few articles from that, and I’m putting together a new research project that looks at poets as document designers. As far as creative work goes, I’m not sure. I have an idea for a poetry collection that takes place inside Searle’s Chinese Room hypothesis, but who knows if I’m actually smart enough to pull that off.
What is your writing practice or process?
My poems usually begin with an image or phrase that I can’t get out of my head. I’ll sit down with a ball point pen and pad of paper (I really like steno pads and reporter’s notebooks because of their size and because they’re bound at the top) and start messing around with the image or phrase, just experimenting with lines and how they sound. After a while, if I feel like I’ve got something that might go somewhere, I go to my laptop and start typing in Word. I really need to see how the text is starting to look on the page to understand what the poem wants to do. It’s interesting to me that I almost always use this notebook-to-computer hybrid approach because I’m a “cusper” and came of age when personal computers were just starting to become ubiquitous.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
If I have a poem that has potential but seems stuck, I apply formal constraints to it. The most common thing I do is try to remake the lines so that they’re all a certain number of syllables. That also allows me to attend more closely to the sounds in the poem, too.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Go with your big ideas, your crazy ideas, your weird ideas. Chapbooks encourage experimentation and are malleable enough to accommodate any project you can dream up.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
How do you use computers/digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
True or False: The chapbook is to the full-length collection as the EP is to the LP. Discuss.
At the time that I first learned about them, I assumed chapbooks were the thing you did before you were able to get a full-length book out—sort of like being a “Saturday Night Live” featured player before you get promoted to main cast. I’m seeing now that this idea isn’t quite correct. I do like the metaphor of EP and LP, because EPs don’t necessarily mean you’re pre-album. A chapbook, like an EP, allows an artist to work with a concept that might be difficult to sustain through a more lengthy medium.
Have you found in your writing of poems that they are separate from you—that they have their own lives and desires—or that they are extensions of you without “selves” apart from your own notion of “self” and your imagination?
Most of my poems begin as extensions of my self. I start a poem and it kind of buds off of me—I’m literally visualizing things growing out of my arms and legs right now—and eventually it releases itself and becomes something that both is and isn’t me. The poem is a rhizome. I suppose it’s like a clonal colony, all these poems.
Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
Without getting too esoteric about it, I think the poems in In the Kingdom of My Familiar all vibrate at the same frequency. If I would have included some of the others I have, there would have been moments of discord. That’s perfectly okay if that’s the effect you’re interested in, of course. I like to think all of the poems in my chapbook belong in the “kingdom” that I envision.
Do you like chapbooks that are all one form (say, sonnets) or does that bore you?
Not at all. I think that working within formal constraints can be liberating, and can help you develop muscles that were previously atrophied or just underused. I have experienced this, and I know a number of other poets whose work has completely transformed when they tried working within forms. I think chapbooks welcome the fruits of those kinds of exercises. They can be little conceptual art exhibits, these chapbooks.
Where is the ideal place to read your chapbook? What type of place for reading might antagonize your chapbook?
Outside, I think. There are lots of animals in my chapbook and I think getting outside in some wild place could enhance the experience and make the “kingdom” seem bigger. I don’t know what place would make for a bad reading experience. The dentist’s office, maybe?
Do you think that in the course of your present and/or future career, having written and published a full-length book, you’ll come back to the chapbook, publishing them (or attempting to) as you see fit or as the work seems to elect, or do you see the chapbook as a breakthrough collection to longer works?
It’s hard to say. I think I’d like to see where the chapbook and the full-length collection stand as digital publishing venues become more widespread. So far, poetry seems to both resist and move toward various digital formats, and that’s very interesting to me.
How do you feel about long poems versus shorter poems? Could a chapbook be a good medium for a long poem?
I’m not a person who is drawn to read long poems, or who feels compelled to write them. In my entire writing career so far, I think I’ve only written one poem that’s longer than a single 8 ½ x 11” page. That being said, I think a chapbook is an excellent place for a long poem, for the reasons I’ve described above.
Chapbooks have historically been small, handmade paper productions, but, in our current time, chapbooks can be produced as digital files. How does the physical/digital reality of a chapbook affect your relationship to the text? As a reader? As a writer?
This is one of the questions I’ve been pursuing for a while. As of right now, my answer is that it depends greatly on the culture you’re part of, and the kinds of narratives about technology you’ve internalized. Six hundred years ago, when the printing press was introduced to the Western world, people feared the consequences of widespread literacy and predicted that this new technology would produce endless unwholesome drivel. Similar arguments surround digital/networked texts today. While it would be fallacious to say that the Internet is simply a more advanced analogue of the printing press, demonizing digital technologies just because they’re new is just as ignorant.
Julie Platt is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She holds a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from Michigan State University, an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University, and an MA in English from Ohio University. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she earned a BA in English from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Her poetry chapbook, In the Kingdom of My Familiar, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014, and she continues to publish scholarly and creative work widely.
Les Yeux Sans Visage
What I am now has much to do with the number
of diamonds left in the world. There’s been an accident,
and I am the child of a scientist. My father lays the phases
of my face out in his mind like an undressing
interrupted. He’s looking for one among the many.
I think all diamonds must be raw inside, like the girls
he carries down the dark staircase of ether
to be mined. When I surfaced from that same numb
dusk I was a multiple, an infinite pack of dogs,
the red crawls of my raw face naming themselves you,
and you, I am you. Did you know skin keeps that wild howl
down below the surface? Sometimes you hear it when you die,
if they flay you, if your face is turned toward the dirt.
Did I tell you I was born with a caul? Caulbearers
cannot drown. My nurse pressed it between photographs,
and father kept it with his mother’s diamonds.
I am to have them on my wedding day. I am the bride
of a scientist; it has something to do with my face,
with the number of faces left in the world, with the number
of times a name stretches over a gaping hole
and snaps back, that wretched sound shocked
back into the raw cawing. My diamond, father weeps.