What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
I would have to count Lucy Biederman’s dancing girl press chapbook, The Other World, among my favorites, along with Lynn Emanuel’s The Technology of Love, and Ocean Vuong’s No—all beautiful and entirely different.
Lynn Emanuel’s book is a handmade and hand-bound wonder. I found my copy used at Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, South Carolina many years ago—it’s a signed and numbered limited edition. It’s no secret that poets (including myself) covet the idea of their words being a part of such a painstakingly “made” object, such as this beautiful book. I was lucky enough to meet up with a master printer, Erika Adams, who did this sort of thing while I was on a writing residency in Vermont last year. She was gracious enough to make this dream a reality.
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?
The oldest piece in the chapbook is the only poem that also appeared in my first chapbook. I think I wrote it in 2008 or 2009. It’s titled after Elizabeth Bishop’s refrain in my favorite poem, “At the Fishhouses”: “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear.” I’m not sure if this piece catalyzed the chapbook, but it was included as it presents an alternate interior landscape, whereas most of the book, including the poem that sparked the idea for this project, “Never-Ending Birds,” places the speaker and audience outside.
The newest pieces are the prose fragments, or micro essays that I wrote to “speak back” to the poems and the amazing images my publisher and illustrator created. The chapbook contains poems that were polished by the time the project idea formed (the same as my first chapbook, ironically). I remember the concept circled around the question: “What if I responded to/remade/unmade my poems using other art forms?” Thus, the idea of visual art and prose fragments as responses to these metrical poems took shape.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
The chapbook is called A Detail in the Landscape, and it’s a short letterpress volume that may or may not be considered a chapbook. I think it depends on the prerogative of the reader. The book contains illustrations and the micro essays mentioned above, and it’s an art object. The softcovers have sewn binding and dust jackets, and Erika also commissioned some hardcover copies. I’m not sure how to categorize the printing except that the publisher, Erika, is an artist first. This project is a huge departure for me, as my first chapbook was a perfect bound edition that is available widely and my next book, a full-length collection, will operate similarly. This book was made in an edition of 60, and that’s the entire print run.
To answer your question though, the book borrows largely from its title (don’t all books?). In many ways, it’s the reflection of my role, as speaker and writer, as “a detail in the landscape.” I asked myself the questions, “How do I fit within my prairie home? How do I endanger it? Am I the greatest predator of all, or the recorder of the place’s miracles?” The book takes its cue from a place of awe and curiosity.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
We were sort of utilitarian regarding length. These books are expensive and time consuming to make, and Erika let me know that a book of 10-20 pages with illustrations was a good aim. Arrangement (for the first time in my life!) was not difficult, because the book only contains five poems and five corresponding prose fragments, plus front and back matter. I decided to arrange the pieces according to our seasons, starting in the fall and ending in summer. Originally, the title of the book was cheesy: “Write/Back,” which was a nod to that reflective idea I mentioned above. I, of course, thought it this was a genius title at first! However, I settled on A Detail in the Landscape, which is a quote from one of the prose fragments I drafted for the book and was ultimately very happy with.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Unlike anything else I’ve ever published, this book was borne of the relationship I formed with Erika at Vermont Studio Center last August. I saw her work, particularly the gorgeous book, Pickles I Have Known, and we talked about her collaborations with poets. I put out my feelers and she thankfully indicated her interest in working with me. We have been collaborating and corresponding regarding this project for all of 2014. In short, I made this chapbook specifically for Eating Dog Press and no other publisher.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
This chapbook is a collaboration in many senses. The title page states, “by Sandra Marchetti; with images by Erika Adams.” Erika’s work is gorgeous (she is a visual and installation artist of international acclaim) and I gave her free reign over the book’s design. Initially, I just provided text. However, she was very generous with me, and did solicit my ideas regarding the size and shape of the book (it’s nearly square at 7” around) and the colors (varying greens and blues). We also discussed how the images would work across the binding and spread between the poems and prose. We talked about geometric shapes as imagery that appears in the poems and Erika then crafted the abstract triangular images that appear in the book.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Since the book is a limited print run, I haven’t done as much to promote it. However, I ran a pre-order sale online and I’m happy to say I’ve sold out of my small hardcover run and most of the softcovers as well. We do have a few books and a bunch of beautiful broadsides still available. This week I travel down to Knoxville, Tennessee to the SAFTA Reading Series, affiliated with Sundress Publications, to officially launch the book and read from it for the first time. In August I’ll read for Hannah Stephenson’s Paging Columbus series in Ohio, and then back in Chicago after Labor Day to promote this book. I assume I will sell the last few copies at these readings. Erika is placing her copies in special collections and libraries here in the U.S. and in Canada. Reviews of the book will appear in Zoetic Press and elsewhere, as well.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
I wish you would have asked, “Was it difficult to collaborate with someone else? How did you approach the person you wanted to collaborate with?” And I would have said, “The idea of being rejected out of hand was scary. Also, once accepted, giving up control to a collaborator was slightly worrisome. Poetry books are often published as accepted and this one was not. It went through a few iterations—particularly the prose. My brilliant husband, Scott, and Erika asked me to cut down the prose fragments, and they were exactly right—sparseness made the book better. It was easy to trust Erika visually—I knew she could craft a better looking book than I could even imagine. I approached her with a lot of respect, indicating that I wanted to be a part of her beautiful afterglow. Really—I was in such awe of her art and personality. So my best advice is to, I suppose, butter up your potential collaborator?”
What are you working on now?
Well, my debut full-length collection, Confluence, which contains these poems plus about 50 more, is due out from Gold Wake Press in December, so I am working on the proofs and getting blurbs, etc. Also, a couple other projects are in the works—and deep breath, I haven’t talked to anyone about these yet—one on menageries (or dioramas) and another on the history of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and baseball in general. I’m a die-hard Cub fan, and now that Confluence is making its way into the world, it just felt like the right time to start this.
Where is the ideal place to read your chapbook? What type of place for reading might antagonize your chapbook?
Any place you read my chapbook is fine with me—just read it! However, the perfect spot is quiet and filled with natural light. I’m thinking of my sun splashed dining room table. You’ll have a beverage in your hand (coffee, wine, home made sun tea?). Also, your hands will be clean because this is a gorgeous book you won’t want to muss up! (Joking.) But seriously, you probably won’t want to read it in a subway station or a sewer.
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?
The chapbook does function as both entities. MWC Press published my first chapbook, The Canopy, and it was a “breakthrough collection to a longer work,” which was the full-length collection that is now seeing publication. A Detail in the Landscape, however, is a chapbook because that is what “the work seems to elect.” The size works wonderfully for these spare reflections. I will continue to seek chapbook publication; in fact, one of the new projects I mentioned above may turn into a chap. I would love to collaborate on more letterpress and illustrated ventures in the future, too.
Concerning voice and style: Do you find it something that you consciously think about or do you simply write? Do try to reinvent yourself every few years, go looking for a new way, or do you think that finding a certain language, a certain voice and pushing and honing it over a lifetime is your preferred mode?
I am concerned with voice quite a bit, and “sound and sense” is the rallying cry of my poems. Louise Glück tries to write differently in each book, but I don’t know if I can do that (does she even do that?). I keep coming back to the same obsessions, at least for now. I work toward telling a story—even the story of a moment—in really tightly woven language. My first drafts contain the story, but the language is lazy. The next dozen or two dozen drafts force my language into a strict diet and exercise program. The poems become lean, mean, rhythmic machines. Each poem contains the school that teaches me how to write it.
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 book circles back to that original idea of the chapbook, but with a twist. A Detail in the Landscape isn’t a tract or pamphlet, as many of the earliest chapbooks were. It’s an item that was labored over intensely and that does come through when one experiences the book. I think that readers have been more receptive of my words because they are located in such a beautiful space. The illustrations, textured paper, and crafted quality do appeal to folks, like me, who think of paper books as sensory objects.
Sandra Marchetti’s debut full-length collection of poems, Confluence, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press as a part of their 2014 Print Series. Eating Dog Press recently published A Detail in the Landscape, an illustrated chapbook of her essays and poems in the summer of 2014. Sandy was named the winner of the 2011 Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest for her volume, The Canopy, available from Midwest Writing Center Press. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Ohio State’s The Journal, Phoebe, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Subtropics, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University in 2010 and currently teaches writing at Aurora University, just outside of Chicago.
You miss it, craning
away from verdancy.
Pause in this place
while I glaze you;
my head tilts
a direction you can’t read.
Green leaves drape
a frame of velvet.
you can’t see
you are a strange
I strain each stroke
of cup and nape
to show I can,
then muddle you
toward the boughs to sway
in wilderness already named.