(Bull City Press, 2014)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
I’ve read three very good ones recently, all by friends: Lucy Anderton’s The Flung You, Sara Quinn Rivara’s Lake Effect, and Colleen Abel’s Housewifery. This begs the question of the permeable border between “chapbook” and “book”: The first two are perfect-bound and book-length, or nearly so; the third is a more traditional chapbook form and length. All three have the same power for me as a full-length book. 48 pages seems so arbitrary.
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 wrote “Flowers, Doggies, the Moon,” now the second poem in the book, sometime in 2009, after publishing my first book and having my son. After a long season of not writing. It was stringy, multivocal, all over the place – completely different from anything I’d written before. I thought, alternately, that it was the most brilliant thing I’d ever written and that it was a complete self-indulgent mess. (Of course, as with all such thoughts, neither verdict is true, or verdict is beside the point.) I decided that, despite my anxieties, I should just follow where that poem led.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
The Greenhouse is, as a whole, “about” something – becoming a parent, connection and separation, language and its failures – in a way that my earlier work was not. Once I wrote that first poem, I could see the outline of the book it would live in, and I felt like I was moving (very slowly) toward it. Writing it felt like a kind of archaeology, of revealing something that already existed, working with those little chisels and brushes.
How did you decide on the title of your chapbook?
It didn’t have a title for a long time, and then the image of the greenhouse arose in a poem draft. I immediately recognized it as the title. Amazingly, there were no other poetry books with that title. It does bring to mind Roethke’s greenhouse poems, but that’s a wonderful association.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted it only once, to Bull City’s Frost Place Chapbook Competition, and judge David Baker selected it. In contrast, I sent out my first book, Tulips, Water, Ash, 98 times over seven years; it was a finalist 12 times before it was selected for the Morse Prize by Jean Valentine, and by that time it had changed completely from its original form. So I was not expecting this.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Philip McFee of Flying Hand Studio designs all of Bull City’s books, and he does a beautiful job. I sent Philip a long email about my aesthetic and thematic vision for the cover. He somehow digested that and didn’t let it ruin his vision. I love the cover he made.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Like most writers, I dislike putting energy into promotion. For my first book, I was a bit naïve about how it worked; I was also at a point where life was quite overwhelming. So I just put it out there, booked a few readings, and hoped. With this book, though, I wanted to be much more conscious about promotion. I hired a publicity intern to help me book readings, interviews, reviews, etc. Having someone to do the legwork forced me to come up with things for her to do. Also, I’m now part of a pretty extensive community of writers, and I’ve been keeping people up on the book through Facebook and email.
What are you working on now?
Poems. One of the best things about winning this prize was a fellowship to attend the Frost Place Poetry Seminar, and to live and write in Robert Frost’s house in Franconia, New Hampshire for a week. I sat on the porch, stared at the mountains, and started a handful of new work.
What is your writing practice or process?
Scribble ideas, phrases, images on the backs of envelopes or email them to myself from my phone. Write when I can find time, which usually means getting up at 5:30 a few times a week to spend an hour deciphering those missives. Maybe once a month, I spend a morning really diving in to a poem. The rest happens in little drive-by passes in between work and parenting.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
Um, write things down and mess around with them until they become a poem? I’m about to start teaching at UC Berkeley Extension – including a pair of classes called Poetry Generation Intensive and Poetry Revision Intensive. This is essentially a not-so-sneaky way to force my own hand in terms of procrastination and resistance. I’ll report back once I know how it goes.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
The same advice I’d offer to any poet. Write, revise, see what form your work takes. Find a writing community. Don’t stop. You will stop. Start again.
How do you use computers/digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
I’m pretty dependent on my phone and laptop, and I regularly text or email myself bits that I hope will trigger poems, or email myself drafts. These get combined with bits from my physical notebook, scribblings on napkins and receipts, etc., in a document called Notes. I read through it, fiddle with whatever strikes me, and work in there for a while until a poem takes shape. At some point it gets moved to its own Word document. I realize this is an elaborate ruse designed to avoid the terror of the blank page.
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?
The former. I made them, and the separation process may have been long and arduous. But my job is to help them be what they want to be.
Do you like chapbooks that are all one form (say, sonnets) or does that bore you?
This may sound overly mystical, but for me, each poem builds its own form as it assembles itself. Very seldom is that form a sonnet. I respect work that uses repeated or received form to get where it’s going, but that’s not really my project.
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?
I have no idea. Right now, The Greenhouse feels like a complete thing in itself. And it’s as long as many “full-length” books. I do like having the option to make it part of a future longer work, though. It really depends on how it fits, or doesn’t with whatever I write next.
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 don’t seem to have much control over such changes. After Tulips, Water, Ash, I’d gotten to the point where I could recognize my own “moves” – oh, there I am again – and I started wanting the poems to do something new, but wasn’t sure how to make that happen. Somewhere in the upheaval of book publication, new parenthood, and the associated sleep deprivation, I got my wish. It felt like my brain changed, so the poems changed. I don’t know if it’ll happen again, or happen that dramatically.
How do you feel about long poems versus shorter poems? Could a chapbook be a good medium for a long poem?
For a long time, I wrote very short poems. This book is full of what, for me, are very long poems; in a way, together they make one long poem. I think the chapbook would be a perfect form for a single long poem.
Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet’s The Greenhouse was awarded the 2014 Frost Place Prize and published by Bull City Press. Her first book, Tulips, Water, Ash, won the Morse Poetry Prize. Her poems have been awarded a Javits fellowship and a Phelan Award, and have appeared in journals including The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, At Length, Quarterly West, Blackbird, The Iowa Review, 32 Poems, and Third Coast and in the anthologies Best New Poets and The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry. She writes, edits, and teaches in Oakland, California.
(When the giant sacrifices himself for the boy)
_____________________________________(and on the screen
the men marching toward him________ all the pieces
___________________________________________falling from his metal body
steaming in the snow)
When the giant sacrifices himself for the boy, the boy
at my side is lifted for a moment,
__________________________filled with air, the intake, the stop-
gasp held aloft, no sound:
_____________________the shock at the top of the arc, the drop—
and only then, on the way down, opens into sob: hard water
wrung from a knot. All the pieces
Small hot forehead pressed to my chest. Animal exposed in the storm.
Knows himself then, knows himself to want more.