What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
I initially came to chappies as a grad student at Western Michigan University. A peer, Becky, had given me a copy of a micro-sized chap she’d made, which had a little pocket stitched on the outside. I didn’t know it was called a chapbook; it was just a little, precious book, handmade by a friend and given away to friends. At the end of my time there, another friend, Erin, had given me all of her necklaces (she was going through a transformation) and a copy of a small chap she’d made. Again, these were just precious gifts with very well-written prose and poems inside. I thought my friends were very talented and crafty & that there was some micro-book Zeitgeist in the air! I had, of course, come across the word, chapbook, in my class on Small Presses & in the Modern Poetry & Avant Garde Poetry courses, but I hadn’t imagined them as these little gems, just an ends to a means, chapter books. It wasn’t until oh 2005? whenever AWP was in Austin, that a friend, Matt Seigel, handed me a chap & said, here’s my chapbook. It was red. I still have it & Erin’s and Becky’s and every other chappie handed to me or purchased by me. Around the same time Matt gave me his chappie, I’d gone to Nuyorican & bought a chapbook by Ainslee Burrows & somehow came across a poet, Michele Mitchell, whose poem, “Oranges,” I’d seen online. I got in touch with her & after a few exchanges, she mailed me a copy of her chapbook, thinking aloud; I used work from Burrows & Mitchell in an essay & presented it at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference in say 2006, where I met other folks who were talking about chapbooks. It wasn’t until I moved to Houston and met Sean Hill, who introduced me to a trove of poetry, that I realized publishers were publishing chapbooks. I’d thought they were all hand-made, saddle-stitched or hand-sewn books! I then found and loved the Wick Poetry chappies (Nin Andrews’ Any Kind of Excuse & Mary Weems’ White stand out), the Hollyridge Press chaps (Gary Lilley-Copeland’s Black Poem & Adrian Blevins’ Bloodline come to mind), Finishing Line has such an extensive collection of chappies that it’s hard to not find great work there (Beth Martinelli’s To Darkness, Jennifer Militello’s Anchor Chain, Open Sail, each have superb poems & subtle, wonderful designs), Soft Skull put out some great, daring books & of course, Belladonna’s chaplets are marvelous: sparsely-designed books that pack quite the punch. There is Dusie, too, which has all chappies on-line as PDFs, and, in my opinion, are wonderful tools for teaching students how to write small books and how to publish them; I think they’re up to Issue 16 or 17 now. . . I’m still particular to the self-made, self-pubbed chaps, though: the little accordion chaps that LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs makes, the ones Roger Bonair Agard sold with a little note on the inside to feel free to offer up critical feedback, the poor quality papers ones that are all bent out of shape from the hand sweat of their makers!
Did these favorites influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own? How so?
No. I’m really really uncoordinated, and once or twice, twice, I think had classes that required us to make chappies. I still have one of them and keep it around as a reminder at how crafty I’m NOT. It’s 8 ½ by 11, you see, because I can’t figure out the whole back-to-front, upside-down-ness of word documents that one needs to correctly fold the darn things!
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 2nd poem, currently titled “After Leonor Fini’s “Hurry Hurry Hurry, My Dolls are Waiting. . .,” was written around 2001-2002, when I was a PhD student at University of Houston. It was a long, sectioned poem called “The Supposition Hotel.” I was still very heavily influenced by surrealism in written text, visual art, film, as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman and D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel. I had recurring dreams that mashed those works together and out of those dreams came a character. I wrote several pieces with her as the centerpiece, including the piece that is now in the chapbook and that has been so completely revised that only suggestions of the original piece are still there.
The chapbook was, as I took it, a challenge from Marthe Reed, who asked me if I had more ekphrastic-ish poems, similar to ones I’d published in B O D Y. I did not, and those poems were not ekphrastic in the sense that we talk about it, but reverse ekphrastics: poems that had lived for a very long time under different titles and were then re-titled as being “After” artwork that, when I saw the artwork, made me think of the poems, in very very slant ways. For a few weeks I felt, I don’t know, impotent. Worse. Fraudulent. And then pushed into a corner. And then challenged. I had a few poems in my large manuscript that I could pull and replace with titles from artworks, which was quite a bit of fun, going through all of my art books, scouring photographs I’d taken of art in various museums, but there were only a handful of poems that made sense to transform. It was a strange time. I’m very much influenced by the visual world, but as I was going through those images, I didn’t feel caught by the throat. I was happy, sinking into my couch with those heavy books, looking carefully at art, but I had such a singular goal in mind, that I didn’t feel the tug to create new poems. Later in the year, I taught a one-day workshop on re-mixing myths, for Gathering of Poets in Winston-Salem, and during that workshop began drafting poems about Argus. It made sense to push the Argus poems and find a link between the reverse ekphrastics and the re-mixing of mythology. Half of the poems, then, are reverse ekphrastic & half are Argus.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
The reverse ekphrastics are not different from my other poems, since the poems are all pulled from a larger manny that I’ve been shopping around for a few years. The Argus poems deal with someone else’s written narrative, which is a major departure for me. I’ve always been deeply interested in mythology, particularly in the creation of myths, and in making myths; I’ve never been one for re-writing someone else’s written narrative. However, the Argus poems had been there for years and years, years before I began writing poems, I suppose, since I’ve always been intrigued by Hera’s act of removing his eyes and placing them into the tails of peacock feathers. I’ve always been told that having peacock feathers in your home is a bad omen, and my mother had a very large vase of them! & I’ve been told that peacock feathers are protections and signs of good luck, but whenever I wear peacock feather earrings I have a horrible horrible day. Argus is always there, whenever I look at peacock feathers, even in Lisbon when I was rushing after the peacocks at the castle, trying to take their picture, I wanted their picture because of Argus.
The reverse ekphrastic poems mostly deal with romantic love, with disconnections and connections between romantic partners, with lack of communication between romantic partners; they are about desire, longing, fear of revealing the desire, disappointment, all those really joyful things my poems are always about! The Argus poems deal with betrayal, lust, obsession, deception, societal pressure, storytelling, all of those things mythology are often about!
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
Well, the title I put up top may not be the title! I had written a title on a piece of paper, then lost it, then tried to recall it, then called the thing The Autobiography of Eyes and Other Tales or something like that, but the file was called 100 Eyes and Other Renderings and that became the title. I’d been fretting over putting out a book with either of those titles, so I asked my ex, whose really really great with titles, what she thought about an image, “Sleeping to Dream,” and she liked that image, so I proposed the book title, After “Sleeping to Dream,” which she thought was excellent. I was on the phone, at the time, with a friend who, I reckon, felt left out of the convo, another truly excellent titler, who has an allergic reaction to titles pilfered from other titles, so either he suggested After After or I anticipated that he was going to suggest After After, either way, I really liked the title, and sent them both to the publisher and asked her opinion. She had the great idea to call one side of this dos-a-dos style chapbook After After & the other side After “Sleeping to Dream”.
The reverse ekphrastics: there were 7 of those and about 4 of the Argus poems. When the deadline to submit the chappie was fast approaching, I began to flip through chapbooks to get the table of contents and acknowledgments pages together. I landed on Thomas Sayers Ellis’ The Genuine Negro Hero as the design that I wanted. His book is composed of two equal halves, and I thought, yeah, balance. So, I went and composed three additional Argus poems to balance out the reverse ekphrastics. Marthe came up with the idea of the dos-a-dos. The Argus poems follow an arc & the reverse ekphrastics are organized in terms of mood, slightly melancholic but feisty to less feist and more melancholia and then out again.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Neither. It was solicited.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Marthe sent along two images, one of Paul Klee’s “Flower Myth” (which I use in one of the ekphrasticish pieces) & another of a cracked vase that depicts the Argus slaying. I loved the stark contrasts between these images (Klee’s is giant, raw, and very very red; the vase is polished even through its cracks & elegant & incredibly brown). Later, Marthe sent me some more abstract pieces & I loved those images even more. They had quietness and mystique. She also asked me to pick out cardstock and color and queried if I wanted vellum. She makes collaboration, I don’t know, obvious, that’s not the right word, but there was no question about collaboration, it was a given that we were working together on this, along with her designer.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I’ve shared it in several Facebook groups, on Twitter, on Tumblr. When I have a moment, I’ll seek some reviewers for it.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
No, not about my chapbook, but I would love to have a discussion about the future of chapbooks. I still know people who consider them not real books!
What are you working on now?
A collection of prose poems about a group of travellers who are following one nasty piece of work!
What is your writing practice or process?
For the chapbook it was to vacillate between a state of gratefulness—that someone read & appreciated my work enough to want more of it—and dread—that I had to produce more of the thing I’d already done. For the current full-length manny, I’m writing in spurts and in the beginning stages, wrote in response to lines I’d pulled from poems I loved, poems that, in some way or another, were about travel or were creation myths. I’d place the lines at the top of a page in my journal and let them sit there until I felt compelled to write something. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, with this collection, of other poetry books that deal with myth and creation narratives and travel narratives. I want the poems to give a nod to those earlier books, to clearly say, hey, I’m writing within this tradition, but to also do not something new, to see those works as points of departure. & because these poems are all narrative-ish, I’m treating them the way I treat stories, to follow the narratorial voice, to get swept up in the world that voice speaks from, and to recreate not the physical world, per se, but the mood of the world. I’m a mood-driven person. Right now, I’m about half-way through the book, I think, so I’m going back to look at the prose blocks, to think about claustrophobia and space, visual wildness, to question my initial impulses, impressions and instincts. I also have a car full of books on plants, trees, the cosmos, birds, insects, and mythology that I’ll dig into, in order to properly inhabit the world. & I spent some part of the summer visiting intentional communities, catching vibes.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
When I first began writing poems I’d write everything in prose blocks, then later would go in and put in slashes, following the rhythm around, creating lines through blocks of sound, rhythm, image. I’d also sometimes find the middle of the prose block and isolate a sentence or phrase, pull that out and begin writing from there and forget the rest of the original poem. My first year in graduate school I’d gotten so frustrated by the one common comment about my work (oh the language is so exquisite!) that I began to isolate figurative language and images, pull them out of the pieces and see what was left, a challenge to push for more statements.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Support small presses, which, I believe, are the only presses that publish chapbooks. & by support I mean buy chapbooks, do microreviews of those chapbooks, do larger reviews of those chapbooks.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Why the chapbook? What made it the right format for your work?