What’s your chapbook about?
Diary in Irregular Ink is meant to be an impressionistic record of seemingly incongruous times, people and places: a nail salon in a shopping mall and a pattern factory during the Civil War, a mermaid in full moonlight and Joan of Arc, a seaside wedding and a post-apocalyptic backyard, etc.
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?
One of the oldest poems in the collection is “Timescape #8.” When I wrote it, I was putting together a series of landscapes set in various places that moved through time. In that poem I begin with the land in Fitchburg, MA, a dying mill town near where I grew up, and jump to the Puritans and the Civil War and the rise of the mills and the depression and the fifties and the fall of the mills and so on through the current year; the poem is just a series of long lines that shift from past to present to possible future. Several of the poems in the book are spin-offs from lines in Timescape #8.
How did you decide on arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?
Originally the chapbook was called Timescape #8 after the poem described above. My editor, Ariana Den Bleyker, suggested changing it to Diary in Irregular Ink, also after a poem by the same name in the chapbook, because she felt that fit the themes better and captured the personal nature of many of the poems. I agreed and she made the change. I’m especially happy with the new title because it captures how I think about my writing overall.
As for the individual poems, I tried to weave poems about events from the past and personal poems about me in the present together, paying particular attention to ideas and images that play off each other.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Luckily, ELJ was the only place I submitted. I saw a post on Facebook that the press was holding an open reading period and I scrambled to get the chapbook into shape. There was no reading fee and I received a response very quickly.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Not nearly enough. I get far too caught up in the writing itself but after attending the Massachusetts Poetry Festival last year, I realized how energizing it can be to read to an audience. So I’m working on setting up readings for 2015 and have also been arranging a few interviews here and there.
What are you working on now?
My first full-length book, Trace Elements, came out with Aldrich Press in December. I recently finished a second full-length manuscript and have plans to start on a third. In the interim, I’m taking a break from poetry (well, from putting together books, anyway) and focusing on fiction.
What is your writing practice or process?
I keep a file of ideas, notes and images on my laptop. Sometimes they percolate for months or even years before a poem will emerge. Sometimes I’ll type the notes and write a poem immediately afterward. I call all my files something non-intimidating like “poetry notes 17” and keep the poems together in large files; it’s a little mind trick that makes it easier to write, like Nomar Garciaparra adjusting his batting gloves. I try to be steady – and often am – but I also find my writing comes in waves.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
I don’t usually use prompts, but the best one I ever had was one Peter Murphy gave out at his Winter Poetry Getaway in 2014. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I know we had to write about an angel without mentioning the word angel while incorporating an urban legend into the mix. We had to write the poem on deadline for the workshops that afternoon, and I remember returning to my hotel room absolutely flummoxed. I had won a scholarship so everything was paid for and I went into panic mode. What would happen if I wrote nothing, nothing at all – would they regret awarding me the scholarship? As it turned out, I did come up with a poem – I think I was shaking when I read it in my workshop with Renee Ashley – and of all the poems I’ve written, it is one of my favorites. It forced me out of my comfort zone in such a good way, and people were incredibly supportive. For the first time, I wondered about my decision not to pursue an MFA. I don’t see that happening, but I’m hoping to attend more conferences and take more opportunities to throw myself into that kind of situation again.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
The usual: Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Read a lot of everything. Don’t take rejection seriously. When I first started writing, I submitted a batch of haiku to an editor who sent a form rejection with a note on the back stating that he didn’t think I understood the form. To this day I still wonder what it is about haiku that I’m not getting.
I’d also say don’t be afraid to make writing a priority. The year I got my Masters in English, I published a chapbook with Finishing Line Press. Shortly afterward I took a job teaching in a public school, got divorced, bought a house, got a second job teaching nights, and brought home a husky puppy – all while raising my daughter. Years passed. One day a student raised his hand in English class and said something about me being a poet. I told him he was wrong, that I wasn’t a poet anymore, that my writing was in the past. Hearing myself say it out loud hit me pretty hard. Afterward, I changed – started writing again, submitting, putting together more chapbooks and books. I didn’t always get all the laundry folded but I was doing what I wanted to be doing again. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I’d be happy if anybody read it and got something out of it. I’d love it if somebody who doesn’t normally read poetry picked it up and glanced at a poem or two. I like the idea of poetry expanding its borders—of it turning up in unexpected places and having some sort of impact on people. I remember hearing Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Panther” read aloud in the movie Awakenings and buying his selected poems translated by Stephen Mitchell the next day. I was driven to buy it, actually, though I’d never heard of Rilke before. Someday it would be cool if one of my poems had the same effect on another person. It would also be good to see poetry incorporated to a greater degree into pop culture, everyday life, anywhere you wouldn’t expect to find it.
Lori Lamothe is the author of a full-length collection, Trace Elements (Aldrich Press), and three chapbooks, Camera Obscura (Finishing Line Press), Diary in Irregular Ink (ELJ Publications) and Ouija in Suburbia (forthcoming, Dancing Girl Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Blue Lyra Review, Notre Dame Review, Painted Bride Quarterly and other magazines. She lives in New England with her daughter and a red Siberian husky born on Halloween.
Diary in Irregular Ink
The future unrolls its neon carpet across a desert.
You smile and wave, but you’re riding bareback on a credit card
traveling too fast for the human eye to see.
I wanted to tell you about the door your iris unlocks.
I wanted to tell you it’s been raining funerals all day
and everyone I know is joining a congo line of ghosts.
Instead, when I get home, ATV’s are carving their initials
on forests and special sauces are waiting in line
so I curl up inside the fifth dimension, scatter schools of feeling
with chocolate and red wine.
All along the street, darkness covers phone lines. A thousand
connections bloom in invisible languages.
In my diary I write: behind bars, half way past getting lost,
chandeliers and miscellaneous lamps burn yellow.
(originally published in MiPOesias)