Emily Nemens

Nemens_coverButcher Papers (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

I studied studio arts, including bookmaking, in college. It was a year of papermaking, printing, binding—the whole nine yards– so I was naturally attracted to the physical object of the chapbook. I first got to know and love the format through Ugly Duckling Presse’s chapbook series.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

Well, it’s no wonder that the subject matter of Butcher Papers swirls around art and precious objects. Design, aesthetics, and the emotional repercussions of art are frequent themes in my writing. As a digital chap, Butcher Papers is not thinking about handmade objects the same way as a book with hand-sewn binding, but then again, every book is a handmade thing.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s a cross-genre collection of poetry, essays, and short fiction, all about coming of age in the art world. I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was twenty-two and spent a big chunk of my twenties trying to be an artist and writer in New York. These pieces come out of that: homages to New York, lessons learned about growing up, explorations of the creative process. During this time I spent a lot of time in New York’s Meatpacking District (also where many galleries are located), and meat—metaphorical, literal, and edible—kept coming up in my imagery. So, Butcher Papers.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

This is my third short-form project. I wrote and illustrated a graphic novel about the Madrid train bombings in 2005. I didn’t call it a chapbook at the time, but it was fifty pages long, short-run edition… and in retrospect, it looks a lot like a chapbook. In 2007, I had a residency at the Kerouac Project of Orlando, and Shady Lane Press, a publisher there, offered to publish a mini-collection—five related short stories—called Scrub. Again, in retrospect, it looks a lot like a chapbook, though we didn’t call it that.

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?

That would be a short story I wrote in 2008 for the New York Moon, an experimental online journal. The issue’s theme was “translation” and I wrote a story about a butcher who used his kitchen tools to translate literature (cleaving big books, filleting shorter passages, etc.). An extended metaphor, to be sure, but it got me thinking about language, simile, and writing about the landscape of New York in a productive way, all of which would reappear often across Butcher Papers.

How did you decide on arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

SRP’s editors helped with all that—as this was the first time I’d gone through laying out a chapbook, I really appreciated the second opinion. We had a long e-mail discussion about plurals (Paper vs. Papers). A number of the pieces were workshopped in a class with the inimitable Lara Glenum, so she (and my peers at LSU) also weighed in on titles and all the rest.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

Neither, really. An acquiring editor for SRP judged a poetry contest, picked my work (the poem “Some Facts About Sculptors”) as the winner, and then asked if I had a collection to submit for consideration. She and I worked together to shape the collection.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Total collaboration. I wanted to make the most of the digital-download format, which meant full color, hi-res illustration sprinkled throughout. I gave the editors a series of watercolor paintings of meat and they worked their magic—incorporating those, but also bringing some other great ideas, in terms of fonts and layout. The cover image—which has just the right amount of nostalgia in the tinted coloring, violence in the font, anticipation in the string–was their idea, which was honestly way better than my idea (another watercolor meat painting).

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

Not as much as I should, honestly. I’ve done readings in Seattle (during AWP) and Baton Rouge, and some social media. SRP has a great website and I hope to get some new readers from browsers there. Also, “Some Facts” appeared in Eleven Eleven a few weeks prior to publication, so maybe there was some buzz with that. Sales haven’t been tremendous, but with the digital chap, it’s nice to know it’s always available for readers.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up a full-length collection of linked stories, about spring training baseball in Arizona’s Cactus League. They’re less “Casey at the Bat” and more about the swirl of energy, emotion, and expectation that happens when a few thousand people converge on this small Arizona community for a few weeks each spring. Between stories there’s some interstitial lists, not unlike the format of some of the poems in Butcher Papers.

What is your writing practice or process?

I have a full-time job as an editor at The Southern Review, so my writing process is basically write-when-you-can: an hour or two before work, another session after dinner, maybe one weekend day. My first drafts are sloppy sloppy sloppy, but often come pretty quickly, then I revise for ages.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

When I’m at an impasse, reading things aloud really helps. Also, when I think I’m done revising, I edit it again like I’d edit the story for the journal – i.e., I’m a real hard-ass on myself, fine-tuning word choice, punctuation, etc. Then I think “maybe it’s done” (it’s usually not).

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

I love working through an idea, iterations and variations, and the chapbook is perfect for that. I’d encourage a writer to take an idea and run with it, then see how far you can go. It might be a poem, it might be a suite, it might be a whole chapbook. Hell, maybe you have a full-length in you, but the chap is this great potential resolution for writers and readers alike.

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

I’d love to meet some other cross-genre chapbookers, and ask them about their process for layering poetry with prose in a collection. There’s a million ways to do it, I know, and I have a lot to learn.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

For better or worse, this collection has an autobiographical strain of author as a twentysomething in NYC—growing up, falling in love, being the proverbial “hot mess.” One reader likened it to Lena Dunham does poetry, which stung at first but I think is a pretty astute assessment. There’s some moments that discuss the big emotional swings of being a young lady trying to find her way, and I was really glad to get those down in one place. I don’t think I’ll need to write about all the mea culpas of coming of age again, at least not in this same manner. That being said, I think my art vocabulary and form really developed across the collection, and I’m not planning to drop that any time soon. Taken together, I think it’s an interesting conversation of a character operating on a couple levels: here’s a narrator thinking really intelligently about the role and possibility of art, but being a real dumb-ass about how to conduct herself in the world. I hope it makes for a good read for readers at all stations of life.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

Gosh, I read everything. Art and architecture criticism helped specifically, but I read a lot of longform nonfiction, in general. And all the reading I do for work—the 2000 or so stories I’ll read any given submission period—really helps with language, pacing, and narrative arc, across all genres.

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Emily Nemens’s fiction, essays, and poetry have recently appeared in The Gettysburg Review (2015 Pushcart special mention), Eleven Eleven, and the chapbook Butcher Papers (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014). As an illustrator she’s collaborated with Harvey Pekar and painted miniature portraits of all the women in Congress. After studying art history at Brown University and working in editorial capacities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Institute of Architects, she began as the editorial assistant of The Southern Review in 2011, when she also began LSU’s MFA program in creative writing. She became the journal’s prose editor and coeditor in 2013.

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http://nemens.com/

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SOME FACTS ABOUT SCULPTORS

Sculptors emerge from the sea
Sculptors come out of the Mediterranean, bursting from the waves like mermen. Sculptors come out of Quantuck Bay, kicking like yuppies. Sculptors, like most people, float in the Dead Sea, bob, and taste salty. Everyone ends up in New York.

The Sculptor diet
Sculptors are macrobiotic vegans except for ice cream. Sculptors let you cook everything except for burgers and bacon; that is their purview. The apartment, a railroad with elaborate tin-plate ceilings, smells like grease for a week, all for a damn fine breakfast.

Sculptor beverages
When you say you’re buying, sculptors call for Japanese whiskey, a bottle on the top of a five-shelf bar. Someone fetches the ladder. Sculptors quit coffee, then booze, then go back to booze plus tea. Goldilocks and her porridge.

Sartorial sculptors
All summer long, sculptors wear pastel V necks that match your pastel V necks, pink and lavender and seafoam. Sculptors wear Italian shoes from the 1940s, beautiful leather things that get ruined in the rain even after sculptors take them off and walk through Chelsea with plastic thank you bags sagging and soggy around their ankles.

Further attempts at yuppieness
Sculptors take you golfing. Sculptors take you sailing.

But there are limits
Golfing is with four other sculptors, three of them with weak mustaches, at a municipal nine-hole pitch-n-putt course in Queens, and everyone gets drunk off cheap beer. The sailboat is tiny and easy to capsize. You capsize.

[…]

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