What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
Some recents and favorites: By Fire by Jessica Cuello, House on Fire by Susan Yount, Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets by Sara Biggs Chaney, A Small Man Looked at Me by Sara Lefsyk, The Failure Age by Amanda Montei, [Talking Doll] by J. Hope Stein, Exodus in X Minor by Fox Frazier-Foley, and The Body Double by Jared Harel.
What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
I’m always interested in seeing what small presses are putting out there, and I’m invested in being supportive of other poets. I write reviews for PANK and Damfino Press, so I think what that list might suggest is that I enjoy reading a variety of different poetry.
What’s your chapbook about?
It’s an Ars Poetica series written in small verses.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
Meaningful Fingers (Finishing Line Press, 2014), my first chapbook, is a series of poems about the grief and awe of motherhood and loss; the poems vary in form. These poems hinge on the trope of identity.
Keen (Horse Less Press, 2014) is about Nancy Drew and her mother. The poems are part persona, part lyric, part narrative. The book is written in two sections – one devoted to Nancy Drew that is supposed to read like a dirge and the second section written as Nancy’s mother’s last will and testament.
Fiddle Is Flood (Blood Pudding Press, 2015) is a series of persona poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder. These are closer to narrative lyric. Like Keen, these poems explore identity, gender, grief, sexuality, and oppression against the context of American history, ghost-writing, and young, female literature.
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 these as an Ars Poetica series, so they came to me fairly quickly and were all generated around the same time. The chronology changed in editing, but the first and last poem in the series are probably doing the heavy lifting in the manuscript. I broke a bone in my back when I was a kid during a gymnastics exercise and that small trauma set me up for a lifetime of resulting issues – from a few back and neck surgeries to all kinds of physical therapy and so on. The poem that opens the series sets up the idea that poetry can be mined from pain, that there can be meaning in suffering. What I remember about writing it was that I did not know it would turn into a manuscript at the time. I thought it might make an interesting long form poem, but when I returned to it for editing, I realized it would make a quirky chapbook.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
For this particular chapbook, the poems came quickly and I wrote it in about a week. I then spent some time editing it and getting distance from it. It is different with each chapbook or project. The Laura Ingalls Wilder poems began as a project piece in my MFA program, and I then worked on them for six years – it went from a chapbook to a full-length manuscript, back to a chapbook. My writing practice changes all the time depending on my schedule. I’m not necessarily an advocate of “write every day,” because I think it takes a lofty and privileged perspective. “Write when you can” is a better fit for me. Less restrictive and monastic.
I don’t have a favorite prompt, but I do keep a journal with words and expressions or ideas. My revision strategy is to get distance from whatever it is I have written and then try to come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It’s hard for me to edit when I’m too close a poem.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?
The title happened organically when I decided to revise the poems into a manuscript. I wasn’t sure anyone would want to publish it, since it is so specific and different. Usually, publishers aren’t clamoring for Ars Poetica. Yellow Flag Press had a call for manuscripts that were different, and after I saw the kind of beautiful poetry they were publishing and helping to bring into the world, I thought they would be the perfect home for it. I’m so lucky they thought so, too.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I am doing more submitting than writing, but that will probably change pretty soon. Those two things take different head spaces. I have a full-length manuscript that I am always editing and submitting, and I’m also submitting another full-length ms, right now. Then I have two other chapbook manuscripts that I am sending out right now – one about marriage and addiction, the other mostly about divorce. I should be trying to publish more individual poems.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Publish as many of the poems in your manuscript as possible before the chapbook is published. Research the presses you send your manuscript to and purchase their chapbooks if you can – not just to figure out what you like, but to be versed in what the press likes, and to just be good people. Lastly, I would say to build your community. Find a workshop group or a class where you can get writing prompts or friends who have a similar interest – and read. Read and read and read poetry.
Lauren Gordon is the author of four chapbooks, Meaningful Fingers, Keen, Fiddle Is Flood, and Generalizations About Spines. Her work has appeared recently in Sugar House Review, burntdistrict, The Volta blog, Inter|rupture, Midwest Quarterly, and MiPOesias. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and two Best of the Net awards. Lauren is also a Contributing Editor to Radius Lit.
www.thisboatisobviouslysinking.com (personal website )
Untitled (from Generalizations About Spines)
When your poem was eight
someone forced her
to do the splits in a gymnasium
adult hands splayed
across her thighs, depressing
her to the floor
and this is why your poem has a broken bone in her back,
why your poem will always be bent
(first appeared in Right Hand Pointing)