Andrea Young

The People Is Singular (Press Street, 2012) Andrea Young

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

This was my third chapbook, part of a series put out by Press Street Press which included visual art. So I looked to the books they had already done in the series such as Brad Richard’s Curtain Optional, which was a collaboration with his father, Jim, who is a painter, and Bitter Ink by Moose Jackson. Other books that come to mind may or may not be included based on how we define chapbook. Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems and Federico Garcia Lorca’s In Search of Duende were both published as relatively small books I turn to again and again. Pablo Neruda’s Spain in Our Hearts, as well as its storied history, has been pivotal to how I think of poetry and what it can do. In addition to size, I think all of these books dealt with a larger, public social consciousness, an interest in subject and audience outside of what might be considered, strictly, “literary.” More than, perhaps, any specific work, I was influenced by the popular, “people’s” nature of the chapbook, the fact that it is meant for the masses, which suited the subject matter of the book.

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

The nature of the chapbook—its associations with the masses, with workers, with cheap-ness, with politics, with almanacs, with song— reveals some of my abiding passions. The Press Street series, with its focus on visual art, and the work of Ginsberg and Neruda, so steeped in their historical moments, as well as Lorca’s ideas of duende: those attest to subjects very close to my heart and my work.

What’s your chapbook about?

It is about the Egyptian revolution of early 2011 and about trying to navigate its unfolding as part of an Egyptian-American family on the other side of the globe.

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

My first book was mine, and it came out around 2000. It was very much steeped in my personal and familial history growing up in southern WV with a history of coal mining in my family. The image on the cover was of my father getting off of work as a young man in the coal mines.

The second book was another visual arts collaboration, a limited edition facilitated by Joe DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books, with Karoline Schleh. That one took fire as a theme and used a translation of Julio Cortazar’s title, All Fires the Fire. Each copy of those books came with a wooden match and gorgeous handmade paper.

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 poem “Mubasher,” which means “live” in Arabic and referred to the livestreams we were glued to that were coming out of Egypt then, is the poem from which the title comes (in my full length collection, All Night It Is Morning, and below, I retitled the poem “The People is Singular”). I don’t know if it inspired the rest of the book as much as it is somewhat emblematic of the poems in it. The poem tries to capture the experience of watching the events in real time from a vantage point of being completely helpless to do anything about them, as well as the privilege of having a distance from the violence. The poem asks “should we mute the sound of gunshots?” And that feeling of wanting to be present in the moment with the people experiencing such extremity, while at the same time feeling the limits of what one can take in and the guilt of really being outside of it all, captures a lot of what the book is concerned with.

How did you decide on arrangement and title of your chapbook?

Because the book is, in large part, a response to things that actually happened, the arrangement was informed by the chronology of events. I wanted the title to speak to some of the issues of distance between not only witness and victim but also the distance between languages, and I thought the phrase from the poem worked well for that.

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

Neither. I was very happy that Press Street was interested in featuring some of my work in their series.

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

The book designer, Sarah Grainer, and I had several fruitful conversations to arrive at a shared vision. Because this was a collaboration with a visual artist, I had a dialogue with the photographer in Egypt in order to first get a bank of images that made sense for the book. Then Sarah and I both agreed on the images not being too illustrative or one-to-one with the poems. We also had the challenge of presenting fresh images to an audience that had, perhaps, been saturated with the dramatic visual footage of the revolution to which they had been exposed. Salwa Rashad’s photos bring out the intimacy of being within the crowds as a citizen as opposed to a journalist watching it from a building high about Tahrir Square. So we wanted to emphasize that. The cover proved the most difficult because we wanted an iconic image, but we also did not want it to be too familiar-feeling or too representative of the title. Her idea to turn the image on its side was a brilliant one and, in fact, I must credit her keen visual sense for what I see as the handsomeness of the book, in general.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

In addition to the usual readings at literary venues, I launched the book in a dramatic way with a multimedia/ multilingual event on the one-year anniversary of the revolution. Salwa’s photos were displayed on the walls of the venue, and I worked with an amazing group of talented people to project images and soundscapes which evoked some of the atmosphere of Tahrir Square. The music, which was performed by the amazing AlSarah and Tao Seeger, put the Egyptian revolution in a wider context of struggle and revolution with music from as far afield as the Spanish Civil War and the Appalachian coal mine wars.

What are you working on now?

I’m slowly accumulating poems toward what I hope will be a second full-length book. My first just came out in November but represents many, many years of work – pretty much the span of my work as a poet! All three chapbooks, including the entirety of The People is Singular, are represented. I want my next book to be more focused on my experience of living in Egypt because I think there is enough material to unpack from that time to make a collection.

What is your writing practice or process? 

Because I am working two jobs and have two young children, my writing practice is to desperately try to carve from life little chunks of time in which I can work.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Enjoy the focus of the tiny universe that is the chapbook. From my experience, the smallness and intensity of the focus is a different kind of pleasure from the vast, unwieldy land of making a full-length book.

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

How do you exploit the intense focus of the chapbook form without allowing it to be redundant or claustrophobic?

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

The world is that of the revolution in Egypt (with a few poems which reflect on other surrounding countries of the Arab uprisings). The inhabitants are not only those in the struggle but also a speaker who is invested in their world.

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

The themes and images cohered because they were centered around a particular set of events. The fact that it was chapbook emphasized this cohesion.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

I hope the chapbook can speak to people involved in, and interested by, resistance to power, whether in Egypt or elsewhere. I also hope the poems can help to humanize the people within these struggles for people who are outside of them.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

I always set out to write individual poems; if I think of writing toward a project, I tend to feel inhibited. But once the idea of a chapbook was in the air, I began to see how the poems might coalesce. The arc was inherent in the subject as it followed a particular series of events.

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Andy Young collection All Night It Is Morning was published in November 2014 by Dialogos Press. For the last two years she lived in Egypt, where she worked at the American University in Cairo, and currently teaches at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and at Tulane University. A graduate of the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, her writing has also been published in three chapbooks, publications in Lebanon, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, and throughout the United States in places such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Callaloo, Guernica, and the Norton anthology Language for a New Century.

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All Night It Is Morning – http://www.lavenderink.org/content/diag/295

www.facebook.com/allnightmorning

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The People Is Singular

in the dark
a white-lit
screen: watercannons

spraying praying
people
on Qasr-El Nil Bridge

humans shielding
mummies
books Akhenaton

which way will
________the army
go chanting pours

through my husband’s
________laptop
selmeya selmeya

peaceful
________peaceful
he says

the screen
shows
screens in Tahrir

gone black
the Square
itself black

except for
________the flashes
should we mute

the sound
of gunshots
eshop yureed eshop

yureed what
________the hell
does it mean

the people want
________the people
want the fall

of the fall
of the you
say they say

the people
want bread
the barrier between us

and our president
was broken
by teargas says a man

in the news
who cannot
mute cannot shut

the screen to teargas
a fog from
this distance up close

the canisters
expired dates
made in usa

etched in metal
________in Arabic
“the people” is

singular which
does not
translate

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