What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Some of my favorite chapbooks are I Left My Wings on a Chair by Karen Schubert, The Accidental Seduction and Any Kind of Excuse by Nin Andrews, Earth and Narcissus by Cecilia Woloch, Last Hula by Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Against Elegies by Jack Ridl, Her Human Costume by Cynthia Marie Hoffman, and Basil by Katharine Rauk.
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
That I like and write prose poems. My prose poems are grateful to be in the company of the above writers, which is why I like to have those books near my desk when I am writing. I am grateful to have found the work of these writers, and in some cases, their friendship.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
I’ve published two chapbooks. The first one, October Again, was selected by Mary Szybist as the winner of the Burnside Review chapbook contest in 2011. That chapbook is a series of about twenty short, untitled prose poems. It could be read as one continuous poem. Some readers have also said that reading it is like reading journal entries. I wrote this series of poems after my mom died, so the poems are steeped in very fresh grief and loss.
My second chapbook, Mended, is made up of prose poems that are divided into two sections. When I was trying to organize my chapbook, I looked to those on my bookshelves. I borrowed the structure of Mended from Cecilia Woloch’s Narcissus–that chapbook is also divided into two sections that are approximately the same number of poems. The poems in Mended still deal with lingering grief and loss, but also other subjects as well.
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 think the oldest poem in the chapbook is “Joe.” I wrote it after my husband and I taught one of his friends–a boy who had had a leg amputated because of cancer–how to water ski. I remember wanting to capture my initial worry that I might feel awkward or do or say the wrong thing, as well as wanting to capture the exhilaration and joy I could see in Joe. And also, really, how ordinary the experience was. I remember the poem perfectly encapsulating some of my worries at the time–we had been considering having a child, and you worry about everything that can go wrong with a baby. But things can go wrong across the whole span of a person’s life.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
I wrote “Like Stars” for my friend Mimi. When she and her husband were expecting their first child, they learned that their baby boy would only live a short time after his birth. Short, meaning minutes or maybe hours. And while she was in labor, I was walking near my house in the afternoon and all the normal insect sounds just fell silent. The silence felt like presence. And then when the noises started up again, I felt the absence of that presence. It was a strange and significant moment, where not much was happening, yet so much was happening. I tried to capture all that in the the poem.
What was your writing practice or process for your chapbook?
I did not set out to write a chapbook, but was searching for a way to get my poems published. At the time I organized it, I had two full-length manuscripts that were getting consistently rejected by publishers. I mean, this had been happening for at least six years. I began to despair of them ever finding their way into print. Because it had been comparatively easier to publish my chapbook October Again, I thought of boiling down each manuscript to its essence, and creating a chapbook in two sections out of the two longer manuscripts.
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 of the chapbook comes from the poem called “Mended.” I liked that Mended suggested something broken but fixed, and homespun, familiar. I thought of my mom sitting with her sewing, and how often I had asked her to fix something small for me–a hole in a sweater, a hem. It seemed like a comfortable title. I also liked that Mended suggested an ending to the grief that some poems in section one deal with. Within each of the two sections of the chapbook, I tried to tell the essence of the story of the longer manuscript. Section one hints at the ache for a child, and the loss of a parent, and section two deals with the daily experience of raising a child with an awareness of grief and loss. At least this is what I think. I am sure I am simplifying.
Titles for the individual poems are always hard for me. When I bring drafts to my writing groups, I always need titles. Lately, most of my titles are suggested by other people. And it always takes a long time to find a title. It was a relief to have a series of untitled prose poems in October Again. Though, strangely, some of those poems did have titles and I had to remove them for the chapbook.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press was easy and fun to work with. She suggested cover images and asked me to respond. The cover image is the second one she suggested. She was looking for images that were partially unrecognizable–images that would suggest something, but not state it. I love the image she came up with. I love that it is a garment that suggests the shape of a body. (At least that is what I think when I see it.)
What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?
I wish I knew more about how to promote a chapbook. Or a book of poems, for that matter.
What are you working on now?
I am still just writing prose poems. I just write, and accumulate poems, and then when I’ve got a bunch of them, then I think about organizing them into a book or a chapbook. So right now, I am in the stage where I generate work.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Read and write. And don’t give up.
Have you found any little tricks along the way for organizing your writing and submissions?
I now use Google docs to organize my poems. I love it. I’ve had two computers fail and I look forward to never losing any more work.
To organize my submissions, I keep two little notebooks. In one, I write down the date, the name of the journal or press, and what I submitted. Even if I submit electronically. In a second notebook, I write down the months of the year, one month per page: January 2015, February 2015, and so on. Then in the appropriate month, I write down reading periods of magazines, contest deadlines, or note when an editor invites me to send more poems. I am sure there are more high-tech versions of this. But these two little notebooks work for me.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by beautiful language and, sometimes, surreal art. I love the paintings of Rene Magritte. I’m also inspired by ordinary moments. And also the view from my window. And sometimes the questions that my children ask.
Kathleen McGookey’s work has appeared in journals including The Antioch Review, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares, The Prose Poem: An International Journal, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Seneca Review, West Branch, and Willow Springs. She is the author of Whatever Shines, October Again, and Mended, and the translator of We’ll See, prose poems by French writer Georges Godeau. Two books are forthcoming: Stay from Press 53 in September, and At the Zoo from White Pine Press in 2017. In 2014, she received a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which supports artists who are parents.
like an egg for you. You do not come through the field, boots soaked and dark. You do not crouch in the dusk or the mist that rises to the horizon. I’ve unlocked my window and put on my red scarf. I’ve wrapped up my nightmare and left it by the door. Here’s a candle. Here’s a sandwich. Here’s your antique dresser in the garage, drawers jammed with photos and silver trays. What do you make of it? What do you make of me now? Your journey can’t be easy. Let your fingers grow eyes, let all those eyes fill with tears. I am flying a bright flock of kites so you can find your way back to me.