“…the act of snowfall represents the shock that follows loss. There’s a muteness, a deadening of sound.”
The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Two chapbooks come immediately to mind, Jan Beatty’s Ravenous and Fred Shaw’s Argot. The working class themes and the frank, unapologetic language really appealed to me. The freedom to speak plainly, without artifice, and yet, to still accomplish that with a sense of grace was something I wanted to aspire to.
What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
When I started to mature as a poet, I realized that the things I wanted to write about were right in front of me. I come from a blue collar, working class background, and reading poems from this perspective sort of gave me permission to write from my own experiences.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook follows a progression which began in my first chapbook, A Room Full of Trees, which centered around the death of the speaker’s father. The Almost Sound of Snow Falling follows this arc and the aftermath of this tragedy, moving the speaker toward maturity and the future. If I had to use one word, I would say that this book is about growth.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook?
The oldest poem is “The Skaters,” which originally was intended for my first chapbook, but because I wanted most of those poems to center around the speaker’s father, it got put aside. The poem centers around the figure of the speaker’s mother watching young couples skate from a window. There is a sense of letting go, a hard beginning in its tone and intent, which I think plays perfectly with the recurring theme of growth, death and rebirth.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.
My process is very organic. I discovered that when I wrote my first chapbook, that this approach works best. If I just write, and not worry about specifically sitting down to write poems for a book, the poems feel much less forced. Some of the poems from a batch of writing may fit and others may not, but writing this way is not only more freeing, but often times, there are surprises in these poems which help keep a collection fresh in the end.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The title came from a poem which didn’t actually make it into my first collection. The poem describes the slow drive of an ambulance moving through a snowstorm to respond to an emergency call for the speaker’s father. In the poem, the act of snowfall represents the shock that follows loss. There’s a muteness, a deadening of sound. The fall absorbs sound from everything and leaves silence. The first half of this book attempts to express this aftermath. After the snow has fallen. What we are left with. It felt natural to arrange these poems chronologically. I needed to move that tragedy to the front of the book. To deal with it, and then move on.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two projects right now. One is a full-length collection which is going to focus heavily on work poems, along with selections from my first two chapbooks. I’m also working on another chapbook, which will feature music-based and pop culture themed poems. It’s a big departure for me and I’m looking forward to finishing that. It’s been a lot of fun writing it!
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
I would urge them to continue writing outside of school, and to continue to push themselves. Write outside of your comfort zone, experiment with form. Some of my best poems came from prompts in workshops. These are poems I would have never written on my own, had I not gone to a workshop. Writing is not solely a lone experience. Being aware of your larger literary community, by going to readings, and workshops, not only validates your calling, it gives you a sense of belonging. Gaining friendships in the literary community, sharing ideas–it’s so very important to one’s maturity as a poet, developing that supportive network.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
Take your time with your writing and let others you respect read your manuscript and give you advice. It can be tempting to want to rush off a manuscript to a publisher, but it’s important to be patient and to submit only when you are ready. You’ll save yourself time and money. I also have a rule where I submit the individual poems in a book to journals, before I submit a chapbook for publication. It’s important to have a healthy representation of publication credits for your acknowledgement page. You want to build up that credibility first. It’s as important as writing the poems.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
The sense of support and community is very important to me. We are our own best advocates. What I mean is, I would like future writers to bring more awareness to all of the poets who have been featured at Speaking of Marvels. Social media outlets and personal websites can be very useful tools to this end.
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
I do this very often, put down a book to savor it. I like to read slowly and take my time with the words, drink them in. It’s so difficult to pick just one, but Facts About The Moon by Dorianne Laux was one that took forever to read because each poem spoke to me in a deep way. That feeling of being totally lit up and inspired when reading is, I think, something we poets live for.
If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?
In my current project, I’ve found that I am writing a lot about the period of adolescence. I find the act of change, of flux and transition to be interesting to write about. We aren’t fully formed yet. This period of our life is fluid. It’s also full of possibility. This is exciting to me.
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?
Ha! That’s a little extreme, but in no particular order: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Jan Beatty, Stacey Waite, Heather McNaugher, Aaron Smith, L. Lamar Wilson, Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I actually began my creative life as a painter and a visual artist. It just comes naturally to me. I’m a visual person. This is one of the reasons why concrete imagery is so important to me.
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
Initially, I was attending a lot of free writing workshops and generated a lot of ideas from prompts. Now, most of my ideas come from reading and personal experiences. I sometimes start with an idea or intention, but the poem that ends up coming out is rarely the poem I sit down to write. I’ve found it best to let the muse lead where it will.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
To me, this chapbook creates a landscape of growth and survival. It has a sensitive, hardworking, and complicated tone to the personalities that live and breathe in these poems.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
The work poems, specifically, “Rain Leader.” For one, this poem took a long time to write, to put those hard experiences into perspective and find the grace in those stories, while at the same time, not pull punches. This poem describes the trial by fire that I experienced while working in a dismal construction site. It was one of those litmus tests that changes you, and afterwards, you are never the same.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
I didn’t set down to write any of my chapbooks. I think it just occurred to me after a number of poems that I might have a collection. I let the poems tell me where they belong. After a while though, in the editing process, one needs to think of the bigger picture, how these fit together and are the poems “talking” to each other.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
I would have to say “Boy as Girl in Orange Tank Top or How To Eat a Nectarine.” I think it has the greatest chance of being misinterpreted. Some have said this is a gender identity poem, but this is more so a poem about being bullied, self-awareness, and empowerment.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
“The List” is the final poem in the book, and I knew that this was the poem I wanted to close with. I had written it a while back, but that “off kilter” love poem seemed suitable to end with.
If you could re-title your chapbook, what would the new title be?
I think I would title it “Rain Leader,” after one of the work poems. I think it encompasses a lot of the themes and elements touched on in this chapbook, without being too literal.
Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?
I always read my poems out loud during the editing process. Sound is very important to me. I am also a very instinctual writer and rely on that instinct a lot. If a poem doesn’t “sound” right to me musically, then I know it needs to be tweaked.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
I would have to say Dorianne Laux and Jan Beatty. The work themes and the poetry of the everyday, two things that these poets do so well, was a real inspiration to these poems.
Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?
Working class poets like myself. Folks drawn to the narrative, a poem that tells a story, be it linear and straightforward, or not.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Music and my favorite poets really awaken the muse for me.
Robert Walicki is the curator of VERSIFY, a monthly reading series in Pittsburgh, PA. and an assistant editor at Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His work has appeared most recently in HEArt, VerseWrights, Uppagus, The Kentucky Review, and on the radio show Prosody. He currently has two chapbooks published: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015). He lives in Verona, PA with his wife, Lynne, and two cats.
Hemp rope muscles twist,
tie themselves with little effort.
Just sitting here at Conley’s bar
is enough to tighten the knot.
Even after last call, doors locked,
the ghost of his sweat haunts
this oak, worn bar top where he rested
his denim arm. A few bills
earned him this medicine,
amber tinged sour mash.
Anything cheap, domestic
whatever was on tap.
Clank of dirty glassware,
laughter. Ripped leather
bar stools and piss troughs
at his feet. At eight, I remember
how my grandfather’s breath
took my breath away. I wrecked
my BMX in thick hollows while he fell
daily, in the made up dust
of B movie westerns. John Wayne,
bar fights and gunfire. I poured Pabst
Blue Ribbon in baby cups for him
like my grandmother told me to.
Spill proof plastic for his shaking hands.
Every time he closed his eyes,
he went somewhere. Ghost towns,
the bar at the end of the street.
I pushed the drapes back, left his bedroom
lights on so he could find his way back home.