blue fifth review

The Winter 2008 issue of Sam Rasnake’s Blue Fifth Review is out and I have two poems in it, the aid worker and the mango tree. Both are special to me and I’m proud and grateful they have found such a good home. Go read the issue and enjoy the way in which Sam has put together some great pieces – BFR reminds me of what Nate Pritts said yesterday about a manuscript being “a big poem.”

Thanks, Sam!

Ten Questions (2): Nate Pritts

And it’s Nate Pritts! He says lots of great stuff here, but this has stuck in my mind since I first read his responses: Ultimately, the manuscript is a big poem. Maybe way way obvious to everyone else, but truly a light bulb moment for me.  Thanks for that, Nate, and everything else. Nate’s responses to the Ten Questions on publication:

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?

The word trajectory would sort of mislead people into thinking I knew what I was doing, like everything that happened has done so according to some kind of plan I laid down. Not true. I had the first inklings of ambition toward publication of my poetry when I was an undergrad. I was in a workshop with some grad students who were running the school’s literary magazine & they asked me to submit a poem I had read in workshop. It’s a little more complicated than this – mostly because one of them in particular was sort of full of himself and I took great pleasure in the fact that he liked my poem since I didn’t really dig any of his – but it sort of developed from there. In fact, I got kind of obsessive about submitting. I used to pore over Poet’s Market books, or go to any university library to look through the stacks, making lists of places I might submit to. Again, there was nothing remotely targeted about this – it was more like carpet bombing.

This pretty much continued from about 1995 to about 2000. I slowed down for a few reasons – partly because I had just finished my MFA, was about to start my PhD and no longer felt quite so strongly that I had something to prove. I mean, I realized that I had been submitting my poetry for publication partly from a genuine desire to enter into a larger conversation about poetry but also partly from a desire to show people that I was good enough (I almost typed “better than them” but boy that makes me sound a little rough). I didn’t stop submitting in 2000 – I just became a little more focused in how I submitted, really trying to cultivate relationships with editors and publications, knowing the field better and so knowing better where my work fit in. Also, I started writing differently, in sequences that lent themselves to chapbook publication & I was lucky enough to get a few of those out there.

Now, with my first book having come out this past summer (Sensational Spectacular, 2007) my second slated for this fall (Honorary Astronaut, 2008), the internal pressure to make my poetic statement through journal publication has lessened even further. I’ve become much more focused to the point that I submit 1) to the same handful of journals over and over again, 2) to certain “big-name” journals without much expectation of acceptance and 3) when asked by editors.

Let me say, too, that part of this is a time issue. For various reasons, I’m not writing as much these days and as a result simply don’t have as much to submit. This almost makes it sound as if I’m saying journal publication is a kind of minor league that leads to the big leagues of book publication and this is far from how I really feel. But I think about journal publication much differently these days than I did even 3 years ago.

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?

I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. I think maybe I would try to worry less about publication, but I think part of my worrying about it is what led me to be so persistent and I do feel as if that persistence paid off – because it ensured I kept at it, got better, etc.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?

I’ve sort of provided an answer to this in #1. I continue because I feel more strongly about poetry than I do about almost anything else – and publishing my work is a way to make sure my voice is heard in this great conversation that we’re all having.

4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?

After my work has been published, when I’m looking at it online or on the printed page, I feel somehow less critical of it, from a nuts and bolts perspective, and more critical of it, from an aesthetic project standpoint. It’s almost as if I’m seeing a poem by someone else. I take it for what it is and assess it that way – rather than the constant working to make it more effective in any of a thousand different ways. So I guess what I mean is that, initially, I am able to meet it from a detached perspective that actually helps me to see it fresh. This gives way to treating it the same way I treat any of my poems.

Trying to answer these questions makes me realize I don’t have any kind of complex inner relationship to my work – and these questions almost imply that I should. So what’s wrong with me? I write a poem and I really like it or I sort of like it or I think it isn’t that great – but my sense of “my work” isn’t holistic so much as it is provisionally developed on a poem-by-poem basis.

5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?

Chapbooks are probably another of those case-by-case things. Some of my chapbooks have been defined by the project. Winter Constellations, a chapbook from horse less press, and (sonnets for the fall), a chapbook from Parcel Press, both present a complete project, though those two link together to work towards something larger. I guess what I’m saying is that, for me, a chapbook is usually something different than a small version of a book. Even my newest chapbook, Shrug, or one of my oldest, Hellbent, which are on the surface loose collections of unrelated poems, still have inherent and crucial aesthetic underpinnings.

So, practically speaking, I think a chapbook can be anything – a unified sequence in its entirety, a collection linked by thematic issues or chronological composition. But, as with a full length manuscript, I think something needs to anchor the book. It’s my preference that the chapbook form itself works to deliver compressed bursts, and that these bursts are, in action, a form of thought: scattered or unified, lax or rigorous. Chapbooks are about as close as we can come to inhabiting a boiled-down consciousness different from our own. (*see this).

6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

Narrative arc may be more important to certain manuscripts than others. Certainly I think some kind of arc is necessary to my work and would probably be helpful to most people.

The best advice I can think to give would be to be ruthless. Don’t include any B-sides to pad out the document. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean that it belongs in your manuscript. Ultimately the manuscript is a big poem. A truly effective manuscript, one that takes advantage of the multivalent properties of the endeavor, is not just a jumbled collection of things you wrote, but should be a unified aesthetic statement.

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?

I do market my own publications and I do it for several reasons – the biggest of which is: if I don’t do it, why should I expect anyone else to? This comes from necessity; since the places that have published my work don’t have large marketing and publicity departments, it’s up to me to get the word out.

On another level, this comes from the fact that I am suited for it; I edit my own magazine, H_NGM_N, and have experience promoting it and the works published there. And it’s what I do for a living.

And, actually, I do enjoy it – because I know my efforts have put my work into the hands of people who might not have seen it otherwise. But I am made a little uncomfortable by it for all the reasons people usually mention. I guess there’s a stereotype that self-promotion is kind of gauche. To me, it’s a natural extension to the whole process. You write poetry because you feel compelled to; you submit it so that it can reach a wider audience and so you can enter a larger conversation; you promote so people know.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are….. out of touch with what’s truly exciting about contemporary poetry.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… too uncertain of the vital role they play & need to be more aggressive in seeking innovative ways to distribute & market poetry.

10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.

The ideal relationship with a publisher would involve trust – they demonstrate their trust in you as an artist by committing to you – through some kind of long-term contract, through marketing efforts, through etc. Consequently, you trust in them to do right by you & your work, thus freeing you to keep doing what you wanted to do in the first place: write.

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Nate Pritts is the author of the chapbook, SHRUG, released this week by Main Street Rag Press. He is the author of two full length collections (Sensational Spectacular, BlazeVOX and the forthcoming Honorary Astronaut, Ghost Road Press) as well as several earlier chapbooks (most recently Spring Psalter as an insert in Cannibal #3). The editor of H_NGM_N and a frequent reviewer for Rain Taxi, Nate works in advertising as a writer and interactive developer. He lives in Natchitoches, LA, with his family. Find him online here.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio

Coming up:

5. Sam Byfield, March 6
6. Neil Aitken, March 13
7. Edward Byrne, March 27
8. Rachel Bunting, April 3
9. Brent Fisk, April 10
10. Ivy Alvarez, April 17
11. Michaela Gabriel, April 24
12. Ron Silliman, May 8

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Ten Questions (2): Carolyn Guinzio

This week’s responses to the Ten Questions on Publication come from Carolyn Guinzio, author of West Pullman. Many thanks, Carolyn, for the gift of your time and focus, and for the interesting texture you add to the mosaic under construction here. 

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?

My first book came out in 2005. I’d had different versions of a manscript reaching the finalist stage for many years, and I constantly changed the book, because my project felt more like a continuum than like something with a specific beginning and end. I saw all the rejections as an opportunity to improve the book. I think I needed someone unconnected to tell me it was okay to stop tinkering around with it. Having been an editor of a literary magazine, I don’t know why I invest so much authority in the people who are opening the envelope. When I opened the envelopes, I was always hopeful, always, unavoidably, bringing everything from my long-term taste to my current mood to the experience, and never, ever free of self-doubt when it came to making decisions. Yet, every time my work didn’t make the cut, it was easy to believe it was for the worst possible reason!

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?

I might try to have a sense of completion about a book, and then move on. I’m not sure I’d let a manuscript evolve until it was taken forcibly from my hands. Another important difference is that now it’s easier to research presses and to see what they’re publishing. And, there are more presses now, more means of getting published in addition to the traditional contest route. It doesn’t cost anything to research a press’ aesthetic or to figure out where a judge might stand. Used to be, you’d have to buy a lot of books, and not all of them terrific, to figure these things out.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?

I sought publication because I consider writing more than just a private enterprise, more than a means of self expression. I like the idea that someone I’ve never met might derive pleasure or a sense of connection from something I’ve written. I work at writing as well as I can, and whether I like it or not, publication provides validation to me and the world at large.

4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?

Publication gives me leave to move on. My project feels ongoing, and it’s really only publication that provides a pause between series of poems. It pushes me to try something different because there’s this sense, in my own mind, of “what comes next?” My relationship to the work that is published changes in the sense that it’s almost as if it’s gone from being something alive– supple and interactive– to being somethingw ith the permanence of the dead: It can’t change any more.

5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?

I love chapbooks. I love everything about them! I love them as objects. I love their twenty pages. The dynamic seems totally different than a full-length manuscript. It seems reasonable to me, to sustain a poetic project over that length. I’m so glad they’re enjoying a resurgence. I did put together a handmade, letterpress chapbook years ago, but that was very much about the physical process of making it, and about giving my friend, the talented designer Micheline Moorhead, free reign with a little government funding. I sent copies of it around to poets I admired, and they, being a gracious lot, sent me notes. I traded copies with other poets who had made chapbooks, too, and I love having those on my shelf. This was before there were so many online resources for poets to connect with each other. I think the warmth and intimacy of making and sending around a chapbook is a good counterbalance to online networking.

6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

I think narrative arc is fine, but I feel strongly that it’s not necessary. I think tonal cohesion is nice, and it might be jarring if it were completely lacking, but I think even from section to section of a book it’s not all that important. If the focus is too much on hovering around a certain tone or subject, the temptation might be to pad the book, or to leave out good poems that don’t fit. Things have trended away from what are simply “collections of poems” toward books that are bound by a common theme. The danger of making publication the goal too early in the process might lead a poet to mimic the rhythms of whatever is coming out that year. It might turn out well for thatp oet personally, but it’s not very good for poetry.

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?

I think the answer to that is that I don’t really know how, and so I haven’t. I did a few readings, and I sent some copies around. I think some poets actually hit the road and go out and meet people and word gets around about their book that way. I admire that a lot,but I have small children, so it’s not practical for me. I have an attitude that’s a bit passive, just hoping some voracious readers will find the book somehow.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are….. hoping to sell enough books to remain Big-name. This might lead them to promote the fire out of a book they chose for pure aesthetic love, or it might be lead them to choose manuscripts they think have a better chance of selling well in the first place.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… the presses that can publish what they really like, even the audiences for their books are small.

10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.

The ideal publisher would offer a poet a home, so that anxieties about publication (which can be acute for poets who teach) are taken out of the mix when someone is writing their second or third book. And they answer your emails. The publisher from hell is probably the one that folds and lets everything go out of print.

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Carolyn Guinzio is the author of Quarry, (Free Verse Editions, Parlor Press, Fall 2008), and West Pullman (Bordighera, 2005), winner of the Bordighera Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Colorado Review, 42 Opus, New American Writing, Octopus, Willow Springs and elsewhere. She lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd

Coming up:

4. Nate Pritts, Feb 28
5. Sam Byfield, March 6
6. Neil Aitken, March 13
7. Edward Byrne, March 27
8. Rachel Bunting, April 3
9. Brent Fisk, April 10
10. Ivy Alvarez, April 17
11. Michaela Gabriel, April 24
12. Ron Silliman, May 8

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poetics tag

We don’t use it that much on this blog, and not sure at this point if that should be an alas/alack we don’t, or a hooray we don’t. We read Reginald Shepherd’s post-avant post with interest, although much of both it and the subsequent comments was over our head. Chris Tonelli over at Ploughshares blog recaps the discussion, makes it more Whale-brain-friendly, and asks a couple of intriguing questions.

Watch that comments box too.

Ten Questions (2): Reginald Shepherd

Many thanks to Reginald Shepherd for agreeing to participate in this Ten Questions series on publication. As someone who has learned and continues to learn a great deal from Reginald’s blog and his writings on poetry in general, I feel hugely honored to have him here on Very Like A Whale. These are his responses:

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. (Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?)

I first sent out poems in high school in the late Nineteen-Seventies (it was an independent study project, to research literary journals and submit work to them—a useful exercise), and then desultorily did so while I was a college dropout working menial jobs in Boston in the Nineteen-Eighties. I started submitting seriously after my belated college graduation in 1988. I sent out about three hundred individual submission packets of four to six poems before I had my first poem accepted in 1991. (I am nothing if not persistent, not to say stubborn.) I’ve been working at it steadily ever since, and have now published over four hundred poems, mostly in leading journals, as well as five books of my own poetry (after submitting versions of it to contests and publishers for five years, my first book, Some Are Drowning, won the 1993 AWP Award), two poetry anthologies, and a book of essays. But for most of my publishing career I have been rejected far more often than I’ve been accepted, even after publishing several books. But I am, as I said, very persistent.

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?

I spent a lot of time and energy in graduate school arguing with my professors (see above, re: stubbornness). If I were to do it over again, I would work harder to ingratiate myself with them or at least not to alienate them. I’ve seen from other cases what having the patronage or at least the support of a teacher or a former teacher can do for one’s career, whereas I’ve had to do everything completely on my own (see above, re: persistence). On the other hand, I don’t owe anyone anything either.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?

I wanted to be published because I wrote poems that I wanted to be read. I wanted my work to exist in the world, not just as my personal hobby, like stamp collecting. Like Pinocchio, I wanted to be a real boy. And I felt that my work was at least as good as the work that was out there, so why shouldn’t I be there too? I would like my work to exist in the larger world, but I would also like to exist in the world, to have a sense that I matter if only a little bit. After all I’ve published, I still delight in seeing my name in print, in knowing that some part of me is out there in the world.

4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?

I don’t think that my relationship with my work changes after it’s published, unless looking at my first book and occasionally being surprised by a poem I’d forgotten that I’d written counts. The concept of publication affects my work in the sense that I am aware of a potential audience. It forces me to try to see my work through others’ eyes, to get outside of my head and my intentions and imagine the work as an independent entity that must make its way through the world without me. In the years during which I received three hundred rejections, I tried to take each rejection as an occasion to go over the work I’d submitted and make sure I’d given the editors no reason to reject it: rejection was often an occasion for revision.

5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?

I have done three chapbooks. Two were basically excerpts from forthcoming books—another venue to get those poems seen. One, This History of His Body, included poems that ended up in my third book, Wrong, but also included poems I liked but didn’t fit into any of my books, and yet seemed to work together.

Chapbooks can be lovely objects, but unfortunately they tend not to be well distributed or to be carried even by bookstores that carry poetry. They’re labors of love that don’t do much to get the work to readers, sadly enough.

6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

My advice on putting together a full-length manuscript is to concern yourself with the poems first. Do you really have a book’s worth of strong poems, each of which can stand on its own as well as contribute to a larger whole? A lot of new poets worry about whether their manuscript is sufficiently unified, or even whether it’s a project (a very popular concept these days). I say, worry about whether all of the poems in it (all of the poems) are good and hold up to repeated readings. That’s the most important thing. Everyone has their obsessions and their preoccupations, and that’s usually more than enough to unify a book of poems.

I suppose it’s important to give your book some kind of structure (I obsessed over this when revising my first book for publication, though probably only I noticed all the little strategies of which I was so proud), but I don’t think that structure need be narrative. It can be conceptual, imagistic, or verbal, or some combination.

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?

I used to not be so good at publicizing and marketing my work, both being a bit shy and thinking it a bit vulgar. But now I realize that it’s just a matter of trying to get readers, which especially in the huge and varied world of poetry is difficult: as David Wojahn has written, publishing a book of poems is like dropping a flower petal down the Grand Canyon. So one has to work to get one’s work noticed. I do that through many means, including my blog, which has done wonders to raise my profile after many, many years of publishing, and has also provided a forum for me to produce and test out ideas about poetry.

I try to take advantage of every opportunity to publicize my work (I was even once on a local public television station in upstate New York). I enjoy giving readings, doing talks, talking up my work whenever I can, and even putting together mailing lists and handing out cards at AWP. It’s all part of the process of sharing the work with the world, which is one thing writing is about. If one didn’t want to be read, why would one write?

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…..

Big-name poetry publishers are big-name poetry publishers. If you’re referring to trade publishers, they tend to be hard to break into, to rely very heavily on connections, and they don’t keep books in print. On the other hand, it’s nice to be published by one if you want to be reviewed in The New York Times or to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

9. Small- and micro-presses are…

Micro-presses are even smaller than small presses. I don’t know much about micro-presses, but I think that they suffer the same distribution and exposure problems that chapbooks do, unless they have a built-in coterie of people (unified usually by region or by a particular aesthetic/ideological allegiance) who will automatically buy whatever they put out.

I will include university presses and small presses together and say that, though they obviously can’t ignore financial exigencies, especially in these difficult times for the publishing world in general, they tend to have a strong commitment to the work, and to support their authors much more than trade publishers do, for whom poetry is usually an afterthought, and not a well thought-of or well thought-out afterthought.

10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.

I feel that I have the ideal relationship with my publisher, the University of Pittsburgh Press. They have consistently supported my work through five books, even though my first book, Some Are Drowning, was published by them due to their contract with AWP: I was not their initial pick, but Ed Ochester, my wonderful editor, who has done so much for the poetry world, saw something in my work that he valued, and has stuck with it through many changes and permutations that other editors might well have been put off by.

The Pitt Poetry Series has both a long and distinguished history and a high profile as a poetry series. Furthermore, Pitt produces beautiful books (and gives me input into the designs—a friend did the cover image for my second book), works hard to market, publicize, and distribute them (including nominating them for any prizes for which they are eligible), and keeps them in print. They are very receptive to my concerns and my input, and are just generally very nice people to work with.

I suppose the relationship from hell would be one that some friends of mine have had with publishers who make clear that they have no commitment to the current book, let alone future books, who don’t market or promote or properly distribute the books, who produce physically shoddy books or wholly inappropriate designs without allowing the author any input, who bristle at any attempt by the author to offer an opinion, viewpoint, or suggestion, or who are simply incompetent at doing what needs to be done to get a book out into the world.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen 

Coming up:

Forthcoming:

3. Carolyn Guinzio, Feb 21
4. Nate Pritts, Feb 28
5. Neil Aitken, March 13
6. Edward Byrne, March 27
7. Rachel Bunting, April 3
8. Brent Fisk, April 10
9. Ivy Alvarez, April 17
10. Michaela Gabriel, April 24
11. Ron Silliman, May 8

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choosing markets

Scavella ruminates about the connections the internet makes between markets and writers. And asks in the comments box how I choose my markets.

Erm. Let’s see.

By breadcrumb trail, would probably be the most accurate answer. Seeing where other people have published and knowing their work. And liking the look of the place when you get there. And thinking you have something that might work for that particular place.

I get Duotrope’s weekly email and like surfing through that for new possibilities. I also have staple markets I’ve been trying for with no luck so far — Stirring, Stickman Review, Juked, Ghoti, Kaleidowhirl, to name but a few.  Places I’ll always think of first when I have a new piece that might - just might -be a fit.

It’s not like one always has endless pieces of work available to go out at any one time. Although I do like to keep everything I feel is ready (what’s that?) out there working, and those pieces usually get marched out again pretty smartly after they come home rejected. After a bit of TLC, if they’re lucky.  

So, yeah. Scientific. Breadcrumb trail.

bookbinding tools (2)

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These are some of my bookbinding tools. The white thing lying diagonally across the left is my bone folder. It’s not for folding bones, as one might be forgiven for thinking. Some pictures of different kinds of bone folders here, and this helpful text:

These variously-shaped pieces of bone are used for functions such as smoothing, scoring, and creasing paper and cloth, and working materials into tight corners. The bone folder is polished to a smooth finish to avoid damaging the materials it is used to manipulate, but with sufficient (or excessive) pressure its edge is sharp enough to cut paper or cloth. This cutting function of the tool can be either handy and deliberate or unfortunate and accidental.

Across the top of the picture are the five brass rules I got the other day, which I am more in love with than ever. In the middle, four different shades of waxed Irish linen binder’s thread, with a curved sewing needle stuck in one of the spools. The thing on the bottom left with a wooden handle is a Japanese screw punch, which has interchangeable punchers and punches the most beautiful holes in whatever you want in whatever size you choose. (One might lean in the course of things towards thinking there is not much in a hole, but one would be very wrong.) And the very sharp-looking thing on the bottom right with a wooden handle is my awl.

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These are four versions of A Talking Blue Smell, my protean poetry manuscript which changes its nature every time it gets bound. The top and bottom ones are Codex bindings (with actual book cloth used for the top one) and the two middle ones are Coptic bindings.

Ten Questions (2): Kristy Bowen

It’s time to fearlessly exploit the wisdom of others again. We’ve been waffling inconclusively to ourselves on this blog about the whys and wherefores of publication for quite a while now and are finally taking the discussion to those with more experience. We’ll be using a Ten Questions mechanism to seek responses to ten questions on publication-related issues from a group of up to ten poets and publish them weekly. The full list of questions is here.

We ran a Ten Questions series on more general poetry questions last year, to which we still have recourse today (as do others, judging by the fact that it gets more hits than any other section on this blog).

Here’s to the start of another repository. And it’s a flying start because our first victim volunteer is Kristy Bowen! Believe it, people. We’re still pinching ourselves over the fact that she’s here at all. Thanks, Kristy!

Ten Answers: Kristy Bowen

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?

Besides that unfortunate incident at 16 with the National Library of Poetry (now known and reviled as Poetry.Com), I think I started sending out work my first year of college—awful, awful poems out to all the places listed in Writer’s Digest (my only access to the writer’s world in the pre-internet days), and even those mostly vanity presses of some kind I discovered. Now that I think about it, even as a literature major, I was so ridiculously isolated from any idea of what contemporary poetry was, or how one “became a poet” or circulated work, it’s hilarious. I’m guessing young aspiring poets these days are a bit more savvy with all the info one could need at their fingertips—and with a lot of young poets I meet, their work shows a certain sophistication. At a tiny Midwestern liberal arts school, I didn’t exactly see that among my peers at that age. We had all sorts of knowledge about the Romantics and Shakespeare and Milton, but basically my familiarity with contemporary poetry ended at Plath. I didn’t even take a poetry workshop til my final year as an undergrad. I imagine I was getting better very slowly, winning some college prizes, publishing in the college litmag, still submitting, now to places in Poets and Writers at least, but still very green.

I moved to Chicago in 1997 to study literature as a grad student and only then did I start reading more contemporary women poets like Louise Gluck, Rita Dove, Sharon Olds, mostly outside of what I was reading for school, which was a lot of prose and drama, and only a little poetry. At some point I think I finally “got it” or maybe I’m still “getting it” whatever “it” is, but I started to suck a little less anyway. By then I was submitting all the usual places young poets send their work to - Poetry Magazine, The New Yorker, all those chimeras on the horizon – not really knowing there was this whole other world of magazines out there. I published a few poems in tiny, staplebound publications with very generous editors.

All of this is really before I found my footing a year or two later in online journals. I was (still am) working a day job that put me in front of computer for long periods of time, so I started reading poems online in places like Stirring, perihelion, The Melic Review, and others. Started sending my work out to these places and other like them. Started publishing quite a lot in them. I’m definitely one of those poets who responds well to affirmation, so the more I published, the more I wrote. Then I started wicked alice to publish others. I’m still a bit fonder of online publications than I am of print, since the distribution possibilities and immediacy are much better. There are print journals I like very much, of course, and even still have a couple gold rings I’d like to get into, but I publish much more online than in print.

Around this time, my first chapbook was accepted by a small, local feminist publisher….then a couple more self-published volumes followed as I getting my little press, dancing girl, off the ground. Finally, the full-length book after what seemed like forever but was really only a couple a years. In the meantime, I was getting my MFA at Columbia, finishing another couple of books, devoting a lot of energy to the press.

Now I’ve actually sort of been sitting on new work a bit longer before I send it out than I ever did before, and am just now starting to send a lot of the last year or so’s stuff out, so we’ll see where that ends up. I think I’m a weird limbo stage right now, trying to figure out where the writing will take me next. There are lots of projects, some closer to completion than others.

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?

I wished someone had told me earlier on that there wasn’t just this one way of ‘being of poet” about 10 years ago. You know, get the MFA, publish in all the big journals, win the book prize, win tenure, win big prizes and grants, yadda, yadda, yadda. The alternative to that, or at least it seemed to me at that age, that the alternative was being, well, …a failed poet, a hack , wannabe poet. It all felt so absolutely unattainable for someone like me I wish someone had clued me in on more underground literary scenes, on how it’s okay to self-publish, or how you didn’t have to fit into this cookie-cutter “poet” ideal. There would have been much less frustration for a few years.

Even now, I look back at the assumptions I made about “legitimacy even three or so years ago and think they’re bullshit. Granted a lot of people still buy into the bullshit.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?

It’s always been mostly about having some sort of readership – what point are poems – any writing—if there is no one to read it? Of course, there’s also a very narcissistic side to my personality which says maybe it’s a little bit about recognition…we all want people to think we’re awesome–but I try not to let that side guide me…

4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?

Not really. I’m one of those people who constantly revise, even after publication, so it’s all still grist for the mill most days. Poems are re-written, ripped apart, put back together. As I revised my first book, I kept aiming for a true definitive finality to the poems, and it never came. It’s always work in progress, though I refrain from making my editors crazy by constantly changing things. Still, I imagine out there in the universe there is a perfection to which each poems aspires. Sometimes it gets there, other times I’m willing to settle for slightly less than perfect. I’ve learned though to let go of it after a while. I have periods where I hate certain poems, or entire series, only to fall back in love again later.

5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?

Lately, the chapbooks I’ve written have been a sort of targeted series rather than a pulling together of things. While with my first couple of manuscripts I had to look for that which bound the poems together and deal with accordingly, now I’m much more likely to write a focused series that winds up as a chapbook. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other way, but I tend to write with a purpose in mind, a thematic or narrative arc. It’s the Taurus in me.

I can’t really think of anything bad about chapbooks. They’re an immediate way to get a small amount of focused work out there in the world. Cheap to buy, and can be read in one sitting. All good things.

6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

With my first book, I kept working so hard for that arc, but with later collections it’s not even an issue. I think every manuscript needs something to bind it together, be it narrative, setting, mood, whatever. In my second book, it’s theme and social issue . In the third, setting and mood. Not to say there’s no narrative threading, but it’s not the focal point. I guess it depends on whether you write more toward any one of these things. As I was working on my MFA thesis with a whole group of other grad students last year, there were like 10 of us, each with 10 different ways of our manuscripts making sense. It just needs to make sense somehow, why these poems are all together.

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?

I probably spend more time marketing dgp books than anything of my own, but I do do things like schedule readings, send out review copies, promote them on my blog, foist copies into upon people whether they want them or not. I think publication in journals and online goes a long way toward spreading your name and work around and garnering interest. It makes me feel self-conscious at times, but it’s a necessary evil.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…..not the end all be all..

9. Small- and micro-presses are…where to look for interesting and dynamic work..

10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.

I’ve pretty much only had good relationships in regard to my own work. My first chap was held up by a serious backlog , but I knew that going in and just had to be patient. Ghost Road was a seamless dream to publish with, as was New Michigan Press. Since Dusie, my next publisher, is a one-woman operation, I’m helping Susana out with editing and layout, so of course that’s a good dynamic. I guess a bad publisher for me would be the controlling ego maniac type, who also happened to be incompetent…

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Kristy Bowen is the author of the fever almanac (Ghost Road Press, 2006) as well as several chapbook projects, including feign (NMP, 2007) and at the hotel andromeda, a collaborative book arts project inspired by Joseph Cornell. Her second collection, in the bird museum is forthcoming from Dusie Books early this year. Another, girl show, will be published by Ghost Road Press in 2009. She edits the online litzine wicked alice and runs dancing girl press, dedicated to publishing poetry chapbooks by women. She recently opened atelier women writers studio, which hosts both work space for the press, as well as readings, retreats and workshops.

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bookbinding tools

brass-rules2.jpg

are beautiful, and yes, I know I’ve said that already. Today I got a set of five brass rules designed to “save you endless time measuring joints between boards, turn-ins and all kinds of standard measuring tasks. They are as beautiful as they are functional,” the blurb says, quite truthfully. “Precision cut 12″ brass rules come in a set of 5 widths: 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″.”

It’s not a good photo at all, they look much nicer than that and it’s true, they make SUCH a difference.

My Codex bindings are getting better, by the way. Slowly.

name a hundred books

Of poetry, that is. Ron Silliman:

I am not at all certain that any MFA program should admit a student who cannot name a minimum of 100 books of contemporary poetry – published in the past 25 years – and say a little about each. And I am not sure that I would graduate any student who did not then seriously read 200 more such books over the next period of time – some schools require as few as 25 – and again could say a little about each.

On the bright side, it’s just “a little” about each.