We’re excited and honored to have Edward Byrne of Valparaiso Poetry Review fame with us. A great deal in his responses to mull over, and several light bulb moments for us – including a reminder that, as all-absorbing as tactical poetry is and feels, strategic poetry is also a tool and a mechanism at our disposal (we have a really hard time retaining awareness of this, for whatever reason). As Edward writes: My relationship with my work does appear to be altered upon publication. After a poem is included in a journal, I then start to see it as a piece to be fit into a larger construction, a volume of poetry. Warmest thanks to Edward for his time and focus here.
1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?
I was fortunate at the outset of my publishing career. While I was a graduate student in an MFA program a few of my poems came to the attention of Al Poulin, the publisher of BOA Editions. He apparently liked what he read. He contacted me and asked if I had a manuscript available; therefore, I mailed him the MFA thesis I had been developing, and he accepted it for publication. After its release and some good reviews, the collection, Along the Dark Shore, was selected as a finalist for the Elliston Book Award. The book also included a foreword with introductory words by John Ashbery. Consequently, the volume received some additional attention.
Over the years, I have had five collections published. My sixth book, Seeded Light, is forthcoming from Turning Point Books with a scheduled release early next year. I have just finished another manuscript of poems, all of which already have appeared in journals; therefore, I will look to find a press for it.
2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?
When BOA Editions published my first book and it received the good reviews, as well as the recognition as an Elliston Book Award finalist, I hadn’t thought ahead to what comes next. Al Poulin asked me to send him another manuscript when I had one in which my confidence was complete. Unfortunately, I was young and continually doubted I had a finished manuscript, even though I now feel I did. I kept thinking I surely had to surpass the first book’s work before I could submit a second manuscript. I dawdled and delayed, and I got distracted pursuing other types of writing projects in prose. By the time I finally felt secure with a manuscript I believed I would be pleased to show Al, he had become very ill and died. I wish I had created a second manuscript for him more quickly, and I regret not doing so.
3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?
I have never been one devoted to publication. I admire the way some poets are so dedicated and persistent in submitting work for publication. When it comes to submissions, I confess to being lackadaisical. Indeed, half the poems I publish in magazines are the result of editors soliciting material, and I am thankful to them. I usually dislike the paperwork process of mailing and tracking submissions, even with the ease permitted by journals that accept email submissions. I know this sounds odd coming from an editor who reads others’ submissions daily and a poet who has had more than 250 publications in journals over the years.
Nevertheless, I continue to seek publication because I like sharing my work with readers. As I always advise my students, our written words are meant for communication with others. Additionally, I especially enjoy engaging in the ongoing community of authors appearing in literary journals. In fact, I usually submit to magazines in which I have seen work by writers I admire, and upon acceptance I am pleased to be invited to join their group.
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?
My relationship with my work does appear to be altered upon publication. After a poem is included in a journal, I then start to see it as a piece to be fit into a larger construction, a volume of poetry. I wonder how it will work as part of a unified collection, perhaps one work in a series or sequence of individual poems to be read as a whole. After a book of mine is published, I regard it as somewhat independent and on its own, as I turn my attention toward new material.
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 worked on a few chapbook collections, but my favorite experience concerns the work that eventually appeared in my most recent full-length book, Tidal Air. When I was organizing the poems that make up that volume, I was putting them together as pieces in a series of poetry—actually two series. The first sequence included poetry about discovering a serious physical disorder in my son’s health, and the second sequence provided an extended elegy for my father after his lengthy illness. Originally, both sequences were conceived as possible chapbooks.
I contacted Palmer Hall, the editor at Pecan Grove Press, who had published my previous full-length collection, East of Omaha, and who also published chapbooks. I informed him I had a chapbook about my son’s health problem, and I wondered if he’d be interested in releasing it as a chapbook. Upon reading the sequence, Palmer agreed to publish the chapbook; however, he felt the poems so stirring that he wished they could be included in a full-length collection that would more likely receive reviews and a greater readership.
I then showed him the other chapbook sequence, and I suggested the two were parts of a book-length diptych. Both sections presented father-son sequences from differing perspectives: one about a son’s new life with a difficult situation in the condition of his health, the other relating the deteriorating health and the death of a father. Therefore, the book could even be read as a book-length poem in two cantos.
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.
Indeed, I view each section in my books as a sort of chapbook, a unified and loosely sequenced series to be experienced by readers in the order presented. I don’t suggest this for everyone. Each poet has his or her own approach. However, I know the narrative arc or sequential experience is important to me. I like to imagine the poems as frames in a film or paintings hung on a gallery wall to be observed in a set arrangement. On the other hand, I do know poets who have told me they don’t worry much about the placement of poems in any order because they usually read books of poetry by dipping into the pages here and there or on the basis of titles in the table of contents.
7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?
I guess I do “market” my publications, although I certainly don’t think of the process in that term. I maintain a personal web page with information about my books and with links for ordering copies from the publisher. I also regularly write a blog that contains similar information. Additionally, every time a poem of mine appears in a journal I make sure details about my most recent book and its publisher are mentioned in the contributor’s note. I have done a number of readings and book signings at places like the AWP conference, as well, and I like meeting readers in these situations.
In some ways, through my editing of Valparaiso Poetry Review, my writing of book reviews, and my posting of articles at the “One Poet’s Notes” blog, I am just as pleased to help promote the fine poetry of many other poets.
8. Complete the following sentence: Big-name poetry publishers are…
appreciated for keeping poetry in their catalogs despite the economic difficulties associated with producing and promoting such collections. By doing so, they contribute to a continuing tradition of poetry as an important art form.
9. Small- and micro-presses are…
a blessing. I applaud all the hard work and sacrifice involved in such publishing ventures. I admire their editors. I do all I can to spread word about them to other readers of poetry. Unfortunately, the economic conditions are even more stressful for such places, and the courage of the publishers is not often rewarded, as it would be in an ideal situation.
10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.
As I mentioned at the beginning of these questions, I have been fortunate with the publishers I have had. Even in my initial relationship with an editor—Al Poulin, who became a friend when we first met in New York City and he took the time to offer to a young poet wise advice and guidance I remember still—I have had good relationships with my publishers. Indeed, as I said in my comments about chapbooks, Tidal Air developed as the result of consultation with and encouragement by Palmer Hall, my publisher at Pecan Grove Press. The same kind of complimentary comments could be offered for each publisher and editor I have had with my previous books of poetry. All have become friends, people I admire. I’m told such a record of positive relationships with editors or publishers is not always the case and even may be rare. I hope that is not true.
I teach a literature course that examines the author-editor relationship as depicted by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway with their editor, Maxwell Perkins, whom many consider a model for other editors. I can happily say I have been privileged to know editors who have faithfully followed this example.
Edward Byrne has had five collections of poetry published, most recently Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press). A sixth book of poetry, Seeded Light, is forthcoming from Turning Point Books. His essays of literary criticism also have been published in various journals and book collections, including Mark Strand (Chelsea House Publishers), edited by Harold Bloom, and A Condition of the Spirit: The Life and Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington University Press), edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long. He is a professor in the English Department at Valparaiso University, where he edits Valparaiso Poetry Review. He blogs at One Poet’s Notes.
Previously on Ten Questions:
1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
7. Neil Aitken
8. Rachel Bunting, April 3
9. Brent Fisk, April 10
10. Ivy Alvarez, April 17
11. Michaela Gabriel, April 24
12. Reb Livingston, May 1
13. Ron Silliman, May 8
Answers posted by others to their own blogs: