1. Describe your publishing trajectory. (Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?)
My first poem was published – like so many – by Poetry.com about twelve years ago. I was 16. Fortunately I was able to figure out fairly quickly that Poetry.com wasn’t an organization I wanted to associate with. I didn’t attempt to have anything else published until I was about 20, and then I started this sort of a sporadic approach to publishing that I still have now – three or four times a year I’ll send out a bunch of submissions, usually five or six at a time, to journals that I really like to read. My taste in poetry has changed over the past eight years, and so the publications I’ve attempted to pursue have changed as well.
I’m still really quite at the beginning of publishing, though, so I’ve begun setting goals for myself: send out a submission a month, to get myself into a regular pattern of submitting. It hasn’t been working out for me – I find the process of gathering poems and keeping track of where they’ve gone to be really tedious. I often would rather be writing.
2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?
Honestly, I would probably not have started seeking publication until I was about 25. Seriously, some of the poems that are out there are embarrassing (and thankfully fairly difficult to find). And I would have taken some writing classes much earlier than I did. Because I chose a somewhat non-traditional route in life (marry first, then college – and throw a baby in the middle of it), I didn’t take my first college-level poetry class until I was 24, and it did wonders for my writing in terms of craft.
I think in terms of having more success in publishing, being more diligent and more organized would have made a difference for me. I guess we’ll see going forward.
3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?
I started publishing, very simply, because I wanted recognition for what I was doing. I was very young and my writing was not very good, though I believe it showed a certain amount of potential. I needed some validation that I was not wasting my time with an art that would never amount to anything for me. I think the few editors who did accept my early poems were generous, and recognized the potential and the need to encourage younger and beginning writers.
Anne Sexton has said (I’m paraphrasing here) that if someone reads her poems and shrugs, she wants them to never forget the feeling of that shrug. I think that pretty much sums up why I continue to seek publication: I read poems that make me shiver or gasp or laugh or flush with anger. I want to do that for someone with the pieces I’m writing. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I have hope that it will – and the only way to make sure that remains a possibility is to get it out there. It’s sort of a “pay it forward” mentality, I suppose.
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 doesn’t change because of publication, I don’t think. I’m relatively proud of the small amount of success I’ve had in publishing, and the poems I’ve managed to place with journals I love are good representatives, I think, of where I’ve been at any given point in my writing.
Lately I’ve been working on a series of poems that cover subject matter that could be uncomfortable for some people. I’ve had a few thoughts about what will happen if and when I attempt to publish these poems – who will take them? Will anyone understand what I’m trying to do with them? How will people react? I think those thoughts could have impacted the writing in a negative way, but I was able to get them under control very quickly. I try to write outside the context of publication – let the poem work its way out of the body first, then figure out what happens with publication 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?
I put my first chapbook together this past year – Ripe Again is being published by Finishing Line Press. It was a humbling and encouraging experience for me. I had been toying with the idea of a chapbook for awhile but wasn’t sure I had enough strong poems to really flesh one out. I saw an advert for FLP’s New Women’s Voices contest, and decided “What the hell, I’ll just do it.”
The creation of the manuscript took about a month – deciding which poems to go in, which order, how to arrange it, if there should be sections or a random mix. I was overwhelmed by the idea that poems in context like that have a conversation among themselves – new ideas and connotations emerged when I put the poems together like that. I think I approached it sort of haphazardly, not realizing how much work it would be.
At the time I put Ripe Again together, it seemed very natural: I was going through a painful time personally, and it seemed a good way to sort out how I was feeling. I think it helped give me a sense of purpose at a point when I was very confused. I was able to tell a very specific story through the creation of that manuscript. Now, I think I might be more inclined to let the manuscript have its own life, independent of mine.
Overall the experience was informative and rewarding – I’m excited about the finished product, and I think chapbooks are a wonderful way to showcase a specific concept, time period, or style.
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’m not sure I can give any sort of advice to anyone putting together a full-length manuscript, as I haven’t done it yet. But I do have some thoughts about narrative arc:
I think any full-length manuscript needs to have some sort of cohesion, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a narrative arc holding the poems together. Maybe it could be common images, a particular mood or voice, forms, etc. I think narrative arc is important – I rather enjoy collections that have a narrative type of cohesion – but I’ve been talking lately to a few poets who don’t read collections of poems in order. One of them starts at the last page, then skips around, another starts in the middle, and so on. So I think poets who spend a lot of time painstakingly ordering the poems to achieve a certain narrative may be focusing too much in the wrong area.
7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?
Oh, I suppose I do market my own publications. For Ripe Again I just sent a few emails announcing the book, providing the information for buying it. I’ve booked a few readings at which I’ll plug the book, too, but mostly I just really dislike pushing my work like that. I’d rather focus on the writing itself.
8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…..
A good introduction to poetry if one is just starting to read, I think.
9. Small- and micro-presses are…
Where I have found some of the most enjoyable reads in a long time.
10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.
I think in any relationship, communication and trust are key. A good publisher communicates deadlines, needs, and flexibility openly and quickly, and is responsive to and respectful of the poet and her desires. A publisher from hell – not so much with the open communication, I would think.
Rachel Bunting is a born and bred South Jersey girl currently living between the Pine Barrens and the Delaware River. Her poems can be found in Boxcar Poetry Review, Wicked Alice, The Barefoot Muse, and US1 Worksheets, among other journals. She is currently pursuing a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, raising a son, and trying to feed two very fat cats. Her first collection of poems, Ripe Again, is available from Finishing Line Press. Her website is here, and she blogs over here.
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