revisiting ten questions for poets – on poetry, publication, technology

This series represents a wealth of poetry and po-biz wisdom from a bunch of awesome contemporary poets. I used to have these linked as separate standing pages, but didn’t refresh that format when I changed blog themes recently. Have just added these standing pages back to the left-hand column, and got lost in re-reading while I did so. Thank you once again to the generous poets who participated for doing so! That wonderful group includes Ron Silliman and the late Reginald Shepherd.

TEN QUESTIONS SERIES
poets on poetry
poets on publication
poetry editors on publishing poetry
poets on technology

noticing

When I asked Reginald Shepherd if he would participate in one of the Ten Questions series on this blog and he said yes, I felt like the Bandar Log, jumping up and down and going, Bagheera noticed us! Bagheera noticed us! I loved that he responded at all, that he agreed to participate, and that he sent such thoughtful, focused responses. And his courtesy. His emails were so courteous.

(Edit: I knew I was missing a word here, it kept bothering me and just came to me. I think I almost meant “courtly” – as in characterized by gentillesse in Chaucer’s way.)

Thanks for noticing the little people, Reginald Shepherd. And for everything else.

Ten Questions – Reginald Shepherd

Ten Questions (2): Reb Livingston

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

I just spoke about this a few days ago to some Marist College undergrads, it’s a tale of ups and downs, some unexpected “successes” and plenty of rejection. I started writing poetry in college during the early 90’s and published a couple poems in undergraduate publications at Carnegie Mellon. But aside from that, I didn’t place a poem in a magazine until 2000 when Ed Ochester accepted one for 5AM. I sent my work out for years, feeling daunted and hopeless. Of course, the way I went about it was why. I sent my poems to all the wrong magazines; places that didn’t publish work in the same vein as mine — or places I wasn’t familiar, never read. That’s a recipe for failure and I cooked with that pretty much my entire 20s. Some people have to learn the hard way. I’m one of those people. Now I send poems out only to places I read and admire and sometimes to places that solicit work. My poems have appeared in a few “biggish” places like Best American Poetry and American Poetry Review, some kinda-well known online and print magazines and a slew of not-so well known places. I still get rejections (most recently last week) and probably always will. That’s just the way it is. Four-plus years of editing my own online magazine, No Tell Motel, taught me not to take any of it personally. As for books, the Whole Coconut Books Chapbook Series published my first title, Pterodactyls Soar Again, as an online chapbook in 2006 and that same year, my micropress, No Tell Books published a collaborative chapbook I wrote with Ravi Shankar, Wanton Textiles. Along with Molly Arden, I edited two anthologies for the The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel series. My first what they call “full-length” poetry collection, Your Ten Favorite Words, came out very recently from Coconut Books. Currently I’m in the midst of creating a manuscript called God Damsel. The further along I get into it, the further from finished it becomes. Coconut Books expressed interested in publishing that too, so that’s likely where it’ll end up, when it’s ready. If for some unexpected reason Coconut doesn’t take it, I’ll publish it myself with No Tell Books. I no longer feel beholden to other publishers’ whims and circumstances. I know how to put together a book. There’s no reason I should spend hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars in contests and reading fees for something I can do myself.

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

I would save my money and not send to any book contests whatsoever. Bye bye $1500. What do I have to show for it? A handful of the “winning” books, most of which I don’t even care for. I could have published two books for that amount. Also, as I mentioned above, I would be more selective and knowledgeable where I send my work in general. Bye bye hundreds of hours of my life.

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

I wanted readers for my poems. I continue because I still want my poems to be read. That’s pretty much it. I don’t teach. I have little interest in teaching, so I don’t have a CV to worry about. It’s freeing because I can publish wherever I want, including self- publishing (which I believe more poets should consider, not as defeat, but as taking control of one’s work, how it’s presented and distributed).

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 so much, I’ll stop revising a poem when I think it’s ready to send to magazine, but later down the road it’s fair game again. When it’s time to put together a book, the poems (whether published or not) are each examined for editing, changing and scraping. I’m an obsessive reviser.

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?

Pterodactyls Soar Again is a pared-down, tighter version of an unpublished longer manuscript, Home-Schooled by a Cackling Jackal. Once the chapbook came out, I had no urge to continue searching for a home for Cackling Jackal. The fact that it’s online and free meant it got (and still gets) a lot of readers. That pleases me very much. Ravi and I collaboratively wrote Wanton Textiles on and off via e-mail for over two years. It’s a print-chapbook and sadly hasn’t sold particularly well, in fact it’s No Tell Books’ most dismal seller, by far. On the bright side, I probably gave away 100+ copies and it’s received a few good reviews. In the end it was a way to get the work out there, although definitely not the most cost-effective yet it didn’t exactly break my bank either. That’s the beauty of ch(e)apbooks. I guess I don’t really understand the question of whether or not chapbooks are good or bad. Some books are good things, others not so much. I don’t see how length, distribution or the production process has any determining factor in that. Unless the pages are made from the skins of kittens.

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.

Put together the book you believe needs to be put together. If that book needs a narrative arc, super, if not, why bother worrying about it? To fit some trend? If you’re worried about trends, fashion or popularity, for God’s sake, don’t waste your time with poetry. If a poem belongs, include it, if not, don’t. Don’t feel beholden to include poems that were published in “biggish” places just for the sake of your Acknowledgments page. Several people asked why I didn’t include “That’s Not Butter” in Your Ten Favorite Words. I’d tell them because it didn’t fit with the collection, it’s from Pterodactyls Soar Again. They’d look exasperated, like I was the silliest idiot in the world blowing my big “chance.” I don’t follow that logic. That particular poem reached more readers than I ever imagined. If somebody read that poem and wanted to read more of my poems, I don’t see how not including it would in any way be discouraging. Even if that was the case in some freaky poetry reader dimension, a couple sales is not enough motivation to clunk-up my book with something that doesn’t belong. I suppose that all leads up this advice: don’t treat your poetry like it’s a commodity. You’ll be selling it short (hah!). Poems aren’t commodities. Poems don’t make anyone money. So when you’re creating your book, listen to your inner artist, not your inner capitalist. If your inner capitalist knew what he was talking about, he’d be telling you to write a self-help book or something for Penthouse Forum.

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

If you mean do I do readings, speak on panels, link to my books from my websites, try to cajole people into reviewing my books, send out e- mails asking friends and family to buy them, agree to participate in interviews such as this one — then yes, most certainly. I do it because I want people to buy my books. I want people to read them. I also want my publisher and my own press to recoup the costs of producing the books. I do enjoy giving readings and participating on panels, usually, but I find it to be psychically draining and often must take breaks.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are… not necessarily evil although usually irrelevant and not particularly interesting. Big-name poetry publishers tend to be interested in the bottom-line since they’re all owned by massive corporations. They’d sooner publish a terrible book by a pop star than take a chance publishing a fantastic collection by an “unknown” or what I really mean to say is an “extra-unknown” because even well-known poets are pretty much unknown. I don’t pay too much attention to big-name publishers because as a busy mom I don’t find much of what they’re doing to be worth my time. Besides, how many poetry books are these “big-name” poetry publishers even putting out in a year? Less than a hundred, I think. Why do they keep coming up in conversation? They’re barely applicable.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… the publishers of poetry. Small and micro-presses publish the overwhelming majority of poetry in the U.S. They’re run by people who care about poetry and who find ways to finance and publish it whether it’s from acquiring grants, getting support from universities and institutions and often, out of their own pockets. Some small presses finance their operations with book contests. I’m not so crazy about that, but don’t begrudge them. It’s hard out there being a poetry publisher.

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

An ideal relationship with a publisher would be like a happy marriage: nurturing, harmoniously working together to bring and raise that baby in the cruel cruel world. Having a publisher from hell would be like an unhappy marriage where your partner doesn’t hold up his end, is absent more than he’s around, is a control freak or gives his sweet sweet love to everyone but you.

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Reb Livingston lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son. She’s the author of Your Ten Favorite Words and co-editor of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series. Also she edits and publishes No Tell Motel and No Tell Books.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
6. Neil Aitken
7. Edward Byrne
8. Rachel Bunting
9. Brent Fisk
10. Ivy Alvarez
11. Michaela Gabriel

Coming up:

13. Ron Silliman, May 8

Answers posted by others to their own blogs:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell
Kate Benedict

Standing Page
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Ten Questions (2): Michaela Gabriel

Michaela Gabriel (author of the secret meaning of greek letters, among other chapbooks) is answering the ten questions on publication today. We are enthusiastic readers of her work and her blog and are especially delighted to have her with us today. Many thanks for participating, Michaela!

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

Everything really began when I was about 13 and read a poem written by a teenage girl in one of those almanac/diary things. I sat down, wrote my first ever poem and actually sent it to the publishers. Looking back, I am amazed at my guts – and I really cannot blame them for not publishing the poem. But even so many years later, I am grateful for the encouraging note I received. It may have been politeness, but to a young person who had just discovered this new form of expressing herself, it made all the difference. I never stopped writing after that, though I was not thinking of publication at the time.

When I was 17, a girls’ magazine based in Germany ran a poetry competition; my poem made the top 100 and became my first publication. For a while, an Austrian print magazine called “My Way” published poetry, stories and photos by their readers, and I found myself thinking, hmm, I can do that, too. I was curious, I wanted to know whether they’d accept any of my work – and they did, several times. They even paid about 50 Schilling (5 dollars) per piece!

And then the internet “happened”. I’d begun to write in English during my late teens, and by the mid-nineties much of my poetry was in English. Through a student magazine I heard about gangway.net – an Austr(al)ian e-zine, and I sent them some of my work. In June 1997, they published a set of ten poems. I was thrilled – and hooked.

On internet boards I found encouragement, support, and a mentor, and being part of communities helped me find out about markets and the process of submitting poetry. About eleven years after my first online publications, countless poems have appeared online and in print, in magazines that have long since closed down and others that continue to thrive. I have had two chapbooks published, and co-authored a third (with Alex Stolis). Without the internet, I would certainly not be where I am now. Nowhere near it, in fact. Sometimes I wonder whether I’d actually still be writing at all.

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

Well, it’s not like I had a plan! It just started to happen, and I sort of went along. The only thing – it took me ages to put my first chapbook together. I was dithering, and it took several kicks in my lazy butt from my dear friend Alex Stolis to finally make me sit down and choose those poems. I think I was a little intimidated by the whole thing, and for a while I blocked myself by worrying too much over poems I’d have to leave out. Just because they did not get into chapbook number one, did not have to mean they would never be part of a book, so that was silly, and maybe I could have gotten my act together sooner. But then, who knows, it might not have been snapped up by the first publisher I sent it to. :)

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

Like I said before, in the beginning there was a question. And the question was: “Can I do that too?” I wanted to find out whether a magazine would publish what I had to say. I wanted to get reactions from publishers, other writers, friends. After all, most poets *are* trying to reach people out there. I continue to send out submissions for that very reason. I want to make someone laugh, shrug, shiver, sigh, or think “yes!” The market has changed so much over the last ten years, so many magazines have been founded, some have disappeared again. But the market is definitely much, much bigger and more varied than it used to be. So I send poetry to new zines, online and print, if I think my work fits in with what they publish. I don’t send poetry to magazines I wouldn’t read, I don’t want to get published just so I can say, “Been in that one. Check”.

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?

No, in general I wouldn’t say that’s the case. Sometimes when I go way back to the late nineties, to my first publications, I end up a little surprised that certain poems got accepted, because I have moved on since then, and my style has changed, but that’s it.

As for possible publication affecting my writing – sometimes I am challenged to try something new, say, if a journal runs a themed contest or such. And with my chapbooks, yes, there is an influence there. I started working on “the secret meanings of greek letters” with a chapbook collection in mind, it was always intended as a series, with one poem per Greek letter. Same with the collaboration I wrote with Alex – we had this concept of a series of letters, and we worked on it with a chapbook in mind. And the full-length manuscript I am working on, “elemental”, is another themed book – one poem for each element in the periodic table.

But the concept of publication does not usually affect my writing in the sense that I write “for” a magazine, a certain market.

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?

It took me forever to put my first chapbook, “apples for adam”, together. I found it difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. I wrote lists of poems I liked, then abandoned work on the chapbook again, and started all over. Someone suggested a theme, so I went through my poems to see what themes would jump out at me, and it was actually pretty obvious that it had to be a women-themed collection. Knowing that, it was much easier to make choices, and once I had realized that leaving out a number of good poems was not the end of the world, the manuscript was finished pretty quickly. I did play around with the order of poems, and I sent the manuscript off when it simply felt right. I was worried I might not find a title for it, but then that was not difficult at all – the title refers to a poem included in the book, “Eva to Adam”.

The second collection, “the secret meanings of greek letters”, was a different matter altogether. I knew even before finishing the first poem that it would have to be the complete series of one poem each for the 24 Greek letters. I was in the middle of an a-poem-a-day challenge at the time, and “secret meanings” was basically written within a month.

With my latest collection, “love letters to invisible men”, which is currently looking for a home, it was different. I thought of the title ages ago, but did not have the poems for a collection. Once I had them, I spent a long time deciding on the order of poems, and I changed my mind quite often. I asked a few friends to look the manuscript over and that helped.

There are several reasons why chapbooks are a good thing: They give readers an idea of a poet’s work, and they don’t have to spend a fortune on a book they might not even enjoy. For me as a poet the thought of putting together a collection of 20 poems is a LOT less intimidating than writing a manuscript of 60-100 poems. It’s good for getting your name out there. I also love how chapbooks are used as a sort of currency on the web – swapping books with other poets is fantastic.

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 a narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

I am definitely not the expert here, and could do with some advice myself. I have about half the poems for my full-length project “elemental”. What inspired me was Primo Levi’s short story collection “The Periodic Table”. The idea is to write one poem for each element. I am already wondering how to arrange the poems, because there are “series within the series” (like a bunch of prose poems, several ekphrastic poems, etc), but of course it would be nice to stick to the original order of the periodic table.

In a way, putting a manuscript together is like making a CD mix. I can take such things very seriously – there are songs that just don’t go well together. You probably wouldn’t want to go from a Verdi aria straight to Korn, or from Irish folk to trash metal. So I guess that poets should give some thought to the order of their poems and perhaps group similarly themed poems.

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

Yes, of course! I mean – if I am not interested in marketing my work, then who will be? I have a sort of newsletter, poetic news, that I send out several times a year to tell friends – poets and others – about publications in magazines. I send review copies of my chapbooks to magazines, I blog about publications, I post links on facebook. Word of mouth is so important. I write to poets whose work I like and suggest swapping chapbooks. I have swapped over 20 copies of my “secret meanings” so far.

There are not many poetry-related events in Vienna, but I presented “secret meanings” at the open mic I always go to, and I read some poems from that collection at the Vienna Lit Festival on April 17. Such events usually have book tables, and they are a great opportunity of making your work known.

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

… have a lot of know-how but are possibly unaware of what is happening “on the street” and desperately need to explore new areas.

9. Small- and micro-presses are …

… closer to what’s happening, something the poetry world needs, and worth being supported.

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

I must say that my publishers have been very good to work with. An ideal publisher is someone who supports the writer, who offers advise without violating the poet’s work. A publisher should be open to suggestions from the poet. Creativity and some marketing know-how are definitely a plus. What I love is being kept up-to-date with what is going on – layout, proofing, illustrations, ideas, delays, whatever.

A publisher from hell, hm, I guess that would be someone who is careless, who doesn’t keep their promises, offers no feedback, doesn’t answer questions, makes changes without informing the writer, misses deadlines without a word of explanation or apology. Also, being asked to pay for any services in the end would be a nightmare.

I had one bad experience with a print magazine based in India. I found out after submitting that they would not give published authors a free copy and I heard some unfavourable stories about them. I withdrew my work, received a confirmation of that email, but over a month later I got an email telling me that my poems had been published, and asking me to buy a copy. I was NOT amused. Fortunately such experiences are few and far between.

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Michaela A. Gabriel lives in Vienna, Austria where she helps adults acquire computer and English skills and gets together with the muse as often as possible. She wrote her first poem at the age of 13, but likes to think that she has improved since. Michaela has been widely published both online and in print and is the author of two and a half chapbooks – apples for adam (FootHills Publishing, January 2005), the secret meanings of greek letters, (dancing girl press, October 2007), and small confessions & pebbles of regret (Rubicon Press, March 2008, co-written with Alex Stolis). She has recently finished another chapbook manuscript and is working on a full-length collection inspired by the elements of the periodic table. When she is not writing, Michaela is reading, listening to music, taking photos, watching movies, blogging, communicating with friends, playing scrabble online or travelling – usually several of these at the same time. Her website is here and she blogs here.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
6. Neil Aitken
7. Edward Byrne
8. Rachel Bunting
9. Brent Fisk
10. Ivy Alvarez

Coming up:

12. Reb Livingston, May 1
13. Ron Silliman, May 8

Answers posted by others to their own blogs:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell
Kate Benedict

Standing Page
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Ten Questions (2): Ivy Alvarez

Today Ivy Alvarez, author of Mortal, responds to the ten questions on publication we have been asking. Much to enjoy and mull over in her responses indeed. We were particularly struck by her description of how her internet presence has been evolving along with her publishing trajectory. Thanks so much for participating, Ivy!

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

My poems and short stories first started appearing in my high school yearbooks and even once in the local paper. That was fun. It’s always been fun to see my words in print.

I had a really inspiring high school teacher, Mr Grudzien. He could tell when I lost interest in the middle of my short story and was coasting on it. Even now I can see his dreaded red pen marks all over my English assignments, but there was also the encouraging one that I still remember: ‘Don’t give up!’

When I started winning prizes during matriculation college for my poems, well, I guess I began to pay attention to what this might mean. I think I started taking poetry and poetry publication only seriously during my first year at university. It was still a lark but I wanted to see how far I could go with it.

I learnt as I went along how to get published in journals. No-one ever told me how to go about doing this, so I was pretty clueless. I remember reading one journal and looking at its guidelines. Under ‘Payment’, it had this amount. Well, I thought that was the amount I had to pay the journal to get my poems published. Being a student at the time, I’m glad I didn’t have the means to embarrass myself back then. I wonder what the editor would’ve thought if I’d sent in the money. Just given me a subscription, I suppose.

From the start, the lack of funds was a hindrance to getting my work out there, so I employed a scattershot approach and sent my work to random poetry journals. I remember being so crushed by the first batch ever returned to me, but when I told a poet friend about it, she pointed out that the accompanying note was actually quite encouraging. I guess I only saw the ‘no’.

Afterwards, I got better at judging which journals were more likely to accept my work, by actually finding copies in libraries and reading the poetry inside. That helped me on my way to getting my work in journals and my poems read.

Publishing Mortal (Red Morning Press, 2006), my first book of poems, felt like the long-awaited culmination of so many of my writerly dreams and desires. Even though waiting for it to be accepted for publication had been torture, I’m glad things worked out the way it did.

At the moment, I’m working on my second manuscript. I’m actually away at a writing residency in Spain for April 2008 to do this, so there’s more hard work ahead of me.

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

Initiate more conversations with poets I meet face-to-face. They’re the logical people to ask about good journals. Ask more questions. Give in to my curiosity.

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

My reasons for wanting publication from the start remains true even now: I want my poems out there, to be read by others, to engage the reader and for my work to make a connection.

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?

Once a poem is published, I become detached from it. It’s still mine, of course, but it then becomes something for a reader to get to know, engage with and put forward ideas of what it might mean to them.

Publication does not affect my process of writing a poem. When I write, there is no Greek chorus of editors at my right shoulder questioning my word choices. It’s just me in the room and the poem at my hands.

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. They are my absolute favourite thing in poetry. I think it comes from my love of comic books when I was younger, then zines and other such handmade printed objects. I love the fold and the staple, the ink and the words. It’s as much the physical aspect of the chapbook as the poetry, I think.

A chapbook manuscript is a much more punchier, concentrated form than a full-length manuscript. For my first chapbook, ‘Food for Humans’, I put together what I thought were my best poems at the time. With ‘catalogue: life as tableware’, I must confess there wasn’t really a thread tying all the poems together. By comparison, ‘what’s wrong’ has a definite narrative running through it and remains my favourite. I have a fourth manuscript under consideration, which is organised under the theme of distance in a relationship. I’m looking forward to when that one is finally accepted.

I think chapbooks are a very good thing. They offer much more of an insight into a poet’s current obsessions because they are more immediate than a full-length manuscript, which often takes years to put together and see print. They are so much more accessible and not as daunting, either. Sometimes a full-length feels more of a commitment, while a chapbook is really very approachable. I can see no downsides to a chapbook, especially when they are beautifully made and a lot of care and attention is given to their creation.

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 don’t think there’s any prescription for a poetry manuscript. The only thing one must be faithful to is the work itself. If the work dictates a need for a narrative arc, so it must follow. If not, then one must find another way to pull it all together. A book of poetry is a piece of artwork, as valid in its form as a painting or a sculpture, expressing the thought of its creator in the only way possible.

As it happens, Mortal does have a narrative arc, but one should be able to skip around and still get something from the book, I think.

My advice to this unknown someone: Every word, every line, every poem must be necessary to the book. Pare down as much as possible so that only the essential remains. Be prepared to wait but if you believe in your work, don’t give up. You only need one person to say yes.

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

When I first started my blog, I thought it was a way of thinking about poetry and writing out loud, as well as celebrating acceptances of individual poems when they happened. As the need to have my manuscript published into a book became more irresistible, it then became a record of my progress as it went along, from the mis-steps to the day of acceptance. One could view my blog cynically I suppose, as a marketing tool, but when it began, it was more for my benefit, puzzling out how I felt about being a writer, the process of publication, while enjoying the small yeses along the way.

To more clearly demarcate my private thoughts and process from the public persona, I recently launched my author website, which I update with news and upcoming events associated with my book, Mortal. I don’t know if people follow that. Sometimes I think even that is more for me but I guess we’ll see about its usefulness.

I announce publications and important notices on the listservs of which I am a member and which have space for that. I take part in festivals and readings when I can: these I enjoy. I’ve given workshops to share what I know about writing and publication. I help promote my readings by telling my networks about it.

Why do I do it? I think if somebody invests their time in inviting you to participate in a festival, lead a workshop, or give a poetry reading, includes your work in a journal, or publishes your book, it makes sense to help get the word out about it. Otherwise, who will know about it? Nobody else will do it for you. Ultimately, I want my poems to find its readers and so I do what I can.

And I must admit, there’s a part of me that does enjoy doing it.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…fine and dandy. I like reading books from Faber, Bloodaxe, Cape Poetry, Carcanet in the UK, a great number of US publishers, and so on. Poetry should come from as many quarters as possible.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… the bees’ knees. I have a real affection for these presses. They are the ones who take the real risks because they often fund their publications out of their own pockets. They are also more likely to publish the real bolts of lightning, those incredible voices that come from the ground and arc out into the air, white-hot. I love reading the work of poets I can learn from and be continually stunned by their words.

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

An ideal relationship: a press that communicates with their authors consistently, working with them from start to finish.

A relationship from hell: a press that doesn’t respond to communications, or drops the author if they don’t sell enough books to make back an advance, or does not publish the book as agreed or at all, or does not include the author in important decision-making, or is unyielding on matters of contract, or does not help in promoting the book in any way. Thankfully, none of this has happened to me, though I’ve heard stories. I think if one is in a bad relationship, bow out as gracefully as possible, do your research and seek a new press.

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Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Washington, DC: Red Morning Press, 2006). Her poetry is published in literary journals and anthologies worldwide and online. A MacDowell and Hawthornden Fellow, both the Australia Council for the Arts and the Welsh Academi awarded her grants to write poems for her second book.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
6. Neil Aitken
7. Edward Byrne
8. Rachel Bunting
9. Brent Fisk

Coming up:

11. Michaela Gabriel, April 24
12. Reb Livingston, May 1
13. Ron Silliman, May 8

Answers posted by others to their own blogs:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell
Kate Benedict

Standing Page
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Ten Questions (2): Brent Fisk

This week we have with us Brent Fisk, whose work has appeared in over 200 magazines the last few years including recent issues of Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, Southeast Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is finishing up his first manuscript, Accidental Body of Knowledge and will begin the slow process of finding a publisher sometime late this spring. Many thanks for participating, Brent!

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

I started in earnest about four years ago and have stuck with it ever since. Putting together packets, fooling with the post office, keeping track of the submissions—all that stuff can be a grind. But editors rarely call you up and say, “Hey, send us a bunch of work so we can publish it.” Well, maybe they do that if you’re Louise Gluck or Donald Hall, but the rest of us have to work it.

One of my first acceptances was with Prairie Schooner who accepted my entire packet. I got some ink from editors at both well-known and obscure magazines, started getting work taken pretty regularly, and just kept plugging away. You don’t want to carpet bomb editors with submissions, but you can’t be shy either. I’m well past having a creative writing teacher looking over my shoulder, and I belong to two solid workshops, one virtual, one a bit less phantom. Those voices help shape the work and I think I send out less material that isn’t quite ready for public consumption.

The next step for me is a chapbook and book. I’ve tried a few contests for single poems or groups of poems. A book seems more daunting. How do you decide what goes in, what stays out? How much of a thematic arc should it have? Should most of the poems be published in journals before going into a book? Where do you send it? That’s ten seconds worth of questions right there and I’ve barely scratched the surface. The idea of a book can be a bit paralyzing, but I’m working on it.

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

I’d have started earlier. I’m just shy of forty, so I lost a few years to work, the pursuit of a degree, running a head shop, that sort of thing. There are so many good poets writing and getting published today, and that’s not even counting all the bad ones that are doing the exact same thing. I think if I had those idle years back more of my work would be out in the public eye.

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

I think there are some writers who genuinely don’t care about publication—it can sometimes feel like you’re a dog chasing its tail. But I like the feel of holding a journal in my hands, finding a home for a poem. I see the names of writers from my workshops and I know how much work they’ve put into that piece so I get a little glow, a little buzz from reading their work. Lately, James Doyle seems to be in about every journal that comes my way, so when you see those names again and again, there’s a sense of warmth—the warmth of doing work. I like that source of heat, that relationship that develops between writer, editor and reader. No one wants to see failure—not the writer, not the editor, and definitely not the reader.

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?

When you are a young writer, and by young I mean new to writing, you love every thing you write. Once you realize publication is just one variable in a very long equation, what becomes most important is getting the best possible poem in the best possible magazines. It may not be a name magazine either. I read great stuff in little magazines all the time, and while I still find interesting work in Poetry, mostly I read it for the bitchy carping that goes on it their letters and commentary section.

As far as how your relationship changes with the work, once it’s in a magazine, it has a sense of finality to it. It’s like someone taking a picture of you while you’re scratching your ass. You may only scratch your ass once every ten years, but now there’s this snapshot of it, so people think you do it all the time (For the record, I never scratch my ass). If you get a little excited and send a good poem out, but maybe it’s got some flaws, an editor still might publish it and then you’ve got it out there for everyone to see with no way to make any edits. I think the concept of publication eventually makes you take a much harder, colder look at the work you send out. Still, there’ll be times when a less than stellar poems slips through the cracks and you just have to groan. Groan, and maybe scratch your ass.

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 a great idea. Their brief nature lets you fully explore a theme without wearing out your welcome. I’ve got lists of poems on my refrigerator with various titles for the chaps. Any poem that fits in more than one book has an asterisk beside it. Eventually I’ll actually print these poems out in some sort of brilliant order, paginated with an acknowledgements page and a table of contents and Voila! I’ll be even more famous.

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 this is even trickier than a chapbook or getting published in a literary journal. Because of the longer form, 60-120 pages, you really need to think about how it holds together. Narrative arc may be one thing that makes the whole cohesive, but you have to worry about tone, whether to break the book into sections, do you title each section. Should you have blurbs from famous writers on the back cover? Do you know any famous writers? Do you know any famous writers you can blackmail into reading your book? Where are those photographs of Ted Kooser scratching his ass? Does Louise Gluck scratch her ass? Can you even get close to Sharon Olds with a camera? A full-length manuscript is a chapbook on growth hormones. We really sweat this out, which is kind of funny because so few people read poetry, even fewer buy poetry, and the whole thing will probably be out of print in a matter of years. Even Pulitzer Prize winners have books out of print. I think you just have to put something together and get it out there. (This is advice I’m giving but not taking, mind you) Take any comments you get and begin the shifting and sifting and editing that’s required. If you think single poems are a headache, just wait.

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

I let people know where I’ve been published and when I give readings I read from those magazines. I think most publishing houses expect the poets to do some serious legwork. There’s very little profit in the process, so the more sales they have, the more the publishers can do. I think readings are a great way to get a sense of how well your poems work. What kind of turnout do you have—what’s the body language? Do the members of the audience respond to the lines you think they should respond to? If you like the publisher and your own work, you kind of owe it to the process to promote your work.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…  able to promote your work. They have a stable of name writers, generally, and fair or not, they have a network they can use to push material.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… full of energy and excitement. It’s probably why so many of them fold in just a few years. They have those little rabbit hearts that beat about a thousand times a minute, and they have one too many coffees up against a deadline and poof, that’s all she wrote.

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

Ideal would be somebody that loves your work but will also use their experience to help you shape the book and then will do what they can to promote the book long after its publication.

Hell would be the complete lack of communication and vision. They accept your work and then they stop talking to you, to others, to each other. Maybe they put a picture of a daisy on the cover and a blurb from Wink Martindale on the back cover. Or they find that picture of you scratching your ass—the one your mother promised she put through the shredder.

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Brent Fisk is a writer from Bowling Green, Kentucky. His work has appeared in over 200 magazines the last few years including recent issues of Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, Southeast Review, and Prairie Schooner. In 2007 he won the Willow Award from Willow Review, the Sam Ragan Prize from Crucible, and honorable mention in Boulevard’s Emerging Poets Contest. He has received four Pushcart nominations, but is still waiting for the oversized check, the flowers and balloons. He is finishing up his first manuscript, Accidental Body of Knowledge and will begin the slow process of finding a publisher sometime late this spring.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
6. Neil Aitken
7. Edward Byrne
8. Rachel Bunting

Coming up:

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:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell

Standing Page
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Silliman’s Blog links to Very Like A Whale

Again! Twice! For the Ten Questions responses of Edward Byrne and Rachel Bunting (you have to scroll down at both links).

We know we’re just basking in reflected Byrnian-Buntingesque glory, but that doesn’t stop us for a minute from feeling totally FAMOUS.

Reminder (in the unlikely event that you forgot) that Mr. Silliman will be answering the Ten Questions on publication right here on May 8 (right after Brent Fisk, Ivy Alvarez, Michaela Gabriel and Reb Livingstone).

Ten Questions (2): Rachel Bunting

This week we have Rachel Bunting, whose first collection of poems, Ripe Again, is now available from Finishing Line Press.  Thanks for being with us, Rachel!

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.

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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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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
7. Neil Aitken
8. Edward Byrne

Coming up:

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:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell

Standing Page
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Ten Questions (2): Edward Byrne

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.

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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.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
7. Neil Aitken

Coming up:

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:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell

Standing Page
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Ten Questions (2): Neil Aitken

Many thanks to Neil Aitken for being our respondent this week. There’s some great stuff in his responses (why is a poetry manuscript like a Zen rock garden?) and some cool advice I began implementing as soon as I read it. Thanks, Neil!

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

My first publication came in 1998 in Anagram, a small Asian American literary journal at Johns Hopkins University. Shortly thereafter, two other poems were accepted by Inscape, the journal at my own university. And then there was a long silence. I graduated with my undergraduate degree, looked for employment, and in general did little writing or sending out of my work. I returned to writing in 2000 and between 2001 and 2003, I started to publish again in small online journals. I was also making friends in the Los Angeles poetry community and attending informal workshops a few times a month.

In 2004, I left my career as a computer games programmer to pursue an MFA at the University of California, Riverside. I wrote a great deal during this time and by the end of my first year had assembled a first draft of my manuscript. I renewed my efforts to send out work, this time adopting a shotgun strategy – focusing on journals which accepted simultaneous submissions and ensuring that my poems were being considered by at least 5 to 10 places at a time. This required considerable bookkeeping, but eventually paid off. I kept my journal selections informed, researching each one trying to make certain that the work I was sending would be of some interest to them. I also tried to have each poem under consideration by a range of journals: some smaller, some more prestigious, some highly competitive. I kept notes as to which journals had responded personally and what types of poems seemed to work for them. I tried to follow up quickly on positive responses. In short, I adapted the same strategies I had learned as a job hunter to the task of getting published, and this (combined with regular editing and revising) seems to have worked.

Between 2006 and the present, I’ve had 39 poems accepted in 19 journals, including Barn Owl Review, Crab Orchard Review, Diagram, The Drunken Boat, Poetry Southeast, Portland Review, Redactions, and Washington Square. In addition, my full-length manuscript, The Lost Country of Sight, recently won the 2007 Philip Levine Prize and is due out this fall from Anhinga Press. It’s been an incredible couple of years, but at the end of the day, it’s not really about the number of poems published – it’s about finding the right home for each poem. I’ve been very lucky to have had the poems wind up at the right places at the right time.

Right now I’m focused again on writing and am currently at work on my second book. I’ve slowed down my submissions for the time being while I polish these poems, but continue to send things out as they feel ready to go out.

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

For the most part I’ve been quite happy with my publishing “trajectory.” I think if I had to start over, I’d spend less time worrying about writing the perfect cover letter. I’d also make certain that I always had the opportunity to check the galleys before the journal went to press. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with poorly set poems and in one instance, a journal that misspelled my name five times in the same issue. So yes, always ask for the galleys.

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

I think I started seeking publication as a way to engage with a larger community, to step outside of myself. I saw the poem as something like a message in a bottle. Each submission was a casting, a testing of how far my words might go, and perhaps the offering up of a question: who will read this? is there someone on the other shore? To some degree this is still true for me. Publication hasn’t been so much about validation or credential seeking, as it has been about completing a conversation, hearing a response, or at least knowing that the poem has been picked up and carried out into a larger current. I continue to send work out because there is joy in that conversation.

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 there is any great change in the way I think of a poem after it is published in a journal. If I should come to see it as unfinished or for some reason unsatisfying, I will continue to work on it long after it has appeared in print. I think that tinkering with the individual poems is a natural part of assembling a manuscript. Sometimes you realize that you’ve been repeating the same words through several poems and that this repetition isn’t strengthening the manuscript. Other times seeing the poem in the context of the rest of a sequence can inspire a new revision to tighten its relationship with the others or to create interesting variations on the theme.

Revision for me is in part a consideration of how a body of work is speaking as a symphonic arrangement or as an organic whole. So while I’m not directly thinking about publication while I revise, my revision process does hopefully make individual poems more publishable.

I write simply because I love the language and image. I’m interested in challenges. I want to be surprised at the end of my own poems. Publication really doesn’t enter the picture during the early stages of writing a poem — at least, I don’t believe it should.

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?

First, a disclaimer: I’ve assembled several chapbooks over the years for private distribution to friends and family members as Christmas presents and farewell gifts, but have never formally published a chapbook through a press.

In assembling a chapbook (whether for private distribution or for a contest), I usually pay close attention to how one poem transitions into the next. I try to determine what note ends one poem and find an interesting way to turn or transform that mood with the next. Sometimes a chapbook will arrange itself with a narrative arc. Sometimes it follows a more thematic structure. Regardless the final structure, I believe the individual poems should stitch together well and provide the reader with a sense of a journey, an arrival at some place new.

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.

Assembling a full-length manuscript can be daunting, but I think putting together chapbooks can be extremely helpful in training your editing and organizing eye. I like to think of the task as somewhat akin to composing a symphony. I look at the movements within the manuscript, trying to arrange arcs and variations on themes. I like to choose my opening and closing poems first. I find beginning with something strong is a good way to set a high bar for yourself and for the reader. This will also force you to question the relative strength of each new poem you add in relation to the tone set at the start.

The gap between poems can function in a similar fashion to the way a line break works within a poem. The end of one poem creates a mood and an expectation for the next. The following poem can take advantage of that expectation, twisting and turning it into something else. I like to keep the poems moving and changing — too much of the same tone or form can kill the reader’s momentum through the book. I don’t advocate range for its own sake though — each poem needs to earn its place within the book.

Sometimes movements can be called out through the use of distinct sections, other times a continuous sequence of poems is better. My first book uses sections, mainly because the poems tended to group themselves around particular vantage points. My second book most likely will not, given a different subject matter which suggests more of an interwoven technique.

A book manuscript is also something like a Zen rock garden. It is actually impossible to view the garden’s contents from one place, instead one must constantly move to appreciate its entirety. This reliance on the use of multiple views and the need to create a sense of movement throughout are both helpful considerations in planning out the flow of a book-length project. The creation of views and arcs need not be wholly narrative driven, but any arrangement will nonetheless produce a sense of a narrative — a story of some sort of passage and eventual destination (or at least the expectation of arriving).

A final piece of advice — I highly recommend reading your entire manuscript aloud in one sitting. Listen to your voice and the poems and pay attention to how tone and emotion are dealt with throughout. Listen for repetitions. Listen for where silence is doing its work. What happens when certain poems are rearranged? What happens to a poem when it moves to the start or end of a section? How does it affect the reading of those around it? For me at least, there’s a lot that gets revealed in this process.

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

I market my work in a number of ways. First, I regularly read and attend poetry events in my local area. Giving readings is the best way to build a readership and to sell the book. It’s a simple way to make a human connection. Second, I carry business cards with me which I give out to poets and writers that I meet. My cards list my email address and my website — two ways that people can reach me and become introduced to my work. Third, I maintain a personal website which features sample of my work, a list of upcoming events, an up-to-date cv, and a brief personal introduction. Fourth, I keep a blog. I try to post somewhat regularly on poetry topics as well as my own personal projects and experiences. I find that blogging provides a reader an even more personal access to the way you think and create, which sometime will build more interest in the work.

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

bound by obligations to the bottom line.

9. Small- and micro-presses are…

full of innovation and surprises.

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

I’d say my relationship with my publisher, Anhinga Press, is pretty close to the ideal one. There is a lot of mutual respect and trust. I met with them during the NYC AWP and found them very willing to work with me on the cover art and creative design. They also assured me that I’d have final say on the look of the book — no surprises when I get my box in the mail. All in all, they really seem to know what they’re doing and are very talented.

I don’t think I’ve had a relationship with a publisher from hell, but I’d assume it would involve extensive delays, a lack of timely communication, wide-spread typographic errors, and an unwillingness to support the book through nominations or providing review copies. The absolute worst thing would be to have a publisher go out of business right after (or right before) going to press.

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Neil Aitken was born in Vancouver, BC and grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the western parts of the United States and Canada. His first book of poetry, The Lost Country of Sight, was the winner of the 2007 Philip Levine Prize and is forthcoming from Anhinga Press. A proud Kundiman Poetry Fellow, his work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Diagram, The Drunken Boat, Poetry Southeast, Portland Review, RHINO, Sou’wester, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing at USC and is the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review. Neil’s website is here.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield

Coming up:

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. Reb Livingston, May 1
13. Ron Silliman, May 8

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Ten Questions (2): Sam Byfield

Australian poet Sam Byfield answers the ten questions this week. He just got back to Australia from a lengthy spell in China and his publication trajectory is inspirationally international. Many thanks for participating, Sam.

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

I still remember my first publication very fondly, in 2005 in the recently defunct Lily Lit Review. In 2005 and 2006 I continued submitting to the better online literary journals and published in most of the places I wanted to. By mid 2006 I had the confidence to submit more to print journals. From then until recently I’ve been living in China, and so my submissions were limited to who would accept online submissions. Meridian was my first print acceptance and, as with Lily a year earlier, I was grateful that they were prepared to publish someone without much of a track record. In the past 12 months I’ve published in about a dozen print journals, including National Poetry Review, Diner and Cream City Review (US), Heat and LiNQ (Australia), Nimesis (UK) and The Asian Literary Review (Hong Kong) and am forthcoming in two anthologies, Outside Voices and Poetry Without Borders. I’ve become more selective with my online publications, focusing on better known zines, preferably that pay and publish the sorts of poets I find in print zines- Cordite and Mascara are two recent Australian examples.

In 2007 I published my first chapbook, From the Middle Kingdom, with Pudding House Press, a little collection written during my first year in China. Publishing my first chapbook was a great experience- it gave me something tangible that I could show to the world. And it gave me the confidence to tell people I was a ‘writer’- without a book, it can be difficult to tell people who aren’t writers what you do, what the hundreds of hours you spend on the craft amount to. At the start of 2008 I launched it at Beijing literary venue The Bookworm, doing some readings from it and later work. I will be reading at the launch of the Poetry Without Borders anthology at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 22, alongside some pretty impressive poets, something I’m really excited about.

At the moment I’m finishing off my first full length collection, which I’m hoping to publish in Australia sometime this year. It’s shaping up as a two section book, the first based in China and Asia generally, the second focused on Australia. It may well evolve in a different direction though. Over the past six months my poetry has taken some interesting twists. I’ve been writing some ekphrastic poems and some historical poems, based in China and Australia. My first degree was in Australian history, and I’m finding the early history of Australian settlers to be a particularly rich poetic seam.

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

I’m a comparatively new writer, and I’m pretty happy with the trajectory I’ve taken so far. There are a few online journals I wouldn’t publish in if I had my time again, because of inattentive editors or generally bad poetry that I would have noticed if I’d paid more attention to previous issue, but these things are often only obvious in hindsight.

When I first started publishing I had an extremely unpleasant encounter with an ezine (whose name I won’t mention- suffice to say I’ve never published there, and won’t!). I submitted a few poems and a few weeks later received an email basically saying ‘yes, we thought your poems were great- but no, we won’t be publishing them because you plagiarized them. We searched them and found one of them had already been workshopped on bla bla bla online workshop. Not only will we not publish it but we’ll send an email to every editor we know telling them you’re a filthy plagiarist.’ My version is probably more polite than the actual email. You can understand my shock at not being asked to explain the situation and at the editors not even Googling me to work out if I’d published elsewhere or was workshopping online. Of course, what had happened was that someone had read a poem of mine that I’d workshopped at an open online community and has decided to steal it and workshop it elsewhere as their own. I sent off an email explaining the situation, showing them where I’d workshopped it previously, with references from the admin staff at this other community verifying what I’d said and showing them the thread, date-stamped, where I’d workshopped it. I received a reply email from the editor of the ezine saying that, yes, I was correct, but that I should understand the pressures editors are under and that hers had been the right course of action. All in all it was the most unprofessional display I could imagine.

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

As with Kristy Bowen’s answer previously, it’s partly about having a readership. I get a real buzz knowing that not only a whole bunch of people are reading my work online, but that people on at least four different continents are reading print journals with my work in them. A positive form of globalisation, you might call it. I like to think it enhances cultural understanding- certainly, when I read poetry coming out of places I haven’t been, I get a better understanding of those places and people.

Also, of course, ambition is involved. Publishing is a yardstick for how my poetry is progressing. When I get an acceptance from a big name journal it pushes me to write more, to trust my own voice, to push myself to be the best poet I can be. In addition, I get a buzz out of seeing my work alongside that of poets I really respect.

One thing I really strive towards is to be genuinely international, and have both a strong print and online presence. In an Australian context, there aren’t many poets publishing beyond Australia, which I think is a shame. There’s a certain insularity that comes with that (or causes it), and a defensiveness I’ve found in one or two Aussie writers. I tend to think the quality of poetry being published in US print journals is on the whole more diverse, more interesting, and generally stronger than that being published in Australia.

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 revise very little after something’s been published. Occasionally I’ll change a few words or lines, but usually when I send something off it’s because I’m happy with the product, and I figure it’s best for my sanity if I let go of them at some point. If it’s in a magazine I feel like it’s found a home, though I always keep an eye out for anthologies and journals that accept previously published stuff, nothing wrong with having two homes.

I don’t write for any particular audience, except in the sense that I want the poem to be good so that people enjoy it. One thing I aim for in my poetry is a sort of universality, an emotional core, an accessibility. As with all writers, my work comes from a unique set of life experiences and personality factors, but I want a range of people to be able to get something from it, to be able to enjoy it on some level, to be able to connect with an image or an emotion or a place, or some shared experience.

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’ve done it once and enjoyed the process. It was a chapbook of writing from my first year in China, and return to Australia, so there was definitely a sense of narrative development. Anyone who was critiquing and reading my poems during that time would know that place played a huge part in the writing of the poems, and man-woman stuff.

More recently, I’ve been working on a few different series. I’m still writing personal poetry, but in a lot of cases I’m exploring different narrators and voices, different physical and emotional landscapes. There’s still a piece of me in each poem, an emotional core or a familiar place or experience, but I like to think I’m getting more expansive. These might evolve into specific chapbooks, though there’s a way to go yet.

Chapbooks are great. I see them as little milestones for a poet, a way of getting a certain frame of work into a book, of it being accessible. Ten bucks for a chapbook is really just three coffees. I try to buy chapbooks when I’ve got the money and really enjoy having the work of people I admire sitting in my bookcase, especially if I’m friends with the authors.
In my own case, even if one doesn’t like my poetry, the paper is high quality and is good for building fires on cold nights.

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.

Not having released a full length book yet I’m probably not well placed to answer this. I’ve enjoyed books that have a strong sense of narrative arc, and books that don’t. I tend to think the connections between poems, the consistencies and evolutions of tone and theme and emotional core, are important- certain poems work best when placed before or after certain other poems. One good example is Steve Mueske’s collection A Mnemonic for Desire (Ghost Road Press), which I recently purchased. The book consists of 5 sections, and there are distinct patterns that emerge in each section, which give the individual sections and collection as a whole a cohesive, balanced feel. There are themes and voices and images that reappear several times in the book, and the beginnings and ends of sections drive the overall narrative in a very strong way.

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

Having spent much of the past few years in China, my capacity for marketing has been limited. That said, I’m an active member of several online communities (The Gazebo, and the private workshop Lily’s Forum), and marketed and sold my chapbook to members there. While I was back in Australia for a few weeks last year I gave copies of the chapbook to friends of mine, who I tasked with pestering their friends to buy copies, and before leaving China in early March I made all my friends there buy a copy (though I sold them at half price and spent the money on beer so my business skills could be questioned).

The Australian publishing scene, especially poets under the age of 40, isn’t big, and I’m hoping to offload some copies of From the Middle Kingdom to bookstores when I return.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers look good on your poetry CV, and have a capacity to help with marketing and readings that smaller publishers might not.

9. Small- and micro-presses can take risks larger publishers can’t.

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

I’ve had no problems with Pudding House Press. I think, especially for publishing a first book, they are a great place to do it- fast, easy and the quality of the chapbooks is first class. And I was able to use my own cover art, draw especially for the book by my sister Erin, which was a really nice bonus.

That said, next time I publish I’d like to do it with someone bigger, in a position to help facilitate some publicity and readings. There are a few publishers in Australia who I’m looking at, though at this preliminary stage I’m getting the impression that publishing a first full length collection is probably easier in the US than at home.

I can’t really think of what would constitute a hellish relationship with a publisher. I’ve had one or two hellish relationships, but that’s another matter entirely.

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Sam Byfield is the author of From the Middle Kingdom (Pudding House Press). He has been published in North America, Australia, the UK and Hong Kong, and widely online, and is forthcoming in the Poetry Without Borders (Picaro) and Outside Voices anthologies. He has just returned to Australia after living in China, and can be contacted at sambyfield@gmail.com.

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Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts

Coming up:

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): 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

Standing Page
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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

Standing Page
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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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