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.
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.
Previously on Ten Questions:
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