Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Very Like A Whale

These questions are from Nic Sebastian's Ten Questions Series. Have a look!

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

I’ve been at it for about ten years now. I had 65 publications in print magazines before publishing my first book in 2002. Energized by the efficiency of online submissions, I’ve published a few hundred pieces on the web since then. I enjoy the immediacy of that glowing screen. Also, no paper cuts—important for a pianist.

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

Get my technical tools sharpened first, as opposed to learning on the job. It would have been less embarassing. Now my beginner’s work is online permanently, nuzzling the more evolved stuff. I would have joined a workshop sooner, too—it’s a great way to develop an eye.

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

Why not? A poem is not a private diary with its own little lock. I like the idea of bringing the process full circle, and when an editor plucks my work out of a slush pile, it thrills me, rather.

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?

If I look at a piece after it’s been published, I’m going to revise it. I can’t help it. Fortunately, there is always a place for an improved version—in a bigger volume, or a magazine that reprints. The concept of publication doesn’t enter my mind while I’m composing—I focus only on the work, what it’s struggling to say. And just because a poem gets published doesn’t mean it’s any good, we tell each other often enough. However, it’s my stack of unpublished pieces that feels like one failure on top of another.

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?

My first chap, Flower Half Blown was more or less a sampler. The poems were linked in a loose way, with no screaming theme. My third book, Samsara contained eighteen Hindu-centric poems. Right now, I’m assembling a ekphrastic little book of poems-and-art based on my sister’s drawings. I like the chaps, especially to present poems that are thematically or stylistically hard to integrate. I think of mine chaps as calling cards, and I swap them at readings. Too bad they don’t get any play in the bookstores.

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.

The concept of narrative arc has its charms, especially if it’s not too linear. Other approaches of ordering poems are just as valid, however—linking by theme, repetition, form, variation, texture, tone. Poetry is a medium of unsaids, I read somewhere, so the spaces between poems are important, too. They direct the reader’s attention, help him find the fugal inner voices.
I sequenced the sixty-four poems in Epithalamion addressing my central question (how can we live in a random world?) according to possible answers. A ribbon of poems about religion, science, nature, and love unspooled, an element in one poem weaving into an element in the next.

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

I keep a blog, two of them, in fact—Shiva’s Arms for my novel and Scattered Light for my sister’s art and my poetry. I continue to pepper the journals with submissions, and mention my books in my bio. I have a business card, and have been known to give it out at dinner parties, if the guests eyes don’t glaze over when I tell them what I do. There are a few other marketing strategies I’m toying with—maybe I’ll tuck that business card into the return envelopes when I pay this month’s bills. Hey, they spam us!

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

the brass ring.

9. Small- and micro-presses are…

the heart of the enterprise.

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

Jennifer Bosveld from Pudding House was ideal. She responed to my emailed manuscript within an hour, with a “Simply splendid!” and two months later a book with a gold flecked red cover arrived at my door.

After skimming my manuscript, the publisher from hell did not understand my intent, but asked for rewrites that changed that ballyhoed arc anyway, needed the pages Yesterday, kept moving the pub date up… What was the question, again?

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