Archive for April, 2013

Happy Paperback, Sad Jackal!!

April 23rd, 2013 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Being Friends with Boys

Voting for the Sad Jackal band logo contest is now closed. The winner will be announced tomorrow morning! Thanks for those who voted, and I’ll contact sticker winners directly!

 

I have been waiting a long, long time for the paperback release of Being Friends With Boys, for two reasons: 1) because paperback means it’s is easier to carry and cheaper to purchase, so even more of you can get your own; 2) because it means it’s time for a contest I’ve been planning for months!!

 

Participate in the Sad Jackal Band Logo

Contest Now!!

 

And happy paperback!!

 

Sailing Away with Poet Chelsea Rathburn

April 17th, 2013 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Talking with Other Authors, Writing and Reading

While working for the AJC Decatur Book Festival, I was able to meet and collaborate with an abundance of incredible people. One of these folks was poet Chelsea Rathburn, who has been the driving force behind the festival’s esteemed and successful poetry track for several years. For National Poetry Month, I’m thrilled to celebrate Chelsea not just as a co-worker and colleague, but as someone with an amazing new collection of poetry. Chelsea was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about her collection, A Raft of Grief, but also the publishing process of poetry anthologies, plus this beautiful, important craft in general! This is good stuff. Read through!

TEM: Your newest collection, A Raft of Grief, is about the cold dissolution of one relationship, and the warm beginnings of another. Is it strange writing about such intimate things, knowing not only strangers will read this, but potentially the two gentlemen in question, as well?

CR:  I think it’s important for writers to say what needs to be said without censoring themselves for fear of offending someone – at least when writing a first draft. That said, I’ve often changed specific details or cast things in third-person (“she felt,” versus “I felt”) to create a little bit of distance between art and life. And some early reviews of A Raft of Grief have assumed that the poems as a whole are much more autobiographical than I intended, which is indeed a little strange.

As far as the two gentlemen are concerned, my ex-husband is a musician and frequently wrote songs about our relationship and its many problems. I suppose we had a policy that all’s fair in love and art. I’m now happily married to another poet. My husband sees all of my poems as soon as they’re finished, and he is my best reader and critic.

TEM:  The world of publishing poetry is very different from, say, YA novels or even creative nonfiction. Can you tell us a little bit about those differences, and what they mean for you as a writer?

CR:  In a nutshell, I think the difference is that poetry has a lower readership and offers lower pay. Poets enter the publishing world by publishing poems in magazines (and it can take years to receive that first magazine acceptance), and if they’re lucky, they build an audience and one day publish a book. There are no agents or big advances. No one becomes a poet because they dream of fame and fortune. Unless they’re completely crazy, that is. (People keep commenting to me and my husband that perhaps our daughter will take after us and become a poet, and our response is always an emphatic “We hope not.”) So if fame and fortune are off the table, what’s left? The love of the art itself. Poets write because they can’t not write.

Poetry does offer a chance to connect with readers on a really profound level. I give readings around the country, and I’m always hearing stories from people about the way that specific poems have touched them. And that’s really incredible. So much of my work is done in isolation, so I love hearing that a poem has connected with a reader on a personal level.

TEM:  Another question about logistics: Many of these poems appeared in other magazines before they were put together in a book. What’s that process like, assembling things together that have been published individually already? How do you know where to put what?

CR:  That’s a great question. In the early stages of working on a book, I’m concerned with the individual poems, telling their stories, exploring their ideas. Over time, patterns and themes naturally emerge. When I sit down to put a book together (generally after fifteen or twenty of the poems have been written), I have to think of the book as a separate entity entirely. A book is an opportunity to tell a larger story than the individual poems can do on their own.  With A Raft of Grief, there are poems that were originally written about completely unrelated situations, but because of their placement in the book, they became part of the larger story of a dissolving marriage. (One example of this is a poem called “Fire Ants,” which is about a childhood memory of being bitten by ants. In the book, “Fire Ants” comes just after a poem called “After Filing for Divorce,” so the last line, “and still I missed the welts when they were gone,” comments on the absent spouse, who was a source of irritation but a familiar irritation.) As the book took shape, I also wrote two or three poems specifically to tie in to the themes that had already emerged and to fill gaps in that larger story, which is about losing and finding oneself.

TEM:  My favorite section of A Raft of Grief is Part II: In Transit, because of the Eclogues. Tell us about this form, and why you felt these imaginary conversations were the best format for your content–essentially, working on getting past a broken marriage, and trying to face one’s own possible role in it. (Which is the genius part of this whole section!)

CR:  Thank you! The eclogues are essentially fictional conversations between an increasingly estranged couple about the trips they have taken together. (Historically, eclogues were pastoral dialogues between shepherds, but my versions are more suburban.) I distrust poets who write about the end of love or other people’s failings but are unwilling to implicate themselves, so finding the right vehicle for examining my own role was really important to me. Because the eclogues tell a story over multiple poems with contradictions and corrections, the sequence is about more than the marriage itself; it’s about memory and loss, culpability and blame, and the storylines we create from our lives.

The sequence came about in a rather roundabout way. As my first marriage was ending, I was writing some pretty raw and angry poems, and I knew that they were very one-sided. (I published a few of them here and there, but ultimately decided that they weren’t really representative of me, and I never considered putting them in the book.) In 2008, I came across a poem that I’d started several years earlier about a strange experience my ex-husband and I had had on a trip to Paris. I had the idea to cast it as a story being told by a couple to a silent listener – sort of a “what I did on my summer vacation” moment.

After I’d written the first poem, “Eclogue with Paris and Prayer,” I was hooked on the form and the couple I’d created, so I put them in various situations and essentially eavesdropped on their conversations. The two have had some experiences that I’ve had, but beyond that they really don’t bear much resemblance to me or to anyone I know, so it was the closest I’ve come to experiencing what a fiction writer does. I tried to give both characters faults, though I do side with the woman a bit more.

I found the eclogue form really exhilarating because it allowed for multiple, shifting perspectives and self-implication – things that the typical poem written from the “I” point of view can’t do.

TEM:  “What Was Left” in Part I is one of my favorites in the whole book, because I always love collections of material things and the emotional imprints they leave behind. It’s so easy for these lists to become just that though: clever little lists. How did you know what to pick, and what to leave out? Which items would have the most emotional resonance?

CR:  Here’s the poem in question:

What Was Left

The headboard to the guest room bed,
its mattress gone, the buckled frame
still joined to one unyielding bolt.
Three pairs of wrinkled dress pants
wadded at the bottom of the hamper,
six black t-shirts, an IBM
circa nineteen-eighty-six.
A snorkel, mask, and fins, white socks,
loose change, a broken film projector,
the television. Restaurant matchbooks,
tax records and old license plates,
boxes and bags of photographs—
Venice, Vienna, Cadaques—
the way that we once lived, the notes
and valentines sporting forever
and always, a jar of sauerkraut.

I love catalog or list poems and the way that a seemingly random grouping of details takes on significance through juxtapositions. In the case of this poem, I really did make a list of things that were left behind when my ex-husband moved out, and I was angry that he had left the headboard and a mattress frame for me to deal with because he couldn’t get the bolt off. That’s the opening image, and the item that gets the most space in the poem, because a bed is naturally such a powerful symbol of a marriage. From there, I included items that had significance to me personally because they conveyed disorder and chaos (there was a license plate from a state we didn’t live in, and a 20-year-old computer!) or they suggested hopefulness – these are people who collected matchbooks of places they ate together. Ultimately, I wanted to juxtapose the sweetness and hopefulness of those love notes with the sauerkraut abandoned in the refrigerator.

TEM:  There’s a lot about travel here in A Raft of Grief, so much that it made me, as a reader, curious about the life in both of these relationships led not abroad. (Though we do get glimpses.) Were there more domestic poems that didn’t make it in this collection? If so, why, and if not, why do you think not?

CR:  Traveling is really at the center of this book – and primarily the worry that when we travel, for better or worse, we can’t leave our selves behind.

There really weren’t any more domestic poems that I left out. I was fortunate to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts while I was working on this book. I’d already begun the travel eclogues, and the NEA fellowship allowed me to travel back to Paris to research a couple of poems and write more. My next manuscript, which is just getting underway, promises to be much more domestic, if only because my husband and I have a young daughter now, and so our lives are centered around the home.

TEM:  The book begins with the image of a raft of grief, and ends with a child’s sailboat returning home. That there’s a whole sandwich made by these two images is powerful and certainly not lost on me. Can you just talk a little bit about the connection between these two boats, in your own mind?

CR:  The first poem, “A Raft of Grief,” is not the oldest poem in the book, but I knew as soon as I had written it that it would be the title poem. It’s about the desire to rid oneself of grief by packing all the baggage and pain onto a boat and pushing it off from the shore. About two years later, my then-boyfriend and I were in a park in Paris and came across children playing with wooden boats in a fountain. The image stayed with me, and I knew that I wanted to use those boats as a sort of homecoming for the speaker in the book: her life may not be perfect, but she is living in the present and embracing both joy and uncertainty. In a sense, the speaker is getting on that second boat and sailing home to herself.

TEM:  Lastly, a lot of young people are interested in poetry, but the road to becoming as accomplished a poet as yourself can be tough. What advice or encouragement do you have for folks in high school now, who are avid poets?

If I have one specific piece of advice for young poets, it’s to write with specific details. A weakness that many new writers make is hiding behind obscurity and abstract language. I know when I was in high school, I felt the urge to express myself, but at the same time I didn’t want people to see into me, to know my secrets. (One of my biggest secrets was that I worried that I didn’t have anything important to say.) So I hid behind coded language and abstractions. When I teach poetry workshops now, I often read poems that are intentionally vague and my students explain that they wanted the reader “to take the poem however he or she wanted.” Part of becoming a more accomplished poet is developing confidence in your own intentions and messages – today, I want my readers to know exactly what I meant in each poem.

On a more general note, young poets should read widely, and read everything – fiction and nonfiction as well as poetry. Fall in love with language. Go to readings, or watch videos of poets reading from their work on YouTube. Give yourself permission to take risks and make mistakes. Know that the poems you write today may not ever be published, but they are still important in leading you to the next poem and discovering something more about yourself.

Thanks for such great (and challenging!) questions and for spending time with the book.

TEM:  Thank you Chelsea, for sharing so much of yourself and your process with us. I’m already looking forward to the next collection!

My First Book Was Actually A Collection of Poetry

April 10th, 2013 by Terra | 2 Comments | Filed in Uncategorized

I know, I know. You thought my first publication was Pure. It’s understandable, since only 500 copies of the other one were printed, and Pure was definitely my very first novel. In reality though, the first book I ever published was a collection of poetry: “The Table Beneath the Hand.”

The college I went to, you see, had its own famous press. Part of what made it famous was the Bunn-McClelland chapbook award, an award for which students in their junior year were allowed to submit a manuscript, with the winning manuscript being published by the press. (The press, and this award, were part of why I chose this college.) To be a chapbook winner was a really big deal at school, and it was definitely a big deal for me. I worked incredibly hard on my poems (many of which I wrote while studying Ezra Pound during a special program that only St. Andrews students and students from one other school in the country get to participate in), and when I won, I couldn’t quite believe it. (Much the same way I felt when I got the offer from Simon Pulse for Pure.)

That was back in 1995, when I was 21 years old. What surprises me about reading the collection now, is that while yes there are some cringe-worthy embarrassments in there, some of the poems still hold up.

To celebrate National Poetry Month (my favorite month) here’s one of my favorite poems from “The Table Beneath the Hand,” dedicated to a good friend. It has no title.

 

I trapped a dragonfly today:
put him
in a glass jar,
dropped
in a few blades of grass and lilac buds,
and
slammed
on
the lid.

For awhile he buzzed and bled around in there,
banging on the insides of impatience: lonely.
But every time I finished reading a poem’s line to him,
I could hear him taking in his breath again,
startled but slowly,
a recognition.
And his eyes were silk and sometimes I could hear them blinking,
but they would never fix on me . . .
the blossoms . . . the glass . . .

In the night I awoke and he was at it again:
“Why–”thmp
“are you being”
thmp thmp bng-bump
“so f***ing nice to me?”
he asked.
thmp thmp
And my hair was wet and shining then,
and my God I could hardly breathe;
and his wings were white and silver waxen:
heavy, shimmering . . .
free.

And the only words I could say
were love,
but he could swallow that with time,
so I left him there in the bottom of the jar
–as he asked–
stilled and lovely,
sleepy and
satisfied;

although,
in the morning,
even the lilac buds were gone–
a hole in the glass
chewed through.

(© 1995, St. Andrews Press)