TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?
Both lyric and speculative, this poetry book imagines a human mission to Mars, the consequence of climate change and environmental ruin. The landscape of Mars is a canvas on which the trespasses of the American Frontier are rehearsed and remade. The collection is mostly concerned with the danger of the colonial mindset, as well as how environmental destruction and gendered violence are linked.
Which poem/s did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which poem/s gave you the most trouble, and why?
Poems that I found especially pleasurable to write include the sonnet crowns: “Deep Space Crown,” and “Backflash: Seven Catastrophes,” and “Fugue for Wind and Pipes.” I love the incantatory quality of a sonnet crown, how the last line of the previous sonnet becomes the first of the next, the calculation and geometry involved of making complete thoughts legible inside the form.
I also had so much fun with the less “traditional” forms in the collection, such as the poems that use question-and-answer templates: “Red Planet Application,” and “Lost Exit Interview.” Mixing registers of language—bureaucratic jargon and the diction from standardized tests with the elusive moves of lyric poetry—that was a great pleasure to me, very playful and freeing.
I don’t remember any poems being more troublesome than others, but putting together a book structure that made sense was maddening. The original manuscript had three sections with the “Backflash” poems—those poems that give glimpses of the ruined earth, the consequences of climate change—all in their own section, midway through the book. In the end, I scattered those poems throughout the book instead, thinking of them as brief associative flashbacks, glimpses that occur fleetingly and with warning, more the way memory actually works. With the new structure, I had to shorten the book to make the temporal balance work, cutting a couple of poems I still kind of miss.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
The process for this book was difficult, sadly. The manuscript started finalizing or placing in contests as soon as I begin to send it out—a good sign!—but took forever to land. There was so much interest from many presses, but it took a very long time to get a commitment: this is a big problem with the poetry contest model.
Then, I finally got the book under contract, but I had a bad experience with that publisher; I ended up pulling the book from them after some unethical behavior on their part. Finally, my manuscript ended up in the hands of Lisa Ampleman and Shara Lessley, who went wild for it. I’m so glad I ended up in their hands; working with Acre Books (the micropress at The Cincinnati Review) has been terrific so far.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
“Don’t write what you know; Write towards what you don’t know.” Even when you are using content or forms that you’re familiar with, I think pushing your focus towards what is mysterious or strange—about language, about people, about an event or experience—is the most important thing you can do. In this book, I really exaggerated this approach by creating a whole world and set of circumstances that were wholly imaginary.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
Honestly, I can’t believe I got away with a lyric poetry collection that’s mostly set on Mars, and that some people are taking it seriously. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
How did you find the title of your book?
The title of the book comes from a fairly unremarkable two lines in the last sonnet sequence, “Wind for Fugue and Pipes.” I like it for its lyric strangeness—how can you tear the tilt from the seasons, exactly?—but also for the ways in which it hints at climate change, the possibility of a planet thrown off-kilter, violently and irrevocably.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
I wish! Food is very difficult and rationed on Mars. Any recipes are probably vegetarian, too, since animals can’t really survive there.
I think the only drink mentioned in the book would be whiskey in the first poem: alluding to the genre of the Western, those frontier cowboys are always getting drunk. And one of the poem sequences, “Flashback: Seven Catastrophes,” taking place in Indonesia, mentions eating fried rice and coffee, as well as American pizza topped with hallucinogenic mushrooms. Sorry, I don’t have a recipe for that! Too bad.
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