Monday, May 9, 2022

TBR: Dear Selection Committee by Melissa Studdard

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?


Dear Selection Committee wrestles with issues like climate change, addiction, modern distractions, gender presentation, religious questioning, and the nature of pain. It’s framed as a job application and is “a subversive, sexy love song to an endlessly messy self and the burning world it inhabits,”—and I’m terrified of it, so that must mean it’s hot.

 What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?


I basically ran down the street with all my decorum and every sensible thing anyone has ever tried to teach me burning like a Molotov cocktail in my hand. Then I hurled it into the world and tried not to run away. That courage comes from the modeling of other poets. Seeing poets like Diane Seuss, Rita Dove, Suzanne Frischkorn, Kelli Russell Agodon, Audre Lorde, Natalie Diaz, and Rosebud Ben-Oni meet the page as their authentic, unapologetic selves gave me the courage to do so as well. Also, having a great support group of accepting, loving people has given the courage to write what I need to write, and so much more.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


I entered and placed in several contests. Always the bridesmaid. But as I did this I kept shaping and shaping the collection—removing, adding, and revising poems, changing orderings and subheadings, and so forth. Then, one afternoon, I gave a reading at AWP, and Jackleg Press’ new poetry editor, Simone Muench was one of the other readers. A few months later, she wrote to ask if I had a book. It was perfect timing. I’d just gotten Dear Selection Committee into a form I was truly happy with (why do we send our babies out before they’re ready? Lol), and I was about to start sending it around again. I also love Simone’s work and was incredibly impressed with Jackleg’s model, which offers generous royalties, has an all-star editorial board and an environmentally sustainable publishing practice, and focuses on work that is “bold, vibrant, and authentic.” The fact that Simone asked for my book after hearing me read at AWP has reinforced my belief in how important it is to get out there and share your work. You never know how it will touch someone or what good fortune it may bring you later.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment” –Rumi


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


Everything surprised me. Every single thing. But the thing that surprises me the most is that I’m actually publishing it. (tries to hide behind plant)


How do you approach revision?


Of course, it’s different every time. But, the most important aspect of revision for me is that I stay loose and engage it as an integral part of the creative process. If I become overly analytical, I cramp up. For instance, I can’t just stare at a poem and try to figure out which word to cut or what the title should be. I keep “scratch paper” beside me as I’m writing and revising (whether that means a second word document or a piece of printer paper), and I free write and come back to the main document, free write and come back to the main document, again and again, all the way through revision. If I’m trying to think of a title, I’ll free write for the title. That scratch paper—informal, unseen by others, and totally accepting of my worst crap—keeps me relaxed and unbridled.  


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


Until you asked, I didn’t actually realize how often food appears in Dear Selection Committee. Most of the food mentions are little surreal, though--a torte made by trees; little cups of pain, shots of pain with pain backs on the rocks, and pain crudités on leafy green beds of pain; a café that serves only whipped cream on the tips of penises, a skewered earth. But there is crème brûlée, plain and simple, served in little white ramekins! Who doesn’t love crème brûlée? And Jacques Pépin? And Julia Child?








~“The Pain Is So Resplendent It Has Babies,” HERE:

~”Everyone in Me Is a Bird,” HERE:




DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.