Monday, January 29, 2024

TBR: Mom in Space by Lisa Ampleman

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. 



Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


In poems and a few lyric essays, Mom in Space addresses infertility, parenting, and chronic illness through the perspective of a woman interested in the history and biology of spaceflight. With an eye on both the intergalactic and the terrestrial, these poems take place on an Earth affected by climate change, nuclear waste, and racism: “We don’t have enough rare-earth / metals to build a fleet of starships. // We just have the rare Earth” (“Calamity Days”).


Which essay or poem did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which essay or poem gave you the most trouble, and why?


I enjoyed writing a lot of the book—when I tell people about the writing that happened in 2020 and 2021 in particular, I often just say in amazement, “It was so fun!” Of course, some of the poems tapped into emotionally challenging experiences (see below), but “Alpha,” for example, felt like wordplay and spending time with concepts that fascinate me, like the Van Allen belts of radiation and the radio waves that come from pulsar stars.


“Lava Tubes on the Moon” gave me the most trouble, in a way. I’d been wanting to write a poem with that title for quite a while, but that’s not usually how my creative process works, so I had a lot of false starts. Then I started writing a poem about my experience of miscarriage with my husband, thinking about what he might have felt, since so much of the book is me processing that and other things. I struggled to have those two concepts live in the same space together for a while, I struggled to revisit that moment in the hospital, and I struggled to figure out the poem’s form until I thought about really long lines (that would still fit on a 6 x 9 page of poetry) alternating with emptiness, gaps—tubes, if you will. Until the speaker brought out sweatpants and spinach dip, the poem felt very inert as well. I’m happy with how it turned out in the end, though I don’t know if it’ll be one I choose for readings because of how it brings me back there to that hospital bed.


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


Because I published my second book at LSU Press and they had first right of refusal for my next project, I knew there was a strong chance to work with them again—but that I had to do the work as if I was pitching to them for the first time. I loved working with them and was interested in doing so again. Once I felt like the book was ready, I sent it to James Long, curator of the poetry series. They sent it to a peer reviewer (university press!), who recommended to publish it with a few small suggestions for revision.


So, in my case, publication wasn’t as difficult as getting to the book itself—that’s more like the low point. After my son was born in 2015, I didn’t do much new writing. I kept submitting what became Romances, but individual poem drafts often failed. Then in 2019, I got notified by the Hermitage Artist Retreat that I’d been awarded a residency there—the kick is that I had never applied; they choose their residents differently. I was floored and flummoxed. I wasn’t sure at first I could take time away from my family. But I did, in February 2020, and I brought along a book about the Apollo program I’d been wanting to read since we’d visited an Apollo 11 capsule exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. I got hooked and started writing space poems and reading more about spaceflight. Two weeks after I got home from Florida, the pandemic lockdown began, and the combination of time, fear (about the pandemic as well as a spinal arthritis I’d just developed), and space obsession put the book into motion at last. As I say in “Neil and Me and Work and the Body,” an essay in the book, “A pandemic raged, my body hurt, but I could escape to space.”


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


That a fallow period—which somehow is even listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary!—is okay. I’m loosely in such a place now, dabbling with a few things but between focused work. As I mentioned above, I was in a fallow period for years before things kicked into gear in 2020. Just till the soil and fill the well with reading, beauty, contentment, and perhaps other kinds of creative work until it’s time to enter an active time again.


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


At times while I worked on this book, I found myself writing down things I wouldn’t say out loud or bring up in conversation. I loved the rhythm of “My mother never taught me / to hover over the / public bathroom toilet” (the opening of “Public Intimacies”), but I was surprised that I’d put it into words, then in a poem, then submitted that poem to magazines, then included the poem in a book I knew might get published. I’m vulnerable in this book in ways that surprise me still. I wonder if part of that vulnerability stems from how much of the writing happened in the first year of the pandemic, when I had more time to be alone and introspective and feel like I wasn’t in the public sphere.


How did you find the title of your book?


During the early days of the pandemic, my husband, son, and I spent a lot of time relaxing on couches together. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point in that era, my son (then four or five), was talking as he is wont to do while he plays games on his tablet. He knows I like space—I was probably reading a book about SkyLab or the shuttle program—and among the other slightly singsong-y things he said was “a mom in space.” I typed it into the notes app on my phone right away. So, I knew fairly early in the process what the title could be, and it probably shaped some of the work that happened after that.


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


Well, since I mentioned spinach dip above, here’s a pretty simple version.







SIGNED COPIES: Downbound Books







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