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
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
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
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://lisaampleman.com/
ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK~~
PUBLISHER SITE: https://lsupress.org/9780807181256/mom-in-space/
SIGNED COPIES: Downbound Books
READ 2 POEMS FROM THIS BOOK: https://therumpus.net/2021/12/21/rumpus-original-poetry-two-poems-by-lisa-ampleman/