I’m curious: what’s your elevator pitch for your book?
Everyone has been in love. Everyone has been miserable because of love. But people can often inflate the loss of a lover to elegiac, even epic proportions. This makes every love story an
How did you come upon the subject of your book?
Working with teens and spending time on social media has highlighted for me the problem our society has with scale. We ignore real tragedy all around us, but blow our own little personal problems completely out of proportion. When I worked as dean of students at my middle school, I had a girl tell me she was “traumatized” when another girl rolled eyes in her direction. (A long lesson about the word “trauma” followed.) At the time this event happened, I was reading the journals of Lewis and Clark, intrigued by the real dangers and unknown outcomes they faced daily. These two ideas merged - what is the most common “tragedy” people experience? Problems with love. Viewing a relationship as a dangerous journey that leads to personal catastrophe became an organizing principal for the poems.
And the title? Sometimes, it seems to me, titles can strike like lightning or can be extraordinarily elusive. How did you go about finding your title?
Titles are never lightning strikes for me. I agonize over them. At first the book was titled after lines in some of the poems: No Quick Misery. Washed with Hymns and Singing. There Has Been Damage. But those didn’t seem to imply the scope of the poems. (Some of these did become section headings in the book.) For a long time, I called it A Brief History of Disaster. But as I rearranged poems, cut some and wrote others, the poems took on more of a narrative arc. I created a few ideas using the word “apocalypse,” had some friends “vote,” and eventually arrived at the current title with some honing from my publisher Erin Elizabeth Smith.
Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey.
Many of the first poems in the manuscript used the wild and natural world of Lewis and Clark’s journey as inspiration, and I had the notion that the entire book would be built around this language, these images, even created several erasures and found poems directly from the journals. I grew attached to this idea, even when it was evident that the conceit had run its course. It was a difficult decision, but many of those poems were cut from the manuscript, and this made way for newer, stronger writing that moved the narrative forward. The ones that remain are key pieces of each section. But killing those darlings and giving up on that original idea was very hard.
And the most pleasurable?
I am always happiest when I am revising work. And although it is a crazy process, I also enjoy ordering the poems in a manuscript, seeing where there are “holes,” writing into those spaces, rearranging. The most pleasurable part was seeing that poems of very disparate styles –prose blocks, lyrics, litanies, sonnets, free verse poems with both vernacular and latinate language –were all living and breathing together, creating different rhythms and pacing for the reader. I have a tendency to write short poems, so the variety in this manuscript pleases me very much. (And it certainly didn’t hurt that three writers who I swoon over and admire agreed to write blurbs for the book and were so very gracious with their praise.)
What’s the best and / or worst piece of advice (writing or publishing or similar) you’ve gotten?
Best? Write your poems with fire and assume everyone will love them. But when you send them into the world, just assume they will fail and get back to writing. This way, acceptances are a bonus, not something you feel you are entitled to. Too much agonizing over why a publisher did or did not want your work deters you from the work of writing. I got this advice when I was just beginning to submit from my friend and mentor Diana Goetsch. If I ever get caught up in thinking someone “really should be publishing my awesome poems,” I hear her voice saying, “Do the work.” And I do.
Worst? “Write what you know.” Part of the fun of being a writer is creating worlds, taking on personas and voices that are NOT your own. I doubt anyone wants to read poems about me watching Shameless on Showtime and eating microwave popcorn in my yoga pants. If someone does, let me know.
Tell us one of your favorite books you’ve discovered recently and say a little about why.
One of my favorite reads of the past six months has been Sara Eliza Johnson’s Bone Map. Perhaps this is due to its quiet and visceral darkness, the fact that it paints portraits of both the body and the natural world where both the body and the world are breaking. Also it makes good use of the tropes of fairy tale and myth. The poems are haunting in the best way, and I have returned to them more than once since first purchasing the book.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? Give us a taste.
This poem is one of the Lewis and Clark poems that remains - the title is pulled directly from the journals.
We Set Sail Under A Gentle Breeze
Suddenly, the wind
turns. A sky that has been dark
dims to white.
We run to shore, discover
a skiff with oars bent outward
like welcoming arms.
Tadpoles skitter beneath
the bow as we balance
our weight then push off.
Loose-limbed, we row
the easy current, dip
into ripples, our day long,
the hours unticked by clocks.
Recall the sermons about sloth—
this is how ruin begins.
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
I wish you would have asked, “How can we as writers be good literary citizens?” It’s a pet peeve of mine when writers expect to be supported, but don’t return the favor. I’m not just talking about buying books, which is the obvious (but expensive) way to support your fellow writers. I’m talking about attending reading and events where you are NOT a reader, volunteering to read for/edit a journal, writing book reviews of work by others, sharing what you are reading on Good Reads or Twitter, being genuinely excited when your fellow writers experience success. I made a resolution two years ago to try and attend at least one event a month in which I am not involved - it has helped me discover new writers, make new friends, and learn about people in a way that has made me a better person, not just a better writer.
OK, we’re smitten. Where do we go to buy your book?
From my website (if you’d like a signed copy).
From SundressPublications (if you want to support a wonderful small press).