I recently attended the Omaha Lit Fest and one of the themes I heard repeated among the panelists focused on what we include in our books as writers that work in “service to the book” or in “service to the story.” In the case of the Omaha Lit Fest with its theme of “Warped Historical In/Accuracy” panelists spoke to issues of lyrics, song titles, historical fact, and local and cultural trauma, as well as others. I’m curious about the images by Erika Adams in your chapbook A Detail in Landscape (Eating Dog Press, 2014). Can you talk about the collaborative work and how the art and words are in service to the larger chapbook?
Madeline, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your interview series. A Detail in the Landscape is a true collaboration, so I especially identify with your query here. The sum of the visuals and words being greater than their parts was an equation Erika (founder of Eating Dog Press) and I constantly negotiated in the making of this book. We wanted to work together, after meeting at Vermont Studio Center last year, because we both knew her talent and vision as an artist and master printer could challenge and bloom my words. This is why we decided, early on, to give each other freedom to create our own “sides” of the book–hers the visual, and mine the written. We did give each other suggestions, though. For example, I mentioned a square might be the right shape for the book, and she suggested that I cut the micro-essays that accompany each poem from a paragraph down to one vibrant sentence. We trusted each other and took each others’ advice, but there wasn’t pressure to do so. Ultimately, though, this freedom enhanced the book so greatly. Erika teased out motifs in my poems beyond what I had found. For instance, Erika’s illustrations consist of abstract geometric forms made up of triangles in five colors, mostly shades of green and blue. These forms spread against the spine and could conjure the image of a flock of birds or a cloud. I would never have thought of geometric shapes as a panoramic concern of the book, but the poems really do take on a discussion of symmetry, shapes, and distances. In essence, the illustrations, shape, colors, size, and letterpress design (all executed at Erika’s hand) provide a type of critique or extrapolation of the words right inside the chapbook itself.
This process that you and Erika engaged in sounds like it was lots of fun, while also inspiring and motivating—the types of projects all of us need in our lives—not to mention producing a beautiful letterpress book. At the Omaha Lit Fest at one point the director and founder, Timothy Schaffert said, “I always tell my students the difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is the published writer finishes the book.” Were you ever scared to finish a book? Can you talk about your process of finishing your chapbook The Canopy and your forthcoming book from Sundress Publications?
Really interesting question, Madeline! That Timothy Schaffert quote is making me feel pretty good about myself! I probably should have been scared knowing what I am aware of now regarding the process of finishing a book. I was naive, as many young writers are, of the wherewithal it takes. I was lucky regarding The Canopy. At the time, in 2011, I was working on Confluence, my full-length collection that is now forthcoming with Sundress Publications. I hoped to finish it after two years of hard work. I had blinders on, and never thought of publishing a chapbook from a section of Confluence, but when I heard about the Midwest Writing Center Press contest, my interest was sparked. It was regional–only open to Midwestern poets–and I thought I might have a better chance because of that. After all of the money and time spent on rejections from Yale and the Walt Whitman Award, I took a shot. In one day, I culled a 16-page manuscript from this big book of 60 poems and sent it. I continue to pin it on sheer beginner’s luck that I won! If I had realized at the time what I know now–that a chapbook is an important publication for a poet and a great accomplishment–I might have been more anxious about sending. Really, my ignorance saved me.
After working on Confluence for a couple of years, and just after publishing The Canopy, I began to realize how difficult it was going to be to finish the full-length collection. This was incredibly frustrating, seeing as how the chapbook was picked up straightaway. I was no longer naive at this point, so instead of becoming scared this time, I got angry–more at myself than the publishers, I should note. I overhauled the book at least six times in the next three years, each time I had a crop of new work. I weeded out every lackluster poem and made sure the revisions/replacements shone. I waged a war against that manuscript, taking each poem through 80 drafts. I learned just how badly I wanted Confluence to be a book. If someone had told me it would take five years to complete the manuscript and find a publisher, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m fairly confident about my work, but contests and publishing in general humbled me. The revision and submission process also made me a better, more tenacious poet, as it called on all of my reserves. I also met the most amazing folks along the way. I realize I have used all of these aggressive metaphors, but the vision I had for this book guided me to keep writing, revising, and sending. Even mentors told me I should move on to other projects. By the time Confluence was picked up, I knew there was nothing else I could do to make the book better. I told myself, “this book deserves to be published,” and once I really believed that, it was.
I really appreciate your discussion on process for Confluence—the revision work, dedication, and the weeding out of lesser poems. It’s a process many writers go through as they revise—work that can be difficult, but necessary to make it a book. I’ve been thinking and rereading your collaborative chapbook A Detail in the Landscape. I particularly adore the last page—the last words and image of A Detail in the Landscape. Talk about endings. How do you decide where to end a chapbook, a book, a poem?
Great question! I knew I wanted to end Detail on “Never-Ending Birds” because it is the poem that begins my full-length collection, Confluence. In fact, all five lineated poems in Detail appear in Confluence, though the five prose pieces do not. I originally wanted “Birds” near the end of my full-length, but settled on it as the opening poem in service to the manuscript as a whole. A wish of mine was to have this poem end some project, and Detail felt appropriate. Hopefully “Never-Ending Birds” will lead readers out into the landscape appropriately, as the poem moves from ground-, to eye-, to sky-level. When I wrote the prose fragment for “Birds,” much later than when I wrote the lineated piece, I wanted to reflect on the process of writing the poem itself. I actually did go out and stand in a field of swallows at a local arboretum to draft “Never-Ending Birds,” so I tried to write about that process. I settled on the line, “The birds encircled me, slid close to my legs, my face,” to begin and then realized that the title of the project, “a detail in the landscape” provided a natural metric chime with “my legs, my face.” The final line now reads, “The birds encircled me, slid close to my legs, my face; I had become another shrub–a detail in the landscape.” My words surprised me. As Yeats says, this poem “clicked shut” to my ear, and that’s how I knew it was “done.”
There’s a tension created with the longer poems and one the one line poems and essays in A Detail in the Landscape. It adds breath and space to the work, while also giving the reader a moment to meditate on the imagery and art. What collaborative work do you admire and what inspired you and your collaborator to structure the chapbook as you have?
Madeline, I appreciate the fact that you picked up on the “breath and space” of the book! That’s exactly what Erika and I were attempting to create. I wanted the book to be square and work diagonally–this book is about angles in so many ways–and I knew some of my shorter lineated poems would leave white space at the bottom of the lefthand pages (“By Degrees” is a good example). I thought that a poem at the top left of each left page and at the bottom right of each right page would stretch the reader visually. Both of us envisioned the illustrations as spread against the spine of the book. We thought this would allow us and the readers to use all of the page without the book appearing cluttered.
I had a chance to look at Erika’s other collections, namely Pickles I Have Known and her collaborative book Wood with poems by Brooks Wright, which helped me to envision the aesthetic of Eating Dog Press not as a publishing house but as a producer of visual art with text. I thought seriously about the collaboration we were entering into with our landscape and environment while making this book. I went out into the woods and the rivers to write these poems and Erika trekked from Montreal to Georgia to Minnesota to make the books. We met in Vermont where the idea was born, and the project took shape over the course of a full year, or four seasons. So, the collaboration that was most inspirational to me was the one we had with the land while making this object.
How do you define chapbook? A chapbook to me is a poetry book I can read and enjoy in one sitting. In essence, it’s a digestible bite of poetry (or maybe prose as well!).
How are you trying to get better as a poet? I found that once I started mining and honing the voice that I used in my two chapbooks and the bigger full-length book project they came from, Confluence, that it became more difficult for me to try new things. Perhaps this was because I found a modicum of success with these projects. This risk-adverseness dovetailed with my MFA graduation. Although I’ve never been a poet who needs deadlines to write, I often need to be prodded to read new works or experiment a bit, and the MFA often helped me to do this. It’s been tough, but right now I’m attempting to become a bit less perfectionistic with my poems and explore a rawer, more ragged edge in my images. I’m trying to resist my need to totally control my poems before I send them out into the world, I suppose.
What makes a good chapbook? Any chapbook I can read in a sitting that teaches me something about the world that seems true and/or new to me.
Your chapbook credo: Do it with less. Make it count. I want epiphany.
Number of chapbooks you own: Hundreds! They are beautiful and addictive, right? Current favorites include Lucy Biederman’s The Other World, Alessandra Bava’s They Talk About Death, Lynn Emmanuel’s The Technology of Love, Nancy Kuhl’s In the Arbor, and many chapbooks from dancing girl press, Midwest Writing Center Press, Sundress Publications, Hyacinth Girl Press, and of course, Eating Dog Press!
Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I do write chapbook reviews, most recently of Alessandra Bava’s They Talk about Death and Lucy Biederman’s The Other World. Prick of the Spindle, The Bakery, Extract(s), Speaking of Marvels, and of course this interview series, Laura, are great online spaces to promote chaps!
Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Actually, combined sales of the hardcover edition, softcover edition, and letterpress broadsides of A Detail in the Landscape will fund my trip back to Vermont Studio Center for a writing residency in May of 2015. VSC is where I first met Erika Adams and we hatched the idea of this collaboration. It seems only fitting that I would return there fueled by the success of our project.
Bio: Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length poetry collection forthcoming from Sundress Publications, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume,The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and was a finalist for Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Her work appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal,Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. She currently works as a writing teacher and freelance creative manuscript editor in her hometown of Chicago.
Where we can find your chapbook: Actually, since A Detail in the Landscape was produced in a one-time, limited edition run, the book itself, in hardcover and softcover, is completely sold out. I do still have broadsides available. If you are interested, please message me here:
Also, stay tuned to the above space, as I may release the virtual edition of the chap as an ebook in the near future.