The Next Big Thing

Okay, I gotta say: I am wary of the phrase, "The Next Big Thing," that titles this blog post. What does it mean for a writing project to be "big"? At what point is a book born? I worry that if I fixate on it being born, that means it can die. I worry about jinxes. 

That said, I've enjoyed the opportunity to read about everyone's latest writing projects. Plus, Lisa Russ Spaar asked me to take part--you can read about her wonderful new collection, The Hide-and-Seek Muse, here--and I never say no to the wondrous Lisa. So here I am. 

What is your working title of your book?

"Instantaneous Letter Writer," which is a phrase from the ungainly title of an 1853 book that partially inspired this collection, The Traveler's Vade Mecum; Or, Instantaneous Letter Writer, By Mail Or Telegraph, For The Convenience Of Persons Traveling On Business Or For Pleasure, And For Others, Whereby A Vast Amount Of Time, Labor, And Trouble Is Saved. 

For some months the manuscript lived under the name of "Count the Waves," which was drawn from a sestina I published with Poetry magazine. I love that poem. I am loyal to it. But at some point the natural evolution of the manuscript no longer embraced its tones or focus. Poor little orphan! Luckily, I'm thrilled to report it will find a book-home in Daniel Nester's forthcoming The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013). 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first collection, Theories of Falling, draws heavily from the well of my biography and my early life. The three sections present a kind of bildungsroman: in childhood, in young love, and with a bird's-eye view to the larger culture. I Was the Jukebox, my second collection, actively pushes away from the presumptions of poet as speaker. Instead we hear from a jukebox, a piano, a minotaur, a platypus. In this collection, I wanted to strike an equilibrium by baring some personal revelations, yet also injecting some surrealist turns.

The series related to The Traveler's Vade Mecum series was inspired in part by Helen Klein Ross, who has solicited an anthology's worth of poems based on that volume. (A volume I'd love to see find a publisher....) Among other intriguing projects, Helen is on Twitter as Betty DraperEach of my poems uses a title that is a line from that book, as if part of some greater correspondence only partially available to the reader.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. I am so happy to return to poetry after writing a memoir and cultural history. I enjoy nonfiction, but I will always consider myself a poet first and foremost. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oooh. If I picture an actress sitting down at a cinematic desk to scribble these poems, I picture (hope for) Tilda Swinton. She'd kick your ass and you'd thank her for it. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This collection examines how intimacy is both lost and gained over long distances. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That's difficult to calculate; especially because there is no discrete "first draft"-ing process, just an endless series of massages and edits and reorderings. But I can say that the first poem I wrote that I knew belonged in "the next big thing" was "Parable," which I wrote in order to have something new to read at a Thacker Mountain Radio performance that took place on October 28, 2010. The first time I had the confidence to push-pin pages to the walls and tackle the manuscript as a book was in January 2012, at Virginia Center for Creative Arts. VCCA is, and will always be, such a valuable place for me. Much of "The Traveler's Vade Mecum"-inspired series was conceived there. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm aware of others who have used the epistolary conceit, but there is no one I have apprenticed myself to in that regard. Two poets on my mind during the drafting for this book were Jack Gilbert and Jane Hirshfield. I enjoy poems that make truth claims--bold statements about how the world works--and it is something I aim for in my work.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Poems come from an aggregation of lightning bolts and life experiences. Since 2010, I've put in more than 60,000 miles on the road. Any great surprise I would write about travel, about hunger? Love. Love stretched thin, so thin you see morning light through it. Salt. Oysters. Bacon. Scotch. Otis Redding. Walking. Dancing. The stars. The dirt. 

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

You need to read what makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I won't tell you to read this book. I can only tell you that I'm trying to write those poems. 

You can read a quartet of poems from the TVM sequence over at Virginia Quarterly Review. Thanks again to Lisa for the invitation; my fellow tagged poets are Mary Ann Samyn and Kiki Petrosino, who will be posting later this month.