Nina Corwin (author of The Uncertainty of Maps) kindly tagged me for “The Next Big Thing,” a series of self-interviews in which we talk to ourselves about our latest book projects. As I have a fair amount of practice talking to myself, I thought I’d see how such an interview might unfold. Here goes.
What is the (working) title of the book?
I have a number of book projects in the works, but I’ll tell you about the project fait accompli: To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press 2012).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The eight prose poems that form the overarching architecture of the book came into being soon after reading H.D.’s Sea Garden poems (hence the title, which comes from one of her lines). We are so often asked (as graduate students especially) to resist reading other’s work through the personal, but I think that's asking the impossible when it comes to most readers and certainly for me. H.D.'s work was no exception.
Her poems brought back an experience I had at my great-grandfather’s house in Moorehead City, NC, when I was about 5 years old. I was wading into the ocean and felt something beneath my foot. I reached down into the cloudy water and pulled up from the most amazing conch shell. All right, it probably was less amazing than I remember it to be, but, anyway, as soon as I looked down at it, a creature began to come out of the shell. I was terrified and threw it as far as I could into the open water. I then spent day after day, summer after summer, looking for that elusive (and ultimately illusive) shell.
When I read H.D.’s poems, the experience of wandering up and down that hot beach looking for that lost shell came back to me. But it was more than that. That experience, simple as it sounds, never left me. It’s become a metaphor for so much of what I hope to find with a concurrent terror and realization that most of those things are illusive, beyond the real, and so beyond ownership.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry - although there is some crossover into fiction. The prose poems, for example, actually started as a single short story and only later did I break them down into eight distinct prose poems. She probably won’t remember this, but M.M.M. Hayes at StoryQuarterly wrote me a very detailed note in her rejection of the work, praising the lyrical quality of the story but feeling that it was perhaps not a story but poetry—or even a series of poems. Her note meant a lot to me. Of course, it stymied me, too; I sat on the story for another year or two before doing anything with it. Also, the poem “The Cartography of Flesh,” forms the opening section of the novel I’m working on at the moment.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Aw. The question, right? The crazy question. I need a cast of characters in cameo roles but the key swimmer would have to be someone crazy, artsy, and a little self-absorbed. Come to think of it, she would need to be an unknown or at least someone not well known. Of course, someone like the star in the French film Betty Blue, the intense Beatrice Dalle, would work.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A collection of poetry that explores the nature of desire—the search beyond self—or, as Plato saw it (through Diotima), the search for immortality—in sea, land, myth, history, relationships, sex, writing.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I am in complete awe and admiration of those who complete their books in a year or two. I’m afraid my book has been through many, many versions over some eight to ten years, some versions being so radically different that you wouldn’t recognize the book you see now. I think I needed that longer period of time to become more discerning, to mature as a poet, to hone my work, to work on what a “collection” means to me.
Plus, there is that little fact that I was a single mother of two daughters for several years, while working on a PhD, often teaching five to six classes a term, and traveling back and forth from England regularly (where I had previously lived for close to ten years). I don’t mind really. Life is rich with things beyond writing, even if writing is the centering point of my every day.
The amazing thing to me is how quickly two more collections began to materialize after To find a new beauty was published. But then, maybe I’m gaining confidence in my work past and present. After all, To find a new beauty represents only a tiny amount of the work I have produced over the years, some of which will stay in dark drawers, some of which is ready to see light. But even then, I like to work carefully, I revise meticulously, and don’t tend to rush my work. I also don’t really see publication as my primary goal. My primary goal is to reproduce the sculpture that I have in my mind in words. I will chip away at that stone for years, if that’s what it takes. I love the feeling of a poem being truly finished, as rare a phenomenon as that is for me.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I guess, crazy interviewer, that I answered this when looking at how the idea for the book came about, but mix H.D. with some Louise Glück, some Kate Chopin, epic stories/poems such as Dante’s, Homer’s, and Virgil’s, as well as my children, a long distance relationship with my now-husband, living abroad as an expat, teaching primary school in England, a confused period of life post-divorce, and a thousand writers past and present and you have that strange mix that is Andrea—poet, teacher, mother, scholar, novelist, thinker, daydreamer.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There is a certain amount of dark humor in some of the poems that I don’t think all people catch, especially in poems such as “These City Hives” and “Graphics.” I often write about things that amuse me.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. It is published by the talented Jared Michael Wahlgren at Gold Wake Press. I don’t know how Jared does it, but he has built a repertoire of books that just seem to share a certain something. I think this pleases the GWP poets immensely. It certainly does me. I’ve learned so much from my GWP brothers and sisters. They are a remarkably talented group and I am humbled and excited to be a part of the family.
Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to talk to me.
You’re welcome, Andrea. Always a pleasure.
And, at that, my tagged writers for next Wednesday are (with more to follow):
Virginia Bell, fellow Rhino Poetry editor and author of the recently released book From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press) and the amazing Debra Bruce, author of the recently released book Survivors' Picnic (Word Press, Word Tech Editions).