Our masthead poets are busy these days, and happily, some of them agreed to share their recent books and tips for emerging writers! First, a little about these fine poets…
Michael Diebert is TCR’s poetry editor. He is the author of the collection Life Outside the Set (Sweatshoppe, 2013) and teaches writing and literature at GPC. In another life, he would like to be a stone from a church in the English countryside circa 1400. Among his loves: his wife, Rosalind; his dogs, Berkeley and Greta; the South Carolina low country; cabernet sauvignon; mac and cheese from a box; and the semicolon.
Beth Gylys, author of the collections Spot in the Dark and Bodies that Hum, writes of Life Outside the Set, “Diebert unflinchingly and with great wit introduces us to a world where strangeness and disenchantment are de rigeur, but where life’s foibles become an invitation to laugh and to wonder.” Read more about Life Outside the Set on Amazon.
Louise McKinney is one of TCR’s faculty readers/contributing editors. She’s a Toronto-born expat who spent a decade living in the Big Easy. Currently she’s at work on a new collection of poetry, tentatively titled MEGA, which will express her experience of the cultural fusion and “creolized” energy pumping up out of that place.
McKinney’s first collection of verse, The Woman Who Drank Her Own Reflection, came out last Spring with Guernica Editions (previously shortlisted for The Texas Review Press’ annual Southern Poetry Breakthrough Series). Susan Larson, book editor at New Orleans’ Times-Picayune writes, “[she] channels the energy of the Beats on the road, all discovery and breathless recognition.”
Gregg Murray is a contributing editor who lives in Grant Park and has a mustache that makes Tom Selleck look like John Waters. If you see him, turn your face to the darkening dunes. “Ceviche“ is his first chapbook about the labor of wharf waiters who may or may not be octopi. It is also his first chapbook.
Matt Schumacher, author of The Fire Diaries and Spilling the Moon, raves, “Readers, marvel and roar bravo to the daredevil wordplay and subversive gusto that innervates Gregg Murray’s ‘Ceviche‘! Into this lime juice-induced dish whirls Whitman’s mystical moist night air, spiced by the sting of brine and jazz. Whenever Graciella, the ‘aqueous muse,’ eight-armed ‘queen of the gurgling green,’ and wonderworking restaurateur, delivers ceviche, she tables an alternative universe. What a pleasure to be hurled off the wharf of the familiar into the waters of such a strange and terrific book.”
Theodore Worozbyt is a contributing editor. Orphaned at a tender age, or perhaps not, Ted nevertheless resorted to words to communicate. As a toddler, he first mastered the pronunciation of his last name before turning to poetry, then turning away, then back, and again away. It was not until he’d grown disoriented that he considered making verse his metier, which is (obviously) not to say his living. After jettisoning a promising culinary career in Atlanta, Ted spent at least a decade as a “semiotic drifter” out west (Tuscaloosa), added some letters to his name, invented what is now known as the prose poem, won a book contest or two and resettled in Georgia, where he plans to die tired—but smiling—on the nether side of a literal hillock of academic paperwork. He is currently immersed in the composition of a novelissimo (preposterously long novella) and wishes himself well, along with many others.
“Letters of Transit is a passport to the space between: prose and poetry, reverie and memory, death and fecundity. Its invitation is a journey without destination, a ramble, a thrill ride, an open-ended ticket. But it maps an uncanny territory, populated with ominous doctors, proctors, theorists, forgers and game show hosts, whose agendas seem no less threatening than the intrusions of red spitting monkeys, biting spiders, monster hornets, unseen shrieking creatures. One ranges through its pages with an electric sense of visiting places impossibly recognizable the dream realm of a collective unconscious. Its attractions are part freak show, part museum, part mausoleum. Theodore Worozbyt brings a rich and intricate vision to a world both gorgeous and grotesque, where one must suspect every detail of being a crucial clue.”
LS: How long did you work on this book, from first drafts to publication?
MD: The oldest poem in the book is from the late ’90s; the most recent, 2011-12. So about a 13- or 14-year span, which includes giving up a few times, abandoning the practice of poetry altogether, and picking it back up. And only in the latter half of this span did I consciously assemble a book.
The book went through at least three different versions and a few contests before it landed. It was in sections, then it wasn’t in sections, then it was again, then finally it wasn’t. Perhaps 17-20 poems which were in earlier versions got cut: jokiness, purposeless fanciness, solipsism, insincerity. And it is hard to see these qualities in one’s own work. The book’s title is one of the few things that survived the whole process; I had the poem already, and Rosalind (of course) had the wisdom to see that it also was the book title. And so it was.
LM: Let’s see. . . .25 years!? Honestly, there was just that much time in between my publishing some of the “older” poems in literary journals in Canada and stateside, and book publication. What explains the long hiatus is the intervening amount of time I’ve spent as a journalist and creative nonfiction writer. Oh, and then there’s that other “no-small-feat”— raising three boys. Life happens.
GM: I’ve been working on poems for this book for two years now. None of the work is more than two years old, though I certainly wrote a number of other pieces during this time period. Once I had penned three poems about [character] Graciella, the ‘aqueous muse’ of “Ceviche,” I started to think more about just what kind of sea creature this poetry collection was going to be. A weird, lyrical, sad, imagistic one.
TW: This book happened quickly. I wrote it in a year and it underwent very little revision as a whole. In fact, the order of the prose poems in the book is quite close to the order in which they were written. During the process I had no idea a long sequence was forming.
LS: What were the most difficult and rewarding parts of the process?
MD: The hardest part of the process wasn’t publishing the poems individually; I started to land more poems in various locations the more I wrote them. Ordering the poems was challenging but a fun challenge. The hardest part was probably convincing and re-convincing myself that I had something valid and worthwhile, something others might find meaning in. Poet Paul Hostovsky says in an interview with Elizabeth Glixman, “I decided to be a poet the day before yesterday. Then yesterday I decided that I wasn’t good enough to be a poet. Today, doing this interview, I feel like a poet. But tomorrow I suspect I will suck again.” That’s about right.
The rewarding parts of the process, luckily, outnumber the difficult parts. I have a book in the world! And I enjoy being a “featured speaker” at readings and conferences and such—getting to be a poetic authority and rock star. But the most rewarding part is always the writing and revising; it’s the one part we have the most control over, even though that control is fleeting and at times illusory.
LM: The most rewarding: being led to my cover image on a trip to NYC. It turned out to be a stock image which perfectly re-created a mental image I’d used while freewriting, which was drawn in turn from a memory of a place I’d been once, sitting on a swale of moss on the shore of a glacier-fed lake, on the top of a mountain above tree line, in primitive backcountry of Banff National Park, Province of Alberta, Canada. The most difficult: dealing with my feeling that the book represented a level of writing I’d already moved well beyond.
GM: The most difficult part was deciding which poems met my standard and which didn’t. Some days I’d think I had seventy poems that belonged. Other days I was ready to throw out nearly the whole bunch. I ended up allowing 23 to escape the guillotine, I think.
TW: Unlike my first book, The Dauber Wings, which took many years and countless revisions under various titles to complete, and which ends with a poem that took six months of daily work to finish, Letters of Transit presented virtually no problems at all. The poems came quite rapidly and easily, sometimes more than one a day, and for the most part needed scant revision individually. After I had finished The Dauber Wings, I felt completely at the bottom of the well, and wrote nothing for six months. I wondered whether I might be done with writing poetry. My editor convinced me to try writing some prose poems as a way out of the fatigue. To discover the sentence in poetry was thrilling, and is to this day. Unlike lines, sentences do not have to end.
LS: What advice would you give to beginning poets?
MD: 1) Read more than you do now; 2) Find voices you admire and imitate the hell out of them; 3) Be simultaneously skeptical and kind toward your work; 4) Have faith there’s a reader out there who digs your every word.
LM: Be dedicated to experimentation and “stretching” to try out new things in verse. But in the end, write from some place in you that is sovereign self. Said Jean Cocteau: “A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.”
GM: You have to read poetry. Everyone says it and everyone is correct and everyone should keep saying it. I would add that you have to read outside of your intimates, even outside your friend-zone. You have to read things that people thought were awesome a long time ago, and then you have to read stuff that no one thinks is awesome yet.
TW: Aside from maintaining persistence and perseverance in the pursuit of their art, I advise beginning poets to read everything they can get their hands on, and to look for the particular authors who speak most deeply to them, and then read those authors relentlessly, over and over. I say “authors” because my own list of major influences is not only made up of poets. I’ve learned a great deal about writing poetry from prose writers, Hemingway for one, who wrote in A Moveable Feast that he learned a great deal about writing prose from looking at the paintings of Cézanne. So you take it where you find it.
One way to get to know a journal is through its editors’ creative books. Maybe you’re all done for now reading the poetry books you got during National Poetry Month—then why not pick up more poetry to go along with your beach novels? Get started with Life Outside the Set, The Woman Who Drank Her Own Reflection, “Ceviche,” and Letters of Transit!