Sally Rosen Kindred tapped me for this game of blog-tag in which I contemplate my ms-in-progress as a high-concept Hollywood thriller starring James Franco minus apes. Let the bidding war begin.
What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)?
Radioland or some variation involving additional nouns, verbs, and/or prepositions. For a long time I was calling it Signal to Noise, but radio is emerging as a recurrent metaphor, and I like the idea that listening establishes a virtual place full of attentive ghosts: hey you out there in radioland… Plus, the latter is also the title of a graphic novel and I don’t want to annoy Neil Gaiman.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Writing requires a reception-transmission loop. You always have antennae up.
What genre does your book fall under?
On the lyric poetry radio dial, it’s that faint yet tantalizing broadcast, almost impossible to tune in, between the expensively-boosted signals of certain New York stations.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Who is the star du jour for all poet roles? In addition, my father, a major character in the manuscript, will be played by Alan Rickman.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Receiving a welter of signals from uncanny sources suggesting the approach of the end of days, the brave poet assembles a crack team of spirit-bards who help her save the human race from possessed Tea Party Republicans. (Illegal second sentence: afterwards, her parents divorce, her father dies, her house floods, and the world ends anyway, but she remains implausibly cheerful.)
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Being an Ah-tist, I am too busy wrestling the Muse in my unheated garret to acknowledge the frenzied door-knocking of agents and publishers. Or, to put it another way, I’ll write the best book possible and then send it out with my fingers crossed, no guarantees. Heathen took years and years to place while Heterotopia and The Receptionist and Other Tales found congenial homes without epic questing, so who knows.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I was playing with the same ideas when I started writing The Receptionist in the winter of 2008-9 and poems are still coming, but I have a critical mass now and hope to organize a full draft of the book during a VCCA residency in April. I’m not yet sure which poems will make the cut.
What other books would you compare this collection to?
It’s not much like Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Second April, H.D.’s Sea Garden, Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred, James Merrill’s Divine Comedies, Bill Manhire’s Lifted, Thomas Sayers Ellis’ Skin Inc., Paula Meehan’s Painting Rain, or Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars, but all of those books helped me think through certain problems—how to risk weirdness, tune in something bigger without blowing out the speakers.
This book will also contain a suite of poems about my father’s mean, sad death—at eight-five, he remarried a woman forty years younger and died in a veteran’s hospital nine months later, alone and alienated from nearly everyone who would have taken care of him. His funeral was another apex of awfulness. I thought a lot about famous dead father poems by Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds.
Actually, come to think about it, yes, my book is exactly like those weird works of genius Ariel and The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats. All my books are. Don’t try to live without them.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Radio in the 80s; red wolves; spring light; dreams; other writers.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’re pure of heart and not sexually active, push past the fur coats in one poem—I can’t tell you which, and you must hold the book receipt in your left hand—and you will be transported to a magical kingdom. Plus, you really need to experience the book early on your own terms. Otherwise, movie posters of Franco in my sweaters and pink paisley eyeglasses will completely co-opt your inner life.
Poems that may be in Signal to Noise:
“Dead Poet in the Passenger Seat,” Prairie Schooner, reprinted as Shenandoah Poem of the Day
“Red Wolf Howl” in Valparaiso Poetry Review
“The Book of Neurotransmitters” in Fringe
Three more in Talking Writing
Also see the journals Kestrel, Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Notre Dame Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rabbit, Studio, and 32 Poems, all of whom have awesome editors.
More takes on “The Next Big Thing” here: