“Next Big Thing” weird self-interview blog meme thing

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

“Adolescence is a Disorder of the Mouth” and “Entrée Vs. Lightning” in StorySouth

“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:



Emma Neale, Rosemary Starace, and Sarah Kennedy, I tag you!

Writers’ notebooks

I returned to Wellington yesterday from Auckland where, during the wonderful “Poetry Off the Page” course she co-teaches with Helen Sword, Michele Leggott presented me with a Tapa Notebook. This practice is a part of an ongoing nzepc project: visiting writers are presented with an empty, unlined spiral notebook and asked to fill up the pages and send it back at their convenience. It then becomes part of the library archive and scanned excerpts are posted on nzepc. Tapa is a cloth made in the Pacific from pounded bark; the tapa rectangle on my book’s cover is painted with black-lined, persimmon-red petals.

The instructions suggest inscribing it with “poetry or other notations of value.” Drawings and pasted-in items are fine, although I was told anecdotally that Helen’s inclusion of a French muffin-wrapper, buttery crumbs and all, was a bit traumatic for the librarians. I just toted mine to a staff seminar on Keats’ letters. Heidi Thomson argued that Keats is never unconscious of his interlocutors, in letters or poems, but what kind of audience do notebook-keepers imagine? I have been scrawling bits and pieces in little pads all through this trip, sometimes going back to pull out and type up some information I’ve been given or a poem I began to draft in an airport, but I can’t imagine some student poring over them in an archive one day. If that ever happens: Reader, I apologize abjectly.

From my notes on Auckland:

13 May, Laureate reading in the Aotea Centre: During Manhire’s “Hotel Emergencies,” Michele’s guide dog Olive, also up on stage, puts her head down on her paws & begins to look bored.

14 May, festival panel on publishing: one of the editors says that, historically, the invention of a cheaper format (steam-powered rotary printing press, the e-book) always catalyzes an explosion in reading & publishing. Another says that traditional books will continue to be published as “beautiful objects.” There will be fewer of them & they will increase in price. All agree mass market paperbacks are out: Kindle goes to the beach instead.

Best of the Best NZ Poems reading: Emma Neale gives an electric performance of “Spark,” about a child learning how to say “light.” Throughout, a little patch of brightness bobs across her cheek, a reflection from an earring. You can’t see it on the monitors.

My father John Keats eases a scalpel between the cork and the bottle.

My father Langston Hughes gives his camel jacket to the coat-check girl.

My father Allen Ginsberg insists I must eat my broccoli broccoli broccoli

15 May, Mauri Ola reading: Tusiata Avia: “It’s a big poem & this is a small stage so I’m going to read it in a contained way so I don’t fall off or burst into flames.” A tattoo keeps flashing out from the cuff of her blazer.

Kiwi expression from Richard: “to pack a sad.”

Love-dirty and almost bald, / the animals peer down from their high shelf.

17 May, Auckland University: Chris (student-blogger) is at the front of the room discussing Chinese dissident poetry with Helen & Michele. Michele is saying something like, “Well, we don’t want this assignment to instigate a crackdown on an artist by an authoritarian government.” Beautiful Olive is sprawled across the blue-beige carpet. I imagine she wants to go outside and smell things, but maybe that’s me.