12 February 2013

The next big thing ... HOW TO KILL POETRY!

I can't believe how much time has flown by since I last blogged, but the wonderful writer and editor Dan Vera asked me if I wanted to participate in the Next Big Thing project. What's that? For The Next Big Thing, writers interview themselves about an upcoming project and then tag other writers who have work coming out soon then interview themselves a week later if they would like to. 

What is the working title of the book?

How to Kill Poetry.

Where did the idea come from for the book? Who or what inspired you to write this book? How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

In the fall of 2008, I was coming out of the worst depression of my life. To make a long six-month soap opera short, I had gallbladder removal surgery, my dog Elsa back in New York died, one of my dearest friends unexpectedly died, my new dog Rocky came into my life, my boyfriend of 15 months broke up with me, I moved out into a new apartment, and I traveled around the country to promote Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader. The summer of 2008 had been hard. I was emotionally worn out to the point that it took me two full days to compose a single eight-line poem.

In September 2008 I’d decided to force myself to start writing again. I find that in order to produce material, I sometimes need to come up with some of the most preposterous titles and write something in order to justify the use of such a title. I had no idea what I should write about. I thought, “Oh, why don’t you just die, poetry!”

That’s it. I’d call the new collection Die, Poetry, Die.

But what did it mean to have a poem die? How does a poem die?

I thought of what I should do with a book called Die, Poetry, Die. I happened to be listening to U2’s Achtung Baby opener “Zoo Station,” when it hit me: “Ready to let go of the steering wheel ... ready for the crush.”

I needed to kick my old poetry aside. I had to think big. I had to mock my old poet self. I had to get down and dirty with my verse. The first draft took me three weeks to write. I had no idea where the hell I was going, but I’d forced myself not to fight it. Poems came pouring out of me. I was writing a few poems a day. It was so liberating not to be me, that old depressed me!

Then I took a critical look at what I’d written. Hmm. Even though I’d tackled the history of poetic development in Western civilization, it didn’t feel big enough. I wanted a sprawling White Album. I wanted messiness. I wanted it to be different. I didn’t want a typical Raymond Luczak book, much in the same vein that U2 had finally decided that they didn’t want a typical U2 album with Achtung Baby even though their previous record The Joshua Tree had made millions. They had taken a very serious risk in mocking themselves and embracing the rock star lifestyle with a very big tongue in cheek.

Then I happened to read a quote online about some scientists calculating that if we did not change our present course in regards to global warming, winter would disappear from Europe altogether by 2052. I was very struck by that. Wow. Winter could be gone in my own lifetime? I grew up north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I remember climbing up snowbanks so high that we couldn’t see the front windows of my mother’s house! Then I recalled having written some poems about winter over the years, but I never knew what to do with them. That’s how I came up with the idea of being a fictitious poet 200 years from now in a time when everyone would long for winter. Excited by the very notion of assuming a different persona, I wrote some new winter poems for a chapbook set two centuries from now.

But what could be the context of those poems in relation to the first section? I realized I wasn’t thinking big enough, an insane notion by itself. I had to reimagine what our ancient forebears had felt about the power of mythology because I think that’s how our first poems came about. Using Walt Whitman as a ghost in the third section, I decided to mix him up with the new myths being created. I thought, Okay. That should do it.

In the fall of 2011, Sibling Rivalry Press accepted the book, which I’d retitled How to Kill Poetry. It would be published in March 2013.

When it came time to lay out the book, I realized that the third section wasn’t good enough. It felt shoehorned. I decided to go back and start all over again with new poems for all three sections as well as cutting all the weaker stuff. Shake up the whole book all over again. Kick it to the curb. I ended up rewriting the third section almost completely now that I had three other titans joining Walt Whitman in their battle against the old mythologies.

But I wasn’t satisfied. I told my publisher that I wanted to make the print version to be an anti-ebook. That is, I wanted the book to look in ways that couldn’t be replicated on an ebook reader, as in using a facsimile style for the second section and shifting lines all over the page in the third section. I wanted to add another layer to the book’s density. I wanted this book to be my Achtung Baby.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Epic. Fiction. Mythology. It's not an easily categorizable book compared to my  previous four poetry collections, but ultimately it could ultimately considered poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are many characters in the book, but let's keep it simple. I saw a picture of the actor Patrick Scully posing as Walt Whitman, which totally freaked me out. Emily Watson would be great as Emily Dickinson, and even though Julianne Moore isn't Greek, she does have that intangible quality that would make me think of her as Sappho. And if Leonardo di Caprio could stay young as he was in the film Eclipse, he'd still make a fine Arthur Rimbaud on his second try.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Four poets do battle with the history of Western civilization's poetry in a wild and crazy attempt to save poetry itself.

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

I name-drop a lot in this book: Phillis Wheatley, William Shakespeare (he has the hots for Richard Burbage), Lord Byron (I imagine him as our first modern rock star), Nicholas Hughes (Sylvia Plath's son who did commit suicide eventually like his mother and stepmother), Harriet Monroe (the founder of Poetry), Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, William Blake, and so on. The book is chockfull of stories, but more than that it explores what it means to be a POET of any point in time. In my view, poets are the true outlaws.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Nope. Sibling Rivalry Press is bringing it out in March 2013! You can preorder the book at this link.

Who are some of the writers you've asked to be "The Next Big Thing"?