What’s my Next Big Thing? (And what’s yours?)

Many thanks to fabulous poet Jennifer Bullis for tagging me to be part of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, which means I get to spotlight a current writing project of mine via a series of interview questions. Here’s my Q&A:

1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title?

My chapbook is called Drivers and Passengers, which is definitely a working title. It expresses the concept, but it might be a little flat. I also have poems in the voice of a cloud and a crow, so I suppose I could be arty and call it Drivers, Passengers, Cloud & Crow (could—but probably will not). I meant to also have the road itself and a hillside, but these didn’t quite come off. If I decide to revisit that idea, I definitely, definitely think I should add those to the title, too. I like to use all the letters! I also briefly considered In Cars—yes, from the Gary Numan song—but it sounds a little too clever to me, and it suggests the ‘80s, whereas the narrative poems in this chapbook are set in the present day.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

I’ve attempted chapbooks many times, but it’s always been an after-the-fact deal where I look through poems that I like a lot and try to wrestle them into a theme. I’ve never gotten one published. So this time, I decided to actually follow the advice to write around a fairly focused theme from the outset. We were on a road trip when I began thinking along these lines, and I started to think about all the cars around us and how all the people in them have stories that I’ll never know. That concept has intrigued me ever since I was a kid.

3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?

Because these are realistic, narrative poems, I wanted to write about people in cars on an actual road and let some of the geographic details and local issues come into play. We happened to be driving on I-70 in Ohio at the time, in an area where fracking is both a boon to the economy and a concern for the environment. Some of that entered in, and some of the personas borrow from actual viewpoints I’ve heard. I tried to be respectful to everyone and also muddy things a bit so there’s no direct resemblance to any real people I know and love.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Exactly one month, which I think is a great time frame for a chapbook. Between two-pagers and some cases where I wrote two poems in one day, I ended up with just enough extra that I now have the luxury of focusing on what I think are the 24 to 28 best pages. Also, it felt like just enough time to let things develop without getting maybe a little too hung up on the project and unable to put it down.

5. What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Specifically, narrative persona poetry.

6. What books [I’m going to amend this slightly] would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?

There are so many great persona poems, but the one that first comes to mind is Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” I read this in college, and it knocked me on my ear to learn that poems, too, could have unreliable narrators. If you want a concentrated dose of contemporary narrative poetry—some with personas—I recommend Naugatuck River Review (and not just because I was in one issue).

7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Many people who are not the poet herself drive around and ponder things.

8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?

Seeking a publisher, for sure. My plan is to polish this up and enter it in a couple of spring contests.

9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?

I’m so bad at this game! I think one of the personas could be played by Channing Tatum if he went kind of down-market (and also didn’t take his shirt off). Leighton Meester could play one of the young women because I understand her upbringing was pretty hardscrabble. Frances McDormand might be in there somewhere, and I’ve seen less “done” photos of Patricia Heaton that remind me of one persona in particular. (You should know, by the way, that other than Frances McD, I first thought of these actors as Magic Mike guy, Gossip Girl … girl, and the lady from Everybody Loves Raymond.)

10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

Watch in wonder as the shape-shifting poet BECOMES MORE THAN TWO DOZEN DIFFERENT PEOPLE!

And now I’m supposed to tag three to five other writers to answer these interview questions next. But … I’ve been asking around and haven’t found anyone who wants to take this on! You should know that: a) the writing can be in any genre, and b) the “book” concept can be loosened so that it applies to any big project you’d like to highlight. Any takers? (Three to five of them, perhaps?) Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!



“After the dandelions had spread like
    marmalade over the lawns, after
the lilacs had come white and purple

    and gone, then it was blueberrying”

—Thomas R. Moore, “Sex, Cousins, and Blueberrying”

In summer that year, we were nine
and ten, composed almost entirely
of mosquito bites and moxie, with
a quiver of sadness somewhere in
the middle, where we were still as
soft as children are. So we’d strike
each other’s biceps to show that
we weren’t soft at all, didn’t care
about broken things, a stolen bike,
after the dandelions had spread like

butter or the blood of all those bugs,
ladybugs, that we squashed, almost
always on accident. We just wanted
to look at them, hold them on blades
of grass that began to dry, shrivel in
the sun, our sweaty hands. Laughter
was almost not allowed; as we ate
fancy sandwiches our mothers made,
we were as silent as roof and rafter.
Marmalade over the lawns, after

we were done, stuck to the grass as
proof that we’d been there. We liked
to leave our mark. When we weren’t
quiet, we made noise, running down
the morning streets, discovering how
something as small as a loud burp will
disturb the great drift of silence behind
every closed window. We would lift our
shirts sometimes, check for a nurple.
The lilacs had come, white and purple;

we loved the word purple, and spent
all summer rhyming it as close as we
could, arriving at nurple also because
we couldn’t say the real word. It was
too much like health class, ridiculous
and scary, when we were tarrying
a while longer as girls, girls never
knowing how few the years were
before we’d both end up marrying
and gone. Then it was blueberrying.


For NaBloPoMo and PAD Challenge, Day 18. The prompt was to write a glosa, which is a completely crazy form. Crazy! You take four consecutive lines from someone else’s poem, then write four 10-line stanzas of your own. The final line of each stanza is from the other poem, in consecutive order — and lines six, nine, and 10 in each stanza have to rhyme. (I did not fully comprehend all of this before I chose a poem that contains the word purple.)

For the epigram (quoted poem), one reason I chose this one is that it is my “neighbor” on a preceding page in the Summer 2012 issue of Naugatuck River Review. Thomas R. Moore is from Brooksville, Maine, and sharp-eyed readers might find one place where I gave a nod to his home state. (Well, blueberries are Maine-ish, too, but it’s not that.)



Two great things in my mailbox

I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m thrilled to be in the latest issue of Naugatuck River Review, whose focus is on narrative poetry. I didn’t think I wrote a lot of narrative poems, generally, so it was fun to sift through and identify some that I did think were telling a story.

I don’t usually write with a particular publication in mind, but in this case, I may have — its distinct focus was something I thought about for a few months, and I think it did encourage me to write more along those lines for a while. Encouragement to stretch is always great, and I am honored to be included in this fine publication — and am enjoying reading what all my “page neighbors” wrote.

One great thing about paper is that it allows you to see connections between different poems in a way that I’m not sure you can on screen. That is, editors take the random material that comes in and arrange it in such a way that it seems as if certain poems were made to play off one another. It’s not the same thing, I don’t think, if I can click around and read whatever I want.

I know there is order, too, in a lot of digital publications, and the intention that poems play off each other. But my online reading is fairly scattershot, whereas when I have a print publication in my hands, I feel compelled to read it from front to back, and thus, to follow the progression that the editor has created for me. It seems like every day brings news of another print literary journal going online-only, but I hope paper won’t die just yet — and not just because it’s satisfying to put my author’s copy on an actual bookshelf.

I also got a self-addressed, stamped postcard confirming that my chapbook entry was received. I sent it in June and had been sweating it: “Did they not get it? Should I email them? No, no … I should play it cool. Right?” I always feel like I’m throwing these things into a black hole — because I have entered several chapbook contests but have yet to win one — so it’s a relief to know that at least this one got into the hands of an actual person.

Wishing you good mail, too …