How has your first book changed your life?
47. PF Potvin
How did your manuscript get picked up by No Tell Books?
I had just finished tweaking a new version of the manuscript when Reb Livingston visited Miami for a reading. She took a glance at my pieces and asked for the full manuscript. A few months later No Tell said they wanted to do the book. I shot Reb some cover ideas, which were passed on to Maureen Thorson who created ten radically different options for the cover. My favorite featured an elderly woman, half obscured by her front window frame, peering out with a wizened yet threatening eye. But that image didn't fit the content, so Reb and I decided on the two running dogs. Somewhere I became fixated about putting leashes on the dogs, and Maureen obliged again by offering several samples. Ultimately, the leashes were overkill and the chasing dog was simply rounded with a collar, a detail that demands attention.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
It was totally surreal and almost numbing to have the book in my hands. As it was a sample, I felt like it was personal, some art I had created just for me. It didn't seem to have a life beyond. A few weeks later I finally grasped the public nature of the book when a box arrived with the swaddlers in white wraps. Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with diapers.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
As no river is ever the same, I knew the book would change me. I didn't know how other than giving me an immediate reason to schedule readings and generally get my ass in literary gear. That's how changes usually come, sneaking up and needling me in the ribs or giving a quick whack to the teeth. It's the same with my training for ultramarathon running. Until I actually sign up for a race, I can't seem to get my heart or legs into it.
How has your life been different since?
Things are more hectic, yet focused. I'm working on finding a balance between my teaching gig, my writing, and book promo. I also hope to follow up on several new projects that may lead me into freelance writing.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
Although it's available online through Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powells, I never realized how many people would still rather purchase the book from a store, even if it means they have to wait and make a special order. I was also surprised at how difficult it can be dealing with bookstores. And I certainly understand their business perspective, but it makes guerrilla marketing for the writer a necessity on many levels. I mean I've even put a copy of my book on the reading shelves in a hair salon.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what are those experiences like for you?
Well, I created a website, a myspace account, got business cards, did a handful of readings, and scheduled some more. Reb Livingston also set up a Northeast No Tell Books reading tour in December where we took her Volvo into the poetic beyond. It came back muddy and blushing. Most days we'd drive several hours to our next spot, then stroll the town. I remember before our reading at the Anchor Bar in New Haven, Bruce Covey showed me around Yale, his alma mater, reminiscing. As he's a blackbelted judoing poet about twice my height who often sports a biker jacket, we got looks like he was my bodyguard or something. My favorite reading on the tour was in Albany (Behind the Egg), hosted by Dan Nester, at a young anarchist's shop that served as abode, library, studyhall, poetry pulpit and crashtest landing zone. A highlight of the eve was popping my melon through the 3-foot cardboard banana. Mostly it smacked of my several years living in a co-op in Ann Arbor and all the mad hattery that happens when you get 30 twenty-somethings living together.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
The best advice I got was the same that I teach my writing students: Do the work, let it rest, and later check the pulse for resonance. Nobody said the process would take 6 years though. Maybe my Sagittarian sign is to blame. It keeps me juiced with wanderlust and I can rarely abide in a locale for more than a couple years. Even during those times, I find myself continually traveling. I'm also constantly starting new projects, but it takes external influences prodding, cattletype, for me to get goods to the market. Right now I'm editing a short film that I shot 3 years ago about being a hut warden in New Zealand's Siberia Valley. I'm also writing non-fiction bits about hitchhiking, working on a novel based in Argentina (where I'll be next winter), and writing more paragraph pieces that will be in another collection like The Attention Lesson.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing (or other artistic pursuits)?
The book has pushed me into devoting at least a year to constant writing. As a teacher I'm fortunate enough to have that kind of flexibility. This summer I also plan on working with an artist to create multimedia "experiences" inspired by The Attention Lesson.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
When I was in graduate school I did an interview with the writer Jim Harrison. He's a Michigan native who grew up in a small rural town about 20 miles from my small rural town. He said he makes a point to not read responses to his writing until years after publication. And although I strive for such a distance, I know it's unrealistic for me. Instead I'm more emotionally detached from the work, and I accept that my writing isn't everyone's bag. As long as the work gets published and stays out there, I have little to complain about.
Do you want your life to change?
I suppose we'd all like to run faster and jump higher like a PF Flyer. And I'm no exception. Thankfully, I've known I want to write and create in various mediums, so it's a matter of finding a scheme to make the green that still leaves time and room for travel and inspiration.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I'm sporting sunglass to reduce wrinkles. I'm coaxing the lucky foot. I'm not taking yes or no for an answer.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
It has. It does. It will. And even as technology changes the way we do everything, so too will poetry continue to inspire, entertain, cajole, expose, illuminate, accuse, and transform our lives. And what's that on the horizon? All hands on deck. It must be words ahoy!
from The Attention Lesson by PF Potvin:
I have a hole in my left hand. Not the kind of pit you might expect from punching a well. More like a planting trough the size of an iris inside the eye--shallow, round-poked with sides slanting up and away from the epicenter. It was easy the first time when my hand melted down the hotwater pipe. Don't recall a thing. But the hand remembers, shows constant movies of miniature storms, electric flooding, magma across the palm and I'm there, two-years old, falling from the basement stairs, reaching out. The surgeon pulled me in and needled me under. Grafted skin from my thigh and made the hole so the hand could stretch. The scar was still too young to move on its own.
When I asked to click a picture of him with the Patagonias in the background he refused. From that perspective he was invisible.
. . .
next interview: Danielle Pafunda
. . .