How has your first book changed your life?
91. Amanda Nadelberg
How did you find out that your manuscript won the 2005 Slope Editions Book Prize? How often had you sent it out before that?
I was having a real bad day about something or other, I just remember trying on dresses in the suburbs to make it better. And then I came home and got an email about it.
I finished the manuscript in/on time for Slope's deadline in 2005. That year Lisa Jarnot was judging and a friend of mine who knew I was writing a manuscript said to me, hey, maybe she'd like your poems since you like hers so much. (This was in January. I was at a miserable job and somewhere in the L's and M's of the manuscript (it was a chronological and alphabetical thing)). This was very good advice from this friend. I terrified quit my job in February and used the time off to finish the manuscript. I remember writing the last part, R and onwards, in the week before the deadline while weeding out crap from earlier parts of the manuscript. That kind of self-inflicted pressure, it suits me. So no I hadn't sent to other places. And then that day in June I got an email from Ethan Paquin. When the book was accepted a few poems were out as submissions at mags but nothing had been taken yet. I was a lucky mofo, I know that's not the way it usually works out. I am ready to have anything else be a lot harder to get past security.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
It was earlier than scheduled and March. The door rang. Nice man in brown suit. Nice man brought the things upstairs. I wanted to tell him what was in there but I restrained myself. Two big boxes!
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes. Slope poets help a lot with the design. For instance! They are asked to find the designer. I asked Linda Koutsky, of Coffee House Press. Linda was terrific. I am really appreciative of her advice and the generosity of her time. I had interned at CHP in college and so that's how I knew her, and them, and we arranged that I'd do some work for CHP in exchange for Linda's beautiful work.
The cover was something I found, as is, a Barbie head on that daylily, on my street in Minneapolis. It was in the weeks I was starting to look for a cover. I was walking and I stopped right there and ran home to grab my camera and took a roll of film. I bet to some people it seems out of place, but it was just something that felt right for the book. The coincidence of it all makes it nicer.
Before the day you first saw your book, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I remember hoping I wouldn't feel different. I think that from the beginning I imagined I'd be the same person but just with a pile in the corner of readable things with my name on them. And this is still what I think. Writing poems makes life different, having a book of poems published doesn't. The act of doing changes things, not the other stuff that gets happened to you, like people deciding they do or don't like what you've written. I sound so pep talky. Apologies.
Not especially. I've had the chance to meet people I wouldn't have met, either that I've corresponded with or that I've met when I've read someplace, and many of these people have become good friends. That difference has been the most significant. Otherwise I still don't know what I'd like to do with the other parts of my life, and I still work (and have for two years) in a super cafe in Minneapolis. My siblings had more babies but I don't think that has anything to do with me and my poems.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
Not really. Partly I didn't think my life would change because my sister always says "Expect A Seventy" (that's like a C minus) and I believe that thinking that way keeps me from overwhelming disappointment in poetry and also not in poetry.
But I have been real surprised and glad to find out that strangers who aren't friends of my parents have read the book. And a few people have taught it in courses and that is probably the most surprising. Real nice of them. Just swell.
What have you been doing to promote the book and how do you feel about those experiences?
Slope (specifically the kick ass Chris Janke and the kick ass Cecily Iddings) organized a small tour for Matt Hart and me the spring our books came out, and that was great great great. Matt and I had never met and we got along swimmingly. On the first day, we were getting off the Mass Pike in Amherst and we were stopping for gas and Matt expressed some relief at the fact that I didn't seem to be a weirdo--that he and his wife and their friend had been wondering the previous evening whether I would be some kook wanting to hot-box it all the way to Buffalo and then I said, what's hot-boxing and Matt pointed at me and said EXACTLY.
I've read a few times in Minneapolis and Rain Taxi organized an awesome night for Laura Sims and Anthony Hawley and Matt and me last year in the Soap Factory. This past spring I read in a few new places. The fantastic Dobby Gibson and I met Matt in Iowa City and we three read together. And I was invited to read at the Juniper Festival this past April, and that was nice, I like Amherst and there were a lot of people there whose work I admire and I was glad to get to see them read. I hope for more readings. I hope Matt and I continue to tag team a few places because it's real good to have company and it's good for Slope, as Janke says. In general I like reading. I do get nervous just before. And I try to practice before. I like cars and airports. I am a good guest and I like to meet the people I've read about in books and on the internets.
Best advice/warning I got was "wait six months for things like reviews to happen." That seemed to be very true, the timing.
What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published?
That six month tip. And not to sound like an after-school special, but! Some people will like your poems and some people won't and that is okay. Just the same as you, lady or man I'm advising, probably don't like everyone-who-writes-poems' poems, not everyone will like yours. It comforts me to remember that. Taste!
I think the process and practice of writing Isa has affected my subsequent writing. The rules I made for myself with the dictionary of names taught me that I can make rules and follow them, and that I can write several poems. The second manuscript has very different rules, but I made them before I knew the first book was going to be published. I have been a lot working more on arranging the second one as a manuscript and revising it than I did with Isa (which was solely a chronological thing) and I'm learning how bad I am at that stuff, the arranging/revising. I'm bad at rethinking big picture things. Mostly, for me, poems happen very quickly, and if they don't come out well then I more often end up either starting over from the initial sentiment or cutting. So I'm really trying to learn how to rework things. It sometimes feels false to me, though, revising. And I guess that makes sense. If the poem comes out as a fast and unprocessed event, then sitting over it and wondering how it could be better, well, to me it's hard. I lose patience and concentration. I'm a good syllable and line editor though.
Since the fall, I've written three longer and occasional pieces for various reasons/readings (one was for an art shanty that friends built on a lake in Minnesota in February!). They're pretty disparate in reason but seem redundant of each other in emotional ways and I've kind of refused to make anything part of a coherent whole. Several poe-friends kept reminding me to go against myself, my instincts, so if my instincts are to push things together, projects, let's say, then I'm trying otherwise. I have a lot of singular poems that are off on their own too, just hanging out, I'm even trying to divorce those longer pieces into smaller ones. But just a few weeks ago I got the bug to start something new I've been thinking about for a long while but I'm not sure how it's going. I'm trying to be loosey goosey and have fewer rules.
One other thing I've realized is that when I first started writing poems I wanted to show people right away. I remember it not feeling real until I did. Now there's a real difference. I've been slow to send stuff out all year. I've been slow to put anything on the computer (I write by hand mostly). I guess I'm saying I'm surprised by how hoarding I'm feeling about poems.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
I'm real grateful that any have been written. I find writing reviews to be (rewarding but) all-consuming and so I think it generous of anyone to care to spend time like that with someone else's book. I don't have very good reading comprehension and luckily this one friend of mine happened to be with me when I found out about most of the reviews and he is a real wordsmith and he translated some of them into my kind of English. So far there's been one review that was pretty not in love with Isa but like I said before--Horse Races. One friend said that it's better to be reviewed (albeit negatively) than ignored, and perhaps that's a helpful way to look at negative reviews.
Do you want your life to change?
Yes I'd like to figure out what I'd like to do for the long haul job-wise. And I'd like to live in some other places. I wonder about going to more school or not. Also, am I allowed to talk about this here? I feel, sometimes, that poetry has become something like a boyfriend. That poems spring out of the things that I would be saying to someone I was loving. I know this may sound strange but it's something I've been wondering.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
Not so much. I'm in a perpetual state of stunned inaction. I bet though when I figure it out I'll act quickly. I'm not a procrastinator where there is something to be done, I just have trouble making decisions recently.
I know that with this job thing, I refuse to have one that will make me unhappy, because I don't want to be unhappy and/or unproductive at home. Working in a cafe can be unhappy sometimes, but lots of things about it make me happy. My memory works well there. Someone will come in, maybe only for the second time, and I'll be able to remember where they sat and what they ate the last time. I don't know how else these memory powers could serve me, but using it makes me feel big things. Though perhaps I could become a private investigator. But I wouldn't want to work at night. I'd like to be home for dinner.
I don't imagine this country will have a Yevtushenko on their hands anytime soon. But certainly in that grand way (and especially in other countries) poetry can create those big changes. But poetry changes things for me in small ways. It changes how I am in the world. And I like that.
Two poems from Isa the Truck Named Isadore
Pennsylvania is sort of big compared to a child but
Jesus Christ can help--he
next interview: Susanne Dyckman
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