How has your first book changed your life?
92. Susanne Dyckman
How did Shearsman happen to pick up your manuscript? How often had you sent it out before that?
A good friend, also a poet, read a version of my manuscript and suggested I send it to Shearsman. I sent the editor, Tony Frazer, a letter, along with a sample of my work, asking if he might be interested in a book-length manuscript. As it turns out, he was, though he said the manuscript I sent him was too short. I then worked, very, very quickly, to lengthen it, and he accepted the revised version for publication.
Prior to its acceptance by Shearsman, I submitted various versions of the book to a number of contests and open reading periods. I was a finalist for the Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Prize, and two independent presses expressed some interest in the work, though neither accepted it in the end. I made revisions, sometimes minor but often major, each time I submitted it for consideration.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I opened the box, held the book in my hand for only a second, and then immediately put it back in the box. I didn't open the box again for several days.
During those days when the books were in the closed box, what were you feeling? Were you thinking about the book or did you put it out of your mind?
The box arrived on the Solstice (nice symbolism) so I was easily distracted by Christmas events. After the holidays, when I did have to re-open the box, my anxiety about it was both specific and general. Though the manuscript had been proof-read several times, I was worried about errors (to quote Oscar Wilde: "A poet can survive everything but a misprint."). More generally, while I had grown comfortable with the pages of the manuscript, holding the book, as a printed object, created a sense of finality I wasn't sure I was prepared for.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes. I hadn't thought about a cover design at all, as my focus had been on the manuscript. (I've since learned that writers often have a complete cover design at hand, prior to a manuscript being accepted.) I knew what I didn't want more than what I did. The publisher sent me several mock-ups, and I chose one, suggesting just a few design changes.
Before the day you first saw your book, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I don't think I believed it would change my daily life substantially. I knew I'd still need to go to work, buy groceries, etc. I was very excited and a little intimidated by the thought of seeing the work as more than pieces of paper clipped together. I wanted to have the work out in the world, without knowing exactly what that meant.
What was most exciting to me was the day it was accepted for publication, more so than the actual publication of the work. Because the work was, and is, important to me, having it accepted for publication was deeply satisfying.
Then too, there was and continues to be the hope that that book will be of significance to some one person other than myself.
Has your life been different since?
Yes, in that I can now say that I have a book. I do think I would be feeling some frustration if the manuscript had not found a home. Being published is both a big event and a not-so-big event. There are many very fine writers, and many poets with multiple publications. It has brought me personal satisfaction, but I understand my own sense of success needs to be kept in perspective. It's one slim book of poetry.
What have you been doing to promote the book and how do you feel about those experiences?
I initially sent out a number of review copies, and I've been giving readings over the last six months. Prior to its publication, I didn't think about promotion. It's been for the most part a very rewarding experience, as I've met a number of wonderful, welcoming people on my travels. But it's also an expensive and time-consuming process, as I've had to set up most of the readings and pay for the travel myself.
The best part of it is not the promotion of my own work, but becoming engaged with a larger poetry community.
Promotion occurs out in the world, while my writing occurs in seclusion. They are very different types of experiences. As a somewhat shy person, I've had to force myself to be more outgoing. It's sometimes exhausting, though not without its rewards.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
I might have been better served by having a more complete sense, in advance, of how to promote a book, and for how long. Is there a set time period? Does it become old after six months, or after one year? I can't actually think of one best piece of advice I was given, but my friends have been very supportive, and if I know the right question to ask, I always get a good answer. Knowing the right question to ask can be the challenge.
What advice would you give to someone about to have a first book published?
Here's the shocker--one I wasn't prepared for at all. Once a first book is published, the thought of a second book surfaces, suddenly and unexpectedly. Will I ever write another book? Will I ever have a second book published? Is this a one-time event, or is there more ahead? I thought I'd have a longer lasting sense of completion. Instead, I had a good twenty-four hours of bliss, and then it was on to other things.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
The major influence is a very practical one. I make use of the generosity of the page, the space of it, when I write, and I discovered that an 8 ½ x 11 page does not reduce easily. I never thought about the conversion to a smaller format as I was writing. The editing of my manuscript to accommodate a reduced page size was a long and frustrating experience. In some cases I had to change line breaks and spacing so the poem would fit the smaller page. Given that I had been very conscious about the placement of every word in my original manuscript, I was unprepared for the alterations I was going to have to make.
Now, although I still use the page as a kind of canvas, I'm aware of the possible problems of translation to book size. I sometimes wish I wrote everything in a traditional, left-justified, manner, but that's just not what I do.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing practice?
I'm still waiting to read the review that I'm told is going to be published, and I'm honestly curious. I've gotten some enthusiastic, though informal, responses, and that has been gratifying. Generally, I don't want to focus on reviews, but having a positive response to my work is always a bonus--who doesn't want to be liked, if not loved?
Do you want your life to change?
My life will change whether I want it to or not--that, I think, is the nature of being alive. I have many things to be grateful for, the book just one of them.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
Since I'm uncertain of what change I seek (other than my fantasy of winning the lottery), I don't know.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
Let me flip the question. Because I believe we absolutely need art--poetry, stories, painting, music--I am convinced that its absence would, in fact, radically alter the world.
2 poems from Equilibrium's Form by Susanne Dyckman:
The hallway is long and immaculate and empty. I'm on the fourth floor, the sun is bright through the western window. I've claimed a chair, one with wooden arms, upholstered in brown and purple fabric. The cushions have been protected with a glossy silicone spray, so the backs and thighs of a hundred restless people, sitting, then standing, then sitting again, rubbing their clothing and coats against the fabric, will never leave a mark. The doctor walks past me in his green surgical scrubs. His posture is perfect, his body gives off no warmth. I'm startled by his fingers, long and slender, like a concert pianist's. I scurry to catch him.
& gone but warned the day before goodbye was too hard
& what to do with bottled vetiver why she likes it so
(more at jonquil more at diminished)
in saying determined to take a warmer region
collecting and to put would she? breathe not hold
to drive down that street, which is the way I usually go...
of course &
--in a lengthy tête-à-tête
how to say of where we are conversation is not a quest
absurdly it didn't work
from any locale someone leaves the will to be
every step & after
now gone sense of static, turning to the radio
next interview: Dorothea Lasky
. . .