How has your first book changed your life?
41. Brigitte Byrd
How did it happen that your manuscript was picked up by Ahsahta Press?
I had entered the 2004 Sawtooth Poetry Contest and Fence above the Sea was a finalist. Janet Holmes, the editor of Ahsahta Press, liked my manuscript and she called to tell me that she wanted to publish it. I was absolutely thrilled. Janet is a great person to work with, and her presence in the press made my first book experience absolutely fantastic.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I had been wondering how I would react to this book, my book. I am lucky to be published by Ahsahta Press because they make beautiful books, so I was not disappointed when I saw the book. So many of my friends are unhappy with the way their books end up looking. When I first opened the book and saw my words there, it was just a magic moment. This is when it really sank. I had written a book, and it was there, in my hands, and I ran in my daughter's room to show her "the book."
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes, actually, I was. Janet had asked me if I wanted the press to come up with a design for the cover or if I had something in mind, and I really appreciated the option since I actually had a few ideas regarding the cover. My first thought was to use Dali's painting La Navire (1942-43). I love this work. This said, Janet pointed out a few problematic things with this painting for a book cover, and I totally trusted her opinion. Janet had assured me that she would use La Navire if I did not want any other cover.
I had another painting in mind, Gustav Klimt's Mada Primavesi (1912), and both of us agreed on this work for the cover. My daughter thought this choice was "freaky" because she looks so much like the young girl in the painting. And she is right. At first, many of our friends asked me if the cover of the book was a painting of Camille. It is very funny how suddenly I thought of the child as a fence above the sea....
Yes, I knew certain aspects of my life would change because of my book.
How has your life been different since?
Well, we all know that publishing a book with a good press helps one's career, if the author has chosen to pursue an academic path. I have a PhD in Creative Writing, so it is obvious that I have chosen this path. I know that having a book with Ahsahta Press helped me getting my current position. I am an Assistant Professor of English in Creative Writing, and feel quite lucky to hold a position in my field because many of my friends are still adjuncts and still on the job market. Indeed, I am aware of the conflict between the so called academic poets and non-academic poets. To me, this is not a real conflict. I have experienced the world as much as I could earlier on. I have not gone from school to university to a job in academia.
And besides, I have always written what I want to write. I am considered an experimental poet and that's fine because I don't see why I would try to reproduce what has been done very well before me. On the contrary, I really believe in pushing my literary influences toward new directions. That's why I prefer the term "innovative" to the term "experimental," if we must be categorized.
If I were not in academia, I don't know if I could survive corporate America, now that I live here. I need to be involved with an intellectually stimulating community. Academia provides this for me, along with a way to support the child, the cats, the dog, and myself. So basically, publishing my first book changed my life in the sense that not only it made me feel good about my work by validating it, but also it helped my academic career. Yes, a book did all that.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
Actually, I had no surprise in that regard. All the surprises were rather good things that happened that I did not expect.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what are those experiences like for you?
I started to contact people to give readings and thus promote the book. Some of these people I knew, some I did not know. I found out that most people were very nice and willing to help me promote the book. About readings, I just love performing, so that's always a great experience when an audience is moved by my words. And I have this French accent, which sometimes worries me, but so far, it has not been a problem. I just have to remember to read a bit slower than most people, maybe.
I have no idea. All I know is that Janet Holmes guided me through the entire experience, and things fell in place. It was very important for me because I have anxiety issues. I suppose then that establishing a good relationship with your editor and trusting him/her are essential since it is after all your first book.
This is a very good question because my first book's publication had a very strange effect on my writing. Fence above the Sea is a collection of prose poems, and somehow, I felt that I had to do something different after this book.
I wrote a second manuscript which is a collection of poems investigating the idea of schism--i.e. dealing with a split in love, identity, culture, landscape. This collection is now circulating. It is a schism with the prose poem as well since it is framed by two crowns of sonnets written in Alexandrines while the rest of the collection vacillates between prose poems and poems written in free verse.
But now that I am working on a third collection which investigates the texture of consciousness and questions the solidity of fixed identity, I have returned to the prose poem because I have realized that it fits better my "poetic" voice. These new prose poems have moved into a new direction. The collection is turning into this hybrid form which is a sort of poetry/fiction work. So far, that's all I can say since I am still working on it.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
The critical response to my first book has been very positive, so that's great.
My life changes all the time.
Well, I would like to have more time to write, so yes, I am working toward this goal.
Absolutely. I think that words are very powerful and that poetry enriches the mind by opening it to new voices. Once they are in, they stay. That to me is a way to create change in the world because the broader the minds, the better and more tolerant the people.
2 poems from Fence Above The Sea by Brigitte Byrd:
The father is buried in the ground under sand and gravel. There is a tradition and it is cold. That there is a strange fragrance does not come from the earth and we do not and animals do not. A star falls into a body and it hangs in a frame that pulses like numbers burrowed under skin folds. Is the movement from man to God is it not the opposite like faith and where does it go. There is always an empty place and not often a soundwave. A soul maybe if she is not. Present and absent at the same time and always alone. She covers her fear she enters her body and looks for the father and he is there and he always was.
Why writing when there is no more time to read. She listens to an escape artist who left his name in a suitcase watching the sun come down on his forlorn luck. Is alienation a defiant freedom. Dans mon pays, on ne questionne pas un homme ému. She watches the daughter canter in the riding ring and he is not going back to this broken heart. It is a terrible fate when a young man cannot leave his country and all there is left is a cry when his only hope vanishes with a plane into the blue clouds. When all curiosity is gone he knows the meaning of horror. A vicious sun above the tin roof swallows the shadows of men who walk by her door. She knows what happens to these displaced bodies when she speaks her native language with a foreign accent. This is a waltz and they shall not meet again.
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