Posts Tagged ‘Kelli Russell Agodon

22
Jun
21

Jeannine Hall Gailey Interviews Kelli Russell Agodon

This interview first appeared in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 25, which is available for order here: www.etsy.com/shop/RedactionsPoetry/

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Jeannine Hall Gailey Interviews Kelli Russell Agodon

About Her Upcoming Book From

Copper Canyon Press, Dialogues with Rising Tides

Kelli Russell Agodon – Dialogues with Rising Tides

JHG: Nice to talk to you, Kelli! How have you been during the quarantine?

KRA: Pretty okay. My family and I have found new ways to exist in the world without a playbook and I have a new love for smoked cheese and hearty sandwiches – my pandemic comfort foods. I’ve found the little things are what are getting me through and I look for small joys and feel grateful for what I can.

JHG: So, your new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides, is coming out in the spring of 2021 with Copper Canyon Press. Could you tell me about how this book came to be?

KRA: This book began around 2013-2014, which was the beginning of a sort of dance with melancholy that I would experience for a few years. I was struggling with deep anxiety then, and the book began as a series of “waltzes” (as you read, you’ll see several “waltz poems” which are narrative poems defined by their 3-line indented stanzas to mirror the dance steps of a waltz). I created this form as it felt as if I was trying to waltz as the ship (a.k.a. my life) sank.

As the book continued, I kept seeing the water/sea/environmental/climate change poems emerge in my work and instead of saying, “Those poems are for another book,” I allowed them to enter this manuscript to see how they would converse with the darker poems about anxiety, melancholy, and family suicide – it turns out they had a lot to say to each other.

I realized the book was ultimately about the things that take us under, yet also about hope.

Once I had it “finished” (always in quotes because quite honestly, what is ever finished?), I sent it to Copper Canyon Press’s open submission period. It turned out one of the readers, an intern, really connected with my work and advocated for it to the editors. I received a note in December 2018 that my book was still being considered and at the end of March 2019, I learned at the Portland AWP that Copper Canyon wanted to publish it. I believe this story also needs a post-it note that reads “sometimes dreams come true,” because while I always hoped to be a Copper Canyon poet, I never expected it to actually happen.

JHG: How do you think it is different from your previous books?

KRA: In all of my books, I try to come to the page with openness, honesty, vulnerability, humor, and of course, craft – this book I definitely arrive more vulnerable and I try to explore tougher subjects in my life and world. I allowed more surrealism, sub-consciousness, and surprise into my work (the 3 S’s I guess!). I also allowed myself to write about melancholy in a more open way. People see me as a very happy and friendly person, but there is a part of me that wants to press against that notion that just because someone appears happy on social media or in real life, that they aren’t struggling with something deeper.

While I was writing this book, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, and Kate Spade all committed suicide. From the outside, they appeared to be living their best lives. Kate Spade was described as “bubbly.” Robin Williams was known for his humor and big laughs. Anthony Bourdain was seen for his passion of travel, food, and living in the moment. I’m always interested in the mask we wear for the public and how we can hide the more uncomfortable feelings, but also how we never really know what anyone is going through.

So I wanted to explore this melancholy, but not in a way I feel is negative, but in an acknowledging way, realizing that one can move from dark to light in a day or over several years. And also how we sometimes allow both feelings in.

JHG: As the publisher of a small press, Two Sylvias Press, what have you learned about editing and publishing poetry books that you think has helped you on your own poetry book journey?

KRA: I understand how challenging it is to publish a book, to proof it, to create a cover for it, to promote it, and to get it out in the world. Because of this, I tend to be an easygoing author. I’m not someone to email an editor to either ask for things I can do myself or because too much time has gone by since I’ve heard from them. I understand if I’m not hearing from my press, they are most likely working on another book or on mine.

I think I learned to say thank you more and be less of Janet Jackson’s “What have you done for me lately?” and more of Aretha Franklin’s “I say a little prayer for you.” Because I am an editor, as a poet I learned to have gratitude for anything that is done for my book.

JHG: You have an interesting philosophy about the attitude of competition and scarcity in the poetry world. Could you talk a little about that?

KRA: I guess I do have an interesting philosophy in that regards – I believe in the poetry world, there is enough for everyone. I reject the scarcity mindset that the field is only big enough for so many of us and only so many can come to play. That’s nonsense, we can always use another poet. And we don’t have to feel threatened by them, that now there will be one less spot for me to publish my poems. I think it’s why I rarely feel jealous of other poets because I never really feel myself competing with them because poetry paths are so unique and poetry prizes are so subjective.

Just because a poet doesn’t win a prize, doesn’t mean that their book isn’t changing someone else’s life this very moment or having a profound effect on someone. I have never believed success can be measured in art – people try to measure it based on American beliefs such as “this book is better because it 1) sold more copies 2) won a prize 3) was published by a certain press 4) was featured in a certain journal or magazine 5) got an excellent review 6) made the author earn X number of dollars” and so on. . . . Who said that was success? Who wrote that definition? That’s not my definition of success – my idea of success isn’t built from opinion and numbers.

I definitely fall into the world of the woo-woo, in meditating and manifesting. Reading The Artist’s Way as a young poet was a gamechanger for me. It made me understand some things I still take with me, “Serious art is born from serious play,” “Leap and the net shall appear,” and “Pray to catch the bus, but run as fast as you can.” But mostly, what I took away was that art is not a competitive sport. And you never have to believe that someone’s gain (a book, a publication, a prize, etc.) is your loss. But also, as poets and writers, we do not know the future or can see the big picture from this point in our lives.

Here’s a quick example – before my book was picked up by Copper Canyon Press, it was a finalist in two prizes. It lost both prizes to another poet who is a friend of mine. I could have been terribly jealous of her, gone full-on, “HEY, do you really need TWO books? Can you dial-down the prizewinning, sis?” But my thought was, “Well, that didn’t work out. I guess I’ll believe something better is going to come along.” We can have many responses to losing something. One is “I’ll never get anything, I always lose, why do I bother?” Or we can think, “I guess that wasn’t meant to be and maybe that means something better is on the way.” Had my book been picked up by either press, I wouldn’t be at Copper Canyon, which has been my dream press since I was a young poet.

We do not know what’s ahead for any of us so why not hope for the best and believe there’s another scenario around the corner for you that’s better.

(Now I must add this note – after writing this all out I may sound like some enlightened poet, but I’m not. I’ve definitely had “this sucks!” days or the “why do I put myself through this?!” I’ve definitely felt bad about not having my book chosen, but when I feel this, I remind myself to keep the faith and keep doing the work. But I do always believe there’s room at the poetry party for all of us.)

JHG: Your new book has more poems about the environment than previous books. Could you talk about your new relationship to the environment and why those poems came to be?

KRA: It’s interesting as a younger poet, I was always called “a nature poet” (which at the time, seemed to carry a little insulting tone to it). As the climate crisis really began to come into view, I was called an “environmentalist poet” and even recently an “ecofeminist poet.” I am still writing about nature and my connection/relationship with it, but nature has changed and is changing.

On the West Coast, each year the wildfires move a little more north, and we have a fifth season around August called “Smoke Season,” when we’re stuck indoors. It’s like I’m still dating Mother Nature, but she’s older now, a little more pissed, and ready to burn things down, ready to say “what the fuck?!” and send a hurricane into a coastline. I’m just responding to her through my poems in new ways, I’m responding to how we need to think about her and what can happen to our communities.

For me, nature and rising tides are other ways we can be taken under. One of the hardest parts for me as a human is to see animal species going extinct due to our harm of natural environments and for the business belief to put money and development before the forests, untouched landscapes and environments. It’s backwards. I always correct people when they say, “We are killing the planet” – nope, the planet is going to be here and recover in its own way, what we are killing is ourselves, the human race.

JHG: You also write about family, politics, and the secrets we keep from each other – to protect others or protect ourselves. It’s a tension that plays a lot into this book. Could you talk a little about the nature of secrecy and how it propelled itself to become a big theme in this book?

KRA: I came from a Catholic family, and the “Catholic shame” taught many in my family not to talk openly and to hide things. All my childhood, growing up, I was always digging in drawers, I always felt something was hidden from me. I wasn’t sure what, but I was continually seeking it. I think that is why I was always playing “spy” in my house and in my neighborhood. I was Nancy Drew trying to figure out mysteries, I was Harriet with her notebook from one of my favorite children’s books.

It became a big theme in my book because several of the things I wrote about were hidden from me as a child (the suicides, my family history), and then while I was writing the book, my husband secretly bought a gun and hid it in the house and this action almost destroyed our marriage (and it definitely changed it).

Because of my history with shame, for a long time it was very hard for me to discuss certain things about myself or my life because I was embarrassed of what I struggled with and even who I was and am. I have mostly made peace with shame (though occasionally, I feel it peeking behind the corner saying – you will never be good enough), and maybe this is why this book feels like my most personal and vulnerable because I am directly addressing some things that were never really talked about. I am using my art to say – you do not have to be embarrassed about who you are or where you came from.

JHG: What do you want your reader to take away from this book?

KRA: Wasn’t it Anne Sexton who shared: “One of my secret instructions to myself as a poet is: ‘Whatever you do, don’t be boring’”? I always hope my reader is engaged, interested, entertained, and definitely compelled to turn the page. But overall, I think with all my books, I have wanted my readers to feel less alone. I think that’s what I write towards. It’s ultimately what I hope for with each book.

JHG: I’m hoping that by April of 2021 we will get to see each other in person to celebrate your new book! Thank you so much for your time! I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. The best of luck with your new book!

KRA: Yes, let’s hope for champagne and cupcakes together in our future. We can give a cheers IRL – in real life! I look forward to all of us being together again. Thanks so much, Jeannine!

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JEANNINE HALL GAILEY is a poet with MS who served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her work appeared in journals like The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.

KELLI RUSSELL AGODON’s fourth collection of poems is Dialogues with Rising Tides (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). (The poems that appear in this issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics first appeared in Dialogues with Rising Tides.) She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press as well as the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Retreat for Women. Agodon lives in a sleepy seaside town in Washington State, where she is an avid paddleboarder and hiker. You can write to her directly at kelli (at) agodon.com or visit her website: www.agodon.com.

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02
Apr
13

Promoting Your Recently or Soon-to-Be Released Collection of Poems

Below are the notes I used for a presentation I gave in Introduction to Publishing taught by Angela Ball at The University of Southern Mississippi.

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Most of this advice is for when your poetry publisher does no marketing or publicity, does a limited amount of both, or wants you to help in the promoting. These days, publishers do less promoting than in the past for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is a financial one. Even the more established presses are doing less. So this information is for the poet whose book is published by a press with good intentions but short on funds.

There will be handouts and four sections to this presentation:

  • Change Your Thinking
  • Review Copies: Using Tip Sheets, Lesson Plans, and PDFs
  • Reading Tours: Or How to Have Fun on Vacation
  • Online Celebrating

Change Your Thinking

This idea comes from Kelli Russell Agodon, a fine poet and editor of the Crab Creek Review. She says:

Change your vocabulary. Instead of “marketing” think “share.” Instead of “promotion” think celebrate.”

I like that. It’s more in the spirit of poetry anyway, as poems are shared and the ones we like are celebrated. Besides who likes marketing and promotion. In addition, you will share your book. You will meet other writers, and a good way to break the ice or to make friends is by swapping your books with other writers. And inscribe them for the person, too. A correspondence might develop out of this or a book review or who knows what, but something good comes from sharing books. You might also want to give free copies to instructors who taught you poetry and to your friends who teach poetry. Maybe they’ll like it and/or remember you and want to help you out and use it in one of their courses.

This reminds me of advice a friend of mine gave me: “If you win a contest and money, use that money to buy copies of your own book.” Since you will get a big discount, you can purchase many copies, too. There are two reasons for this. First, you can make more at readings when you sell your own book. If you purchase it for $5 a copy and sell it for $15, then you make $10. Of course, you can only do that at smaller venues or conferences or where a bookstore isn’t involved. The second reason, you will want copies of your book to share and sell for the rest of your life. Most likely, after the first print run, there won’t be a second print run. When this happens, when your book eventually sells out, then there’ll be no more books except the ones you purchased. Save some for your later years because you’ll always be making friends.

If you don’t win a prize, you might want to purchase copies anyway for the same reasons and to help out the publisher.

Review Copies and PDFs

Send review copies of your book to reviewers. See hand-out lists, which I’ve been compiling for some time. [If you want copies of the list of reviewers I’ve compiled, leave a comment at the end of this post.] Most of the information is still up-to-date. Reviews don’t necessarily sell many copies of your book, but it does promote you and your publisher. The more people see what good books a publisher puts out, the better the press looks, and the better you look as a result. Also, the more your name gets out there, the more attention you get for your next book. A review or two here and now is also good publicity for the future.

You will probably also want to send review copies to some journals that first published some of your poems, and be sure to let them know that. Maybe you’ll get a review or maybe just a mention on the editor’s page. Either way, your book and name are mentioned.

Send a copy of the book to the newspaper in the town you grew up in. Maybe they’ll do a little review of it. You might even want to do a reading in the town you grew up in. Sentimentality sells.

Nowadays, it’s expensive for a publisher to send out Advanced Reader Copies (ARC), but nowadays, most books get turned into a PDF before being sent to the printer. You can use this PDF as your ARC that you send to reviewers, and, bonus, you can email it to them for free.

Reading Tours: Or How to Have Fun on Vacation and Using Tip Sheets and Lesson Plans

If your press does not set up a reading tour for you, you probably should. What you will need to do is locate stores and other venues, such as writing centers or conferences, that are nearby. If you are travelling in the future, check out stores and other locations in the area where you are going to visit. Once you locate them, you will need to contact them and send them a tip sheet. Your press should already have a tip sheet made up.

A tip sheet, if you don’t know already, is a sheet of paper with information about the book, you, the press, blurbs about the book, an image of the front cover, and maybe an image of you, too. You can send this to the store along with your query. You might even want to be inventive when you send it. Instead of just asking for a reading and book signing, suggest that maybe you’ll do a workshop with a few writers or ask them to have an open-mic night, or couple yourself with another reader in the area. Try to make a cool event for the store. They are always looking for ways to bring in customers, and if you can think of one for them, bam, you’re in. If you do get a venue, make sure the local paper knows about it.

You will also want a separate tip sheet for books you send to creative writing professors at various universities. This tip sheet will have much of the same information, but it will also include ways for the professor to incorporate your book into their class. Perhaps you can point to a form poem you wrote or invented, or maybe one of your poems was based on a writing prompt and you can share that prompt along with the poem that prompted it. That right there can be a lesson plan for a class, which is one less day of prep the professor has to do. Better yet, create a whole week’s worth of lesson plans from your book. Create three lesson plans for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Make you’re your beautiful poems utilitarian!

Here’s one I made for The Cave: Lesson Plans for The Cave.

Online Celebrating

Of course there is also your online presence. Make sure you have a Facebook page and Twitter account. Make a post or two a week about your book for a few weeks on both places. Maybe you will want to create a Facebook page for your book where you can post any reviews that have occurred about your book or to notify people where you’ll be reading or so other people can leave posts about how awesome your book is. You might want to do this before the book is released so you can give people pre-order information.

For your twitter account, you might also want to make a special Twitter hashtag for you book, too. That way people can join in the fun and leave remarks about your book with that hashtag. Also use #poetry with your tweets.

Also, give your contact email addresses to your publisher, so they can send out a notification to all your friends and family. Publisher’s like pre-orders. It makes it easier for them to determine a print run.

Make sure you send a copy to Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. You might even want to purchase an ad on Verse Daily. It’s not expensive. $50 for one month and $100 for three months if I remember correctly. Your ad with a link to a place to purchase the book will be on the page every day, and every week when then send out their newsletter, they will mention your book with a little blurb about it.

If you’re really creative or have a friend who is, make a Youtube video of one of your poems. You know, like a movie version of your poem, as Dan Bowman did (or someone did for him) with his book A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country. At the end of the video or in the comments on the Youtube page, put down the ordering information and contact information for readings.

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Obviously there is more that can be done. There’s always more that can be done! This is just a start.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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