First Book Poets In Conversation:
Ivy Alvarez & Lee Herrick (Summer 2007) Part 1
is the author of Mortal
(Washington, DC: Red Morning Press, 2006). A MacDowell and Hawthornden
Fellow, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Welsh Academi both
awarded her a grant to write poems for her second manuscript.
Lee Herrick is the author of This Many Miles from
Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). He was born in Seoul,
Korea and adopted at eleven months. His poems have been published
in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review,
Hawaii Pacific Review, The Bloomsbury Review, Many Mountains Moving
and MiPOesias, among others, and in anthologies such as
Seeds from a Silent Tree: An Anthology of Korean Adoptees,
Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, and
Highway 99: A Literary Journey through Californiaís Great Central
Valley, 2nd edition. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine
In the Grove and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
He is a Professor of English at Fresno City College and lives in Fresno, California.
Ivy Alvarez: How are preparations to release your book coming along?
Lee Herrick: A lotís been going on, actually, and Iím looking forward to getting the box in the mail. My publisher says I should receive my copies in about a week, roughly. Can I ask you how yours is doing and how youíre thinking about the book right now? I saw that youíre getting some really nice reviews. Did you have much anxiety over reviews?
IA: You must be so excited about getting your authorís copies soon! From writing the poems to holding the book in oneís hands -- itís such a long process, isnít it?
Mortal came out in November 2006, so itís only been five months or thereabouts since its release. It has had a gentle reception so far, with a number of private emails from readers about the bookís effect on them, which Iíve really appreciated. Other poets have been so lovely and supportive since its release, resulting in an interview by Jonathan Wonham, archiving some of my poems online on Anny Ballardiniís The Poetsí Corner, the Galatea Resurrects reviews and now this conversation with you!
Iíve been thinking about how grateful and appreciative I am that the book is published and other people can engage with it. Iím finally hearing other opinions on the book now that it is complete.
It surprises me how much I like holding it, feeling the reality of it, knowing that Mortal is now separate from me, after having held it in my mind for so long.
The only anxiety I had had for Mortal was a resounding silence, so Iím glad people are reading it. So far Mortalís reviews have been very good and Iím looking forward to more! Itís true that another personís thoughts on oneís book lets one see it anew, so for me the reviews and emails from readers articulate the several aspects of what Iíve been trying to accomplish. And itís wonderful to get such multifaceted viewpoints on the work.
What about you, are you anxious about the reception to This Many Miles from Desire? Did it have a very long gestation period?
LH: So itís been about five months for Mortal. I read the two reviews in GR, and it is interesting how they differ (both very positive, though!). I liked what you said about how much you like ďholding it,Ē because I have always enjoyed holding books of most any kind, especially once theyíre worn a bit so that the pages glide back and forth if you want them to. I like the cover of Mortal very much.
And I see youíre reading in Dublin? If you donít mind, in your next response, I would be curious as to your current travel and reading schedule. For some reason, I am always interested in place (as well as the lack of it) for the poet as she or he writes, reads, and thinks.
You asked about the gestation period of my book and about review anxiety. Some of the poems in This Many Miles from Desire date as far back as 1998. About six of the poems in the book were in a chapbook called Coping With Vertigo, published by Talent House Press in 1999. I hit a very productive patch of writing in the summer of 2001 when I traveled to China and South Korea. I wrote about Tai Shan (a famous mountain in China), Seoul, my adoption, and other cultural aspects of place and self, and I felt like I had some good momentum. The only problem was that summers somehow became the time when I would write the most---long periods of not teaching and being in parts of the world that somehow were very conducive for writing. I also fell in love with Central America---Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras---as places with spirit(s) and culture and history where I found myself at home. I would say that most of the poems were written between 2001 and 2005. I sent the manuscript out to about ten presses, and it was accepted for publication last summer. In fact (as you know), Iím supposed to be getting my box (of books from the publisher) next week. Iím looking forward to holding it in my hands.
As for review anxiety, I would be lying if I said I wasnít a bit curious to see how it will be received, but Iím not one to lose sleep over things like this. Two places have already committed to reviews, MiPOesias in Florida and Korean Quarterly in Minnesota (both in the U.S.). Perhaps Iíll send it to some other places also. Honestly, I am hoping to find a nice balance between promoting the book and remembering that I donít want it to consume me. But Iím excited about it. I just realized that by the time this conversation/interview is published, I will have had the book for several months.
I hope poets, readers, and reviewers like it, absolutely. But the audience that I am most hopeful for in terms of readership and acceptance, if you will, is the Korean adoptee community. As far as I know, I am one of the first Korean adoptees to publish a book of poems (along with Sun Yung Shin, whose first book just came out from Coffee House Press) and so I feel a true sense of hope that some of the poems resonate with them. There are about seven poems in the book that start with ďKorean AdopteeĒ in the title: ďKorean Adoptee Returns to Seoul,Ē ďKorean Adoptee Daydreams,Ē et cetera. They constitute a minority of the poems, but theyíre very meaningful for me. I have an immense amount of respect for Korean adoptees around the world, whether theyíre in Australia, the Netherlands or Sweden, or the U.S. I rarely, if ever, write with an audience in mind. But if there ever was one, that community would be it.
Anyway, I read ďLost FleshĒ tonight and felt my breathing change pace, which is always a sign that I am loving the poem---in tone, language, pace, and image. Would you mind telling me a little about that poem? How long did Mortal take to write (so to speak) and what factors led to the order of the poems in the final version?
Thank you for saying you like the cover. Isnít it great? It felt like such a lucky find when I first saw it and it fits the themes of the book so well, while lending a bit of mystery to it. Poet Christine Hamm is the artist. She also provided the artwork for my third chapbook, whatís wrong.
And as for my travel and reading schedule, Iíll be reading at Painted FilŪ: An Evening of Music and Spoken Word on Sunday, 17 June 2007, at the Original Print Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin. After that, Iím madly saving up money to go to next yearís AWP Bookfair in 2008. My publisher, Red Morning Press, goes to these every year and I hope to be able to support their promotional efforts by coming along and hopefully doing a reading or two there. Being able to check out all the lovely books isnít going to hurt, either!
Youíll have to forgive my ignorance, but I donít know much about the Korean adoptee community and its history. You mentioned Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.S. -- were they the main adoptive countries? Did Korean adoption happen around a specific time? Is it still happening? I think itís very interesting how you hope other Korean adoptees will find a resonance through your poems. Would you be planning to hold poetry readings among these communities, too?
Iíve read some of your poems online and one of the things Iíve noticed about them is a technique of questioning that you use. For instance in ĎKorean Adoptee Returns to Seoulí, published by MiPOesias,
it starts off with a question, which is then added to with other questions. As a reader, I find myself wondering about the unspoken answers to these questions. What is the attraction for you as a poet with using this technique?
You also mentioned that seven Korean adoptee poems appear in your book. How is their placement in the book significant for you? Are the poems markers for certain sections of This Many Miles from Desire
Also, are you and your publisher planning a launch for your book in the near future?
You asked about Ďlost fleshí, which appears in Mortal
. Interestingly, the MiPOesias
í incarnation of Ďlost fleshí holds a line, Ď behind a dam of tearsí, thatís missing in the book. It is also one of the oldest poems in the book. To be honest, Iíve always found other peopleís readings of my poems far more interesting than my own. A male friend read this poem once and interpreted the speaker as also male, which was a reading that differed from my own assumptions. That was a revelation to me.
took me some time to write. The poem Ďtouchí, for example, was written around 1999 [I read this poem for an interview with poet Jonathan Wonham here
Towards the end of writing and collecting the poems for Mortal,
I felt thwarted by how to order the manuscript. Luckily, I received valuable advice from the poet WN Herbert, which helped me to see the book objectively and structure it accordingly. There are several thematic threads that run through the book and I wanted to be able to honour each one in turn.
For example, I have three poems with titles that begin with Ďto a daughter born ...í and another three with Ďa memory of ...í
There is also the Demeter and Persephone sequence at the start of the book, which I envisioned as a tapestry painting with an embedded narrative. In Mortal
, my narrative of Demeter and Persephone inverts the received myth and I wanted to signal that by placing this sequence near the start. It sets the scene, so to speak.
LH: You asked about the use of questions in my book. I suppose some of the influence (about using questions in the poems) comes from my reading of Milan Kundera, whose blend of fiction and philosophy in books like Slowness and The Unbearable Lightness of Being had an impact on my poems, as well as Pablo Nerudaís books. I admire Residence on Earth and The Book of Questions a great deal, and a few years ago I read The Heights of Machu Picchu while trekking through the Andes Mountains on the Inca Trail. Mostly, though, I am now thinking that the question in the poem serves to give space between other ideas or images. I think about what the Chinese poets call ďraising the headĒ in a poem, that moment of pause, what others would call caesura. I am very conscious of space, pace, and slowness in life in general, and so I guess it makes its way into my poems. The questions sometimes serve that purpose---slowing the poem down and lessening my grip of authority over things. Itís a form of ambiguity, I suppose.
As a Korean adoptee, I have had to come to terms with such abstractness and allow it to be a good part of life, instead of demanding answers. My poem ďBeliefĒ gets at this idea. You asked about Korean adoptees, Ivy. Yes, most of the Korean adoptees, as far as I know, went to countries like the United States, Holland, and Sweden. In the U.S., Minnesota and cities like San Francisco and New York City have quite a few of us, as far as I know. And yes, I truly hope that there are adoptees with whom the book resonates---not so much as a pure reflection of their own experience, but as a semblance of it. There are only a handful of books by Korean adoptees about the issue(s), and as far as I know, this year there are two of the first books of poems, mine and Skirt Full of Black by Sun Yung Shin. So in this way, I hope that Korean adoptees like the book. Thereís a young woman in her early twenties who told me she reads a few of my poems regularly and that they sustain her in some way. This makes me feel very good. Being adopted from overseas can be a heavy thing. Poetry has become one of the main ways I have begun to understand it, and so I hope that others---adopted or otherwise---will enjoy those poems in the book.
As for the structure of the book, the Korean adoptee poems mainly appear in the first third of the book, which is started with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, ďTo suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.Ē In this first section, there are a lot of what I call ďAsiaĒ poems---adoptee things, China and Korea travel, an Ars Poetica, things like that. The second section starts with a T.S. Eliot quote, ďYou are the music while the music lasts.Ē Fittingly, there are a lot of music poems here. I consider myself a lyric poet first, and so these poems have reference to various musicians that I love---Sarah Chang, Bob Marley, Janis Joplin. It also includes a recent poem I wrote called ďA Thousand Saxophones,Ē which is in response to Hurricane Katrina. The last sectionís quote is ďEnjoy yourself. Itís later than you think,Ē which is a Chinese proverb. These poems include a short series on ghosts, which I was writing about for a good four months straight a few years ago. It also includes poems about Bolivia and Guatemala, contemplative sorts of things. In the end, I hope it holds together well. I think it does. But the arrangement was very, very tough to settle on. Once I got this idea of dividing the book in this way, it began to gel fairly nicely.
As for readings and the book launch, I will be reading in San Francisco at a conference in October, in and around Fresno in September and August, and I think Iíll be going (with a bit of hesitance) to AWP in 2008. There are some nice adoptees in San Francisco who I believe are trying to set up a reading for me, so yes, Iíll be doing a reading or two for that audience (I hope!). As for my book launch, I think Iím having it at my favorite Korean restaurant in Fresno, Samoís Kitchen, in September. That way people can have some food and a drink if theyíd like.
I got Mortal in the mail today. Itís beautiful. Iím getting into the poems---theyíre quite amazing.
So Ivy, what is it like reading from Mortal? What kind of responses do you appreciate most? You seem very receptive to othersí perceptions or readings of your book, which I admire. What project(s) are you working on currently? How has Wales, physically and intellectually, affected your writing?
Youíve given such an intriguing response to the idea of questions in the poem that Iíve had to sit with it awhile. The idea of raising the head, of caesura [one of my favourite words!] is something that really resonated with me, not to mention your thoughts on being a Korean adoptee, allowing for abstractions instead of demanding answers...
I also really liked reading about that young womanís reaction to your work. That mustíve felt really good, to know your poetry sustains. I canít think of a higher compliment!
Did you have first readers for your manuscript before it was accepted for publication? What responses did you get about it? And the plans for your launch sound awesome -- what a great idea to hold it at your favourite Korean restaurant! Do you like reading in front of an audience? Also, Iíve just read on your blog that youíre visiting Antigua. What brings you there? Are you researching for your next work? What themes are you drawn to at the moment?
For me, reading from Mortal
at the Dublin event was a very positive experience. When I first received my authorís copies of Mortal
and looked inside, I was a little surprised at the size of the font, which was larger than I expected. Ah, but then when I came to read from it, then it made sense because it was very, very comfortable and easy. I didnít have to hide behind its pages!
Of the responses to Mortal
that Iíve read and received, there are two kinds that I appreciate the most: those that admit to the book evoking some emotion in them and those that look closely at the work, examining all its underpinnings. I just love that! For a reader to tell me what they get out of my poems [if anything] is just one of the most satisfying things, as a writer. A writer needs a reader.
As for current projects, Iíve recently finished writing a collaborative chained hay(na)ku: www.chainedhaynaku.wordpress.com
with three other poets, which has taken up some of my time this past month or so -- very exciting to do and probably my most satisfying collaboration so far. Iíve also been invited to be guest editor for the Asia and Pacific Writers Network [apwn: www.apwn.net/index.php?/writing/auto_biography
], so Iím currently reading poems for that. My big project at the moment is writing for my second manuscript. Itís turning out to be quite sprawly. Iím also feeling attracted to doing another side-project, which might turn out to be a visual art poem. The problem is, there doesnít seem to be enough time for all I want do!
Living in Wales has been very nourishing for my writing. I feel very much at ease here. The people are very laidback and friendly, which reminds me of Australia. I can be anonymous here, concentrate on my writing and do what needs to be done. The Welsh are also quite health-conscious, which has a positive effect on me. I am more open to doing more physical activity. My natural inclination is to be hermit-like and closeted at home. Iím very happy in my own company.
But itís easy to forget that Outside can feed in to the writing, too. Walking is good for thinking things through, the legs and arms pumping aerated blood around the heart and into the brain... it all goes in there. I donít walk enough.
Iíve lived here for three years now, the longest Iíve lived anywhere since I moved from Australia. Iíve written more here than anywhere else, too, and so Iím very grateful to that, that Iíve had sufficient stability in my life, giving me space to create.
LH: You asked about first readers of my manuscript. To be honest, I donít think anyone read the actual, final manuscript before I sent it out. On the other hand, individual poems, over the years, had several readers and quite a bit of revision and criticism. When I moved to Fresno in 1997, one of the first poets I met was Andres Montoya, who passed away soon after that, but he was a big influence on my writing in terms of how I saw certain poems as ďgoodĒ or not so good in the manuscript. I also workshopped a lot with two other poet friends, Michael Roberts and Loren Palsgaard, both of whom are very good poets and have a great ear. At that point, though, I just had a lot of individual poems that I was working on. The oldest poem in the collection is seven or eight years old, I think, but the manuscript itself came together fairly quickly. I had the title in my head for years. Over the course of a few weeks, once I decided that I had enough decent poems to fill out the manuscript that I had named years before, I sat down and began to think about arrangement. This was difficult because of the time span and also because I was not writing around any certain theme. So it took me a couple of weeks and various arrangements to get it right, but once I hit on the idea of the three sections loosely based on Korea and adoption/Asia, music, and something like ďcarpe diemĒ or enjoying life/travel, then it all came together.
So I had it arranged, and then I just let it simmer for a couple of weeks. I didnít think about it. Eventually I went back to it, and it still felt good, so I sent it out. I told myself that I would give it a year (I sent it to about ten presses) to find a good home, and if it still hadnít been picked up, then I was going to give it to a few friends and ask them to really hack it up. But WordTech offered me a contract within that year, and I was very happy to sign it. They were very nice and let me add a couple of later poems, ďSalvationĒ and ďA Thousand SaxophonesĒ to the book. In short, yes, I had a few good readers on individual poems, but for the final manuscript itself, I was the main pair of eyes.
You also asked about Antigua. We leave July 26 for about two weeks. Itís a short trip, since my wife and I are used to taking two month trips over the summer, but this one will be our first with our two year-old daughter, which weíre excited about. I donít research in the strict sense of the word, but I can definitely say that I am drawn to Latin America and feel very much at home there and have always felt that it brings out a sense of awareness and focus in me that allows for a good poem, eventually. I take a lot of notes and freewrite a lot when I am there. Same thing in Peru and Bolivia---a lot of note taking and freewriting out a few lines at a time. Some of the poems in my book were written in Antigua and Chichicastenango, Guatemala, so I hope to experience new things there. Iím sure I will. For me there is a great sense of liberation being in a country where you are not on autopilot. Having to think more deliberately about language, movement, interaction, and space---these are some of the things I love about Latin America. Antigua is beautiful little town--cobbled streets, very nice people, great color. Two summers ago, we traveled throughout El Salvador. In one town, we stayed next door to poet Claribel Alegriaís niece, which I loved, since Alegria is one of my favorite poets. Thereís something about the cathederals and the reverence for elders and poets and soccer players that I respect, as opposed to North America, where poets and elders and soccer players are often disregarded. (And in case you were wondering, I played soccer throughout college). Anyway, thatís a roundabout way of saying why I like Latin America.
Will some of my writing from this trip go towards a next book? I imagine it might. I still have a notebook of drafts I wrote in Honduras a few years ago, which I hope I can breathe some life into one of these days, but you know how it goes. I just wait until the time is right, and somehow it gets into a poem if it wants to, you know?
How about you? I am curious about your initial interest and idea for the mythology that appears in your book. You mentioned the hay(na)ku project, which sounds great, and that you are spending a lot of time on your next book. Can you tell me more about it? Is it centered on similar themes as the first book? Do you feel a different sort of pressure or purpose for your second book?
You asked about my initial interest and idea for the mythology that appears in the book. The mythology didnít appear to me straightaway. One of the first incarnations of the book was more focused on nature and seasons. There are still remnants of that in Mortal
. What changed it for me was trying to clarify what I wanted to do with the ms when I was applying for a local arts grant in Hobart, Tasmania, where I grew up. I was thinking that I needed a structure for the ms. I had just attended a writing festival and one of the sessions mentioned that a lot of good stories and films had an underpinning myth. So I thought, whatís the myth in mine?
The Persephone and Demeter myth seemed like it could fit but it wasnít exactly perfect. Demeter is the rescuer and Persephone is the one in trouble. What would happen in mine would be the other way around, in a rather imprecise way. And while I donít remember the application Iíd written mentioning the Persephone/Demeter myth explicitly, I think I was starting to think about it, even back then in 2001.
My next book is going in a different direction altogether, less personal, less about using autobiographical foundations. Itíll be a more complex book, with sections, very different to Mortal
, which doesnít really have formal sections to it. The second manuscriptís themes are darker, too, if thatís possible. I canít seem to stay away from those!
I think there is a different sort of pressure with this next work. The first book seemed more bound up in a kind of hunger, this need to get it published. Hard to explain, even to myself. I felt very driven. But now, the second book is more about a personal challenge, seeing what I can do, where I can go with the writing. Iíve a feeling itís going to take a bit of time to finish it and that it will be full of revelations along the way.
It sounds like you have great friends from whom you can get feedback on your work -- lucky you! I think that must be a bonus, having friends who can read your work sensitively and make constructive suggestions.
You mentioned having the title, This Many Miles from Desire
, in your mind for many years. From the title and from reading a few poems, I gather that the themes of travel, distance and exile figure quite importantly in the book, but how does desire weave itself into the poetry? What kinds of desire is your book exploring? Itís a very evocative title!
In your poem, ĎAdoption Musicí, I read these lines:
I am learning to play the taiko, to feel
how leaves reappear in the trees with such ease.
...which I find both pleasing and yet unusual, because most of the poems Iíve read of yours do not normally draw attention to rhyme like that. Of course it fits in perfectly with the poemís theme and how the poem ends, but what are your thoughts on using rhyme and wordplay? I get the feeling that you do not use rhyme heavy-handedly.
How did you find the behind-the-scenes process for preparing the book for publication, things such as negotiating the contract, editing the book, reading proofs?
I find the path to your first bookís format (the mythological underpinning) an interesting one, with the influence of the workshop session and the use of your own vision of the myth. How we come to frame our manuscripts is interesting, isnít it? I look forward to your second book, with the sections you mentioned and the ďless autobiographical foundations,Ē although I like those in your book (and many other books, quite frankly). I just read your poem, ďMy Lover as a GhostĒ at Deconstructions
]. Is that a new poem? Will it be part of the new book?
My book indeed contains themes of travel, distance, and exile. Desire, as a theme, weaves itself throughout much of the book, I hope. In my mind, using the word ďThisĒ in the title creates an ambiguity that I equate with the changing nature of oneís desire, be it material, professional, sexual, or any other form of a person who wants something. Initially, the title just came to me. Once the manuscript came together and I knew I had a book on my hands, I began to think about the title and its implications, specifically, how the title frames the individual poems. I think that many of the poems address movement---both spiritual and physical. There are poems written while I was traveling all over the world, but I also realized that there are references to God and religion in many of the poems, although I wouldnít say it is a religious book, necessarily. To try to put it succinctly, the title relates to my translation of the American Transcendentalistsí (Thoreau, Emerson, etc.) notion of transcending desire. I am currently trying to work this idea, almost trying to remove the idea of ďwantĒ from my life (or at least my writing), into my next series of poems.
Youíll hear poets and readers of poetry say that they are drawn to poems so that theyíll want to read them again and again. It would be silly to say that I try to (or even could, for that matter) write a poem that a reader would want to read again and again, but I can say that I love the space I get into when I sense I am writing a poem that may have a future, so that I am usually in a very quiet place (metaphorically speaking, as I often write in very noisy settings or with my iPod on). Maybe if we are lucky, that sense of peace transcends the page and lends itself momentarily to a reader. Who knows.
In a material sense, the title, This Many Miles from Desire,
reminds me to keep my distance from it (desire), rather than consciously moving toward it, as I think we are often bound to do (seek things for ourselves). Hereís an example that Iím not sure will work, but itís what I am thinking about, so here it goes. This morning, I saw that your small collection, 1 Doz. Poison Hay(na)ku
, which costs $1, is up to $75 on the auction that Eileen Tabios is holding to raise funds for mosquito nets in a developing country. This is both amazing and not amazing to me, that poems that cost $1 could go for that much. Itís not surprising because they are your poems and people want them, and Eileenís ethos stock is so high and people want to help (I myself bid when it was around $30). It says something, though, about how with the right time and the right idea, peopleís better side(s) will appear and such a great idea will flourish. I admire it. I wish there were more of it.
When I wrote much of the book I was in places that some people would consider remote---small towns in El Salvador like Suchitoto or Tacuba, remote towns in Laos and Cambodia, cities in Viet Nam or China that bustle with life and desire like any other city. And so I suppose the notions of desire, exchange (marketplace customs), and how much I need to live happily were always on my mind. In fact, I think of this still all the time.
In the way of a question, I would like to ask you about your title, since titles are so important. There are mother-daughter poems and the title clearly speaks to death and life and mortality. Can you talk about the title?
I should clarify what I wrote: the writing festival session I mentioned was more a talk or lecture on the topic of story and narrative, than a workshop. [Workshops, while they work wonderfully for a large number of writers, donít really work for me, as I am averse to sharing my drafts. Iíd rather write a new poem than rework one that I consider finished.]
My second book is a little way off, I think. Itís hard to see it from here. And while I envision that it will not be so autobiographical, I think it will still be quite a very personal work. Iím so glad you had a chance to read/listen to ĎMy lover as a ghostí. Written in August 2005 during my stay at Hawthornden Castle, itís a fairly new poem and the plan is for it to be part of the manuscript, but with structuring and so on, itís so difficult to predict. It might end up being cut! But at the moment, it stays.
What you said about desire and wanting to transcend Ďwantí is so interesting! Also, the word ĎThisí. I imagine a speaker pointing to a map and saying, ĎThis many miles from desireí, spanning the distance with fingers or a hand. Thatís the image I get from the title. I had interpreted the title to mean that actions in the poem are all towards reaching an object of desire, but your explanation points at an alternative interpretation I hadnít considered, which appreciates the abnegation of desire. Thatís very cool.
Arriving at the title Mortal
for the book came towards the end, when the manuscript was coming to what would be (though I didnít know it yet) its last phase. For the longest time, I thought the title was going to be ĎCall Me Ephemeralí, a line which appears in the penultimate poem of the book, Ďmothí. A fellow poet suggested it and a few others to whom I showed the then-manuscript thought it was a great title. It wasnít until, years later, when I went to a writing retreat in Scotland and showed my work to two poets there, that they told it to me straight: the title no longer fitted the work. It had evolved.
ĎCall Me Ephemeralí harkens back to the manuscript-that-was, the nature and season-oriented manuscript version before it became Mortal
, which I mentioned earlier. So the title needed to catch up to what this work now contained: poems on mother-daughter relationships and myth, love, birth, death, layers and cycles, as well as seasons.
I went through the manuscript and picked out likely titles, but none of them really fit. I wanted a title that encompassed life and death, as you mentioned, but also fragility, the flesh, its inevitable decay, its trappings, not to mention alluding to the entwined stories of gods and humans.
The word mortal
is also both earthy and earthly to me. It has about half a dozen different meanings in the dictionary, maybe more. Thatís another reason why I liked it. It has ambiguity. Itís multivalent. Itís good because it has to carry a lot of weight but I think itís weighty enough in itself. Such a lot of freight associated with a title! But that is as it should be.
Now I would like to ask if you have ever received odd or unusual reactions to poems in your book, reactions that you hadnít expected.
Thanks also for your good wishes about the auction [which ended up raising $300, according to Eileen Tabiosí blog-post
]. Iím so glad to hear that poetry will have such an obviously practical benefit to a number of people, and that it has brought so many people together.
LH: Thanks for the discussion on your title. It captures what we struggle with regarding titles, that is the complexity of specificity while maintaining ambiguity or space, if you will. And itís also interesting to me how manuscripts evolve, often at the last minute. My publisher allowed me to add three new poems to the manuscript, and I had a bit of a hard time figuring out where to place them. They nestled in well, eventually.
This conversation will be continued in the next issue of Boxcar Poetry Review
. Stay tuned :)