An Interview with Amy Liann Tudor ~ Cindy Cunningham

Amy Liann Tudor's poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in many literary journals, including Antioch Review, The Louisville Review, Blackbird, and Cream City Review, and she is a recipient of grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Her first full-length collection of poetry, A Book of Birds, won The 2008 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry and will be published by Briery Creek Press in April 2008. She's currently a doctoral student in Humanities at University of Louisville and lives in The Highlands in Louisville, Kentucky.
Cindy Cunningham graduated from Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Psychology and a Minor in Women's Studies. She also holds a Ph.D. in English from Georgia State University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University. She currently serves as the Director of Literary Arts and Department Chair of English at Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts and Technology in Petersburg, Virginia. She has published poetry in various small literary journals and is currently at work on a full-length manuscript.

Cindy Cunningham: Our paths have crossed many times since we left the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University in the early 90's, but I felt a special delight in hearing about the upcoming publication of your book, A Book of Birds, in April 2008. I was also delighted to see that you sat on a panel at the AWP conference in NYC this past January. The panel dealt with mentors and their influences and was in tribute to Liam Rector who passed away on August 15th, 2007. Since your book was awarded the Liam Rector First Book in Poetry Prize, I was wondering if you could you talk a bit about the serendipitous events that led to the panel and also that led up to your publication of A Book of Birds?
Amy Liann Tudor: Yeah, the AWP panel [A River to His People: A Celebration of Legacy & Liam Rector] was a great experience. I was on it with Mary Carroll-Hackett, the editor at Briery Creek Press; Victoria Clausi, who helps run the program at Bennington; Richard Scheiwe, a former student of Liam Rector's; and Jill McCorkle, who studied with him at Bennington. I admit I felt a little out of place on the panel, having never met Liam Rector personally, but in the end I think it was good to have someone there who hadn't known him--and would never know him--but who was taking part in the legacy of finding places for poetry to continue to have some sort of voice.

One of the reasons Mary [Carroll-Hackett] asked me, I think, was because when I found out Rector had died, I had a strong feeling that someone at Briery Creek must have known him well to have named the press's prize after him. So I dropped an email to them and said I was sorry for his loss and that I wanted to offer my condolences to the people there at the press. I was told in New York that the small gesture had touched them, and it gave them the idea of asking me to join the panel.

As to A Book of Birds, there are some strange coincidences with the book's publication. It had actually been completed for some time, but I hadn't sent it out in earnest -- I think I mailed it out three or four times in four years or something. Then I was working with Sena Jeter Naslund at University of Louisville and she looked at the whole thing and gave me really good advice about it and told me to send it out, so I did. I'd just needed a push out the door, I think.
CC: I remember us joking about the tendency for writers to live a mild fantasy of thinking, "yea, one day someone will just knock on the door and say HEY! Where's that book we want to publish!" One day, something must kick that private act of writing into the public realm of audience; it's tough sometimes!
AT: Yea, the book's so much about grief; I think that's what blocked me from sending it for so long. It felt very personal in the way it deals with that subject, so I was guarding it in some way. And grief keeps hitching itself to the book too in odd ways. For instance, the day I found out the book had won the Briery Creek prize, I was in Arlington, having just that morning buried a family member who'd been killed in Iraq... Then the book's dedicated to Larry Levis, my friend and mentor from VCU, who--like Liam Rector--also died fairly young and very suddenly, and the award is named for all seems to fit. Add to that the odd coincidence that David Wojahn -- whom I'd never met but who now has Larry Levis' position at VCU -- was the judge for the contest, and I guess this was the right time for it to come out, and these were the right circumstances.
CC: You worked closely with poet Larry Levis at Virginia Commonwealth University in the year before his death and you have often spoken of how he inspired you greatly on a personal, spiritual, and academic/poetic level. What about his work and his person influenced you the most do you think?
AT: Well, Larry was a genius -- and I mean that in the way you'd talk about someone who was a singular, unique mind and person. Being around someone like that is incredibly inspiring, even if you don't do what they do, you know? I think the thing he taught me that's stayed with me the most was that his work and who he was were exactly the same thing. I mean, he was a technician with poetry, but at the same time, it's always his voice in the poems, his particular outlook, his thinking about what he's talking about. That is something I've tried to emulate in my own work. I want to have that kind of authenticity in my work.

Larry was also less interested in teaching poetry than he was in teaching poets. He had a way of looking at things and experiencing things that I think he wanted to show other people -- not because he thought it was the right way to be but because it worked for him, and if it made his life and work easier, he wanted you to know it. He had that sort of humility, that sort of kindness. I think in many ways, the way he wrote and the way he lived his poetic life is something that is worthy of imitating.
CC: Larry embodied such a wonderful soul in many ways and I love what you say about his humility and his kindness—something that many teachers and many writers end up losing over the years. I knew him briefly, but his poetry could bring me to tears of joy and his tambourine nights could inspire me to dance under the winter stars. An amazing poet and man for sure.

Before Larry Levis and after Larry Levis, you admired many other poets. I know that Li Young Lee is one of the poets who inspires you and that many other Chinese poets caught your attention. In what ways did the Chinese poets interest you?
AT: I sort of "backed into" my interest in the Menglongshi poets (th ese are the poets of the Chinese Democracy Movement). I'd studied Chinese in college, and I'd been deeply affected (in that way of an outsider) by the Tiananmen Square massacre, and by the reports coming out about what was happening to the demonstrators in the aftermath. Then, a few years later, I was wandering around Carriage House Books in Richmond one day early in my graduate career -- you know, one of those times where you're just scanning the shelves, waiting for something to jump on you. Well, that day I found a book called A Splintered Mirror: Chinese Poetry from the Democracy Movement, translated by Donald Finkel, and I picked it up and started reading it -- and I didn't understand a thing some of those poems were saying. I always figure that's a good place to start with something. I was particularly taken with the work of Bei Dao, Shu Ting, Mang Ke, and Duo Duo. Duo had a poem called "When the People Arose from Cheese" that just mesmerized me.

As is always the case with difficult things like that, the only way to understand the poem was to try to understand something about the culture, so I started reading some of the things referenced in the poems -- myths, specific political/historical events, that20sort of thing. And then I was able to understand why they were occluding their meaning so much. Basically the poems' opacity is a form of self-protection (literally) for the poets themselves, many of whom were still forced to live in exile for their writings.

The opacity comes in the form of a complete concentration on image -- there's a narrative, but it's not linear. It doesn't give the story away because the characters that populate it are placeholders for more literal things. So you tell a story by using symbols as characters, if that makes sense. So I used this as a form of personal protection, giving real things in the poems these proxy images. It gave me a freedom to talk really baldly about things in a way that's only really bald to me. Poems of mine like "Message from Limbo" and "Self-Portrait with Eyes Closed" -- both in the book -- are probably my most concerted attempts at imitating this style.
CC: That's a great way to talk about the role of the persona in poetry and of the purpose and intent of poetry. I am interested both in what you say about the politics that appealed to you as a reader and in the idea of narrative and personal story. First, would you say that politics is imperative to poetry? Or do you see a link between politics and poetry? Do certain socio-political issues strike you on a more personal note?
AT: I don't know if I would call it "politics." I don't know what I'd call it. Maybe politics is the best word because I think what I'm trying to look at is how culture and the world in its current situation affects the way people interact and feel about things, and the world has become so political that perhaps that is it. I used to say my work was about "the politics of the personal," and I think that's still the case. What happens in the world has to affect the way we as individuals look at ourselves, and at each other, and at the world and our prospects in it and its prospects. I think that's always been true, and it might even be more true now in the post-9/11 world where so many rules have changed and so many ways we define ourselves as people and citizens and all that has changed.
I think the best way I can put it is that the relationship between politics and poetry is like the relationship between war and war photography. One is real, and the other attempts to show others who are not in that particular circumstance what it's like. And like photography, it's about the vantage point: it's what you're taking a photo of, and from where, that dictates what you reveal.
CC: Great response! I love the comparison to photography and the art of writing. Recently I have heard a number of debates surrounding the supposed death of narrative poetry. The narrative has been linked with confessional poetry and the death knell on both of these terms increases daily it seems. In your work, you blend the narrative with socio-political issues (the politics of the personal as you termed it), but your work is not what one would call confessional. What do you make of the attack on the narrative and do thi nk that the nature of poetry is changing towards a more lyric or imagistic style with the younger writers? (As you know, since I am from the South, writing or speaking anything without having SOME narrative seems absurd to me, but perhaps I am behind the times!)
AT: You know, I both understand and don't understand the stigmatization of confessional poetry. I mean, if we're going to knock it because it's solipsistic, okay. That's fair. Any solipsistic, personally codified poetry is pretty much something to avoid, right? The whole point of writing is to invite the reader into some experience, some idea, so that makes sense. But I've heard the term "confessional" thrown around a lot, and a lot in the direction of people who simply write about personally difficult circumstances. I wonder sometimes if it's been used in a disparaging way so often that newer writers don't even know what it means. We tell them to write what they know, and then we make it seem like a punishable offense to talk about themselves. Pretty confusing...

I wonder if the movement toward more lyric or imagistic poetry is a sort of "new black" movement against what's been the hegemony of poetry for a long time, as though innovation is the focus, and so anything that's not narrative is considered innovative and thus more preferable? That's not to take away from lyric or imagistic poetry, mind you....I'm just wondering if there's just a movement away from what's been. Imagistic poetry is wonderful stuff, and some of the experimental types of writing (discontinuous voice, that sort of thing) is really intriguing and I do think it's breaking new ground.

But I'm not sure we can avoid story -- logic seems to call for it in some way. We invite people to a new experience, and we have to place them in it, tell them "rules" of the place we're taking them to in even a skeletal way. But then, like you, having spent most of my life in the American South, I'm not sure how you can avoid telling some sort of story.
CC: You always tell a great story in your work. David Wojahn writes: "The narrative weave of the poems is painstaking but never laborious, the testimony of a writer who accepts no easy answers to the questions she poses and who possesses a lyric dexterity which matches her poems' thematic ambition. This collection is an impressive debut." We have discussed various influences on your writing, but, naturally, you have a voice of your own that is exceptionally strong—strong in metaphor, lyric, story, and purpose. I happen to know that the donnee of this voice existed before you read or studied with any poets at all! What started your path to writing? Your science degree might seem contraindicative to poetry—how do you see them as intertwined?
AT: I think my writing started where a lot of young people's writing starts -- as a form of "coded" writing to talk about things that you'd rather not or know you shouldn't be talking about. I wasn't the most contented teenager in the world, and it gave me an outlet for that. I grew up with a musical father, and though I didn't go into that direction, I've always really loved the sounds of words, their rhythms, the way they rub against each other and click with each other. So I'd write these poems that worked more like songs -- really vague and non-literal, but with a sense of sound to them...

I do have a pretty strong science background, yeah. Botany, zoology, animal behavior, lepidoptry, marine biology... I like understanding the way things work, and I also love the language of science. They have a word for everything, don't they? And there's an elegant logic to science that's very reassuring. And I think -- most importantly -- there's so much symbolic value into the way the world is made. Science is the way of understanding that, I think.

It's also given me a lot of opportunities to do things because of it -- I worked for the aerospace industry and learned all about rockets and things, got to go on a mockup of the space station, and studying marine science pushed toward SCUBA diving, which I did so much I ended up teaching it for awhile there.

How do I see them intertwined? Well, you know the old adage: "Write what you know"? I've always been a little puzzled by that expression, because it's usually used to encourage people to write about their backgrounds, where they're from, that sort of thing. But it seems to make people (especially students) forget that you actually have complete control over what you know. It seems to limit people. I don't know. I always took as my marching orders to go find out about something in order to write about it. The sciences give you so many opportunities to find things to be preoccupied with. And I think poetry comes from long-held preoccupations.
CC: You have worked in many worlds throughout your life and are currently pursuing a PhD program. How did that come about and have your studies influenced what appears in your poetry?
AT: I've had a pretty round-about route on my Ph.D. so far. I started off doing an English Ph.D., and I knew almost immediately it wasn't a good fit. I'm first and foremost a creative writer, and then I also enjoy doing Cultural Studies work, and it was clear that neither my creative writing nor work in cultural studies was going to fly in a traditional literature Ph.D. program. From there, I went to a Geography Department that did a lot of Cultural Studies work, and I loved the department, but it was pulling me too far away from my creative work. So I transferred to the new Humanities Ph.D. program at University of Louisville, where they are wonderful about accepting both sides of me -- the writer and the scholar -- and at helping me find ways to blend the two interests while doing the degree.

I can't imagine that the work I'm doing won't eventually find its way into my poetry. My scholarly work has been in corpse theory, a relatively new cultural studies field that deals with the cultural place of death and the Body. So I read a lot of philosophy, political science, anthropology, bioethics, do work in photography, art, writing. Francis Barker's The Tremulous Private Body, that sort of thing. I'm working on a piece about the BodyWorlds exhibit right now, and issues of the sacred and profane. I'm great fun at dinner parties, let me tell you. Some of the stuff I see and read truly grosses me out.

It's enormously challenging, and the great thing about a Ph.D. is that you're finally getting to really delve into a subject into a new way, free to explore within it and come up with -- hopefully -- new things to say about it. I'm in a vibrant community of scholars -- there's a professional photographer and painter, a psychiatrist, a novelist, a composer, a minister, a Spanish professor, a physicist in the Humanities program. It's a great place to be.
CC: Having a diverse group of colleagues makes or breaks the program for sure! My PhD work also introduced me to a number of amazing people who inspired me immensely. In my MFA program at VCU, my experience working not only with Dave Smith and Margaret Gibson, but with the incredible MFA students was the most phenomenal time in my life. The students made the program one that has since been unsurpassed. We played together, wrote together, jumped in the James River together! I also never saw "cookie cutter" poetry coming out of our program. What do you think about the ever-asked question of whether or not MFA programs deaden the senses or squeeze the writers into particular molds?
AT: There was something really really special about VCU. I know probably everyone feels that way about their MFA experience, but VCU during the early 1990s was an almost charmed place. We were the tightest knit, most non-competitive group of artists I've ever encountered -- before or since. I honestly don't know how, with some many insanely talented people, we didn't have a lot of friction, even with just the odd personalities involved. I think Gregory Donovan -- the then-Director of the program -- was responsible for a lot of that. He hated competition and he wanted us to have each other, and that's how the place was.

That said, I do think there's a danger of MFA programs teaching a particular aesthetic, a particular kind of poem or story or novel. We didn't have that, but I have seen it. The difference seems to be in the people teaching in the programs. I think that's what we had at VCU that was different, as I mentioned, but unfortunately the students can't really control that, except to get up and go elsewhere if they are feeling like they're put into a mold. This isn't an option for a lot of people.

More than that, I worry that MFAs are becoming an industry, and that they're ending up giving people a false sense that they're going to guarantee them success or publication. I think the move toward low-residency programs, for example, is a great thing for people who want to keep their jobs and not move their families or live like paupers while they're graduate students. I also respect that they attract a lot of people who aren't interested in teaching, per se, because traditional MFA programs like the one at VCU have the expectation that students will teach and be scholars. Two very different kind of students, two very different degrees, and I'm glad both options are available. I just don't think people should overestimate what that degree is going to do, because in the end, the writing's the thing, and what feeds it should be the writer's first priority.
CC: Often students talk about the MFA graduation curse—that they don't write for three or four years after finishing the program. Did this happen with you? I found that as I pursued my doctorate, I did not have as much time for poetry, but, happily, I continued to refine my aesthetic even though I was not producing work—did you have a similar experience?
AT: I didn't [stop writing] right after the MFA, no, but I did stop writing completely for about three years after Larry Levis' death. I'm not sure why -- there was a sense of "the day the music died" for me, I think, and I felt quite lost without his quiet presence in my life. Some of that time I spent in a strange sort of solitude, and it was from this solitude and this quiet that some of my more mature work emerged. Maybe Rilke was right -- that sort of solitude seems to be the best place for work to germinate.
CC: Once you begin to put your words on paper again, who is your intended audience and who is the audience for poetry today? Obviously poets do not write for the money!
AT: I don't have an audience in mind, I don't think. I know that academia is going to be the primary audience for poetry, though, and sometimes this does make me self-conscious about making sure I'm not straying too far into things I know I shouldn't do. One of my dogs died recently and I was writing a poem about him, and right in the middle of the poem I acknowledge that I know I'm not supposed to be writing about it, something I was told very early in my writing career. It worked in the poem, I think, but it's a weird thing to feel the need to do. It's a knee-jerk to be aware of what's expected, if that makes sense.

Why do it? I don't know if you have a choice, you know? I have to punt again to Rilke on that one -- if you can live without doing it, I think you will live fine without it. But if you can't, you'll find a way to do it. You just better be good enough at something else to make a living doing something else.
CC: In one of your various hat-wearing ways to make a living, several years ago you taught high school creative writing at the Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts and Technology in Petersburg, Virginia. I have been the Director of the Literary Arts program here for six years now and I was wondering if you could you talk a bit about what it is like to work with young people and whether or not that added hope or despair to your vision? When novelist Dennis Danvers worked with the kids, he wrote on his blog that if anyone was losing faith in the youth of the US that they should stop by ARGS—your thoughts?
AT: One of the things that struck me the most on first teaching high school students was how much the same kids who write remain, despite the passage of time. I mean, we all seem to write the same poems at around age 14 -- I called them "Bloody Waterfall Poems" -- when you left me/ my soul flowed over/ the rocks/ like a waterfall of blood. .. Lots of "soul" and "heart" and "death" and "pain," and always blood for good measure. Not that I'm knocking any of those words or their concepts as poem subjects, mind you -- but honestly? It's like someone pulls kids aside when they're about 13 and shows them these poems and they all start writing them. The good news is that the Blood Waterfall poems do show that the kids are aware of the necessity of dealing with large concepts and with vivid language, right? So the next step was teaching them a bit more concreteness -- and a lot more subtlety -- and they were on their way. Most of them would then begin to write as themselves, and not as the Black Turtleneck Wearing stereotypes they thought would make the world see them as writers. That said, one thing that I did find disconcerting was the pedestal they had the MFA on. For many of them -- particularly the most talented and most ambitious -- they spoke about the MFA as though the rest of their lives were just preparation for becoming a "real" writer in an MFA program. I worried about them and tried to explain to them that they were real writers now if they wanted to be, and that the MFA was only a place to sharpen skills they should come in already having. I never tried to dissuade them from an MFA program, but I would tell them that they were only 15 or 16 or whatever, and they needed to not wait to start working on collecting experiences and reading books and practicing their craft until then. And they also needed to not think the world would fall down faint at their feet once they got it, because the world wasn't much fussed about it. It became a joke that I was "killing their dreams." I put it on my board in my classroom -- "Killing Dreams Since 2002."
CC: Your response interests me because you taught at the school in its earliest years of the writing program and saw quite the gamut! Over the past three or four years, we do not have as many of the kids coming in with preconceived notions of what it means to be a writer. We also seem to see that for some reason these young writers excel in writing creative nonfiction especially. The poetry and the fiction seem a bit more influenced by love and blood and CSI and LOST! I have to add a plug and say that in the last two years, we have had students win National Gold Key writing awards at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in New York (in poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction—yea ARGS!)—a wonderful program that includes alum such as Carolyn Forche and Truman Capote. Many of them still remember the influence that you had on them as students when you taught here or when you have returned to run workshops in our Writers' Festivals. Thanks for being part of our legacy of mentors!

One trend that is common in the incoming students is a love of a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature such as Harry Potter. I happen to know that you and I also share that intrigue! What appeal do you think that these stories have to the public? Have they truly inspired more people to read?
AT: I think they have, yes. And I think they give people an escape from what is in fact a very hard world. I think it's interesting that books like Harry Potter operate off the premise that there's a world that's coexisting with the one we know, one that has a completely different societal structure and completely different rules than ours. Like the way The Lord of the Rings trilogy implied a secret history, a time before the history we know. I'm not surprised at the appeal of the books to kids because they're written for kids, and I'm not surprised they appeal to adults so much either. Given how grim things have been in the past eight or nine years, the thought of a parallel world that's running along with ours, fighting and defeating evil, is very appealing. The world is seeming more weary, less mysterious, and certainly less magical, I think, and people need that. Plus, J.K. Rowling is a great storyteller, and stories hold a lot of allure. I don't know if it's great literature, but I don't get the impression that's what she was after. And her stories have made people really happy, and that's a great thing.

People knock Billy Collins for being too "easy," and Stephen King for being a sell-out... I'm not sure why. I enjoy their work, and Rowling's, and I also enjoy reading Kierkegaard and Rilke and Eliot, Lewis Thomas and Mary Oliver and Bachelard, Tolkien and de Certeau. Whatever feeds people is okay with me. But then I also understand the frustration -- poetry and books on scholarly subjects are basically ignored by most people, and they're often exceptional works. But one thing I can pretty much say for sure is that bashing things people love to read isn't going to send them flocking to read poetry and scholarly pieces. It's just going to reinforce that these kinds of books are written by people who are "other" and who look at the general reader with a certain measure of disdain.
CC: Speaking of the publishing world, let's get back to your book! How long did the process take from inception to publication? How tough was it to get the book published?
AT: The poems in A Book of Birds span a 15-year time period, and it was in several forms over the course of its lifetime. Getting it published was hard for a couple of reasons. First, the book wasn't actually finished until fairly recently-- the title poem was the last one written, in fact, and it was written only a few months before I sent the book out. The biggest hold up was that the book's got four basic "story" threads in it -- not stories, per se, but subjects that are explored in the book -- and I hadn't "lived" their endings yet. So I would look at the book and think: "You know, Subject #2 is just sort of sitting there, going nowhere..." And though I wouldn't consciously sit down to write a poem to "finish" that arc, eventually I did write its end...
CC: I remember Dave Smith telling me once that I had not lived the end of a poem as yet…he was correct; ten years later I lived that ending and wrote exactly the right poem! Once you had it right, where did you decide to send it?
AT: I would like to say I picked Briery Creek out special as a publisher and then sent only to them, but that would be a lie. When I asked people what to do with the book now that it was finished -- and this is mostly friends who had published books recently -- the advice was always the same: "Go get a Poets & Writers or an AWP Chronicle and find all the contests, find judges you think will have an affinity for your style, and send to them all at one time." Literally like seven people told me this, because this is how they managed to get their books in print. So I did this, and then, after seeing that it was going to cost me about $900 to send it to the contests I'd picked out, including entry fees and all the materials -- I applied to the Kentucky Arts Council for help with that, which they generously offered. Then boom -- a blast of yellow mailers hit the mail and I was lucky that Briery Creek found me and I found them. They're truly a great fit for the book.
CC: That's wonderful that you found such a perfect match—inspiring! Had you published any of the poems individually? Also, you had published a chapbook before A Book of Birds. Would you recommend the chapbook experience to others?
AT: I stopped sending poems out some time ago, about the same time I quit writing for a few years. To warm myself up for sending the book out, I did send some things out to publications in Louisville, where I live now, and had good results there. I don't know why I don't send them out much -- I love seeing them find a home somewhere, but... I don't know. As to the chapbook experience, I think it was incredibly valuable to put a shorter collection, The Land of Intention, together before doing the full-length book, to get an idea about how they need to "speak to each other" in the form of a collection. It was very clarifying to look at the poems that way. I'm not sure how the book "did," per se. It's now out of print, though I sometimes find them on Amazon from time to time. I almost always buy them because I gave all my copies away!
CC: I will be on the look out for them on eBay! I have my copy squirreled safely away. How did the cover to A Book of Birds come about? Did you have any say in this design?
AT: Briery Creek Press has a really unique approach to creating their books in that they allow graduate students and even undergrads to have a lot of creative control over the book. This is one of the reasons I felt Briery Creek was such a good fit for me and the book, because I've been teaching almost my whole life and for the book to be used to teach novices how to "build" a book appealed to me. Initially I wanted Duane Keiser's painting "The Viewing," which inspired the title poem, to be on the cover, and they were interested in this too. But in the end, they decided that it would weight the book a bit too much because it's a painting of a dead bird, and there's enough death in the book.

I don't know how they found Davis Ayers' photograph, to be honest. I'm glad they did though. They asked for my initial input into the cover, but it was ultimately their decision, and I think they made a very good one.
CC: When is the launch of the book? Will you be giving any readings over the next year?
AT: There is a launch in April, but it's a closed event. I hope to be doing readings, but I don't have any dates as of yet.
CC: Have you had responses so far to the poems in the book?
AT: People at the press say they're very drawn to the title poem, which I'm glad about. It's very much a tone-setter for the book, and it encompasses a lot of the reasons I wrote the book in the first place. Many of the others have been published elsewhere, but I have no idea how they've been received as of yet. I guess I'll find out, huh?
CC: I bet you will be pleasantly surprised! When you read at our latest writers' festival, students and faculty alike were blown away! In putting together the manuscript, did you work closely with an editor or reader?
AT: Margaret Gibson read the book in a very early form and offered invaluable comments. Sena Jeter Naslund here at University of Louisville was the person who read it and gave me comments for the last revision. She was also the one who kick ed me in the ass and got me to send it out.
CC: We are all grateful for that kick! We have talked around this subject a bit, but why did you choose this title for your collection?
AT: There are a lot of reasons for the title. First, when Sena was reading it over, she noticed that there were all sorts of birds all over the poems -- heron, crows, starlings -- and I hadn't really noticed that before. As I said, the poems span such a huge period of time and many of them are very familiar to me, so familiar I don't notice things like that in them much. It's also part of my use of the book as an homage to Larry Levis, who wrote a poem called "Slow Child with a Book of Birds." Larry was a big fan of what he called "riffing," which he said was what poets who were friends did with each other, "riffed" each other's images, that sort of thing. I always had sort of an affinity with that poem, and with the child in that poem in particular with his bird book, all dog-eared, showing it to people like I did a book I had on dolphins that I carried everywhere with me when I was a kid.
CC: Well, I am honored to have engaged in this dialogue with you and I am sure there will be more conversations to follow! I look forward to holding that signed copy in my hand. I am sure you are excited to have it in hand as well.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761