First Books Poets in Conversation:
Suzanne Frischkorn & Brent Goodman

Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Girl on a Bridge, (2010) and Lit Windowpane, (2008) both from Main Street Rag Publishing. In addition she is the author of five chapbooks, most recently, American Flamingo, (2008). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her honors include an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, an Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Writer's Center, and the Aldrich Poetry Award. She serves an Assistant Editor for Anti- Poetry Magazine.
Brent Goodman is the author of Trees are the Slowest Rivers (1998 Sarasota Poetry Theatre), Wrong Horoscope (1999 Thorngate Road), and The Brother Swimming Beneath Me (2009 Black Lawrence Press).

Brent Goodman: Suzanne, what a pleasure trading books and being introduced to your work. I had seen your name around the blogosphere and Facebook, but we didn't have a chance to get to know each other better until Eduardo introduced us. I read the poems in your debut collection Lit Windowpane as just that: framed panes of light looking out into the world. What lovely work. I admire most your confidence in the briefest of spaces, some of the pieces a mere two lines! Does this condensation come easy to you, or do you feel some sense of risk and bravery riding so much on a single poem? Have you been writing such small gems for a while now, or do you feel your work has evolved to this point of reduction?
Suzanne Frischkorn: Brent, I am so pleased that Eduardo brought us together for this interview. It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying Lit Windowpane, thank you. Yes, the brief poem you found there is the style that comes most naturally to me. Although, I hesitate to say it comes naturally because the word almost implies easily, and nothing about writing poetry seems to come easily for me. For the most part my poems stayed true to this concise style from the time I began to write poetry seriously. I do go through stages where I feel suspect of this natural inclination and I’ll write against it, going for something longer, or something lush.

I have been immersed in your powerful debut book, The Brother Swimming Beneath Me for quite some time now, and I am enjoying it on many levels. Not only do I admire your ability to sustain the long poem -- “Maier” – but also the sensuality of your lyrics. One of the themes threading throughout resonates very deeply with me -- I lost my older brother to Leukemia in 1993.   Your title is taken from one of the poems – one of my personal favorites – in the book. Did the title come to you first and then the order of the book, or was it vice versa? Your book’s three individually titled sections seem to be self-contained until we find the brother poems appearing and re-appearing almost spectrally throughout the collection. Would you tell me a little more about your process when arranging the collection?
BG: I had no idea we shared such a powerful connection. My brother crossed only 4 years before yours in 1989. I'd be interested in learning how your brother's passing may have permeated your own work.

You know, the title of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me is probably the only thing that's remained constant in the manuscript over 14+ years of revisions and rearrangements. I wrote the title poem at 24 when I was still in grad school (I'm 38 now), and it's been the flagship poem of the evolving manuscript, from MFA thesis to eventual publication, always placed somewhere near the center. It's the source of gravity for the entire book, drawing close most of the other brother poems to orbit in its immediate vicinity. Various related "outer planet" elegies also extend their trajectories far into the first and last sections.

As far as content and arrangement, a breakthrough came when my concept of grief recently changed dramatically. Grief isn't a wound to let heal over as we are often falsely comforted. It's a hook you need to unbend in order for it to completely pass through you. The root of all suffering is desire, and grief is one of the most piercing. Let go of desire and you'll find tremendous joy. So then the first section of the book gathers poems which root out and disassemble various sources of desire, since grief cannot be untangled from any other desire. The second section explores elegiac narrative, the stories and angles which shape us. Finally the third section reframes and reassembles the world we discover after grief has passed entirely through us, transforming our perspective and opening us to celebrate every new change we face.

Of course, I didn't recognize this pattern until reading the book in print! The actual final arrangement came together out of intuition and gut navigation. It wasn't a conscious careful plotting by any means. It simply felt right.

Reading Lit Windowpane, I often felt I that poems on facing pages served as "twin windows" looking at the same scene from different perspectives. The poem on the left often reflected themes in the poem on the right. Was this level of typographical pairing completely intentional, or a delightful product of other threads in your arrangement?  What other conscious elements figured into the book's ultimate shape? Also, how much has the arrangement changed, and over how many years?
SF: Brent, this is exquisite -- ‘Grief isn't a wound to let heal over as we are often falsely comforted. It's a hook you need to unbend in order for it to completely pass through you.’ You took my breath away. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a statement about grief that is more exact. My brother’s death was the catalyst for my first attempts at poetry. I found myself mired in loss, trying to come to terms with his death and writing about it helped. Eventually a love of the art began to take hold. Prior to his death I had written essays and book reviews and had this vague idea that I would write short stories someday, but poetry was never considered, in that way his passing permeates every poem I write.

The triptych effect of Lit Windowpane was a complete surprise. It wasn’t until I had the book in my hands that I noticed it. When arranging the manuscript I wanted each poem to build upon the last and my intent was to have a steady momentum from the first poem to the last poem. Ultimately, I hoped to make a book that was in and of itself a poem – a poem created with poems. I often feel like it took my entire lifetime to write Lit Windowpane, but the nuts and bolts actually took about three years. Most of the poems in the collection were written during that period. During this time an earlier manuscript I had put together was being received well and I had gone on to write new work all the while thinking my first book was out in the world waiting to get lucky, when in fact I was writing the poems that would become Lit Windowpane. The manuscripts are so different in theme, structure and style that it was less a revision of the same manuscript and more a complete abandonment. Well, let’s not be dramatic, I didn’t start a bonfire or anything. Some of the poems in that earlier manuscript became the chapbook American Flamingo, and the others appear in my new manuscript. I suppose what I mean is that putting Lit Windowpane together was like going in a radically new direction.

The cover of your book is compelling. Did Black Lawerence Press give you any say in cover choice or book design? How did your book happen to be picked up by Black Lawrence Press? You mentioned working on the collection for over a decade. Did you have difficulty letting go of it once it was out of your hands?
BG: Your debut does build a delicate seamless momentum, a cross-stitching of images from one poem to the next. I think the uninterrupted arrangement is both refreshing and effective. I'm the kind of reader who navigates a collection from start to finish (rather than skip around) and Lit Windowpane rewards those who follow your careful path through these landscapes.

Black Lawrence Press was already considering an earlier draft of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me for the St. Lawrence Book Award when I went through a similar epiphany as you did. I had gutted most of the old stuff out of the book and found a brand new arrangement, leading me to withdraw the older version from any contest it was submitted to at the time. Black Lawrence emailed back and said that I was already on their short list, why not send them the updated version? Shortly thereafter I learned they wanted to publish the collection as one of the finalists for that year's contest.

Black Lawrence found the amazing cover photography for the collection. After seeing the cover for the first time, I only asked that the image be softened a bit with a watercolor filter, and I offered input on the title font being all lower case. Everything else was the work of the talented book designer Steven Seighman. I didn't have much difficulty "letting go" of the collection when it came time, though I did revise the manuscript several more times between signing the contract and sending the final version. Primarily just polish, but a few poems also got cut and a couple more rearranged. I'm with you on book length - the shorter the better!

What did your publisher expect of you in terms of promotion and marketing? What did you expect of them? Did you go on a book tour? Also, once your book was in strangers' hands, what was the most surprising observation someone's made about the collection or about an individual poem within?
SF: That’s a great story! I love hearing all the myriad ways books come into being. I’m also impressed because I had a tough time letting mine go. I sent it off into the world and wondered what I was going to do with myself now. Seriously, how could I go through life without carrying a sheaf of 8 x10 pages bound with a clip? It was like a security blanket. Obviously I managed, but I felt a lot better once I had a new security blanket to carry.

One of the best things about Main Street Rag Publishing is that the editor is very direct and it was great to know exactly what was expected of me as an author and precisely what I could expect from the publisher. Basically they asked me for one thing – to spread the word, to promote the book far and wide. I was told I could expect a beautiful book, distribution, royalties and review copies. I love the design of my book and find it beautiful, at one time that was my biggest concern when looking for a publisher. I hadn’t given much thought to distribution or review copies. Now I appreciate how important those are to an author and can say that my publisher came through on all counts.

I’ve been touring the book since it came out and it’s been a fun and rewarding experience. I don’t have much in the way of a writing community where I live so the social aspect of the tour has been great.

The most surprising observation someone’s made? That’s a tough question. It’s tough because once the book was out in the world I had a crisis of confidence. Perhaps ‘crisis of confidence’ doesn’t convey what I felt accurately enough. Let me phrase it another way – I was freaking out. I would literally get physically ill at the thought of someone reading Lit Windowpane. Once the feedback from readers and the reviews started to trickle in the initial surprise was that people got it, much to my relief, they got it and all its nuances. Thinking back I would have to say the most surprising was in an interview question with Rigoberto González from his Small Press Spotlight Series. He mentioned that one of my images spoke ‘to discovering beauty through close observation—a combination of curiosity and contemplation.’ Immediately I knew it was true, and it was also a truth that could apply to the collection as a whole, although I would never have seen it on my own. An insight like that, one that goes to the heart of your process, is always fascinating. It’s as if someone opened a door to your own subconscious.

What about you, Brent? I’m interested in your answers to these as well: What did your publisher expect of you in terms of promotion and marketing? What did you expect of them? Did you go on a book tour? Also, once your book was in strangers' hands, what was the most surprising observation someone's made about the collection or about an individual poem within?
BG:I think the 'Crisis of Confidence" moment is fairly common. What made it acute for me was the realization that Hot damn, this manuscript I've been lugging around is actually going to have a wider audience than just the editor or judge in the next contest. The book is now "out there!" Yikes is right. I've made the audition cut, now I've got to stand alone on the stage in front of the crowd.

May sound silly given the book's subject matter, but I was a little surprised that the book might be perceived as downer or weighty. I had so much fun writing the last poems in the book, and am so beyond any point of depression in my life, that I forget a sizable section of the book is elegiac. I'm reminded of this, though, when I put together a reading set list, and decide to read only one or two poems from the middle section (I don't think it's fair to an audience to read more than a couple elegies in an evening). From my perspective, the book is so much a breaking free of the grief that's paralyzed my life for almost two decades that I'm surprised sometimes why people don't want to get up and dance with me.

Months before the book went to print, my editor at Black Lawrence Press was arranging conference calls from New York to map out our marketing strategy. Who was the target audience? What venues would be interested in the subject matter? Where would I read? What media outlets should be on our local and national PR lists? In additional to traditional marketing approaches, I produced poem videos and posted them on Youtube, and I enlisted my father's printing business to create promotional postcards which the press sent out to their mailing list for me.

So tell me about your next manuscript - what do you got up your sleeve? Do you feel it is an extension of the last book, or a complete departure into a new direction? Are you planning on jumping back into the contest system, or have other plans for its publication?
SF: I know exactly what you mean. In many ways I think we were writing in a parallel universe. I would definitely dance with you.

I consider this collection, Girl On A Bridge, the preface to Lit Windowpane rather than an extension or departure. If the speaker in Lit Windowpane finds beauty in spite of loss then Girl On A Bridge is the journey the speaker took to arrive at that perspective. The theme is decidedly female –there are girls and young women, young wives and young mothers. And what is a journey without bridges, roads, and motion? The poems are not as elegant, they have more bite and some of them are wry. It has sections! It’s all very fresh in my mind because I just received word that it’s been accepted for publication and will be released by MSRP in the spring.

I recently read on Facebook that your book is in its second printing, what wonderful news! And well deserved I might add. Are you working on a new manuscript? What have you been up to since the release of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me?
BG: A prequel! I love it and look forward to the read. Mazel Tov. Wanna trade manuscripts?

Hmm let's see - since publishing The Brother Swimming Beneath Me in March of 2009, I had a heart attack, quit cigarettes, quit martinis, became a vegetarian, started exercising every day, and have lost 30 lbs. Other than that, same ol same ol I guess! I joke about it now, but it was serious enough at the time to warrant a helicopter MedFlight to the nearest metropolitan area to save my life. The drama actually unfolded halfway through NaPoWriMo while I was drafting and posting a poem-a-day on my blog, so the event became quite public quite fast. Now, five months later, I'm told my health is fully recovered and there's no sign of permanent heart damage. I've managed to take all the right steps to sidestep the danger zone. Best yet is I feel fantastic, like I've completely shed a former self. I might be 20 again with a hard body and my whole life ahead of me!

The sequence of poems drafted during NaPoWriMo has become the central section of a new manuscript titled Far From Sudden. The next book only mentions my brother once, though Albert Einstein and Herman Munster do make brief cameos. I considered jumping back into the shotgun contest foray, but decided to start with a smaller group of editors who already know The Brother Swimming Beneath Me. Hopefully I'll have some good news to share soon.

What a pleasure this conversation has been, Suzanne! On a final note, I mentioned producing poem videos, and I remember reading recently on your blog about collaborations you've done with musical performers - what other interesting ways have you envisioned poetry and the other arts commingling, either in your own work or in others'?

I look forward to meeting you in person if you're heading to AWP next year!
SF: Wow. That’s fantastic, Brent – talk about creativity -- remaking yourself and creating new work! I would love to swap manuscripts with you, let’s do it.

Music, film, collage, and photography are what come to mind when I think of mixing other arts and poetry. I know several poets are including CDs and DVDs in their books now. Others are going only as far as their living rooms and conducting book tours via videos. I wouldn’t mind trying some skywriting—do you know anyone with a plane?

The pleasure has been all mine, Brent!

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761