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The Next Big Thing

Thanks to Catherine Pierce, author of Famous Last Words and The Girls of Peculiar, for tagging me in this self-interview series.

UPDATE! The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison is the winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize, selected by Kimiko Hahn. It will be published by Tupelo Press in 2015.

What is the working title of your book?


The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison.

What genre does it fall under?

Poetry


Where did the idea come from for the book?

Many of the poems were inspired by fables, traditional Latin American folk tales, and well-known fairy tales. Others are more autobiographical but relate well to the others because of shared themes and images and a unified tone. The more time I spend with the collection, the more I’ve grown to see the unifying theme as narrative itself—the stories we tell ourselves and our children, the stories we grow up hearing and believing, stories that have truth even if they are not “true.”

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


I’m not falling for this trap. Nice try.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the book?


It took two years to complete the first version of this manuscript, but I’ve spent probably six years on it as a whole—revising individual poems, taking poems out, adding poems, rearranging sections, changing the title, and so on. Several of the poems were published as a chapbook, The List of Dangers, which won the Wick Poetry Chapbook competition and was published in 2010.

Who or what inspired you to write it?


I was certainly inspired by The Brothers Grimm, Gabriel García Márquez, and Gabriela Mistral, but motherhood has had a huge impact on the manuscript. After all, so many fairy tales and folk tales are brutal and teach hard lessons about the world’s dangers.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I don’t think it’s similar to any other book I’ve read, but other books I’ve discovered or revisited as of late include Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins, Nick Lantz’s The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House, Sarah Manguso’s The Captain Lands in Paradise, Mark Strand’s Reasons for Moving, and the list goes on and on.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Unknowns, I think. There are a lot of children and adolescents in the poems, and I can’t think of any child actor quite haunted enough to play them. Perhaps that über talented lead actress in Beasts of the Southern Wild—Quvenzhané Wallis?


What else about your manuscript might pique the reader’s interest?

The poem “Lights, Lemons,” forthcoming in Salamander, was inspired by something my daughter said to me last year, when she was three: “There were lights in the lemon trees so you could see the lemons, and a whistle so you could call your friends.” Maybe she has a future in poetry. Then again, maybe she’ll be a financial advisor. It’s just too soon to tell.

To pique interest a bit more, how about a little snippet from four of the poems in the manuscript?

She measures her distance in lines:
a sonnet for every fourteen steps down
a long hall of yellow leaves.

Little Bird of Many Colors,
you are the kind who confuses wondering with wandering.
You wonder around. Under your braids, a bright light.

Like tiny machines,
the sparrows print their messages over and over
on the air scrolling by.

The stories say the banished dead are wild now,
crouching among scrawny trees, skinning rabbits
and raising them like lanterns.

Next week, expect self-interviews from these poets:

Betsy Wheeler, Amy PickworthJason Gray, and Dan Vera.

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