every other day

20 MAY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

7. Amy King

Antidotes for an Alibi

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

Actually, I saw my finished book before I saw my book finished. I met an Argentinean artist, Ramiro Clemente, selling his tourist-stopping ink drawings on a street in Barcelona. I bought a couple; we began corresponding via email; he sent me a few jpegs of a collaborative series he had done with a photographer, and among those, I spotted my book's cover--simply put, it rang out and resonated with the thematic content of my manuscript. I bought the piece and sent it on to my publisher [Geoffrey Gatza, of BlazeVOX]. We decided a black frame, the title, and my name would suffice. The content of Clemente's painting traverses and encompasses the words within. Hence and at risk of sounding irreverent, the arrival of the final product was not surprising or even terribly monumental, but rather, it felt like a coming together that was somehow a natural signpost in the course of the work of poetry.

Before that day, did you imagine your life would change because of it?

Happily, my life changes every day because of poetry, whether it is related to writing towards a book or not. The most obvious change though has been an increase in the number of reading invitations, for which I am especially grateful. Doing readings is a learning experience that doesn't seem to get emphasized as it should, especially in writing programs and before one's first book. The performance aspect is truly one to grapple with happily and perpetually, and hearing the words emerge from my own mouth speaks volumes for the editing process. For this latter reason, I make it a point to read a few new poems at each venue. I hear what needs to be nixed more readily and the points that could stand some development. Another prominent plus of readings is luxuriating in how poetry creates and generates the banter that conceals a very real and strong community. I have located many new comrades in a variety of states, those belonging to the U.S. and to the ways of being, because of my book.
How has your life been different since your book came out?

I am quite famous now. Rock stars ask for my lyrical assistance. Fortune 500 companies court me regularly for major advertising campaigns. David Lynch will soon use the book as a treatment for his next script. Of course, this only makes sense since I've long been an admirer of his films.
Finally, one of the biggest changes happens in seemingly small ways: fellow poets and readers contact me through my website to send kudos or ask a question about poetry. I love that kind of written-word induced conversation. Derrida has long attested to an inversion of the spoken-trumps-the-written binary. I am walking proof: I don't particularly enjoy talking poetics in person, but I adore going back and forth with individuals in private emails.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't?

I didn't become terribly famous. Rock stars still don't recognize me, even after I employ my mad & legitimate word skills to write scintillating letters that surely must woo them.
Actually, I thought I would more readily tell people who are not in the po-biz that I am a "Poet" since I now have a book to present as physical evidence. However, I usually don't mention it, though this phenomenon might be more of a testament to my laziness than to the legitimacy of having a book.

How do you feel about the critical response to your book and has it had any effect on your writing?

People are good at heart and generous. Ask and ye shall receive. Write some noteworthy poems and someone might surprise you and respond in print. Ron Padgett told me once that even bad reviews are good, because they are evidence that people are paying attention. I figure if they're expending energy to say something about my work, that's something to feel good about and learn from. And of course, any encouraging reviews should be publicly appreciated. Barry Schwabsky, Kevin Thurston, Reb Livingston, and Simon DeDeo will be just a few of the names of my first born child.

What did you do/are you doing to promote sales, and how do you feel about those experiences?

I make public appearances. Poets sell poetry. I keep writing. Poetry sells poetry. I send my work out when it's ready, though that's much less frequent these days. Publishing sells poetry. Poetry is an action. I go a-poeting hour by hour, day by day, and nearly never concern myself with selling the book commodity. I carry copies to readings, and hosts generally remember to announce their availability. After that, I let the words do the talking.

Whenever I sell a book, I am more interested in the reader's reception than the fact that "it's getting out there" because I mostly want to receive feedback from that person regarding what poems worked for them or which ones pleased them and why and which ones fell flat. It's dangerous to think in terms of number of books sold, because ultimately most poets will be failures. Very few live on the proceeds of poetry sales, save Billy Collins, and still, those numbers sold don't reflect the merits of his work.

How do you feel about having a blog as an ongoing project, and blogging as a way of inviting a wider audience into your poetry?

Reading blogs has lead me to other bloggers' poetry for sure. But I don't know if people have discovered my poetry because of the blog. I'm not being humble here, but no one has said as much. What I post is such a mixed bag and so infrequent that I don't know if I would be lured to my poetry based on my public minutiae.

Nonetheless, blogging remains an ongoing project, as you put it, because it is not a project. It is marginalia without beginning or end, unless someone offers to publish your blog, which has happened, though not in the poetry world that I know of. Blogs are the white talk bubbles above everyone's cartoon head, varying from silly to serious, and sometimes, they come together for a chat in an entire cartoon strip.

There was a great discussion going on recently over at Jessica Smith's and Josh Corey's blogs regarding gender and blogging and the modes of masculine versus feminine writing. I mention this discussion to bring attention to the topic and to point out how the blogosphere, because it is so informal, allows for less-scholarly, more personal & emotionally-invested discussions that need to take place in such a controlled way ( i.e. usually just a handful chat together, kind of like bus-stop banter). Listservs generally lead to posturing. People in person tend to dominate, argue, and dismiss. In the blogosphere, if you start to preach, you are ignored or asked to go off and write a tome on the subject instead of monologuing everyone to death – most participate in discussions because they are truly invested in the subject. And interlopers might later learn from the still-available chats. I'm no example of how this works because I rarely participate in these discussions, but if I had more free time, I certainly would. I'm envious of this blogging perk, very much.

The ultimate truth is that I took to the blog because I'm a lazy thinker who likes to point at standout things on occasion and say "yay" or "nay." I'm not rigorous; I can't remember concepts & theories to save a bird in a bush nor do I have the patience to go back and figure out where I'm contradicting myself or find my flaws. So I get to be the lazy commentator who has no editor, mentioning whatever books or music or news items are on my mind between baths or classes or holidays even. I suppose that means my blog generates little to no discussion in the comments section, and we all know, thanks to Behrle, how some think that number ranks your worth in the blogosphere. Nonetheless, I get more hits than I ever imagined, and people offer to send me their books now and then, which is an unpredicted blessed perk. A university press just gave me the pick of their catalogue with no strings attached--a free box of books just because I might mention one on my blog? Can't beat that for the lazy man's reward!

As noted above though, one of the most important aspects of blogging is the social one because it also translates into real world camaraderie. If you post now and then, read others' blogs, and make even minor chit chat, you are participating in a community that ultimately comes to life in the carnal way. As a person who has generally been outgoing all her life, blogging allows the monster to really rear her head in an unprecedented fashion! I'm one of those folks that private people keep the chain on the door for; I want to live in your home for a period of time, drink with you, shoot the breeze, and just generally get good vibes going between bodies. If the blogosphere can facilitate this madness, then there should be free internet for everyone, and there will be soon.

How did you get started blogging?

I started a little blog during the last presidential election solely as a reference tool that offered addresses for the media and politicians so that I could sit at my last job and send off letters when I had downtime. I thought a blog would encourage others to join in too.

Then when my web designer-friend was making my site, I asked him to tack on a blog page so that I could mention upcoming readings. When he finished the site, he had a reading scroll on the main page, so I was left with this blank page that I hadn't really seriously considered. I literally started posting by stating as much. I wasn't even into reading that many blogs then either, save Silliman's.

Like most marginalia, I still don't place any real weight on my blog, though lots of folks know that marginalia is, as Beck says, "where it's at."

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?

I wish someone had told me to sit on my poems longer and edit more. I wish someone mentioned that the urgent need to publish comes from somewhere else (ego anyone?) and that it need not be satiated whenever a bored moment descends. There's something to be said for the soup that simmers. I am still learning this advice. Rare is the poem ready on a first draft. Unless you ask Ashbery, which I did once. Most of us are no Ashbery though.

Do you want your life to change?

My life is change. Life and change are synonymous. That's why dead people don't do much; they stopped changing. They ceased. I wish more Americans toyed with these concepts more often and stopped trying to secure everything they prize in a stable, unchanging, and insular state. There might be more sharing of resources and experiences then.
Sometimes I want my life to change faster, but then according to the preceding theorem, that means I want to live faster, which conjures the old adage about burning the candle at both ends or something negative like that. I guess I would ultimately flip the question and ask, "Who wants their lives to remain constant?"  That'd just be weird like living on Golden Pond forever, secure and safe but boring as the placid surface of non-change. We absolutely need to ride the ripples before we die. Poetry helps and even jets along. Poetry is possibly the ultimate in body surfing.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?  
Absolutely. The effects are not obvious and measurable the way we Americans like our results tallied, but yes, poetry changes the world just as language influences thought, persuades, and prevents, etc.
An additional question people might consider: do you want to be someone who receives language as it describes the world you inhabit or do you want to be someone who owns your potential as a wordsmith and culture-maker?   Do you want to inhabit the world you make?
I'd rather go beyond just perpetuating the status quo, and play around with the words that sustain it. Undermine them. Reinvent them. Refresh them. Rework, reorganize, undo, make new, ad infinitum. I want to have some say in the steering, however incidental. That way I can one day attest, "At least I was not only there; I tripped up that conservative notion and helped someone find pleasure in a way she never imagined, an imagining my efforts discovered and reveled in too."


A poem from Antidotes for an Alibi by Amy King:

Everyone Wants to Know

Who the owner is where
summer visits. What
the dog weighs when
pressing play. If there
wasn't darkness could
beetles exist. What
saint-like jaws would say
how we got this way.
How we came to this.
After seven years in New York,
I adjust to begin my Jesus year.
Full time permanent resident
native, I am a Sikh cab driver
and hairpin president.
I know how to get to you
a captured unprovoked presence,
though you could never think it.
These streets report back to me.
I wish I could control you less
as I am just starting to arrive,
bruised with ample storyness.


. . .

next interview: Matthew Thorburn

other first-book interviews

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