How has your first book changed your life?
35. Eve Grubin
My manuscript went through hundreds of incarnations before it reached The Sheep Meadow Press. Over a period of about five years I got in the habit of sending it out regularly to first book contests. I sent it out even when I sensed that it probably wasn't ready yet. Something about the process of sending it out pushed me to keep working on it. Also, the more I sent it out the more I got used to rejection, which transformed rejection into a kind of normal part of life. I began to expect it, and I even kind of looked forward to it, so I could file away the note or letter that sometimes came with a personal comment, and then I would get ready to send out my new version of the manuscript. The sending out and the being said no to process was like a predictable wave washing in and out, in and out, and with each wave the manuscript grew. The only down side was that it was expensive to print out and Xerox so much paper and to pay the submission fees. But the financial commitment may have helped with a larger internal investment in the Freudian sense--if you don't pay the therapist, you are not invested in growth.
Towards the end, I became more confident about the manuscript and started sending it to publishers directly. The book continued to be rejected, but I received a number of thoughtful and helpful letters, and I was encouraged. Stanley Moss, the editor of Sheep Meadow, had seen my poems and sometimes positioned himself as a kind of mentor and would give me advice about revisions although he never offered to publish the book. He asked me to meet with him after I had sent him my manuscript in 2004, and I thought it was just going to be another mentor-student discussion about my poetry. Stanley has been known to be generous with his time to emerging poets, and we had met like that once or twice before.
We sat for about an hour with the El Grecos and Goyas looming over us in his Riverdale house (Stanley is also an art dealer, specializing in the old masters). In the middle of a comment on one of my poems he suddenly stopped and looked down at me and said, "You know I want to publish this book, don't you?" That was it. Just like that. Out of the blue. The faces from the Goya painting were emerging from a brown fog behind his head.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
Seeing the final book was also a process so it wasn't a big sudden shock. First I sent a bunch of ideas for images, which was tricky since Stanley Moss is an art dealer and has strong opinions about design, paintings, and book covers. I knew I wanted something subtle, restrained, and not literal. I was excited about a painting I came across, The Slippers, by a Dutch painter, a contemporary of Vermeer. And Stanley was impressed. But it didn't look quite right. Then I sent him a few abstract Diebenkorns from the Ocean Park series. Many of my poems deal with Jewish and religious themes, and I was terrified of a literal cover that spoke too directly to these issues. It would look cheesy to have a cover with two hands praying, for instance (my book is called Morning Prayer), so I was really going for abstract. Miraculously, Stanley liked the Diebenkorns and chose one. We went back and forth a little about the design and in the end I was content although nervous for no particular reason. I had no experience with book design and didn't know how it would turn out.
So first I saw the cover over email, then a print out was mailed to me, and I saw versions with different color lettering and then the final one and then the back with the blurbs. By the time I got the real thing, I felt as if I had seen it already although boy was it something to hold a real book in my hand. It was real and made and solid. And done. I felt like an adult.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
Yes. I didn't know how but I felt that my life would change.
How has your life been different since?
The book has helped me professionally in terms of getting some teaching gigs and readings (and this interview!) that I might not have gotten without the book.
Having this book out has also created a more solid foundation for me to stand on in the public world. It does produce confidence to have a book published, but I learned a surprising and complicated lesson: publishing does not necessarily change your inner life, your emotions, your personal life. It took publishing this book for me to realize how hard I want to work on other more private areas of my life.
What have you been doing to promote the book, and what are those experiences like for you?
Readings. A couple of interviews. These experiences have mostly been clarifying and calming. They give me a chance to articulate my thoughts about the poems and to present them in a formal way, which is soothing for me.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?
I wish someone had said, "Just keep writing, reading, and sending out poems, and don't worry." I figured this out myself, but it would have been easier if someone had said it to me regularly.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
I have taken a breather and haven't "finished" many new poems, but I have a sense of what the next book will look like and have fragments that are slowly turning into made things. I feel a combination of confidence and fear. Confidence because I wrote a book and know I can do it again, fear that I won't be able to do it again! I have become interested in prose and have done a lot of prose writing since the book came out. An essay of mine is appearing in the forthcoming The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Folklore, and Politics (University of California Press, 2007).
I was boosted when Publisher's Weekly gave the book a positive review. PW gives almost everyone positive reviews, but it still meant something to me. Since then, I have been reviewed mostly in Jewish publications, which is fine, but I don't want to be pigeon-holed as a "Jewish poet."
Are there things you plan to do differently when you have a second book published?
I can't see into the future, but I think I want to include prose in the book and images and maybe passages from other poets and writers. As far as publishing goes, I have not thought that far ahead yet. I have to write the book first.
Do you want your life to change?
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I hope so.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
Yes, but the change will be slow, and no one will notice it at first, and it will take tremendous effort on behalf of the poets and the readers of poetry. The change will sneak up on us. We won't see it coming.
Does the head covering open
The painter conceals the color--Eve emerging
The willow, down-turned and silent, incites
The clothed body as knowledge.
When love is gone
The subway heaved forward
and the hand of the man I was with
for less than one second lightly he touched
each tight light to a rupture
The Torah is the body we clothe
How is this longing a longing
What I don't speak you will know.
Is the hidden more blessed than the revealed?
Why is the holy ark covered? As a woman
I can't remember
next interview: Christian Hawkey
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