Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Next Big Thing: A Writer Looks at her Projects

The Steiny Road Poet had not heard of The Next Big Thing until her publisher Sammy Greenspan of Kattywompus emailed her and asked if the Steiny Poet wanted to participate. Given that the Poet will be on the road in San Francisco and the Los Angeles area for a reading tour, she had to think hard about whether to participate. However, it seemed like a good thinking tool for the Poet and easy enough to do most of the work before she left home on January 12.

Besides it was a good way to learn about the personal writing of Sammy Greenspan. So dear publisher of Karren Alenier’s On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles, thank you for giving me a peek into your writing and for thinking of me for this project.

Here is Karren Alenier’s next big thing post:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
The working title of my next poetry collection, a book-length manuscript, is The Anima of Paul Bowles. It includes the poems in the Kattywompus chapbook On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles. The Anima of Paul Bowles adds 19 more poems to the story of who Paul Bowles was.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The first poem of this series, “Raconteurs in Tangier,” was drafted in the early aughts (2000 maybe) while the Steiny Road Poet was managing a writing and arts retreat in the Castello di Montegufoni in Tuscany, Italy. Her partner on this trip, Grace Cavalieri gave the writers an assignment and something sparked for the Steiny Poet. Eventually, the Steiny Poet knew she wanted to write a whole series about Jane and Paul Bowles because she wanted studies for an new opera libretto. Writing poems first is how the Steiny Poet writes an opera libretto.

What genre does your book fall under?
This book is poetry but within these poems comes formats that resemble a novel, a dramatic play, a puppet play, a letter. Grace Cavalieri said of these poems that the Steiny Poet had a “different strategy for each poem.” The formats seemed to be suggested to the Steiny Poet by the life and work of Jane and Paul Bowles.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The Steiny Road Poet has written an opera libretto based on On a Bed of Gardenias. This collection is the exotic love story of Jane and Paul Bowles who loved each other but each had same sex lovers. The bigger unpublished collection The Anima of Paul Bowles starts with the boyhood and teenage years of Paul Bowles. For these characters, if a movie were made, I would pick Sean Penn and Mary-Louise Parker. I think these actors could get the quirkiness of these two complicated artists.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Paul Bowles, a loner-composer-world-traveler made an underground guru by the Beats and Hippies, was influenced in his writing by his mother, Gertrude Stein, and his unpredictable writer-wife Jane.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
This book will not be self-published and it is unlikely to be represented by an agency. Poetry according to Muriel Rukeyser in her book The Life of Poetry said “[Americans think of poetry as something] to be passed on but not used.” Therefore poetry seems to have no monetary value like fiction or a how to book. I found Sammy Greenspan and Kattywompus in Chicago at the 2009 AWP bookfair and so maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find a new publisher in Boston at the 2013 AWP bookfair.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The Steiny Road Poet probably took ten years because the collection kept evolving. When she first spoke to Sammy, she had a group of found poems in this collection. Because getting permission to quote letters of Paul Bowles from where the found poems sprung was mind bogglingly impossible, the Steiny Poetreplaced those eight poems with brand new work.

What other books would you compare this collection to within your genre?
There is something audacious about writing a collection of poems about a writer who only died in 1999 as Paul Bowles did. However, the Steiny Road Poet believes he encouraged audacity and cultivated it. The Steiny Poet doesn’t know of any other collection of cross-genre poems like those of The Anima of Paul Bowles. She hopes someone will inform her if such a collection exists.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In 1982, the Steiny Road Poet spent three weeks in Tangier, Morocco, in a program that featured Paul Bowles as a co-leader of a fiction workshop. While she worked on the fiction with the other co-leader Fred Tuten, she worked with Paul on her poems about Gertrude Stein which much later became part of her opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Here's a comment about On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles from a poet who first met Paul Bowles as a teenager because her step-father was writing a graduate paper on Bowles:

As someone who spent time with Paul Bowles and has read all of his and Jane Bowles' work, I am impressed with Alenier's ability to transform biography into finely wrought lyric poems of varying styles and textures. Her book, On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane and Paul Bowles, contains highly condensed, whip-smart free verse, poems with longer, more conversational lines, poems that dress up as other forms of writing (one with chapters gestures toward the novel and another is in the guise of a letter), a pantoum, and forms of Alenier's own creation.

Through ever shifting points of view--third person narrator, Paul, Jane, and Jane's longtime lover, Cherifa--we enter the complex relationship of this dueling and devoted dyad whose creative coupling defies logic and defines need. Alenier has great tonal range--a fitting gift given that between the two Bowles, they produced music, poetry, short stories, novels, travelogues, memoir, and a play.

Alenier is also a poet who knows how to tell a story, keeping us riveted right up to the quietly tragic final poem, "Exit Interview."

Brandel France de Bravo, author of Provenance

Drum roll as the Steiny Road Poet presents the following writers who will tell you about their Next Big Thing:

Bernadette Geyer who is the author of the forthcoming book TheScabbard of Her Throat from The Word Works Hilary Tham Capital Collection selected by Cornelius Eady. 

C. M. Mayo (Catherine Mayo, A.K.A. Madam Mayo), poet, writer, publisher, also spent a several week session with Paul Bowles the year after the Steiny Road Poet did.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Splendid Wake, Discovering the Scope of Poetry in the Nation’s Capital

Something very huge in scope is happening in the greater Washington, DC area and adds fuel to the fire concerning why poetry matters.

Splendid Wake, a project initially conceived to honor dead poets who lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, is the brain child of poets  Elisavietta Ritchie and Myra Sklarew, with logistical help from  George Washington University Gelman Library Special Collections librarian Jennifer King. At the first meeting held June 27, 2012, the project immediately expanded to include a broader historic scope of what happened in the DC community with poetry, poets, literary movements, publishing houses, reading series, and more.

By the second meeting held December 11, 2012, such poets as Karren Alenier, Anne Becker, Patricia Garfinkel, Mary Ann Larkin, Merrill Leffler, Judith McCombs, Jean Nordhaus, Bill Rivera helped Sklarew, Ritchie, and King decide that they wanted to create a record for posterity. Creating an Internet Wiki seemed to be the best solution for gathering such voluminous information. King was able to negotiate that through GWU, but counseled that categories had be established and named that would bear the test of time.

This brings the Steiny Road Poet to the third meeting February 7, 2013, where categories and boundaries were established. So the project encompasses all that happened involving poetry from 1900 to the current day in the greater Washington, DC area where poets as far away as Baltimore, St. Mary’s City, the outer reaches of Northern Virginia consider DC their spiritual center. The Wiki categories after much passionate discussion were boiled down to poets, publications, and public presentations. Under these three categories will cluster information about poets dead or alive working in the DC area and influencing the DC literary scene, publishing houses and institutions, reading series, informal workshops and literary salons, media outlets and programs, bookstores, literary movements and whatever else surfaces to be included. The plan is to have a one evening public program at Gelman Library in 2013 to share some of this information.

What is clear is that Washington, DC, with its history of poets sponsored by the Library of Congress, its active small press, workshops and reading series scene with public radio broadcasts and occasional cable TV programs featuring poetry as well as its interest in international poets and poetry in translation is unlike any other literary community in the country. Myra Sklarew wondered out loud to the Steiny Poet what would be the outcome of this documentary project? Thinking large, the Steiny Poet believes that the audience for poetry will expand to prove once again that poetry matters.