The Grand Poetry Poo-bah, Mary Biddinger, author of Prairie Fever, St. Monica, and O Holy Insurgency, has started a wonderful self-interview series called The Next Big Thing, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been tagged by the amazing Hannah Gamble to participate. Here are responses regarding my second full-length collection of poems, Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral, which will be published by Dream Horse Press in late 2013 or early 2014.

What is the working title of the book?

Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

After my first book (American Amen) came out in September 2010 and I’d finished an initial draft of my second manuscript (which became my dissertation), I wanted a change of pace, a different, more compact utterance, something less narrative and more disjunctive. I spent so much of the latter half of 2010 and the early months of 2011 studying for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and readying to defend them, that all of my creative and academic energies were spent outside the actual writing of poetry. But in the midst of all that reading, note-taking, and memorizing, I kept a separate notebook of lines, ideas, and words that I knew would later inspire new poems.

The poems of Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral come directly out of those notes.  But not in any way I’d experienced before. Rather than using the ideas and lines as inspiration, I started using the lines, word for word, in the poems themselves; I started building poems, scaffolding them from scraps of others’ language (not entirely unlike a cento) and my own (so they are not cento). The poems lack end punctuation; nary a period can be found. They are associational, image-driven disjunctions, and yet they are wholly connected line-by-line to a central, or controlling sense of movement. Peter Gizzi and David Dodd Lee (especially his Orphan, Indiana and The Nervous Filaments) were fixtures for me as I built these poems.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The narrator would have to be voiced by Edward Norton, pre-Fight Club.  The
step-mother would be Sally Fields (especially the deer-in-headlights look she's perfected in Brothers and Sisters...I like that one). The lover would be Connie Britton in her ass-kicking Friday Night Lights (the TV show, not the movie) days. The rivers, which are the central characters besides the speaker(s), would be played by, naturally, Steve Buscemi: the rivers are wry, musical, mischevious.  In other words, let's just hope I never get a job as a casting director.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The speaker(s) in Weeping at a Stranger's Funeral confesses through paratactic catharsis to create image-narratives where Lambeau Field, rivers, and Michigan cherry trees intermingal with the quadratic equation, Theocoles, and the always-whore—in other words, these “poems are the way there and the there.”

 *** I'm horrible at synopsizing my own work, apparently.

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

I wrote the first 30 or so poems that ended up sticking in and around the winter/early spring of 2011.  I'd write 3-4 poems a week.  Then I took a small break when we moved from Michigan to Tennessee. By mid-2012, say July, I had 75+ poems that I felt pretty good about. I winnowed it down to the top 55 and was pleased rather quickly with the outcome, something I'm not used to, and so I sent it to Bear at Dream Horse in August of 2012, and by later November, he'd written to say he liked it and wanted to do the book. The book didn't really have a first draft, per se. It sort of came together all at once. The poems, however, of course, came together through many, many drafts.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As mentioned above, Peter Gizzi (especially his The Outernationale) and David Dodd Lee (the two books I mentioned above) were very important to my process. The music of The Band and Levon Helm played in the background a lot. Also Pela and We Are Augustines.  And the poetry of Larissa Szporluk, always. Also a lot of reading on the poetic line in the anthology A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, edited by Emily Rosko; it really got me thinking about punctuation in an entirely new way, especially the essay by Kazim Ali.

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

It may not make you smarter, and it may not be your cup of tea, but I promise you this: it'll look pretty on your shelf. Dream Horse has been making some beautiful books lately!  Also, check out poems from the collection (some in different forms, i.e. with punctuation) in recent issues of online lit journals such as The Collagist, Ancora Imparo (where there's also a poetics essay about the poems), DIAGRAM, The Jet Fuel Review, PANK, and Quarterly West.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This book is being published, in late 2013 or early 2014, by Dream Horse Press out of California. They also published my debut book, American Amen, winner of their 2009 Orphic Prize in Poetry, in 2010. They make beautiful books by beautiful poets.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Keith Montesano (my brother in the depths)
Marcus Wicker (Flavor Flaaaaaav!)
T.J. Jarrett (Sister on the heart's road)
Jeff Hardin (“Only one poet comes from my And some guy named Charles Wright.”)


    I am the author of several collections of poetry and an Assistant Professor at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.


    January 2013