In Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling
Sandra Marchetti's debut poetry collection, Confluence, was published by Sundress Publications in April of 2015. Eating Dog Press published an illustrated book of her essays and poems in the summer of 2014. Marchetti was named the winner of the 2011 Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest for her volume, The Canopy, available from Midwest Writing Center Press. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Ohio State’s The Journal, Phoebe, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Subtropics, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. Mid-American Review, The Rumpus, Words Without Borders, and other fine magazines have featured her prose. She received her MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University in 2010 and currently teaches writing at Aurora University, just outside of Chicago. Below, she discusses inherited literary forms, book promotions, and her new book, Confluence.
KMD: Where and how did Confluence begin?
SM: Confluence began when I left home for the first time. I lived with my parents in my hometown through college, so when I went to DC to complete my MFA, I was completely homesick. I had two different lives--my life in Chicago and my life at school. The places seemed very symmetrical in some ways—down to listening to news radio on the same AM frequency in both places—but they also felt like mutually exclusive spheres. The book was born of this disconnect; from the very beginning there were "home" poems and "away" poems. Eventually they were reconciled in Confluence, which speaks of a reunion with that Midwestern landscape and the reunion of two lovers.
KMD: What are three things that readers should know before they read Confluence?
SM: Is this my opportunity to pitch the book? He he. Readers should know that I am fascinated with the sounds of words and their textures, but that "sound and meaning," as I mention in the last poem of the book, "One Secret," make sense of poems. They might need to know I fancy myself old fashioned in that way—I believe poems are made things and that we can communicate truths through them. I hope these poems resound from your throat like a bell. I hope Confluence makes you feel like singing and looking for the beauty that we sometimes refuse to see or just ignore, maybe because the beauty I highlight isn't always traditional or easy to find.
KMD: I enjoyed the way your poems simultaneously inhabit and interrogate inherited literary forms like couplets, tercets, quatrains, and the lyric. How would you characterize your relationship to these received forms? In what ways has your use of form evolved and changed over time?
SM: Thank you so much. My relationship with received forms is so odd. Each poem contains the school that teaches me how to write it. I struggled mightily with prosody and working in received forms in school. I initially hated it, couldn't count meter—I was like a beginning musician who couldn't read notes. This extreme frustration slowly morphed into my desire for mastery. I listened really carefully to my poems. I pruned them to see what their structure could be. I don't draft in meter (although now I can find rhythm while initially writing) but once I have a draft written I go back and find repeated words, highlight them, and match rhymes. I make up quite a few nonce forms to suit my needs. I see which stanzas I like and try all different combinations of line and stanza lengths to highlight the music and meaning. I am obsessive regarding line breaks and certainly have my way of breaking, which is why I write many more two beat or four beat lines (or alternating 3 and then 4 beat or 2 and then four beat lines) than the old masters. I've never written a lot of pentameter, though I'd like to write some longer lines in the future, maybe even alexandrines. The first poem that jail-broke me from free verse is in the book, Island Park. I just can't stop swaying with the music.
KMD: You're an amazing book promoter, utilizing social media outlets and the web to publicize your work. What advice do you have for writers who are about to have a book published? What is the best way to spread the word about a new collection of poems?
SM: I do have a bunch of social media pages, I guest blog, and write reviews, but I don't have a stand-alone website, and I need to. So, no one is perfect! But thank you. The advice I have for poets is to think about promoting not as making sales but as finding your audience. If a poem doesn't have an audience it's almost as though it doesn't exist. I need my readers—I need their feedback and am honored to have their attention, so I want to keep them abreast of what's happening. The key is to find others who will help you to promote your work. This takes time, and you have to believe your work is worthy of attention first. Promoting yourself can be discouraging and can cause some serious soul-searching (aka, "Does anyone even care if I write?") but we must at times. I've been very lucky to work with a press, Sundress Publications, that loves to shout its authors' successes from the rooftops. There are other ways you can connect to folks that will help you. One way is to become an active citizen of the community by writing reviews, reading and promote others' work, and saying "yes" to assignments that will stretch you. I wrote creative nonfiction for the first time this year, made a cocktail recipe and a hot-dish recipe to promote my book, and wrote a bunch of reviews. It's been lovely to see that every drop of my literary citizenship effort has been paid forward to me this year.
KMD: How did your book find its home at Sundress? What should emerging writers know about submitting the process of submitting their work for publication?
SM: Emerging writers should know something I still need to tell myself: It's going to be really hard. It will be harder than you thought to get your book into the right hands. We can't all be Kristina Marie Darling! I worked and re-worked my book for five years, and three of those years I was actively sending it out. Every time I thought Confluence was done it came back like a metaphorical boomerang. The book was close to completion when I could say to myself, "This book is good. Why shouldn't someone publish it?" That hubris was crucial for me to keep going, actually. Sometimes you have to puff your chest with foolish hope. A press I loved picked up the book a few months later, but held it for over a year before going into production. The press actually shuttered for a time, and I asked friends for advice about what to do. Should I yank the book and send it back out to other venues? That seemed too difficult to bear. Should I hold on and see if the press would get back up and running? Erin Elizabeth Smith, editor extraordinaire at Sundress, quietly mentioned that she'd be happy to look at the book. She and her editorial board read it, voted yes, and offered me so much more in the terms of commitment, promotion, and love that I would be a fool to turn down their offer. I suppose that's my last piece of advice for those sending out a first book: Send to presses you really like and don't settle. Only you know what that means. But, as a manuscript consultant, I have worked with authors who settled for a press that didn't have their best interests in mind, and it's just not worth it. Send out, and submit a lot, but think through your rationale before you hit "send."
KMD: You've done a number of terrific readings to promote Confluence. Where has your book taken you? What events should readers know about?
SM: So far, it's provided me with an excuse to throw my first book launch party, which was so much fun. We had little cakes and fancy drinks at an Austrian coffeehouse I love in Chicago. May 1st-3rd I'll be at the Freshwater Poetry Festival and Massachusetts Poetry Festival and later in May I'll be taking a much-needed break at the Vermont Studio Center before moving my show on the road this summer. I'll lead a workshop on music-poetics at SAFTA in Tennessee, lead the RHINO Poetry Forum, read and workshop with students as University of Southern Indiana, and visit at the Vachel Lindsay House in Springfield, IL before the year is out. Trips to Kansas City, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and others are also coming up. I'm excited to meet up with some long-distance friends in real life on my first real book tour. You can find any and all of my events on my FB author page.
KMD: What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to?
SM: I'm working on two projects, which I have been gabbing a lot about lately. He he! One is a collection of baseball poems on Wrigley Field and my relationship with the Chicago Cubs as a third-generation fan. The other is a collection I'm loosely titling, Menageries—poems that started because I couldn't get other poets' lines out of my head. They're poems that pay homage to poets whose feet I'd kiss. I think they both could be full-length collections, which is a new development that I'm really excited to share.