Saturday, February 24, 2024

doomish and beautiful

Yesterday's mail brought the proof for granata, which meant spending today, free of other writing projects, marking it up and fixing any margin issues inside.  Any remaining pesky typos or off punctuation. This one was a little less tricky with lineated lines instead of prose blocks, but the lines do run a bit longer than I usually go, which meant some additional adjustments. There was also some small movement of images that were a little too far over, and some final typography touches that were simply cosmetic. It's always a joy to feel the final project come together and bound so neatly, especially this one, that started as an indeterminate shorter series of poems in summer of 2022 and eventually grew into a considerably longer project that incorporated over 20 pieces of visual art as well. Amazingly the cover was absolutely perfect this time (I have a hard time centering text when you can't readily see the trim lines in action.) It's even more beautiful on the back cover where you see more of the images.

As I was slowly sipping coffee and reading one final time through the poems this afternoon, I couldn't help thinking about 1999 once again in particular. Not unusual since we have been taking mini-trips into the cinematic past with the time capsule series each week, but more that it was the year I really began taking a possible career in writing more seriously. Today I sit and scribble notes and update print files on what will technically be my 14th collection of poems (if you count little apocalypse, which is technically just an e-book, but will eventually be in print at some point in the future.) In 1999, I sat at another dining room table, in another apartment, in another neighborhood, and wrote poems out longhand on paper before typing them into a beige word processor that saved work on floppy discs. I was writing a book then, just as I have now, that was about mythology largely. Many of poems then drew from Greek or Roman myths--Daphne, Cassandra, Calypso, Helen of Troy. While that book was terrible and the sort of book you would expect a 25-year-old to write, some of those poems, the better ones, would eventually see print in my chapbook, The Archaeologist's Daughter. Though it may be telling that none would make it into my first full-length several years later. 

In those days, it was a lot of myth and history and fairytales happening in my work. I think when you are a young writer who has barely been out in the world and are only experiencing things through the lens of things you read an learn about in school, it's liable to end up this way. My first published poem in a journal was about Paradise Lost.  My second, later that summer, about Salem witches (strangely not even as good as the "Swimming the Witch" piece I'd write a couple years later.) That first chapbook is filled with these kinds of pieces based on art, literature, history, fairytales, and myths.

In a couple years, I would write about them less, but still sometimes they'd crop up in other places, or at least the feel of them would. Or maybe just that they became more modern or specific. The urban legend poems of Archer Avenue, or the poems in errata about Victorian novels. The next time I'd tackle fairytales was  the book of red artist book project (Little Red Riding Hood), then the shared properties (Goldilocks and the Three Bears)..By then, it was less about the fairy tale and more about the modern interpretation. The next time I took on myth, it would be taurus, which was about the minotaurs set in the midwest, the series from which the dark country full-length takes its title.  I continued to work with history--the HH Holmes poems, for example, or the Walter Potter series. The artist and dog-girl poems of pelt

So it seems natural that I would circle back around to myths for a longer project again via granata. As I was working on them that summer, I kept calling them the "smutty Persephone poems" even though I already had the working title in place. Reading them now, they feel very lush and sensuous, moreso than a lot of what I've written in the intervening year and a half. It's of course, not just Persehone's story, but also that of the Sirens, who were punished or gifted with their transformation depending on who you ask. I begin with a quote from Ovid, who frames it as a gift. But then Ovid may have been wrong. I tried not to be too beholden to the classical age, so these poems move about in time, as all stories about gods would I suppose. A sort of timelessness that smudges the setting a little and saves it from feeling too archaic. When I organized them, I wanted them to feel a bit circular, or maybe more like overlapping circles. The art pieces came fast and furious this past summer, all at once and over several days. They form another layer of circles linked with the text.

All in all, I am excited to show it to readers, though I realize poetry about Persephone and other Greek influences are a dime a dozen. But hopefully, this little book is yet another stone in the wall of all the books that take on the Greeks, even across great time and distance from the time of the stories.

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