Do you love poetry? Then check out this interview with Poet, Dave Lucas, and learn more about how he publishes his own poetry and how he published his book, Weather!
1) The million dollar question: How do you publish a book of poetry?
“Poetry in mass” may be an oxymoron except for a small handful of the most successful poets. I don’t know the numbers, but I think I can safely say that most of the books of poems in this country—including my own—are published by university presses and independents. Their print runs are modest, their sales more so, but they publish these books because they believe in the importance of the art.
In my own case, I spent about five or six years entering first book contests and submitting versions of a manuscript to various presses. And so I spent five or six years receiving kind rejections or sometimes receiving nothing at all. In 2009, Ted Genoways, who had published my work in The Virginia Quarterly Review and had become a friend, asked to see my manuscript. A few months later he accepted it for the VQR Poetry Series, and the book was published about a year and a half afterward. o reduce the whole experience to these few sentences belies how long and frustrating—but also educational—the years of writing and waiting were.
2) Do you have an agent? Did you need one?
I don’t have an agent—nor do most of the poets I know. But this can be a good thing, because it means I’m ultimately responsible for where my poems go and when.
3) How do you promote a book of poetry?
Giving public readings is the best way I know. I also believe wholeheartedly that poets need to be involved in promoting not just their own work but poetry in general, whether that’s in the classroom or auditorium or blogosphere. Self-promoting induces far less guilt when you’re promoting others whose work you admire as well.
4) What tips do you have for poets who love to write?
5) What steps do you suggest for poets at home who want to publish a book of poetry?
The only advice I know to be true is to read voraciously and to be stubborn beyond the point of reason.
6) You’re in a PhD program for English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. How has that helped you as a writer?
My life as a doctoral student both complicates and benefits my life as a poet. Much of the energy that would go into reading, writing, and revising poems, for instance, instead goes into reading and writing scholarship and criticism. But I suspect this shift in energies is true of any work that requires intellect and creativity: it was certainly true of my previous life as a high school English teacher. When it comes to graduate school, an aspiring poet could do much worse than to spend several years reading, thinking about, and debating books and ideas with people who are similarly invested.
7) You have a wide selection of poems that have been published. How do you get a poem published exactly?
Too many beginning writers—and I was guilty of this as anyone, and probably still am—worry too much about getting work published and not enough about improving the work itself. So in answering this question I want to offer this caveat: publishing my work satisfies me insofar as it means other people are going to read it, but that fact is never enough. Alan Shapiro, himself a magnificent poet, writes that “even at its best, that sort of ‘reward’ or ‘recognition’ is like cotton candy: it looks ample enough until you put it in your mouth; then it evaporates. All taste and no nourishment.” In my experience, he’s absolutely right.
On the other hand, it’s only natural that if you write, you want to be read, and that you’d prefer to be read by a wide audience and in prestigious places. So you keep knocking on doors until someone opens one, and that can take an agonizingly long time. When you are being told No, you have to refuse to accept that your work is not good enough. If and when you begin to be told Yes, you have to refuse to believe that your work is any more worthy than anyone else’s. And more than anything else you have to be satisfied in doing the work.
When I send out my work, I tend to submit three to five poems at a time to a publication I admire and would want to read regardless of whether or not my own work were to appear there. If you want to publish your own poems, send to the magazines you already enjoy reading.
8 ) Tell me about your book, Weather:
The fifty-something poems in Weather revolve around the natural and human landscape of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. I find a certain ruined majesty in Cleveland (and its sister cities in the Midwest), as if everything about it (them) is already past tense. I wanted to write poems that would honor these places that too often feel inferior or forgotten; I want to make them feel inarguably present tense without losing a sense of their history. At the same time, these are the poems of someone attempting to make his own way in the world, so while the book begins and ends in one specific place, I hope it varies in its topical and emotional landscape in between.
9) How did you become a poet?
I’ve always been attracted to poetry at least in the sense that I’ve always been attracted to the sounds of words, whether in bits of slang I picked up and threw away as a kid, or in the rhymes of hip hop music, which particularly occupied me as an adolescent. I didn’t start reading what gets labeled in bookstores as poetry until I was in high school and found that the wisdom in pop music was not quite sufficient to my own attempts to understand what it means to be alive. I love fiction and nonfiction, but what I love far more than a story well told or an argument well articulated are the words themselves. Poetry is language pushed to its edges as far as it can stand, where the language we use to order a hamburger meets and mixes with the language we use to pray.
10) Last but not least, if you could meet any poet, who would it be and why?
It would have been a thrill to meet Walt Whitman, if only he could have lived another hundred years. But the person is never quite as interesting as the work anyway, and I hope that’s true of me and mine as well.
If you’re a big fan of poetry or reading in general, you must check out Dave Lucas’s book Weather!
Here is the first poem in his book:
Midst of a Burning Fiery Furnace
Let the foundries burn the whole city then.
Black the edges and the brazen joints.
Let the salamander sleep in his well of flame.
Because the worst has happened, and yet
so much more remains to be burnt,
smelt and milled and cast. These remains.
Suppose this blistered city would smolder
well after all those who live by the blast
of the furnace have left themselves to ash.
I have heard of that alchemy of steel—
I am familiar with the dying arts. Let them burn
the dark night livid, my poor republic
of ingot and slag. I am also seething
in my depths, I too have come to forge.