What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
Some of my favorite chapbooks include Sasha Fletcher’s I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon for Anything I Done, Genine Lentine’s Mr. Worthington’s Beautiful Experiments on Splashes, Marc McKee’s What Apocalypse?, Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine, and Anne Marie Rooney’s The Buff. Some were published before Vivisection and some after, but their authors’ writing influenced my own by showing me two things: first, that apparently disparate spheres of influence (in my case, the technological and biological) could not only overlap, but actually complement one another; and second, by proving that nothing is more serious than a joke. I struggled for a long time to figure out what place humor had in my poetry, and these poets helped me determine that.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece in Vivisection is probably “Diagnosis,” which had previously appeared in Best New Poets 2009. I’d originally envisioned it as a sort of crisis, a liminal moment in which the narrator discovers the line between the life of the mind and the role that technology plays in its support. Later on, I realized this interplay wasn’t antagonistic, but necessary: the development of the brain and self is informed by the development of human technology, and vice versa.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
I think Vivisection occupies itself with what it means to be human and what happens as technology begins to increasingly impinge on both the human form and experience. This theme was very much present in my earlier work, but Vivisection extends it by delving into the roles that individual storytelling, culture, and mythology play in determining how we view ourselves and how we reconcile our personal narratives with our familial and social ones.
What made you decide to gather your pieces in a chapbook instead of another format? When did you realize you were working toward a chapbook?
I think I decided to gather the poems into a chapbook once I’d realized I had a small “cycle” of poems all focusing on the same theme (that is, the tensions between the individual/biological and the social/mechanical). I probably first discovered this shortly after writing the poems “Diagnosis” and “Copula”: the larger sociopolitical and mythological themes began to shine through the immediate occasion of the mechanical meeting the biological.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?
Honestly, it all sort of came together in the course of a single afternoon. I had a bunch of poems I thought loosely lay tangent to this theme of technological encroachment on the human experience, so one day after work I met up with the poet Dave Silverstein at a bar in Hoboken and hammered it all out: content, order, title. (I’d originally wanted an even more clinical title, but Dave insisted—rightly, I think—that it retain some visceral, bodily quality.) I think Corpus was an early title.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Both. I couldn’t find a lot of open reading periods that weren’t also contests, and I think I sent Vivisection to a half dozen or so. I was astounded when Ander picked it for the New Michigan Press / DIAGRAM chapbook contest.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Interestingly (or rather, boringly) enough, the cover image selection and overall design was pretty straightforward. For the cover, Ander Monson (the publisher of New Michigan Press) pointed me toward some sources for images they could use, and I selected the heart found on Vivisection’s cover from the first half-dozen or so. He liked it and it was within their price range, so they picked it up, no problem.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Embarrassingly little. I’ve tweeted about it and posted on Facebook from time to time, and when the chapbook came out I did a series of readings and promoted it to the folks in my MFA program. Aside from that, though, I haven’t done a whole lot; I’ve been focusing on new works for the past couple of years.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on three full-length manuscripts and two chapbooks. The first two full-length MSS are complete and I’m circulating them to publishers; the last full-length MS comprises the two chapbooks, and all three are constantly co-evolving. I think they’ll be complete in the next handful of months.
What is your writing practice or process?
I tend to latch onto bits of poetic “grit”—lines, images, ideas—and iterate on them, building shells in the same way oysters build pearls. The analogy holds only insofar as both are responses to irritation and both take a long time to build.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Read, write, experience. Some people conflate travel with experience, which I don’t think is necessarily fair, but you need all three in order to write something people will want to read. If you read and write but don’t have life experience, your writing can be technically excellent, but uninteresting; if you have a wide range of experiences and write, but don’t read, your writing won’t be technically proficient; and if you experience much and read voraciously, but don’t write, you’re not a writer at all: you’re just another person who wants to claim the title without putting in the work.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
Not that I can think of. I’m primarily driven by some advice I got several years ago from a professor of mine, Grant Farred: “There is no thinking except in the writing. There is no writing except in the rewriting.”
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
How does the chapbook allow you to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a full-length collection? Why does it allow you to do it? Is it because it’s more under the radar? Or is it because of its format? Its length?
The chapbook form allows me to explore themes and ideas in the capacity of a “specialist”—that is, with narrower range but greater depth than a full-length collection would warrant—and really work through a poetic “obsession.”
What do you think the connection is between image and language, and how might this connection be seen in your writing?
I firmly believe in T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative,” or conception of poems as emotive programs: a poem is effective only insofar as it consists of a sequence of images that evoke the desired emotional response in the reader. For that reason, strong imagery is requisite to powerful poetry. I think this connection is clear in the visual preoccupation of Vivisection, but there are newer works (including my most recent full-length manuscript) that I think draw out this connection even further.
What do you find to be the most difficult and/or rewarding part about the writing, revising, publishing, and promotion process?
The most difficult part about putting together a chapbook is “ordering the storm” (that is, figuring out the order in which the poems should arrive). The most rewarding part is when someone I’ve never met reaches out to let me know they really enjoyed a poem I wrote, that it made them think, that it altered their daily perception in some way.
Did your chapbook start out as something larger whose parts you made into a chapbook? Or, if it started out as self-contained, is it something that can be changed into a full manuscript?
It started out as something self-contained, and a number of the poems have made their way into one of the full-length manuscripts (Love, Machine).
What’s the most interesting concept or design you’ve seen for a chapbook?
I really enjoyed Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine, which interweaves poems dwelling on ghosts, those focused on machines, and those combining the elements of both. This dual attention is something I strive for in my own poetry, and I’m always attracted to poems or collections that work to tell two stories at a time.
What are some chapbook presses you admire and why?
I’m a huge fan of Black Lawrence Press, Caketrain, New Michigan Press / Diagram, Omnidawn, and Tupelo Press; I’ve always found the poets and poetry they publish refreshing and, if not strictly controversial, thought-provoking.
If your chapbook was scratch and sniff, what would its scent be?
Blood orange, for sure.
Do you remember the first time you showed someone your writing, and what was the experience like?
It was probably when I showed a short story I’d written in fourth grade to my father, who is an excellent writer. I was probably mortified, but I needn’t have been—my father’s support was one of the reasons I became a poet in the first place.
Would you feel comfortable with publishing only chapbooks?
No, because I think there are projects I’d like to tackle that can’t be completed in the smaller scope afforded/required by the chapbook.
Eric Weinstein is the author of Vivisection (New Michigan Press 2010). His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bat City Review, The Believer, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and others. He lives in New York City.
___Narcissus arrived alive
and the bird did not.
___A motorcycle accident:
they collided at 70 miles
___an hour, the dead wren lodged
in his chest over the heart. Listen,
___he said, it must have mistaken
me for a mirror, or a window—
___seeing in me itself and nothing,
it was entranced, as I have been
___by the stream, days at a time.
He slept then, and the doctors
___worked. Like a pregnant woman
or conjoined twins, man and bird
___were seraphim, if only
for an hour: two hearts,
___one form. And like mother from
child, brother from brother, rent
___from one another, the small
beak is pried from the flesh
___and the flesh closed up after.
Listen, Narcissus said, awake,
___aging is a series of glass doors
closing behind you, like
___windows—but before he
could finish, one doctor,
___still intent on the wren, was
offering the stethoscope like
___an infant: There is a heartbeat,
a heartbeat, he was saying, Listen.