Allison Joseph

Trace Particles (Backbone Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?

Tim Seibles’ Kerosene! That book is, as the kids say, dope. I’m not sure it was an influence, but it is such a fine read. A good chapbook should make you want to 1) read more of that poet and 2) make you itch to write your own poems. Tim’s chapbook (and his poetry in general) made me want to do that.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The poems date from 2008, so there’s air of cynicism to them. 2008 was a rough year, and it called for a lot of critical thinking about where we were headed as a nation.

What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?

This chapbook is not about me—it’s the least autobiographical collection I’ve published. I’m concerned with race and gender as mirror to our world—the book has poems that use pop culture to explore all my questions and misgivings about race and gender relations. But I’m not writing about my own experiences. That was pretty freeing.

How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?

The title was always Trace Particles. I knew I wanted “31 Shirts” to close. The poems move from more comic at the chapbook’s start to more serious at the chapbook’s end.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

I submitted it to Backbone Press and to one contest (the Blair Prize from Organic Weapon Arts). Backbone accepted it first.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Crystal Simone Smith of Backbone Press did the cover and the design.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

Readings. It’s a good reading chapbook. People laugh at the Aunt Jemima poem.

What are you working on now?

Individual poems, and more books (full-length and chapbooks). I have a sabbatical coming in Spring 2015. Hurray!

What is your writing practice or process?

I write when I can. With teaching, mentoring, editing, planning for travel and family responsibilities, I fit poems in around everything else.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Write poems and see how they “cluster.” Is there a project/obsession/riff that you are working on that can’t be sustained for 45-80 pages? Well, then, you just might be looking at a chapbook.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

Read the poems aloud until you are sick of them.

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Do you like chapbooks that are all one form (say, sonnets) or does that bore you? I’m thinking of putting a sonnet chapbook together, but not sure if that is something people would go for.

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

Yes, the chapbook is good for the “troublemaker” poems that might seem to draw too much attention in a book that is more autobiographical/personal.


Allison Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is on the faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the author of six full-length collections and two chapbooks (Voice: Poems from Mayapple Press, and Trace Particles from Backbone Press


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