How has your first book changed your life?
89. Rachel M. Simon
Before your manuscript won Pavement Saw's Transcontinental Award, had you sent it out often?
Once I felt like the manuscript was as done as it was going to get, I basically sent it to every contest in the back of Poets & Writers magazine that was open to me. That meant skipping the ones open only to descendants of Cherokees or lifelong residents of Mississippi. For a year it was my weekend job to send out copies and hope that the entry fee checks didn't bounce. As evidence of my tenacity, I think I spent about $800 on entry fees and postage that year.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
I have a friend in Maine who is an artist and I knew that I wanted his work on the cover. In discussing possible images, both the artist (Mike Branca) and my editor (David Baratier) were taking the Orange in the title of the book very literally and suggested pieces that had orange in them. We agreed on a painting of a tree with orange leaves but once the designer put it together, I hated it. I asked David if I could veto it. He was a great sport and paid the designer a kill fee and we started again with a new image. I wasn't sure if the toaster and toast image would work (it was a rubber stamp); but it did and I'm very happy with the cover.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
On my 30th birthday the book was delivered to my publisher; that felt like a great sign. The day that the box got to me we had a snowstorm and the campus where I teach did the unexpected and cancelled classes. I wasn't expecting the books to arrive in the storm, but the mail carrier parked at the bottom of our street (because the mail truck couldn't make it up the hill) and carried the two heavy boxes to the door. He was covered in snow and said "What's in these?" when he handed over the books and saw how excited we (my partner Karen and I) were to get them. I told him "It's my book! I wrote a book of poetry!" He's since told the other mail carriers about the book, who've congratulated me. He's very popular in our house, he carried my books through the storm and brings our dog biscuits when he delivers packages.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I didn't have any specific expectations for change, but I did hope it would help me get a full-time job.
How has your life been different since?
The most noticeable difference is that people keep using my middle initial. I use the M. because there's a woman named Rachel Simon who wrote a book that was made into a made for TV movie starring Andie MacDowell and Rosie O'Donnell and I wouldn't want her huge paychecks reaching me by mistake. So now in poetry contexts, people will introduce me to someone and include my middle initial. This leads people to ask me what the M. stands for which is something that is different from before the book came out.
What does the M. stand for?
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
The biggest surprise has been how much of the book's success depends on my doing the legwork. I knew I wasn't getting a publicist and an agent, I'm a poet after all, but I just imagined this stuff would take care of itself.
What are you doing to promote the book? Do you enjoy reading publicly?
I love reading. I just read last week at a gallery that I think makes for a great poetry reading space. It allows the audience to zone out and have something interesting to look at and they seem to usually have good acoustics. Next week I'm reading in a bookstore basement in Cleveland. The readings are a good excuse to find everyone I know in a city to be in the same place at the same time which has been a bit surreal, but always great.
The advice I did get, and I'm glad to have heard it, was from a former teacher of mine, the Maine poet Ira Sadoff. He said, "It's all downhill once you've got the book in your hand." And while it is a bit of a downer, I've never again reached the endorphin level of hearing that I'd won the contest.
What influence has the book's publication (or acceptance) had on your subsequent writing?
I've written almost no poetry since winning the prize.
How do you feel about the critical response so far?
I've really loved all of the critical response. Even the reviews that talk about my shortcomings have been very valuable to me. There have been great in-depth readings of my work. I wish I'd gotten these reviews in graduate school.
I could use a full-time job...
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I could be reading the AWP joblist, but instead I'm watching a documentary about crossword puzzles.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would you do for a living and where would you be doing it?
2 poems from Theory of Orange by Rachel M. Simon:
One can live for years not knowing the teaspoon is inaccurate. Call the bureau of weights and measures. They'll understand. In massage school I learned to rub a full belly in a clockwise motion to aid in digestion. In the theory of orange, what is the best way to skin a grape? The citrus board feels strongly about the marketing campaign's mouth sores. Cracking a stranger's knuckles will not necessarily lead to mold under the nails. A Yogi can get away with that posture. I know to slouch is not the answer, yet all these crazy and abusive men never have a shortage of wives. No, I never could touch my toes. The irony doesn't end there. I kill bugs with my palm. If I had that many legs I wouldn't waste my time on some mediocre ceiling. When I fly I never dress for the occasion. When I land you can appreciate the thud. Just keep running, the parasail will take care of you. If the wind deposits you in a gift shop it is only appropriate to buy one moderately priced tchotchke.
The Textures of Concealing
This is the heavy piece of velvet I've
It's class warfare, the way cashmere feels
I've never had a good cry, despite my
Holding a styrofoam coffee cup out
Such difficulty, to compress raging
Does wool make you itch, Rachel? It's Tuesday,
next interview: Jessica Fisher
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