Sunday, March 3, 2013

CHRISTINA PUGH: The Next Big Thing

What is the title of your book?
Grains of the Voice.  Visit its Amazon page here.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The title alludes to Roland Barthes’s essay called “The Grain of the Voice.”  In it, Barthes discusses what excites him in certain opera performances:  “… the grain, the grain of the voice when the latter is in a dual posture, a dual production—of language and of music.”
I’ve tried to locate that liminal “grain” by writing short poems that are influenced by the sonnet tradition--and that host spectral lines from pop songs and from poets like Milton and Shakespeare .
What genre does your book fall under?
Lyric poetry.  In particular: poems that are influenced by, or “ghosts” of, the sonnet tradition.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
They’d be musicians rather than actors:  Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Mark Kozelek, Duran Duran, Mono (the Japanese post-rock band).  Not that there are really any characters as such.

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
From the book’s back cover:  “The human voice, musical instruments, the sounds produced by the natural and man-made worlds—all serve at one time or another as both the framework of poems and the occasion for their lightning-quick changes of direction, of tone, of point of reference.”
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book has just been published by Northwestern University Press (TriQuarterly Books).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I don’t number drafts, and I don’t tend to time things in quite that way.  But the entire process took several years from start to finish.

What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?
David Biespiel’s Wild Civility; Eamon Grennan’s The Quick of It; Josh Corey’s Severance Songs.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The eternally prismatic sonnet tradition in English poetry, especially Milton’s “On His Blindness.”  The enduring inspiration of singers like Young and Harris.  And just the rapture of musicality in the everyday--something I’m always trying to preserve.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There’s a cross-dressing lotus flower, mascara spilled on the beach, and cameo appearances by Thomas Jefferson and Jacques Derrida.

I was tagged by Daniel Bosch.  I hereby tag: Chris Green 
Click on the names above to read about these writers' Next Big Things.

Monday, February 25, 2013


My Last Not Very Big Thing Self-Interview

Thank you Andrea Cohen for tagging me.  Check out her self-interview here!

The title of my book is Octaves.  It's actually a pretty small thing! (see photo)

The idea for the book came from writing more than 32 mock-triolets over the course of a summer.

The genre of Octaves is short lyric poetry. 

No human actors could play parts in a movie rendition of Octaves.  There are no parts to play in the book.  But if a movie or a film-strip version of Octaves were to be made, and if it required a voice-over, my spouse would appreciate it very much if Ralph Fiennes, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Fassbender could be convinced to record the poems, each actor taking on one of its three signatures.

Octaves does not lend itself to synopsis.  It can be described, however, as 32 short poems in the same form, each of which is deliberately but obliquely addressed to a vivid bit of language emitted in the 20th century by a notable person (boxer, artist, writer), but in no case emitted in a poem. 

Here's a sample that was published in The Istanbul Review last year:

       "Perhaps a bird was singing and I felt for him a small, bird-sized affection."

                                                —Jorge Luis Borges

       Come spring, I'll build a nest
       Of knotted hair.
       On my bare chest,
       Come spring, I'll build a nest
       That you might rest
       Forever there.
       Come, Spring!  I'll build a nest
       Of naughty hair.

The first draft of the manuscript took about 3 months to write.  If summer vacation had been longer, the book might have come out as 42 poems.  If I were able to write triolets more quickly, Octaves might have become The Octaviad.

Octaves is comparable to any book which collects a substantial number of short works which were made by following the same relatively strict rules.  Books I had in mind when I was making Octaves include: Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Feneon’s Novels in Three Lines, Cummins’ The Whole Truth, and Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

I was inspired to write Octaves by my desire to meet the challenge of the triolet to the best of my abilities, such as they are.  I admire strong triolets by Hardy and other writers, and I wanted to imagine that the form could be used to produce a particular kind of coherent book-length project.

Octaves is proudly self-published. Much of the folding, collating, trimming, sewing, and pressing-under-piles-of-heavy-art-books was done at my family dining table by Lisa Lee and Michaela Bosch.

It might pique the reader's interest in Octaves to know that it is a chapbook made with three signatures in a clever format called the  “do-si-do”:  Octaves has a front and a back, but it also has three spines!  (You can order a copy from me via email, twelve dollars postage paid.) 

Look!  A baby picture, taken when Octaves was just a few hours old.

For next Wednesday, I have tagged poets Caitlin Doyle, Eric McHenry, Christina Pugh, John Sparrow and Rory Waterman.  Click on a name when it becomes a LINK (very soon!) and read about some really big things that are on the way!