Sunday, October 21, 2007

Laurel Snyder and her First Book of Poems

I happened upon PRESS PRESS PRESS blog one day and have to say that the cover art of her book was the first thing to catch my eye. I had never heard of Mrs. Snyder before and searched out some sample poems and found that I thoroughly enjoyed them so I ordered a copy from and must say I am very pleased. So pleased, in fact, that I sought her out for an interview and here are the results:
In regards to posting the poem featured at the end of this interview, “What the Dock Saw,” Laurel Snyder replied:

“Sure, of course, yes! Please post anything you like. Now that the book is out I think it's my call, though I'll check with the publisher... it was first published at American Letter & Commentary, so they get the credit I think.”

Here is the interview about her new book The Myth of the Simple Machines:

1. I can see that you write in several genres such as essays, children's books and poetry. Do you have a favorite genre and if so, why?

God, what a question to start with! It's a really hard issue for me right now. Because although poetry will always be my first genre, when I'm being honest I have to admit that I feel its limitations strongly. Poetry is (for me) the most important kind of writing. Condensed, reduced, perfect. It serves my need to tinker with language, with my own thoughts. But as a way of communicating with a larger world, a wider audience, it sucks. People can argue about this all day long, but at the end of the day, an essay or a radio commentary or a novel is usually a better way of "telling" someone something. And since I'm a yammery kind of girl, and I love to communicate with people, this is a good thing. Since I've begun to work in prose, especially to write for kids, I feel freed up. But poetry will always be the way I think. It's nice to have both.
2. How has the road to publication been since you decided to try and when did you start?

Oh, lordy... The truth? I wrote my first poem in 4th grade. I took my first workshop in 10th grade, and published my first poem in the high school literary magazine that year. Does that count? I only ever wanted to be a writer, and on some level, what I meant by that always included publishing. But I didn't really start sending my poems out in a serious way until a few years after I finished my MFA. I was feeling really lazy until then. Boycrazy and drunk, too distracted to focus. When I finally got into gear, I found the contest circuit to be awful. Really daunting and dumb. This book was a finalist or semi-finalist too many times to count-- for the Whitman and the Beatrice Hawley, and the Brittingham and Pollack and so on. It made me feel crappy and second rate, over and over. When No Tell Books asked to see a manuscript, I was over the moon. They've been amazing.

3. In your first book of poems The Myth of the Simple Machines how did you decide which poems to put together?

I tend to write in cycles, series. So that made the first and last sections easy. The poems in the second section of the book all speak in first person, and the poems in the third section all address (to my way of thinking) language directly in some way. I don't want to get into this too far-- since I want to believe that if it matters, readers will notice-- but essentially the book moves from the bones of narrative, through an accretion of personal/confessional detail, into an examination of language, and then out again. Into prose. It mimics my own process as a student.

4. How did you decide on the title?

I like that its unclear whether the term "myth" applies to the machines themselves, or just to the idea of their simplicity. I'm not sure that I know the answer myself. I love myth. I believe strongly in myth and all that the term implies. The falseness underlying a myth, and our need for it. Religion is a mindf**k, no?

5. I love the cover art and I must admit that's how I first stopped to look at the sample poems. Once I saw those, I fell in love. Did you have any say on the cover art?

I actually commissioned that piece, from my amazing illustrator for a picture book I have coming out in 2008. ( I liked the idea of creating continuity among my genres. A connection between my poetry and my kidlit. Isn't she great? I think I said, "make it lonely, with a bird, and something that's almost a machine."

6. What was your inspiration for "the girl poems" as you and I call them in the first section of the book?

In the beginning I thought of them as arithmetic. I wondered what would happen if you had a very few number of variables in a series of poems. And you just sort of added and subtracted the variables from one another. I liked the idea of a closed system. I love narrative.

7. I am quite taken with the poem "What the Dock Saw" and would like to post it for everyone to see. So long as I have permission I will do so and would you tell me more about how this poem came about?

Well, so that's the arithmetic I'm talking about... I took the girl, and put her on a beach, and gave her a bottle. I wanted to see what the bird would do. What the girl would do? What the beach would do? I think these poems are very invested in how the inanimate world can become animate. Not unlike kidlit, now that I think about it... Hmmmm....

8. Any advice for those seeking to publish their own poems or stories?

Absolutely. My advice is to be insanely persistent. INSANELY! Publishing does matter. Being read does matter, and feeling like you've taken steps forward is critical if you want to keep on going. But so often people start "at the top" and send to the New Yorker or the Paris Review. Then they get frustrated. My best advice is to find online magazines publishing really good work. So much of the best poetry today is online, because with no overhead, online media can publish more, and they tend to be a little riskier in what they accept...

This is the longest post I’ve ever done and I’m thrilled, actually. But wait! There’s More! Here is her poem, first seen in American Letter and Commentary, mentioned earlier:

What the Dock Saw

The moon shone on the bottle, girl inside.
At rest, it was resting. It was still
where the girl slept, cheek to glass. Hushed.

She was done with the water, but first
the water had done with her—nearly
finished her with one clever wave.

And how the bottle escaped the wave
was a miracle of division. It was a strong bottle.
The girl was fine, if held. They were two vessels.

So if a gull, white rustling in darkness,
found himself less white in that darkness,
less lit from above—he could hardly blame

the moon its grudging love.
The gull cried hollow, outside the moment.
The girl slept on. The bottle was full.

The moon felt sad, but when he turned
to them, he turned on them. The girl turned
in her sleep, and the bottle shivered.

The girl crawled out, and into morning.
All pale and simple, she found: Herself,
with sand on scrambling knees; Water,

held by the waterline, now inching an apology;
Bottle, empty object; Moon, gone.

Instead, the sun. A sure sun and almost
where she looked, almost everywhere.

Thanks so much for checking out Laurel Snyder’s interview. Please check out her book of poems, they are reported to be out in Barnes and Noble soon if you don’t want to order through or Amazon. You can also check her out at:
Always support living writers for they are generally unable to make a living off writing alone.

Check in tomorrow for another great web-site!


Cheryl said...

Excellent questions, and interesting answers, especially about the ordering of the poems. I've admired Laurel's work for some time, and will certainly buy the book.

Poet Hound said...

Thank you so much for the kind comments, I'm sure Laurel will be thrilled to know she has a fan out there interested in her poems.

darcie dennigan said...

I love that poem. Thanks for posting it and for the interview!

Poet Hound said...

Your welcome, I hope to garner more interviews later in the future. I'll be posting an interview from owners of an all-poetry book-store later this month.