“The Next Big Thing”


I know I haven’t shown my face around here for over two years, but a couple of weeks back, the wonderful Luisa Igloria invited me to participate in “The Next Big Thing” (a “book tour” survey meme of sorts in which writers reflect on their own books using a series of questions and then refer their readers to other blogs) and I figured that now might be as good a time as any to make a (sheepish) reappearance on this blog.

So here I am. (Hi! I’m—sort of—back!) And I have a published chapbook now, that’s coming out in February! It’s called Periodicity (you can pre-order it here, or read an excerpt here), and it’s based on that middle section of my MFA thesis, the one I wrote about here, when the project was still very much in-process (seems like forever ago now). So here’s a little bit about Periodicity. (N.B. I’ve changed the wording of some of the questions slightly to make the survey more applicable; for the original questions, please see Prof. Igloria’s “Next Big Thing” post).

1. What is the title of your book?

Periodicity. After the principle around which the periodic table of elements is organized. (It’s also the title of one of the poems therein).

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

My father was a chemist; he lived and breathed his passion for science, and as a result, I grew up steeped in it—from the impromptu lesson on boiling points he once gave me when I asked about making soup to the time he was developing a saliva pregnancy test and asked my mom to freeze vials of her spit every morning as a control! In middle school, I developed a deep fascination with science of my own accord, a fascination that followed me into college. Though I ended up majoring in English rather than in Biology, my interest in the natural sciences never waned. I remember writing a few poems in college using imagery from things I was learning in my biology courses, and my professor (Bruce Snider) encouraging me to continue writing about science, as he observed that it seemed to be a fruitful source of creative inspiration for me. The real seed of the project that became the women scientist poems, though, was planted during the Levinthal Tutorial I took with Andy Grace during my senior year. One week, Andy challenged me to write a poem using the sonic structure of Charles Wright’s “Clear Night” as a form. For some reason, I found myself writing about Marie Curie. When that poem was written, I thought about the women scientists I’d grown up learning about in high school biology: Rosalind Franklin, and the terribly unjust treatment she was given by Watson and Crick; Barbara McClintock, who always seemed like such a wise and lovely, but incredibly lonely, soul; Rachel Carson, whom so many people accused of being crazy at first. I thought that it might be interesting to try writing some poems about these and other women in science—women whom I’d grown up seeing as heroes and role models as my own interest in science had developed. So I did.

When I began my MFA program the following year, I brought a couple of the women scientist poems into my first semester workshop, and was very surprised when people said that they liked them. They encouraged me to write more. So I did. And the women scientist poems became a project. I researched more women scientists, experimented with ways to distinguish and differentiate their voices from one another on the page (some of my strategies included trying out different forms, borrowing language from their own writings, trying to shape the arc of the poem according to a particular force or principle that was important to their work, etc.). I even began writing about women who weren’t scientists themselves, but who, like me, has a close, loving relationship of some sort (as wife, daughter, sister, etc.) with a well-known scientist. I found that what drew me to these women was not just the force of their stories (the importance of their research, the misogyny they often they struggled against), but the way in which science became for them not just an intellectual passion, but a way of life. They were wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers; and their drive, the thing which they loved and lived and breathed (or which, in some cases, their loved ones lived and breathed)—was often inextricably inflected in these relationships.

Eventually, my handful of women scientist poems expanded into a whole sequence, and that sequence became first the core of my thesis, and later—in revised form—my chapbook.

3. What is the genre of the book?

Poetry, of course!

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t think my chap would lend itself to film very easily, unfortunately. It’s not narrative in nature; nor is it meant to be. (A filmmaker friend who’d asked to see my work a few years ago once gently confirmed this!) Nevertheless, because the book relies heavily on persona and other forms of dramatic monologue, it’s interesting to imagine it performed in another way, maybe as an audio piece. If I had to cast actors, though, I’ve heard that Renee Zellwegger’s film portrayal of Beatrix Potter was phenomenal, and I think it would be interesting to see Eve Curie as a sort of Anne Hathaway / Sutton Foster type figure. I must admit that I’m not too sure about any of the other figures in the chap.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Periodicity weaves together the voices of 15 different historical women whose lives and relationships were inextricably entwined in the world of science.

6. Who is publishing your book?

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taken on by Finishing Line, a small poetry press that’s local to the Lexington, KY area (where I moved in January to work at the University Press of Kentucky).

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is bit of a hard question to answer: I’m not sure that the manuscript (as a chapbook) ever had a complete first draft at any given time. But the poems in it have all been in process, at one stage or another, since my senior year of college (2008). Those first couple of woman scientist poems did not turn into a project until 2009. And that sub-project did not become a chapbook until 2011, when I decided that the focus of the full-length project needed to change, and that the women scientist poems probably deserved to be a separate manuscript of their own. (You can read more about my process in the last question of this interview, which the folks at The Collagist were kind enough to run earlier today, or hear about it in this radio interview I gave).

8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I can tell you what books I looked to for guidance and inspiration, or which drew my interest while writing: Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris, Jill McDonough’s Habeus Corpus, Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, M. Van Jordan’s Quantum Lyrics, and to some degree, Jeffrey Yang’s An Aquarium. I’m not sure I’d say that the result is comparable, though; I admire all of their work too much to consider mine anywhere near equivalent!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

[See question #2].

10. What else about your book/your writing might pique the reader’s interest?

Most of the poems in the book are persona poems. That is, I’m often writing from the perspectives of the women whose voices I’m exploring, in the first person.

I was also privileged to have had a talented artist friend, Killeen Hanson, design the cover of the chapbook. Killeen read through the manuscript and was inspired by the cyanotype prints that figure in the poems about Anna Atkins (a british botanist, who’s also thought to be the first woman photographer). Killeen went out and created her own cyanotypes of a variety of botanical forms; the final image that we chose for the cover features one of her prints of a lilac. I love the lush blues and ghostly whites of cyanotypes, and Anna Atkins’ poem was one of the most personally resonant for me to work on, so I feel very grateful indeed to be able to have Killeen’s gorgeous print for my cover.

* * *

I am not very good at memes, and I’m afraid that I did not plan far enough in advance to inform anybody that I was interested in tagging them. So instead of explicitly tagging anyone, I think I’ll just list five poets who blog and whose recent books and/or chaps I think you should check out (and if you’re one of those poets and you happen to stumble across this, feel free to pick up the meme thread yourself on your personal blog!)

Timothy Yu15 Chinese Silences

Rachelle Cruz, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Barbara Jane ReyesFor the City that Nearly Broke Me

Kristen EliasonYours,

Henry W. Leung, Paradise Hunger [n.b., Henry blogs at LR]


Moving, again.

This is a pretty good summary of my life right now:

My bedroom floor at the moment: a sea of boxes.

Incomplete compartmentalization. Mess. Trying to make sense of chaos.  Looking forward to the new, while trying to resign myself to the many loose ends that I’m leaving behind.

I really dislike moving.  Packing is one of my least favorite activities, and I must admit that after 6 years of splitting my time between multiple (very far-apart) geographical regions, I’m more than a little sick of pulling up stakes twice a year and hauling my stuff across the country.  Nevertheless, this is the stage of life I’m in: young, transient, not yet settled into a steady career.  Still growing, exploring.  Running headlong into new things—good and bad—and figuring out how the real world works.

Time to remind myself once again that—just as He’s always been—God is good, and He’s fully in control.

Gifted Mail

Look what arrived in the mail for me the other day (won as part of a giveaway on The Gifted Blog)!

Mail . . . for me! ❤

Even the envelope was beautifully done — delicate blue paper sewn up around the edges.  It was so pretty I was sorely tempted not to open it.  But of course, what was inside was just as adorable, so it was worth it in the end:

The reveal . . . a handmade, reusable gift pouch.

Practical, and pretty, too.  Thank you, Gifted Blog—your package was a bright spot in the midst of what has been a very difficult week.  And congratulations on your first successful year!

Jill Bliss:

California Poppies

Tae Won Yu:

Blue Rolliflex

* * *

I have been trying not to spend quite so much money on accumulating objects (other than on turning over my closet) recently.  Moving back to South Bend next month will be a bit of a wrench, in that I plan on not bringing back most of my books, and only one of my beloved little menagerie of stuffed animals.  I have no idea how long I’ll be living there (it’s possible it might just be a four-month stay), and so it doesn’t seem like a good idea to drag my entire library back and forth with me.  I’m trying my best to keep it simple: clothes, a few books (mostly poetry & teaching texts), a couple of strategically-chosen kitchen items, a few crafting supplies, blank mini notebooks to scribble in, and blank cards for correspondence.

I do look forward to the day when I won’t be moving around so frequently, and investing in decorating an apartment will be both more within my budget and more practical.  (At the very least, it would be wonderful to have my whole library in one location, instead of half at home / half away / and partly in storage boxes at that for lack of shelf space) For now, if perhaps I can convince myself to buy either one of these prints, it’ll go in my room at home (which I am trying to fix up anyway).  Even if not, I guess it’s good practice in the value of living simply.

Blue & Amber.

I’ve mostly been revising my syllabus recently, but I still have two things to show you today.

* * *

Handmade present:

Denim clutch (upcycled from the leg of an old pair of jeans I'd cut into shorts).

Details. Hand-stitched because I am horrible with a sewing machine.

Doubles as its own gift envelope!

* * *

And something edible:

Caramel Apple Galette

The recipe is sort of a mix of the pastry technique from Chez Pim’s rustic fruit tart, and the way my French (now former) roommate M does the filling for her delicious caramel apple tart. I used a thinly sliced pink lady apple and drizzled hot caramel sauce all over the top once the galette had finished baking.  The caramel doesn’t make it taste extremely caramel-y, but it adds moisture and shine and a nice note of flavor. M usually uses store-bought pastry, but I decided to make my own this time; it turned out pretty good — nice and flaky — and was easy enough to make that I was encouraged to try making my own crust again a few days later when I made quiche for a lunch date. I think I’ve finally begun to conquer my fear of ruining delicate pastry doughs!  Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the quiche (I used a variation of this recipe from Tartine Gourmande, with ham, spinach, scallions, and swiss cheese for filling instead of her kale, zucchini, & spices), or of the chocolate mousse I made (which was also inspired by M, though the recipe I found online was a little too rich; I’ll have to ask M for her recipe, which is much lighter).  Whatever was left over was consumed very quickly by my family in the ensuing 24 hours.  Which I’m not complaining about — it’s always a good sign when a new dish you’ve tried out disappears really fast!

Summer, so far.

New Books.

Can't wait to sew and cook my way through these.

* * *

New Recipes
(Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls recipe from Land O’Lakes)

Delish! (And I've finally conquered my fear of yeast doughs).

* * *

Cleaning out my childhood room.  Digging up old treasures.

Pretty Origami Papers.

Old toys, new life. (I loved that Happy Meal toy once - it's a mini-transformer!)

* * *

A couple of bento.
(I finally convinced my parents to let me pack meals for them. The pear-ginger muffin is from Nigella Express).

Dad's lunch, Mom's snack.

* * *

A new craft.
(From Megan Nicolay, via Threadbanger.  I’m SO sad that the hosts are all leaving that channel!)

Infinity t-shirt scarf (DIY'ed), vintage brooch (from my grandparents).

* * *

LOTS of syllabus prep for my new job this Fall
(teaching Freshman Comp at Notre Dame).

I didn't end up using most of these.

* * *

I’ve gone shopping a lot, too. Trying to update my wardrobe to be more teacher-appropriate. (My official hiring letter says that I’m an “Adjunct Assistant Professor” during the term of my appointment.  0.o  It’s just for the fall term, but the thought still kind of boggles my mind!)

Issue 1, and then the syllabus have taken up most of my time (and mental space) so far.  They’re done (finally!) but still, there’s SO much left to do (as always, the holiday seems way too short). I haven’t had much time for writing, hanging out with friends, re-learning to drive, or finishing the cleaning/repainting/redecorating of my room (it’s currently a complete disaster zone — not that it isn’t usually, but trust me, it’s much worse than usual at the moment).  Still, I’ve been so glad for the time to complete my own stuff (it’s the first summer I’ve had since junior high in which I haven’t had to report to some combination of work or class!).  I’ve been working my butt off morning to night, but the freedom to wake up at leisure, spend the whole day working on my projects, and take time off at a moment’s notice to fulfill family obligations or socialize without the constant fear of major ramifications is so precious. Who knows when I’ll have another summer like this?

Potato-Stamped Postcard Set (March 2010)

I’ve been busy.  The last few months have been a flurry of activity: first AWP and a million department events, then turning in my thesis, then finals, then graduation, then a nice long visit with D & friends (and another IV wedding!) in NorCal; then I moved back to the East Coast (I’m living with my parents for the summer) and promptly got sick and lay around flat on my back for four days, after which I then proceeded to spend a week living in a cave while I was working on putting up the first issue of Lantern Review.  In short: no time for personal blogging.

Case in point: Back in what must have been February, I committed to blog for Ada Lovelace Day (in March).  Unfortunately, (as you can see) I never got around to that.  I did write a poem about Ada Lovelace, though.  Does that count?

However (as the photo at the top of this post — which shows some potato stamped reply postcards I made to send with a fellowship app — indicates), I have still been crafting and baking and gift wrapping (bento, not so much), despite my silence here.  And since I took pictures of most of the mini projects I completed, anyway, I thought I would share them now.

Cookie Thank You Gift (March 2010)

Back in March, when I applied to the fellowship for which I sent the postcards I mentioned earlier, I baked up some of Katie Goodman’s White Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cookies to thank the professors who wrote letters of recommendation for me.  I colored the stars on the tags red to complement the cute polka-dotted ribbon I picked up in the dollar bin at Michael’s.  I didn’t get that fellowship in the end, but apparently the cookies went over quite well with their recipients.  So that, at least, was encouraging. 🙂

Refashioned Rosette Tee (March 2010)

The idea for this tee was inspired by Charissa’s beautiful Double Ruffle Gift Topper post over at The Gifted Blog.  I’d been seeing a lot of embellished tees in the stores for some time and had been thinking that I might be able to find some way to do it myself.  Charissa’s technique gave me both the idea and the impetus to actually attempt the project.  So I took an old, rather faded t-shirt, recut the neckline, chopped the sleeves to 3/4 length (which you can’t, unfortunately, see in this set of photos), and used the scraps to sew little rosettes in the yoke area.  I’ve worn this tee several times since, and I’m pleased to say that despite my initial worries, it turned out to stand up pretty well to machine washing (I usually turn it inside out and line dry it just to be safe, but I think it would still survive a trip through the dryer if one day I forgot to take it out before transferring the load).

Lime Cookie Gift (March 2010)

I baked a batch of Simply Recipes’ Chocolate Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Lime (although they weren’t exactly that, as I subbed chocolate chips for the cocoa nibs–I cook on a budget and your average Indiana supermarket does not carry such niceties) and sent them off with some candy and a card to D for our 5-year dating anniversary.  The tag on this box matched the card and the tag on the candy box.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I did the best job coordinating everything else in the suite of gifts, so I’m just showing you this one, which came out the best, in my opinion).

The end of March and all of April was incredibly nuts (seriously: I attended four conferences, D visited, and there seemed to be a department-sponsored panel or reading almost every free night that month), so not much crafting or baking (let alone sleeping or breathing) happened then.  But when graduation time rolled around, I found myself back in crafty mode once again, what with goodbye gifts and thank-you gifts.

Nest Necklace & Box (Late April 2010)

I created this bird’s nest necklace using this tutorial as a thank you and goodbye gift for my friend R.  She’s doing a publishing internship in the city this summer, so I modeled it after the ModCloth-ish kind of jewelry I used to see some of the Brooklynite types in my office wearing last summer. The chain is longish — around 18″ I think? — and the nest itself is about an inch and a half in diameter. I used my last two faux pearls (they are vintage, from my late paternal grandparents’ stock, and the finish is chipped, but I liked the feel of that in this necklace), and a filigree bead (also from my grandparents’ stock).  The box was created with thin white cardstock, using Patricia Zapata’s matchbox project (though I messed up the final set of instructions; hence the slightly wonky sides).  I cut the butterflies out of cardstock with an X-acto knife and used rolly tape (out of a dispenser-applicator that looks like one of those rolling tape white-out dispensers — I officially love that stuff now) to stick them onto the top.

Blue & Brown Gift (Late April 2010)

This is a more successful version of the same box as above.  This time, I used it to wrap a thank you gift for a professor.  This time I followed the instructions correctly (though I’ve discovered that you have to notch the long sides before folding them in at the end to get them to fit snugly with the added thickness of the cardboard on the short sides), and used a Triscuit box. I lined the inside bottom with the same blue cardstock I used for the sheath and cut the tag out of the Triscuit box, too.  The ribbon is also (sort of) recycled — originally the gift had been wrapped in another box, but that box got rather crushed in transit, so I just reused the old ribbon on the new box.

ED's Bracelet (May 2010)

Another handmade gift and its wrapping.  Stretchy green glass bracelet for a friend who loves the color (once again, all the beads except the white focal are vintage), and the wrapped version (makeshift mini-box from the leftover bits of the Triscuit box wrapped in cream tissue I’d recycled from another gift, twine, and a red heart cut out of scrap paper).

Wrapped Sweet Pea (May 2010)

This thank-you gift was one of the miniature versions of Kim Westad’s “Sweet Pea” pieces, which I packaged securely into a kraft box from Michaels, tied up with twine, and topped with a red-rimmed tag (the inside of the vessel is glazed in a deep terra-cotta red, so I tried to reflect earthy tones in the packaging) and a Martha-Stewart style tissue flower (made from the tissue that had wrapped a graduation gift I’d received, no less!).  I tucked the ceramist’s card in under the string so that the recipient would know where it came from.

M's Gift (May 2010)

My friend M loves a particular roll of striped wrapping paper that I have, and has borrowed it to wrap gifts before.  So I thought I’d use a square of it to decorate her gift.  The idea of using a graphic, sans-serif initial on the square was inspired by this post at Bugs and Fishes.  (Please excuse the weird stripey texture — that is a result of my taking this photo too close to my screen door, which gets good light in the morning).  As you can see, the box is another one of Patricia Zapata’s matchboxes.  I was a huge fan of them by that point (and still am!)  What’s inside, you ask? A pair of handmade earrings.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to snap a photo before I wrapped them.

Bananagrams Replacement Bag (May 2010)

This was part of D’s birthday present.  (I always try to give him one thing that’s store-bought, and a little something that’s handmade).  We both love to play the game Bananagrams together (partly, I’ll admit, because I am incompetent at most board games, but actually “get,” and get excited about, this one) — but unfortunately the cute banana-shaped case that holds the game broke recently, so D had been temporarily storing his Bananagrams tiles in his Scrabble tile bag.  Which, we both commented, was sort of a shame, because the banana-shaped bag is part of what makes Bananagrams Bananagrams.  Hence, I decided to surprise him with my version of a replacement for his birthday.  I am, admittedly, very much a beginner sewer.  And I don’t own a machine.  So a simple, rectangular drawstring was the most I could do (no banana shapes for me – figuring out how to line it was hard enough!)  To compensate for that, though, I added a little embroidered felt monogram in the shape of a banana, and used banana colors (white fabric, yellow ribbon).  I even wrapped the thing in white tissue and yellow ribbon (didn’t get a picture of that, though).  D liked the bag a lot, but the best payoff came the next day at his party when his brother and sister-in-law asked, “Where did you get a Banagrams bag that has a banana with your name on it?” To which D replied, “Take a guess: it’s hand-sewn and hand-embroidered,” and pointed at me.  🙂

J&J's Wedding Card (May 2010)

Okay, this is the last one, I promise (and then I really have to go to bed).  As usual, I couldn’t find a wedding card that wasn’t dripping with sappy sentiment in the store, so I made one.  the invitation was cream and light purple, so I decided to follow a similar theme.  The caption under the hugging pears says “To a perfect pair (pear?)”  Which is cheesy, I’ll admit, but — in my opinion — at least rather more cute than sappy (plus, I got to write the bride and groom a nice long personal note inside, which was nice).

And now — to bed.  But now you know, in part, what I’ve been up to since March.  Hopefully I’ll have more time to post this summer.