“The Next Big Thing” asks writers to self-interview about their books with 7-8 designated questions, post somewhere in the blog-o-sphere and then “tag” (5) writers for the next week to do the same. Debra Bruce was tagged by Andrea Witzke-Slot.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book didn’t come from a single idea but rather from my old habit of writing poems, getting some of them published in journals, and then collecting them into a manuscript when I had enough that seemed to cluster together in some way. Maybe the guiding “idea” for this book is simply that of survival, which emerged out of several experiences I had during the years I was writing it—cancer, divorce, and a few other of life's ordinary shocks. At the same time, I was continuing my play with musical forms—rhyme, meter, fixed forms like sonnets and villanelles—and trying to figure out how to keep these forms nimble in an increasingly oblique, edgy, and “skittery” (to borrow Tony Hoagland’s term) poetics of the 21st century. I was reading poets who do this well, like Kay Ryan, as well as younger poets like Dora Malech and Sidney Wade.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m going to swing my butt around this question and say that if my poems were to be presented in a staged reading, I might want some of the parts to be read by the young actress who played “Ugly Betty” (with her glasses and braces); older female voices could be read by unknown actresses with Plain Jane looks, and I’d need a hefty and formidable man to do Henry VIII, who would sit in silence while two of his wives told how they feared for their lives because they couldn’t please him.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A condensed version of what’s on my book cover says it well: Whether meditating on cancer survival or satirizing a divorce support group, these poems are musical and sensual.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About 15 years! I write very slowly and revise as I go, especially if I’m working in a form. You can’t just let a sonnet “pour out,” and if you’re halfway through a villanelle and one of the refrain lines isn’t working, you have to pull the whole thing apart, stitch by stitch, and reassemble. Like most writers, as I've grown older I’ve become more self-critical, more humble, more aware of how seldom anyone writes a really important poem, something worth waiting for. The pressure to produce and the rush to publication distract us from the work itself, which is so fulfilling when we can slow down and nurture ourselves by reading our contemporaries as well as poets of the past, by letting the world of a single poem absorb us.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Reading poetry always inspires me, whether it’s some of the contemporary poets I mentioned above or Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, or a Shakespeare sonnet. I get ideas from observing people, especially in difficult or awkward settings, for example, when someone has just received bad news and people say all the wrong things in their efforts to offer comfort. Sometimes I’m moved by something I read or hear in the news. While I was doing lots of reading about Tudor and Elizabethan royalty, Henry’s wives sprang to life, and I had to write about them. And in “real life,” I was compelled to write about a hate crime that was committed in my neighborhood by a white supremacist.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The experiences I write about are common ones, and even people who aren’t regular poetry readers can take pleasure when a poem articulates something they’ve felt. My poems are serious but sometimes humorous too, even on a subject like cancer survival. I don’t know if my glass is half-empty or half-full, but the water is sloshing around or maybe a speck fell in and I’m trying to get it out with the tip of a spoon.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Survivors' Picnic was published by Word Press of Word Tech Editions in Cincinnati, Ohio. The editor of the press is Kevin Waltzer.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are: