Sandra Marchetti’s poetry chapbook is soon to release, and ATW is proud to introduce her to you. In order to honor her creativity, her success, and her commitment to writing, ATW is shining the limelight on the Naperville, Illinois native, a writer who was recently named the regional winner of the Midwest Writing Center’s Annual Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. As the winner her first chapbook, The Canopy, drops next month.
Marchetti was also a finalist in the 2011 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize and Phoebe’s 2009 Greg Grummer Poetry Contest. Recently, she was published in Spurt Literary Journal‘s premier issue as a “Featured Artist,” and in Nolos and Phoebe. Still other poems are forthcoming in the River Oak Review, dirtcakes and The Ohio State University’s The Journal. Read some of her recently published work.
Here the poet discusses finding beta readers, submissions and rejection, chapbooks and marketing, and publicizing your work.
How many poems have you published?
It’s been a very fruitful year. I’ve published about 30 in the last few years, and maybe 35 in my career (since undergraduate times). This includes the chapbook poems. Five poems from the chapbook (and there are about 15 in there) have been previously published in magazines. Looking at these numbers (and it’s the first time I have) really puts things in perspective. There are a lot of poems out there occupying little corners of the world. It’s kind of encouraging.
How have you warded off the sinking feeling of rejection?
Even when I wasn’t having much success, I had to find strategies (as we all have) to keep sending out work. Actually, I had a great mentor as an undergraduate who saw some potential in me and taught me how send out work. Anna Leahy was very honest with me, and through working with her on a literary magazine we, the students, found out that it’s not so easy to get published. She had us send off to Rhino and the River Oak Review as undergrads. She told me to tell them that I was an undergraduate. Those local Chicago magazines gave me feedback and encouragement to keep going. Of course I wasn’t accepted, but that didn’t matter. The nice part is that relationships were established that way, and the River Oak Review is publishing a poem of mine in their winter issue this year.
These days I use rejections as a pruning and editing tool. I submit to mags I genuinely like. I submit a lot. I simultaneously submit. And, when something is rejected, I send out another submission right away. Then there is always another response to look forward to. If I get handwritten editorial comments back, I’m excited and frustrated. It was the best and worst day of my life when Missouri Review said, “Please do submit again!” However, it’s fuel to the fire—it makes me want it more. Ted Hughes said something in an interview with the Paris Review about how when poets get first books published, they think they will feel accomplished and relieved. He didn’t.
It’s all about the chase—that’s what makes me feel alive.
What are three tips you’d give to the eager poets reading this?
1.) Stay hungry. Stay curious. Read, write, revise, submit, and repeat. (And wash out all that shampoo.)
2.) Find one person to give you advice on your poems. Then find another. But don’t find too many. Ask those readers to tell you how/where the poem falters, not how to “fix” it. You’re the only one who knows how to do that.
3.) Malcolm Gladwell says in his most recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, “The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” Damn straight. If you’re surprised that your dreams are coming true, you haven’t worked hard enough for them. (Although, don’t run yourself into the ground—take a well-deserved break here or there.)
What do you think was the cinching factor in your securing your chapbook?
Well, the Midwest Writing Center really did a great thing this year by opening up their Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest to Regional and National selections. (Check out the guidelines for the 2012 contest here). Previously they published one chapbook a year through this contest. However, Monica Wendel won the national prize for her volume, Call it a Window, and I was able to win the new regional contest for my book, The Canopy. The regional contest was only open to residents of Illinois and Iowa. In fact, that was the only reason I submitted to the contest. I happened upon the contest guidelines at newpages.com (go there if you haven’t!) and I saw this prize. The entry fee was low, and I had enough polished poems to make a chapbook. The problem was that I didn’t have a chapbook manuscript (16-24 pages of poems) ready to go as a unit.
However, I took a quick Facebook poll of my friends, and asked if I should submit on a whim. They answered with a decided “Yes,” and I put together a manuscript that night. The next day I edited and shaped it, and sent it off. And I won. I take comfort in the fact that the poems are about the interior and exterior Midwestern landscape, and the poems were polished and ready to go, even if the manuscript as a whole was fresh.
How much of getting accepted is having the perfect cover letter vs. and having a chapbook to your name? What other ingredients make your acceptances look like cake?
I think the cover letter can help, but honestly, some places don’t even look at it. I’m an assistant editor at Fifth Wednesday Journal and we are committed to reading blindly. However, through SheWrites (a kickass community for women writers) and some friends in the biz, I have gotten to know emerging markets, such as dirtcakes, Poydras Review, CURA, and others. My advice is to ask around—friends, mentors, readers—for places where your work might fit. Also visit New Pages. Also visit Duotrope. If you know you like the aesthetics of The Ohio State University’s The Journal, or you’ve been published there, find out where contributors to that magazine have also been published.
Also, the cover letter advice that has helped me the most is this. Pick and choose, but there is some real wisdom there. I do address editors by name, mention pieces that I liked in their last issue, and try to keep it short. I do drop names. By the way, I don’t think the chapbook is helping too much with acceptances…yet.
What say did you have in procuring blurbs and marketing your chapbook?
Well, MWC Press has been awesome to work with. They are a local press out of the Quad Cities (Illinois and Iowa) and I live in Chicago, so we’ve been able to tag team quite a bit. They have sent out press releases to local papers, and have set up a couple of readings for me. They have even increased the run of the chapbook on the strength of pre-orders. They’ve made a delicious cover and bent to all of my proofreading whims. I am so grateful for all of the work Renée Busha, Susan Collins, and the contest judge, Erin M. Bertram have put into this project with me.
I am my own marketing and PR director, though. I’ve set up readings in Chicagoland at Barnes and Noble, a couple of writers’ festivals, my local library, and the universities I work for. I also asked a mentor to write a blurb for me. The contest judge, Erin M. Bertram wrote the other blurb on behest of MWC. I have blasted out pre-order and appearances info on Facebook. The PR thing has been sort of overwhelming at times, but I wouldn’t trade the chance I’ve had to market my own book. If I hadn’t hustled, made the calls, and done the legwork, I would not know what I do now about the book business. It has been great fun.
How has membership in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs helped shape your career? Does it appeal more to your academic side or your writing side?
AWP is a big geek-fest. I have presented papers and poetry at conferences before, but I haven’t ever participated in an AWP event. I kind of skulk in the shadows and try to hang out with the cool kids. This year I’ll be signing books (but probably not reading) at FWJ’s Illinois Poets Past and Present Event at the fancy-dancy Poetry Foundation building.
Even though I’ve never participated in a panel/reading at AWP, I have gleaned so much from the conferences. The book fair is the place to meet people you’ve only ever known online, find out about new journals, sample journals, and of course, get free books…. I think of AWP as more of a writer-centric event, rather than an academic conference. Not everyone there is an academic, and that’s actually really nice.
What’s next in your line of goals?
I would like to find a publisher for the full-length collection of poems I’ve been sending out, “Confluence.” I have been working on this book for about three years and have recently reshaped and revised it again. My goal is to send “Confluence” out again later this spring to five to ten contests.
Where can we buy your book?
The Canopy, along with Monica Wendel’s Call it a Window, is currently available for pre-order on Barnes and Noble’s website.
Canopy will also be available through the MWC Press Online Bookstore and on Amazon through the Midwest Writing Center storefront. I will sign copies of the book at AWP Chicago as well. I’ll be giving away free handcrafted bookmarks with each purchase at AWP. For a complete list of readings, local (Chicago) bookstores carrying The Canopy, and book signings, please visit sandrapoetry.net.
Your poem, “Places” presents great topography, not to mention a universal appeal to our human desire to ponder our cerebral landscape. The poem gives a sense that this wasn’t necessarily an encapsulation of a solitary moment but of a period in life. What roles do abstraction and experimentalism play in your work?
Thank you for that wonderful analysis of the poem, Nichole! Abstraction, grey areas, and negative capability play a huge role in my work. My fiancé, Scott, is so good at holding two (seemingly opposite) ideas in his head at once. He has pushed me to become a sharper critical thinker and I am grateful for that.
Lyric poetry is a messy place these days—I am big on employing language for its lush sounds and creating pictures that one might see “slant.” I’d like to think that the landscapes I create are “strange” even if they are real, concrete environments we move through each day. I want the poem to give you that feeling you get when you stand up too fast, or when you’ve just seen, as Annie Dillard would say, “the tree with the lights in it.” I want you to feel a bit of a rush of blood to the head, to the heart.
When did you have your first piece published and how much time do you have to write when you also teach?
I wrote a poem called, “My Period: Or the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Pie.” God, that’s embarrassing. I wrote it at Baker’s Square while eating a piece of raspberry pie. You can imagine the visceral images. It was published in a national undergraduate literary magazine, The North Central Review, which was produced by my college. Anyways, that set me off and running. Thanks also to Kevin Stein (Illinois Poet Laureate) who talked to me like I was a real poet (when I was 19 and dippy) and told me I could do this.
I actually have about five jobs right now. I teach at two universities, Elmhurst College and Aurora University, and tutor at Aurora as well. I am an assistant poetry editor at Fifth Wednesday Journal and I’m a writer. So, I have to carve out some time for this thing that my writing has become. I try to take one day a week to read and write, or revise and read, or submit. It helps to have a community (through Facebook and SheWrites) of other writers posting, gabbing about, and motivating each other to WORK.
It has still been hard, especially since I have finished my MFA and moved back to the area my family lives in. It’s great to be back home, but a huge distraction! Scott and I are also planning a wedding, and I’ve been on the hunt for a full-time teaching job. However, as a fiction writer friend of mine said, “If I have no voice, what do I have? I am not myself.” So I make the time.
Find Sandra on Facebook and keep up with her writing and publishing tales. Meanwhile check out what’s being said about her work.
“Sandra Marchetti’s The Canopy is a modern eclogue concerned with the juxtaposition of psychological space with the weather, and weathering, that accompanies the changing of the seasons, especially winter. Even amid the quiet strength of that season, she claims ‘This is why I go out, / I think; it is something to recover from.’ Via language that’s
simultaneously distilled and oh-so-lush, Marchetti gives us a world in which we might ‘rub our eyes until / we’ve made owls / of each other,’ a world where, inured to it—resolved—strength becomes ‘our object, // the thing we must / impress ourselves upon.’”
—Erin M. Bertram, Contest Judge
“Sandra Marchetti is an emerging poet to watch, a poet of patience and concentration who attends the natural world and the art we make of it. The Canopy is brimming with landscapes we inhabit for a meaningful moment before that glimpse and tickle of the surroundings necessarily change with the inevitable momentum of time. The poems here are deft, guided by the line, propelled by word choices. The Canopy remains surprising and satisfying from beginning to end.
“The Canopy temporarily shades the glare so that we can really see the world from our odd, human perch. And what do we see as we read this collection? We see poems ‘loose-written in the tallgrass’ that form ‘an arc that asks for colors.’ We see ‘studies / in ardent identity’ that form a peopled landscape. Sandra Marchetti’s collection is simultaneously lush and centered, indeed ‘like a marathon nightlight.’”
—Anna Leahy, author of The Constituents of Matter