In 2011, having just finished my MFA, I had, more or less, completed my first poetry manuscript, and felt ready to see it become a book. But, like a lot of young poets, I had no idea how to start knocking on the doors of publishers. Should I write all those checks for contests? Try open reading periods? Try to “make connections” with poetry editors, and convince them to read it? Early on in the process, a publishing-savy poet friend asked me, “You know about Keith Montesano’s first book blog, right?” I did not, but I soon became a regular reader.
For me, Keith’s First Book Interview blog–which features emerging poets describing their first poetry collections, and how they succeeded in getting them published–gave me my first blueprint for sending out a manuscript, and as well as a sense of the publishing landscape for new poets. After my book, Chord Box, was published by the University of Arkansas Press, Keith was good enough to interview me for the blog. I also got the chance to ask Keith some questions about the blog, as well as his own poetry and experiences in publishing.
Keith Montesano is the author of the poetry collections Ghost Lights (Dream Horse Press, 2010), and Scoring the Silent Film (Dream Horse Press, 2013). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Third Coast, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. He recently earned his PhD in English and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in New York with his wife. Find more at http://www.keithmontesano.com. (If you want to be interviewed for his First Book blog, find him on Facebook, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
ELR: Tell me what inspired you to to start the First Book Interviews blog. In what ways is it similar or different from what Kate Greenstreet began?
KM: It’s pretty simple, really. I had been a long-time reader of Kate’s blog, and when she decided to stop doing the interviews, I asked if I could take over her project from another site. I did, however, want to make sure her name and the original site address were on mine also. So many of her archived interviews, even five to seven years later for some at this point, are still extremely relevant, entertaining, and informative, even as the landscape of contests and presses continues to change and evolve.
ELR: How has the blog changed over time?
KM: I’ve wanted to mess with the design, since it could certainly look a lot better, but Blogger can kind of be a pain sometimes. It seems like so many people have switched over to WordPress or Tumblr from their older blogs, but I don’t want to risk losing all of the interviews if I make some kind of mistake.
So to answer your question directly: not much has changed. I would mainly say that young poets who used to read Kate’s interviews now have books out, so I’m subsequently interviewing them. The poetic circle of interviewing life, I guess.
ELR: What role do you think or hope your blog has played in the lives of emerging and established poets?
KM: It’s rare when I interview someone who doesn’t mention either reading my interviews or Kate’s previously, so it always makes me happy to know there are at least some readers out there. That’s why I do it. The experiences, number of years it takes, involvement from the press: everything can be so different from poet to poet that I hope it’s at least something poets can use as some semblance of a resource, in whatever way they choose.
ELR: What have you learned about writing and publishing poetry since you started the blog? Have the interviews made you rethink anything about poetry writing or publishing?
KM: The biggest thing is probably the contest versus the open reading period debate, or, at the very least, conversation. I think that’s an important question to ask for many reasons, and it’s always great to see what answers I get.
Like I said, I think even though it’s hard to publish a book, presses keep emerging, and it’s a testament to the blood, sweat and tears of editors who do whatever they can to make sure work they believe in emerges beyond the .doc file manuscript. You really see this at a place like the AWP book fair, where every year more and more presses pop up.
ELR: You’ve got two poetry collections, both published by Dream Horse Press. What advice do you have for emerging poets about writing and publishing?
KM: Obviously, writing’s the most important thing, and that’s something that young poets especially need to hear. That and development. Practice at the craft. I’m not saying this in any MFA-related forum, mind you, but if the pen’s not to the paper or the fingers aren’t on the keys, publishing can’t happen in the first place.
As a disclaimer, I don’t know how true this is, but there’s a story of Louise Glück—and probably others, though her’s is the one etched in my mind—where once she started to make a name for herself, she apparently got a hold of all the journals she could find housing poems she had published when she was young so no one could read them. I think that every throwaway, B-side, or bad poem that’s published gets you directly to those good ones in their necessarily circuitous way, so my advice would be: don’t be so hard on yourself as the years go by.
ELR: What kind of writing are you working on now?
KM: Right now I’m heavily into the galley editing stages of my second book, which hopefully should be out by the end of 2013.
I’m also—it seems like I’ve been saying this for years, but that’s how the world of publishing works—putting what I hope are the finishing touches on my third manuscript. I recently gave it the best overhaul it’s had in years. It’s been a finalist or semi-finalist nearly twenty times so far in contests and open reading periods, but it just can’t make it to the end. I’m hoping this overhaul is what it needs.
And then who knows? Hopefully a fourth book is kicking around somewhere. The ideas are there. I just need to get back to sitting down and writing and then let the poems start talking to each other.
ELR: How can people get in touch with you if they or someone they know are interested in being interviewed?
KM: I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and people can also email me at kwmontesano at gmail dot com.
Small Presses. Bigger presses. All that’s fine. But no vanity presses or self-published books, please.
If I’m able to get a review copy of the book, I’ll do an interview with you. To me, that’s a pretty good trade. It’s tough to get reviews and interviews. I know that from experience now, so anything I can do to help writers, and their books, gain a little exposure is something I’ll always take some time for.
If you’re not familiar with Keith’s blog, it’s a great place to learn more about poetry publishing, as well as hear about great first books.