The Next Big Thing

What is the title of your book?

The Telling

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Telling centers around the life-long secret of a woman who believed that as a child fleeing repression, she accidently killed her mother.

What genre does the book fall under?

Poetry, it's a book-length poem.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the book?

Once I began writing, it went rather quickly. The manipulation and ordering of the poems and the repetition and unfolding of images was very absorbing. I was exposed to the secret twenty years before I began to think about it as a book of poems. The first (title) poem was a free-standing poem, then I realized it needed to be a book. The poems are situated both in the kitchen when she told me this story and in the forest immediately after her mother died.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In 1980, when I was nearly thirty, my grandmother spontaneously told me this about herself, in one sentence, as we were eating blueberry muffins. She wouldn't talk about it any further. I was the only person alive who knew, and possibly the only person she had ever told. I grew up in a culture that forbade asking people about their pasts.

I sat with that information for a very long time before I considered it in terms of the guilt and memory that this woman, whom I loved, had been living with for eight decades.

What else do you want to tell us about the writing of this book?

Three themes arise frequently in my work: "pauses," the randomness of survival, and secrecy. They were strong motivations for writing Seeing Annie Sullivan. The Telling continues those investigations.

The single reference point, the only fact in this story, is my memory of her one-sentence disclosure of her memory. I turn that scrap of information over and over, scratching at it, not knowing its original texture or mass. We tell our histories in varying ways at varying times for various reasons to ourselves and to others.

As I wrote the book, exploring guilt, secrecy, shame, exile, and loneliness, it was clear that I was not imagining the event she described, but was imagining her memory of the event. The poems are by necessity an incomplete arrangement of puzzle pieces.

Who published The Telling?

Červená Barva is the publisher. Gloria Mindock truly honors writers with her enthusiasm and support.

Lee Sharkey tagged me for this interview. Her most recent book, Calendars of Fire, is magnificent. "Lee Sharkey writes an exemplary poetry of conscience that exposes and refutes that 'the warden is also the historian.'"—Fady Joudah

I am tagging Kathleen Aguero, whose marvelous, intoxicating new book of poems is called After That. And I am tagging Ellen Steinbaum for her new book, Brightness Falls, filled with tender and beautiful poems.