Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! –Rusty Morrison
Rusty Morrison: The poetry editors here at Omnidawn (myself included) are the blind readers who screen for our poetry contests, and then send our selected manuscripts to the judge. We were delighted that A Timeshare was the manuscript selected by Timothy Donnelly for our First/Second Book Contest. The manuscript demonstrated fluency in current conventions of craft, yet showed, too, an infectious freshness, an alertness, a willingness to break through what is normative in poetry culture, which is one of the qualities that most excite when reading first and second books. But rarely do we find that freshness to be so fully integrated in a manuscript. Can you discuss your relationship to craft: have you been writing poems like those in A Timeshare for some time? Where did the book begin?
Margaret Ross: The poems were written between 2009 and 2014 but the way they’re written started with a feeling I first got in 1996 from a movie called Powers of Ten. The opening shot is two actors by a lake and the camera zooms out by a power of ten every ten seconds. A meter, ten meters, a hundred, etc., the ground becomes the planet, the solar system, galaxy, until the screen’s at the scale of the observable universe. Then it zooms in and moves by a power of negative ten into one actor’s hand, recognizable tissue down to quarks in an atom’s proton. The whole thing takes less than ten minutes. I was ten and watching, I felt something like what Bishop describes in the waiting room, realizing for the first time “how ‘unlikely’” it is to be simultaneously floating and stuck, that every second of life is as vertiginous as it is claustrophobic. Of course it’s something you keep realizing as your relationship to space keeps changing. Not only outer but inner space too, and places, rooms, durations. The movie moved along a vertical axis but the way it construed a person as participant in multiple scales is as true along the horizontal, the temporal. This shifting sense of what scale you’re living at—you’re deep inside yourself one moment, then close to somebody else, then to multiple others, to a memory, a history, an object, objects, an economy, a different person, a system, a power structure, an environment. And the question of what feels proportionate—emotionally, ethically, actually—gets constantly recalibrated.