Hey my name is Lily Staples and I’ll be steering this conversation today with Allie Gove and Kaleb Cook. Just a quick and easy chat on being a writer and trying to get pieces of yours published … and all that jazz.
This is not your common interview with an “up-and-coming” writer because we’ve all read those before. To myself and a few of my writerly friends, we consider those up-an-coming writers as having already “made it.” They are the one’s who presses and journals seek to have in their issues because their names are out there enough to ensure copies sold. But what about the aspiring writers, the ones who are currently really in the thick of it? I wanted to write and conduct and interview* that I really haven’t read before. With so many shows and interviews and everything else being stripped and cut down for the sake of content, I wanted to have a real close knit chat with two aspiring writers who are getting published currently and eager to let their works be read.
Join us here at Demitasse as Allie, Kaleb, and I talk about influences, the “processes” all writers have, and what qualifies as literary success.
LS: Do you two want to introduce yourselves and maybe say where you’re going to school or what job you have or what book you read last – just anything?
Who you would take out to dinner if you could take Anyone out?
AG: Okay my name is Allie Gove and I go to Sac State. The last book I read was Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa (aside from assigned reading). I would take probably someone like Carolyn Forche out to dinner because I loved her first book and I was very influenced by it.
KC: Hello, my name is Kaleb, and I’m currently attending Sacramento State University as an English major, annnnnnd the last book I read was “The Sun Also Rises” for a lit. class, and I would probably take Yusef Komunyakaa to dinner, honestly, or Ben Gibbard.
LS: What do you tend to write about most?
AG: I write about a variety of things because I never set out to write about “something”. I usually just get a phrase or a line in my head that’s interesting to me and I kind of just work off that phrase. Most of what I write is kind of impressionistic/heavy images and I actually struggle a lot with having poems that seem to be about nothing. But they sound somewhat interesting in terms of diction. Lately though, I’ve been trying for to write some confessional things but it doesn’t always work.
KC: I write a lot about memory, and anxiety, and what it’s like to be a person. I guess a lot of my work attempts to work through who I am, where I come from, and why I’m even here, but it’s never that existential. I like to work through characters to figure things out, and to really explore dark territory in a way that I don’t usually get to read in other works, not that what I’m doing is anything special, and it’s okay if it isn’t, but I write to figure things out and to try and make something new with old parts and blueprints. It’s sort of a tough question to answer. Trying to be a person is generally what I write about
LS: Allie, your pieces always reminded me of the pieces of art by Rothko. Very impressionistic and not set out to be obviously plot heavy.When you sit down and look at a Rothko piece, most of the time it having something like 3-4 colors or less, you become
so entranced in it without ever realizing it. It brings subjects up in your mind, memories, thoughts, all things that you never thought connected but suddenly while entranced they do. That’s how I always felt with your pieces. I would sit there and be eager to reread them.
And Kaleb, your work was and still is inspirational. I remember there being this piece about a car crash on a bridge that then turned into a pile up under the bridge and it was so morbid and macabre and at the same time it has this softness about it. Your stream of consciousness along with your metaphors was an odd combination that worked so well.
LS: Do you have anyone (personal or professional) that influences you to write?
AG: Of course early influences would like Sharon Olds and Carolyn Forche, then lately I really like Yusef Komunyakaa,
James Tate (surrealism!) and also Charles Simic. Personally, Kaleb legitimately inspires me and his writing is so different than mine that it really pushes me. And whenever I ask his opinion he never just says “yep cool” or something, he always has something constructive to say to make the poem better.
KC: The whole “going to school and studying creative writing” thing is completely backwards and counter-intuitive as it is. These teachers want us to work without all of the things they give us that actually, literally enable us to produce work, and don’t even teach us how to do it, because you can’t teach someone how to sit down and write. They come into it on their own, or they do not do it, but to say there is one way to do it, and to live this lifestyle based around writing every day is completely untrue and damaging to people like us who want to make a career out of this. It’s like trying to make it in a band. Writing music is the easy part. It’s all of the contractual stuff that gets in the way, the agents, publishers, editors, all of that just to make a dime off of your poem.
KC: But to answer the question at hand, I mean, you and Allie were and continue to be huge influences on my work. Ryan and Karl [former poetry and fiction teachers] as well. I mean, seriously, where would I be right now were it not for them? I guess some of my influences would need to include
Sharon Olds, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Rita Dove, Saeed Jones, Mary Oliver, the list could go on and on, and I feel sad that I can’t think of any lesser known poets off the top of my head, but those give a pretty good idea, I hope. I gravitate far more toward women writers than male writers. There’s a funny trend in the classroom setting where men think that their intellect is in an arms race with their poetry, and you see it more often than not in well-known writers. I relate more to women, generally, at least in how they write and what they actually say.
LS: What are some traps that you think aspiring writers fall into?
AG: I think a lot of writers haven’t read enough (myself included) and that’s a huge trap to fall into because you start thinking you’ve kind of “learned enough” at some point. With new writers it’s obvious because they’ll write, for example, a story that reads like some YA dystopian novel. And you take a wild guess that they’ve read Hunger Games and stuff like that and not much else. They fall into obvious patterns and tropes, cliches abound. In poetry, the cliches come on very strong because for some reason people think all poetry is about something crazy or deep – like poets only write about breakups or near death experiences. It’s one thing to have/hear about an actual event like that and use some experience to draw from and write about, but lots of new writers think they must write about things like that. Or they think they have to rhyme or use end stop lines.
KC: I think a trap that many writers fall into, myself included, is trying to too hard to be like a writer you admire, or trying too hard to emulate poetry that in your limited scope you believe to be the best poetry. When I first started writing, T.S. Eliot was huge for me, and all of my stuff seemed bent on chasing him down and trying to follow his every footstep without any knowledge as to the context, or the movement, or the era he was writing in. I think writers really fall prey to academic ideas enforced by teachers or professors who think they know everything and try to model student after themselves. Also, pretentiousness is pretty big, especially among male writers in school, or so it seems anyway. I’ve yet to be in a classroom with “that one guy” who just goes out of his way to hear himself talk and feign intelligence because he thinks he’s got it all figured out.
AG: With more experienced writers it’s less obvious but I think what is common for them is to fall into a set diction/vocab pattern where they’ll write many different things that all sound the same or at least similar. I think when that starts to happen it’s definitely time to find a poet you’ve never heard of and read some new and fresh things
KC: I guess another trap that writers fall into is not so much a trap as just a lapse in exploration, but in writing about abstract things like love or loss or anything in between, we forget to make it concrete, or feel new to a reader, or themselves. They have it in their head that “this is what poetry has been, is, and will always be” and nothing else can change their mind.
AG: Yeah that ^^^ is very well said.
LS: When did you first think about publishing a piece of yours? What was it?
KC: It was in my second semester of writing classes at Grossmont that I saw a huge shift in my writing style, and I was more comfortable with the idea of trying to get my work out there than before. It reminds me of sending a demo out. I always relate writing back to music, or music to writing, because they relate so well for me, so I figured I was good enough to try and get my work out there, at least in some small way. Allie was a huge motivator in this, as she is practically the submission guru!
AG: The first thing I thought about publishing was in my very first creative writing class because my teacher was super into us being in the student journal there. I almost don’t count that though because it was open to a very small group of people only at our college. What I consider to be my first published poem is called “Between Felton & 33rd” in the Fact City Review. She [Sydney – a former poetry teacher] suggested a specific press to send it to because she thought they would like that specific poem. And they did!
LS: What kind of research do you do before submitting a piece. Has it tended to work?
AG: I look at the kind of work that they’ve recently published and see if anything of mine might work. Sometimes I legit just google “poetry presses online” and go to page like 26 to find some random press that’s less popular just being honest. But wherever I end up, I read their About and Submit pages, look for any things that they are looking for specifically and then I see what of mine can match up. Also, Ryan always suggested to look in bios of writers you like to see where they’ve been published and I’ve done that occasionally as well. For the most part, it works because of course they’ve published my stuff. I think it’s not stooping to try and find a less popular press because you have a high chance of getting published there. The really popular presses almost always say they want “emerging” or “unpublished” writers but then don’t take any new writers. A way to check for this is to look at bios of current writers published there. If you can’t find a bio that doesn’t mention four chapbooks and several awards or something, then probably they are really looking to publish writers who have previous success in order to boost the prestige of their magazine.
KC: Mhmm, amen. I’ve found that writers on tumblr provide a lot of really cool resources and presses to submit to, and seeing where they submit their work is usually extremely helpful. Also, looking at the list of publications in a poetry book from a writer you love is informative, and truly humbling. Talking to your teachers about submitting can also prove beneficial, because they actually do it, even if it’s not a lot. I try and see if a press can really use my work, so I go to their website and read the work they have accepted, and look closely at submission guidelines, just their aesthetics, mostly. I sometimes look at who is on staff what them and what their credentials are, because it can give you an idea of who your reader will be when they look at your submission.
KC: I learned everything I know from Allie, clearly.
LS: What does literary success look like to you? Both in your own life and others
KC: Ultimately, I just want to help people, and put work out there that I wish I could have read when I was hurting. If any amount of success can bring poetry or novels or short stories or nonfiction to any kind of audience and make them feel, help them understand something that they struggle with, or just entertain them in any way, then that is my idea of literary success. Of course it’s insane to think about being anthologized or having your work studied at some point, those things come up when you’re going to school studying famous writers and you yourself want to be a successful writer one day, but I just want to reach someone. I just want to help.
AG: Probably on a basic level, it’s just writing something that makes me reconsider what I thought I knew. Like, writing something about and then finally understanding your subject matter better through it. For example, I wrote a poem about my dad last year and after writing it I felt like I knew him or our relationship better. Or maybe I just found a mood or a way of using words to articulate it. That’s success to me in that it pushes me as a person. And also something that I can just sit back and look at and feel like, “wow this is a new level of my writing” or just feeling proud of something. And being a community of writers. To most people, it just looks like getting published. Which is cool for me too but I try to make that secondary so as not to let my ego go
LS: For all the readers out there, Allie and Kaleb and I had a tradition of going to MXN (a taco shop) after our Wednesday night fiction class, or Lestat’s after any other writing class and this is what we did. We shot the shit along with really talking about our futures as writers.
LS: So, Allie and Kaleb, thank you so much for doing this weird but fun interview with me. It brought me back and I can’t wait for the day that we take over the positions of our previous Grossmont teachers we owe so much to (*cue evil laughter). Maybe next time you’re in town we can get some rolled tacos and open up our writer’s round table up to those who want to join!
KC: This was fun. I’m sorry I don’t have any hip final words, but I always appreciate the chance to talk about writing among friends. Thanks, Lily!
Thank you for joining us for this interview here at Demitasse. We’d really love to know your thoughts on it (your fav lines, the best talking points – anything). What direction would you like to see the interviews go or even who you’d like to see interviewed? We really aspire to work with our readers and get feedback, because in the end were nothing without y’all.
*due to word limit, this interview was cut down. To read it in whole, click here.
Allie Gove and Kaleb Cook’s links to their works will soon be up. Come back soon to take a deeper look into their recently published work!