Pamela Johnson Parker on how she put the chapbook together

The chapbook just got a new blog-review from Emily May Anderson, a poet and MFA student at Penn State. We appreciate her thoughtfulness and attention, and are of course happy she liked it.

She did have a few critical words about Pamela’s decision to include the last two poems. Every reader responds to a book differently, of course, and we respect that. As it happens, though, Pamela recently went into some detail about the process of pulling the chapbook together in a comment on her blog. Her remarks should be of interest to anyone who’s read the book, let alone other poets planning chapbooks of their own. And she concludes by mentioning that she has a second chapbook coming out this year! Here’s the comment in full:

I wanted the poems to move from an awareness of lust/ache that is a presence to an awareness of loss/ache that is an absence. I wanted a poem that basically worked through one scene to set the stage for the book. I wanted a poem that distanced its subjects through captions and had several memory palaces to end the book. I also wanted to go from the sensibility of being young and unaware to being all too aware of what it meant to lose what’s beloved.

I laid out all the poems that comprise my full length manuscript and pulled out about 25. I scrambled them around until I ended up with 10, which seemed like a good number. I knew what I wanted, but not exactly how to line them up. (I didn’t have my guardian angel, MFA mentor, Brian Barker, to help. He was a great help to me in organizing the first book-length manuscript).

I wanted the poems to resonate but not be too matchy-matchy. I made a list of images—here’s flowers, here’s a pathway, here’s a garden, here’s a fish, here’s water—and then tried to make something organic out of these disparate pieces. I thought of it as planning a garden. The poem about last year’s journals, this year’s yard is pretty much a poetics statement for me.

I have a second chapbook coming out in 2010 where I tried something different. I tried to tease out a love story from a group of poems. I wrote poems specifically for this project. This is more a charm bracelet structure than the poems from A Walk Through the Memory Palace, which I think of as sort of a “gardening and pruning” approach.