Conversation: Autumn Plans, Book Launches, and Following the Moon

Molly: I think September is one of my absolute most favorite months. I’ve been a longtime formal student–I’ve gotten an MFA and an M.Ed and stretched out my undergraduate for as long as my parent would tolerate–so September is this month of absolute possibility. Now I’ve left the halls of adjuncting at universities, hopping about with the income, to become a Montessori elementary teacher (which comes with its own schooling–this summer was nine weeks of pure grit and adrenaline, and I have two more summers to go!), and I love how poetry is fitting into my daily life in a whole new way. One of my colleagues in the training program requested I put together a story (this is how we present “lessons” in Montessori–through presentations and stories, rather than lectures and the like) on the history of oral storytelling and poetry, and I loved learning more and more about the convergences between the two.

One of the biggest bits of news coming out of the Minnesota poetry scene as of recent is that of Donte Collins winning the Academy of American Poets’ Most Promising Young Poet Award. He’s only twenty and attends Augsburg and his poem is not only hugely poignant in the realm of current events, but it’s also so well crafted, I got goosebumps listening to him read it on MPR. I was actually on the way to a poetry reading I gave, one in this small farmhouse just outside of the Twin Cities, and we found out that he’s giving a reading there next month, so if you’re nearby, head over and listen to some amazing Minnesota luminaries, including Collins, Rachel Moritz, and Carolyn Holbrook.

Randon: I love September! The heat of summer — at least in the Mid Atlantic — is tired now, and I’m always invigorated by the cooler temperatures of autumn.

Virginia Woolf once wrote a letter to her sister Vanessa Bell reminiscing about what she called “autumn plans” —

I always think of those curious long autumn walks with which we ended a summer holiday, talking of what we were going to do—‘autumn plans’ we called them. They always had reference to painting and writing and how to arrange social life and domestic life better… They were always connected with autumn, leaves falling, the country getting pale and wintry, our minds excited at the prospect of lights and streets and a new season of activity beginning—October the dawn of the year.

I wrote a piece about autumn plans for Lit Hub that includes some books to read that might inspire you to make your own autumn plans. This autumn one of the ways I’m thinking about writing — and arranging domestic life better — is by reading Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack and Honey, which a poet friend turned me onto. I’m only about five pages in and taking my time — so much to absorb! What are you (all) reading this September?

M: I just finished manuscript notes for Tinderbox Editions’ first collection of essays, a debut by Kevin O’Rourke, a poet and writer living in Seattle. It’s incredible, and I love every opportunity I have to read and re-read the books that we put out. The most recent book I read and swooned over was Diane Seuss’s Four-Legged Girl. I have a feeling it’s one of those books that you can read and re-read again and again and get something new from it each time.

Jenn: September here means the New Mexico State Fair, where we just took the kids yesterday. The days are still warm here under the high desert sun, but the evenings are cool–and within less than a month, the frost will come. Next month will be the Balloon Fiesta, so the hot air balloons are going up all over the city, in preparation. Most mornings, we wake up to colorful balloons, bright fire, and the loud sound of the burners blowing overhead in our neighborhoods, following like the moon on the way to school. It’s not called The Land of Enchantment for nothing.

I’ve been reading every spare minute for our Tinderbox Contest–and what gorgeous poems they’ve been! I can’t wait to send the twelve finalists on to Eduardo C Corral. So exciting!

And though I’m not teaching any poetry classes at the community college or university where I adjunct this semester, I’m bringing poems into my composition classes every chance I can–and the students are loving them. The other day we analyzed Ross Gay’s “Spoon” (which always reduces me to weeping) and Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.” One non-English major student asked, “Hey Ms. G, where do you find all these cool poems?” Joy of joys.

(Oh, and I also absolutely adored Four-Legged Girl–I have it on my nightstand and re-read it often).

M: It took me so long to finally pick it up–I was saving it for when I could focus on it without two small children buzzing about! The next book I have for that special quiet time reading is our very own Jenn Givhan’s debut collection, Landscape With Headless Mama. It’s truly no secret that I’ve poet-crushed on Jenn for years, so when she joined our team, well, swoon, of course, and I’ve heard nothing but beautiful things about it: congratulations, Jenn. What a thrill you must be feeling! I understand you’re starting a poetry tour, yes?

J: Thank you, Molly! It’s surreal and wonderful for the book finally to be in the world. My heart is full. And yes, I’ll be in Missouri September 23rd for a Pleiades reading, and then several venues in Albuquerque and Santa Fe throughout the month of October. Check out my reading schedule here. I’ve bought pretty new dresses for the occasion–and I’m thrilled to be launching my debut book. Dream come true.

M: Well, I hope we can get you out to the Twin Cities area at some point! November 1st is Tinderbox Editions’ big celebratory event at the Loft Literary Center, and I’m thrilled that it’s all coming together. It’s a big autumn for Tinderboxers all around! And I, too, cannot wait to see what Eduardo Corral thinks of these semi-finalists. It’s been no easy decision from our own conversations and contemplations. Thanks to all who have sent in: keep sending. We will always be hungry for more.

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her collection Be with Me Always is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in March 2019 and her lyric essay chapbook Devotional was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. Other work has appeared in the Modern Love column of The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and elsewhere. She is currently the founding editor of After the Art and you can read more at
Molly Sutton Kiefer is one of the editors for Tinderbox Poetry Journal and she's also the publisher of the sister-press Tinderbox Editions. She is the author of the full-length lyric essay Nestuary (Ricochet Editions 2014) as well as three poetry chapbooks, including Thimbleweed, which will come out in 2016 from dancing girl press. You can find out more about her at
Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 Pen Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, as well as a 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award finalist and a 2012 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Prize finalist for her poetry collection Red Sun Mother. She was also an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist for her poetry collection Karaoke Night at the Asylum. She is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over fifty journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, cream city review and The Los Angeles Review. She teaches composition at Western New Mexico University.