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.

Molly Sutton Kiefer is the founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and she continues to stay connected to the journal by initiating an interview series with authors whose books have recently come out. Molly runs the sister-press Tinderbox Editions, which is a nonprofit press in southeastern Minnesota. Her book Nestuary is a full-length lyric essay explore themes of (in)fertility, the body as medical object, and pregnancy. She has three poetry chapbooks, most recently Thimbleweed, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Collagist, and Fiddlehead Review, among others. She lives in Minnesota with her family, where she teaches Montessori elementary school.
Jenn Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa's Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, forthcoming 2019). Her two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, are forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at jennifergivhan.com as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan.
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 www.randonbillingsnoble.com.