for a book of poetry
So what the hell is Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea about?
You know, ‘What’s it about?’ is an unusual question in the poetry world when I think about it. It’s not generally asked. When plugging your new book to potential readers ‘it’s a collection of poetry’ is typically more than enough to put off the inquirer's curiosity in your writing. Cue the “I don’t know anything about poetry” response and glazed over deer in the headlights of Robert Frost’s speedster ripping down the highway in the dead of night with a giant spinning bladesaw reflecting the moon on the front... For those who like poetry (and there aren’t many who believe that they do), the sad triumph of form over content in the poetry world precludes the importance of it having to be (or even actually being) about something.
But the fact is that all collections are about something. Or at the very least, I claim Zeus to be about something. Why? Because I had to put it together. I had to have a reason for selecting, rejecting and aggregating the poems I picked from my treasure trove of gems, gold, fool’s gold, coal and acursed items. Zeus has a criteria, standards, a vision.
I articulate that vision fairly clearly (I hope!) in the short and entertaining (I hope!) intro to Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea, which you can read here (click ebook and read the 'Why Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea?' section). But before I get more into what Zeus is about I’d like to talk more about ‘aboutness.’
That collections of poetry, even random ones, are about something escaped even me until Zeus slapped me in the face with it. My first poetry book, Poetaster, pretty much falls into the random collection category. I was asked to submit something to Ekstasis and so I gathered all my poetry in a virtual pile and started picking out the stuff I liked best. It wasn’t until I started (struggling with) putting Zeus together that I realized Poetaster had a focus. It was an introduction: Hey poetry world – here’s me! It was about me and the best of the stuff I was writing about, thinking about and dealing with from the dawn of my first feeble attempts to Ekstasis asking me to submit. The collection is a bi-product of that era: forceful, sarcastic, bitter, ironic and optimistic. These poems about the death of my father, international travel, office jobs, the lameness of the literary scene portray an author who is alternatively confident, lost, self-assured, struggling and ready to tear the literary world a new one if only to get some fresh air into the joint!
Seriously, is this the part where you tell us what the hell Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea is about? Cause my time at the wash-o-mart is almost up and I gotta pick up my clothes.
So if Poetaster is about ‘me’ in the first era of my poetry writing, what is Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea about? Zeus is a radical departure from Poetaster. It is not about me, but about fiction - or rather poetry's take on story telling. I like to think of Zeus as a love letter from poetry to fiction. The poems in Zeus are complete stories in themselves (The City, or the Muscle), and sometimes they are snippets of stories from a greater, untold story - like peeking through a keyhole in a door: you get a salacious snippet of the action going on, but get to make up the rest for yourself (The Two Xs, Crash Landing). Others are individually sealed poems that, as they are read, build and build into a much larger and complete story (The Sultan Poems). Zeus is an ode to fiction, to narrative storytelling, but from the dreamlike mind of poetry.
The Making of Zeus (It sprung from my forehead!)
To be honest I had no idea what I was going to send to Athabasca Press when I was asked to submit. I thought it would be as easy as Poetaster – spend a few hours rummaging through my poems, put em into categories and ‘voila!’ But I didn’t just want to do more ‘random stuff from Leopold McGinnis’, and I wasn’t sure I had much left after Poetaster. I struggled for quite a while to find a thematic collection when I realized, like the nutty professor, that I had a number of poems that were not similar in theme but in format! Poetic experiments telling complete stories, or teasing us with pieces of them. I didn't have a lot of them, but as I started collecting, and expanding my definition of what counted as 'narrative' I found I had almost enough for a book! Thanks be to god! I fleshed that out with the Sultan Poems (which deserves a post on its own, growing like a cancer from 1 poem to 3, to 6, to 8, to 16 and, finally 19 to take up more than a third of the book!) and I had a unique and interesting collection that was definitely NOT Poetaster and definitely ABOUT something.
Of course, then I forgot to tell everyone about that part in my frenzy to get the world to pay attention. Hopefully this post makes amends!
Anyway, that’s the story, or at the least the story that Zeus is trying to tell, and overall I think poetry does an excellent job telling a story. I hope you’ll check it out.
Note: I hope to write more about the whole publishing process in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.