Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Interview with Martha Ronk

LH: How did you get interested in writing?
MR: I read a great deal as a child, taking books from the public library to read in stacks through the hot Ohio summers. I liked creating sentences and diagramming sentences and rearranging sentences and analyzing literature and studying Latin. I wrote a dissertation on Milton for my PhD and have taught Shakespeare at Occidental College for many years; teaching literature has made me awed by writing.

LH: What was your first success?
MR: My first book, “Desire in LA,” was selected at random for a contest sponsored by the University of Georgia, published 1991. A recent success: I had work chosen for a Norton Anthology, “American Hybrid.”

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
MR: I like conceiving of an entire project in which the poems are all related to one another by theme, approach, style, or form. At the moment I am working on “Transfer of Qualities” (quotation from Henry James) in which people and objects transfer qualities with one another—the manuscript is made up of prose poems, short essays, and short “fiction” pieces. In an earlier book, “Why/Why Not” (Univ. of CA Press), I had Hamlet and the phrase “to be or not to be” in mind for each of the sections. In fiction, I like obsessive narrators.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
MR: Poets mostly don’t have agents. My work has been published by means of literary contests offered by University Presses or by request from a publisher. If I try for another work of fiction, I would ask all the fiction writers I know for advice; my own fiction, “Glass Grapes and other stories” was published by a small press, BOA Editions, because one of the editors had published one of the stories in his anthology.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
MR: For publishing poems in literary journals, it is most important to know the journal and the editorial approach so that the work you send is fitting and appropriate. Most journals have instructions on how many poems to submit and when. I also think that it is important for all authors to attend conferences, to read at bookstores (and other venues), to attend readings. For poets, the major meeting is the Associated Writing Programs meeting in spring every year. I have had the opportunity to be an editor for Littoral Books, a small press here in LA, but we published 10 books of poems, and for several literary magazines; I learned a great deal working with other writers.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.
MR: I would start earlier. It also helps to begin with a community formed in graduate school, in one’s city, in publishing ventures with others, in other projects. Writers help support one another and since there is little financial support, this aesthetic support is crucial. I also wish I had tried fiction earlier; it was writing my fictional memoir, “Displeasures of the Table,” that got me to thinking that I might try fiction. For me fiction offers more opportunities for the comic.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?
MR: Writing is the most interesting and exhausting thing I do. And every time I read a great piece, a poem (C.D. Wright, for example) or a novel (I just finished “The Book Shop” by Penelope Fitzgerald with ironic, wry sentences) I am eager to write more, to find yet another juxtaposition of words. Each one offers something of a solution to the mystery of how it is done.

I have chosen photographs for the covers of my books; I have written a number of poems about photographs and I love black and white photographs and decided early to use photographs on the covers (although I didn’t have a choice for my last, “Vertigo” from Coffee House Press). My website is through Occidental College, English and Literary Studies Department at
http://departments.oxy.edu/ecls/07%20webpage/ronk/. LH note: Martha Ronk's most recent poetry book, Vertigo, is a National Poetry Series winner, selected by CD Wright.


S Kay Murphy said...

"Teaching literature has made me awed by writing."

I just want to say Amen to that. The collective work of brilliant writers, even if one only studies British and American work, certainly inspires awe. And I believe these are wise words, in that they contain the reminder for those of us who write to read, read, read--not to be intimidated or discouraged by the masters, but to fill our brains with the magical stardust of words on a page.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martha,
I really love the part where you said each thing you write is something of a solution...I feel that in the similar emotions I get from writing and doing molecular biology experiments! Laura