First Books: A Conversation with Mark Leidner

Mark Leidner, along with a number of other THERMOS contributors, recently published his first book of poetry, Beauty Was the Case They Gave Me, with Factory Hollow Press. He was the first poet in THERMOS’s first issue, so we were happy to catch up with him for the conversation below.

TH: How did the center or heart of Beauty Was the Case change as you revised the manuscript?

I tweeted a lot while revising. The character limit and attention span of twitter edged me toward image and aphorism, away from monologue and narrative. Emotionally, the center is still unstable. Whatever personal joy or crisis I’m obsessed with, it see it everywhere in the book.

TH: How do you see your work in what’s happening now in poetry? Are there other first books out there that you feel like yours is friends with?

ML: Chelsey Minnis’ ZirconiaJoseph Massey’s Areas of Fog, and Dorothea Lasky’s Awe were all formative first books for me. I don’t know that my own book is friends with them though…

It’s hard to tell if any book is part of what’s happening “now” or not. In the subjective timeline of my own development, the above three books feel old.

I try to think of literary time as nonlinear. Everything and nothing is happening now, just like all time. As a mental experiment, I tried to treat Beauty like it was my last book instead of my first while I was writing it.

TH: What poems or lines from Beauty feel the most like what you’d like to do next? Why?

ML: “Blackouts,” which began in emulation of Minnis’ Poemland, is a long poem composed in a flow of one-liners. Maybe this is a tenuous connection (the poem isn’t very funny), but I love stand-up comedy and dream of someday performing it, so that poem feels similar in terms of grammatical timing.

There are also 2 long narratives, “Story” and “Memoirs of a Secret Agent,” which began as parodies of noir and action movies. If I ever write an actual thriller that sells for thousands of dollars, in these poems the seed of that dream will be visible.

TH: Counter: What poems or lines from your book feel the “youngest” to you, like they most show your development (though you remain fond of them)? Why? How?

At various times in my head, every poem in the book has pendulum’d  between amazing and terrible, mature and infantile, visionary! and hopelessly glib. In a way, the whole book feels young. Even my favorite pieces in it—I can’t imagine writing anything like them again. They feel like lost parts of me. The voice of someone mad with youth. When I let them go, I grew up a lot.

TH: If your book hadn’t been published by Factory Hollow, what would you have done? Revised the manuscript? Sent it out doggedly in that exact same form? Published it yourself?

When I wasn’t confident in my work, I tried to win contests. I thought if famous strangers judged my poetry to be the best out of an anonymous pile, that would prove its worth. But after losing so many contests, and feeling disappointed by the boring books that beat mine, I gained confidence in my poetry and lost it in the surrounding industry.

The best day happened when I felt confident enough to show my book to those outside the contest game. Through twitter & other online booty-slappin’ I got to know a slew of publishers. If Factory Hollow had not been around, I would’ve asked someone else.

I don’t think another publisher, however, would’ve been as familiar with and attuned to the spirit of my work. After my first conversation with Factory Hollow I had an epiphany that went something like, “Wow… why would you ever want to publish with anyone else?” Which led to a period of pure bliss as I worked with the editor and designer. I never had to compromise a single line, comma, poem, or design consideration. This is lucky and rare, I imagine.

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