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“The Next Big Thing” Interview

Thank you to the wonderful poet Daniel Bosch for tagging me for “The Next Big Thing” interview series! You can read his self-interview here. For “The Next Big Thing,” each participating poet or fiction writer engages the same set of questions pertaining to a recently published book, a soon-to-be-published book, or a book-in-progress. Here are my responses regarding the development of my debut poetry collection.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Tea In Eden.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Rather than taking shape from the formulation of a single idea, the book has developed from my process of writing individual poems on a range of subjects. Eventually, I sensed that the pieces had started to cohere into a manuscript. They felt connected not because I had consciously crafted them to contain shared properties, but because they had taken root from the same set of passions and obsessions.

To highlight one of the interests that have guided the manuscript’s evolution, I’d point to a quote by Robert Penn Warren: “Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.” As someone who shares this belief that historical sense and poetic sense complement each other, I’m fascinated by the fact that both historians and poets must reconcile two paradoxical identities when they put pen to paper: myth-maker and truth-teller. In my work, I often strive to engage the complex interaction between myth and truth in human life. I’m particularly drawn toward exploring the intersection between the personal and the historical, probing the way that we tell ourselves stories both as individuals and as a society in order to make sense of reality.

3. What genre does your book fall under?


4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since many of my poems contain both real people and fictional characters from contemporary American culture, some of them can play themselves; for example, Paris Hilton, George Bush, Rambo, Donald Trump, Brad Pitt, Little Orphan Annie, and the Vegas performers Siegfried and Roy.

Various people from history also make appearances in my poems, including Madame Tussaud (of wax museum fame), Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Parker, Peter Abelard, Alexandre Dumas, and Catherine O’Leary. For these folks, I’m tempted to do one of the following:

– Cast Eddie Murphy to play all of them in a virtuosic shape-shifting performance similar to his barbershop tour de force in “Coming to America”

– Cast a bunch of emerging poets to play the parts so that they’ll earn enough money to buy a copy of Tea In Eden when it comes out

As far as picking someone to play the “I” in my poems, I would have to go with casting myself (take that, Roland Barthes!). Any and all romantic interests in the poems would be played, of course, by Jean Dujardin.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I can’t resist cheating on this question, pretending that a genie has just popped out of a bottle telling me that I have three chances to offer a synopsis of my manuscript. Here goes:

1. First, an obedient answer, in which I formulate a one-sentence synopsis to the best of my ability…

Tea In Eden is a collection of poems that explore the push-and-pull between binaries of human experience – freedom and limitation, myth and truth, longing and fulfillment, to name a few – while striving to connect readers with language’s potential as a form of enchantment beyond full analysis.

2. Second, a slightly less obedient answer, in which I excerpt a quote from a previous interview…

During my interview for the “Words With Writers” series, I made a statement that provides a fairly accurate one-sentence synopsis of what I’m trying to achieve with Tea In Eden. Here goes:

“I hope to reconnect readers with the primal ear-delight of their early years, bringing them back to their first pleasure in hearing nursery rhymes, lullabies, commercial jingles, and playground songs, while also feeding their grown-up appetites for intellectual depth, sonic complexity, and emotional resonance.”

3. Third, a downright rule-breaking answer, in which I defy not only the one-sentence rule but the authorship rule as well…

During my recent appearance as the Sunday Poet on Gwarlingo, editor Michelle Aldredge offered a sense (if not a synopsis) of what a reader can expect to encounter in Tea In Eden:

“Although she is a poet and not a fiction writer, she shares Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner’s Southern-gothic flair for unsettling (sometimes comic) domestic scenes. The Brontë sisters, Isak Dinesen’s tales, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” also spring to mind, for in Doyle’s modern-day rhymes, there are most certainly goblins lurking in the forest and madwomen hiding in the attic.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither one. The publication process is different for a poetry book than it is for a fictional work. I’m planning to send the manuscript to first-book contests, which is the typical publication route for a debut poet, and I’ll be pursuing other possibilities as well. While the contest path can offer a lot of benefits to a young writer, I think there’s also something to be said for finding opportunities (rare as they might be) to submit your manuscript directly to poetry publishers with whom you can build a relationship that extends beyond the first book.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve been working on the manuscript for the past four years and I’m continuing to develop it.

8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There are many people who have acted as impetuses for the poems in my manuscript, including family, friends, teachers, and literary mentors, not to mention countless writers whose work I’ve loved for years. But if I had to illuminate one element of my life that probably most directly led me down the path to composing the poems in Tea In Eden, I’d highlight my early experiences with poetry. A significant piece of my identity as a writer remains rooted in my childhood and adolescent encounters with poems that engage rhyme and meter. I felt transfixed by the relationship between sound and memorability in such poetry. It seemed to me that the poems possessed an incantatory pull that made the words embed themselves in my mind.

Later, as my reading broadened to include poets with a wide range of styles, so too did my breadth of aesthetic influences, values, and ambitions. I am just as compelled to read and compose free verse as I am to work with the traditional formal tools of English-language poetry. But I will forever feel called to strive toward echoing, multiplying, and magnifying the voices that initially hooked my ear and heart. The way that a couple might revisit the place where they fell in love, I am driven by a desire to recreate for myself and others the kind of pure addictive pleasure that an unguarded reader experiences when discovering a poem like Poe’s “Annabelle Lee,” MacNeice’s “Bagpipe Music,” or Kipling’s “Mandalay.” It would be impossible to talk about what inspired my manuscript without pointing to these early experiences with language as a major galvanizing force.

9. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Some more words about the manuscript:

My goal is for people reading Tea In Eden to experience gravitas, darkness, and complexity, punctuated with the release that comes from occasions of wit and play. It is important to me that no single topic, stylistic approach, or tone should dominate the collection. I am interested in the way that a distinctive voice can manifest itself between the lines of a poet’s work rather than primarily through overt similarities in the subject or style of his or her individual poems.

Maybe a good way to try to pique readers’ interest in the manuscript is to link to some poems from the collection:


FOR THE NEXT ROUND, I have tagged a talented roster of poets. You can click on their names (as the links become available) to read their interviews: Chloe Honum, Abrianna Jette, David McLoghlin, and Ani Gjika.