We’re honored to have had the chance to explore with Alex Lemon the journey of his new book, Another Last Day (Milkweed Editions, March 2019). He’s invited us in to see the gritty aspects of publication: the passions and the doubts, the rejections and the (eventual) acceptance. Learn more about Another Last Day here.
What were the most joyful moments of Another Last Day‘s journey to publication?
Alex Lemon: Another Last Day was a very different kind of book (it’s a book length poem), but the deep pleasures I found in its journey to publication were similar to what I’ve felt when my other books worked their way into the world. My top 3 most joyful moments—1: Opening the box that Milkweed Editions sent to me with copies of the finished book staring up at me, and then holding that first copy in my hands, 2: Somehow finding a sense of closure when writing Another Last Day—that never-finished finish that somehow feels good—or kind-of-ok-goodness—which for this collection was the closing months of years and years of revision, when I finally felt the final movement in the book (the last few pieces) were honed delicate and sharp; 3: Receiving the email from Mary Austin Speaker, the designer at Milkweed Editions (also an amazing poet), with mock ups of potential covers for the book. Mary’s design work is stellar, and it’s always a pure kind of happiness to see her work—but there’s also something moving about seeing how others, especially a mind/artist/writer you admire envisions your work. Seeing cover options also calms me, in a way—it says to me that the book is almost done coming into being, that it’s actually happening. It’s an excited sense of relief instead of the excited anxiety that the rest of the journey is thick with.
What were the toughest moments you faced while getting the collection to the world and what have you taken away from them?
This is my fifth book of poems, and I’m sorry to say, it has not gotten any easier. But the challenges have changed. I think with my first book the biggest anxieties were rooted in revision—in not knowing what was what, being unsure in what I was doing. Those anxieties are still here, but they are dampened now, less poignant but because my life is full with loves and commitments—my beautiful family, my beautiful students, etc.—it feels like there’s never enough time. I started what would become Another Last Day in 2006, and I still feel like I could work at it.
An author never really works alone—without whose support would Another Last Day not have made it across the finish line?
I’m indebted to SO many people for the many ways they’ve helped me complete this book. On a personal level, I owe a tremendous amount to my partner, who has forever supported me in my writing life—odd hours, letting me stare out into space or randomly speak gibberish (she is also a tremendous reader of my work), my two children who fill my world with love and light and have the uncanny ability to pull me up from the wreckage of my sadnesses, and also my closest poetry friends, even though I didn’t show this book to anyone until it was done. On a more practical level, the folks at Milkweed Editions were amazing. The poet Chris Martin helped with edits and suggestions—his eye is diamond sharp and his heart his huge and I owe so much to him (and will forever feel guilty for forgetting to acknowledge him in the finished book). Joey McGarvey, who has been my editor at Milkweed for a while now, who is brilliant and always makes my work better. She sent a number of proofs—back and forth—and worked with me on edits, too. Abby Travis. Yanna Demkiewicz, everyone at Milkweed, especially Daniel Slager the Publisher & CEO who has long been a tremendous supporter of my work. But I was also supported financially: I received a NEA Fellowship and other grants, and also received intuitional support from TCU (where I teach), where I’ve received a number of internal grants that have supported my work as a writer.
What did you learn about writing over the journey of this book?
How beautiful the tenacious work of writing can be. I really love this new book—it’s jagged delicacy—and how very different it is from my previous work.
What was the favorite piece of media or art you consumed while writing these poems?
Oh, this is hard. I read/watch/listened to so much over the last decade. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Richard Scarry books—and thinking about the possibilities of the instable body in an overly-alive world, of motion and vibrancy and the moments of stillness and quietude within them. I’ve also watched a lot of cartoons with my kids.
What’s your one sentence piece of advice for poets currently putting a collection together?
Don’t let the fuckers get you down. Or if you don’t want to walk around saying that mantra out loud to yourself, maybe, Do work.