Issue #191 — July 23, 2013
Five Burning Questions for Emerging Writers: Ish Klein
Ish Klein is the author of two poetry collections, Moving Day (Canarium Books, 2011) and Union! (Canarium Books, 2009), and a collection of short films, Success Window (Poor Claudia, 2011).
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: Tell us about the process of getting your first two poetry collections, Union! and Moving Day, out in the world. Did you enter contests? Open reading periods? What transpired between sending the manuscripts out initially and their acceptance at Canarium Books?
Ish Klein: I’ve wanted to get published in book form since before having logic, let’s just say. For better or worse, at that time I sent work out—“shooting for the stars” meaning the most massive readership. In this way I did not get published. I was kind of blinded by ambition; and also I was not writing very good stuff. It was ‘pretty’ and informed primarily by what I’d read rather than my own exact circumstances.
I had The Poet’s Market book since high school even though just opening it would give me a headache. Periodically, I’d send my manuscript to one or another place and be rejected. While this was happening I was traveling and experiencing relationships and working wherever I could.
In 1995 I entered the MFA program at the University of Iowa writer’s workshop. There we had a worksheet system. Each class had their work photocopied and available to everyone in the workshop. I think this is a great idea especially if it’s on 100% recycled paper. It meant that you didn’t have to be in someone’s workshop to know their work. The poet Nick Twemlow and I shared a year at Iowa (96-97). He said he liked my work. He would be one of the editors of The Canary journal and solicited me for material (2007 or so) to which I responded. Later, Josh Edwards was living in Philadelphia (he was another editor of The Canary) and we met at a reading. He told me that they were thinking of publishing books and that there were no promises but I should show them a manuscript. I did; they read it and voted yes, and that is how the book got accepted.
The most important thing for me to learn is go with the people who like my work rather than with people who I think I want to be validated by. I had to develop confidence to be open to people like myself who are building from the ground up.
S: What was your experience with the editing of your manuscripts after their acceptance? Did you have an opportunity to make revisions, either at your own suggestion or at the suggestion of your editor? How involved were you in the design aspects of the books’ production (cover image, interior design, and so on)?
IK: We had a back and forth about poem order and I came up with the four groups which were to be the four elements but became transformed to: ocean, desert, hard earth and the air lift. Looking over the poems so intently made me aware of sloppiness on my part, which I had to fix.
There is also the fact that I change poems at the time of reading them (performance) so they are never really nailed down. This is because, every time I read it I have to make it true and, naturally, circumstances change. This may not be the case with every poem but certainly at least four are moving.
The proofreading process has taught me to figure out my punctuation system. As for design, I knew I wanted a butterfly on the cover of the book. The idea of a united psyche appeals to me and I think the butterfly wing shows really well the fragments contained in the whole. Lyn painted the butterfly and Josh suggested the photo for Moving Day, which I love. (His father van took the photo.)
S: Did you publish a number of poems in literary journals or other periodicals before the publication of the finished books? Did this seem like a necessary part of the process for these projects?
IK: Yes; from 1995 to 2007 I was published in Explosive Magazine, Gare du Nord, Spork, The Hat, Bridge Magazine, X-Connect, and The Canary to name the ones I remember. Thinking about it now, I do think it is necessary to meet other poets and writers and publishers. Contributing to or creating journals is one way to become involved with our writing community.
S: In what ways have you been involved in the publicity and promotion of your books? In what ways has Canarium handled their marketing?
IK: I’ve toured twice in support of my books. I love to read, but I can’t always afford travel costs these days. When the only thing in my life was writing and reading I could afford to be single focused. Now thank God I’m part of more.
My impression is that Canarium maintains the website and that Josh is very active online and with networking. My impression is, outside of the group tour, it is up to the individual authors to get reading gigs.
S: What surprised you about the process of having your first book, Union!, published? Is there anything you wish you’d known beforehand about putting a first book out into the world and/or publishing with a small press?
IK: I was surprised by how much the attention rattled me. Weird feelings sometimes come up. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for dealing with my own brain. I’ve heard people talk about adolescent self-consciousness and now I think I know what they mean having finally experienced it.
I’ve also learned that people involved with small presses are passionate and it’s good to be connected to people who care about something. I’m glad I found this out for myself rather than if someone told me so because then I’d always wonder if I meant what I felt or if I was just believing what I heard.
S: Bonus number six—You’re also a filmmaker, and you have a collection of shorts,Success Window, out through the small press Poor Claudia. I imagine that the path for releasing film work into the world is often quite different from that of publishing creative writing (I’m thinking of festivals, production companies, etc.). In this case, however, your film collection landed with an independent book publisher with multi-media interests. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with releasing your shorts, and publishing with Poor Claudia?
IK: I met Drew and Marshall of Poor Claudia when we were touring in Oregon. Josh connected us; a fact for which I am grateful. I mailed the mini dvds of the shorts to Drew and Marshall and they made these beautifully packaged disks. The cover art work in particular, I love. I hope it was a good experience for them for me it was the easiest thing in the world; because I’d already made the videos.
The backstory: I decided to make movies in 1999 living in Arizona. My friend’s friend (Kevin Phillips) was making these movies of simulated male pornography which he thought would be his ticket to the big time. He recommended the book, Feature Film Making At Used Car Prices. I had to save up and buy a computer and then a camera and I had to find people to work with all of which took time. My first movie was a feature called, The People Concerned. It’s a political comedy. The sound quality is generally poor.
Anyway, I switched to short films some times using puppets that I made. I worked often with my friends Scott Johnston, Kevin Pfluger and David Commander. Much of the time I was an actor in their movies. My own movies are different; I take pride in making the scripts exactly accurate to how my animals talk.
I’ve had work at the Philadelphia ICA, the Philadelphia Film Festival, I’ve aired work on WYBE (Philadelphia public tv) and participated in outdoor screenings and house party screenings. I stayed in an underground bunker in Aarau Switzerland in support of my movie: Ida Craddock: Adult Fairy Story (there’s nudity in it so it’s not online.) The first big festival I was accepted into was the Stuttgart Filmwinter in Germany in 2006. My movie was The Mentalist Mental Cabinet of Vengeance. David was the lead, Scott Johnston did the scenic design and I wrote, directed it and I was the greyhound. That first year we had to pay plane fare and for the hostel but, there were group meals and drink tickets (lookout!). I’ve had films in that festival twice since and returned once.
I’ve never made any money from these things. I used to think that other people did make money doing this sort of thing but 99 times out of a hundred the person is working somewhere else. That is my next thing: having my own business voicing animals, or animated beings because that is what is exciting to me right now: voicing life.
Ish Klein is the author of the poetry books Moving Day and Union! published by Canarium Press as well as various plays.
A compilation of her recent videos, entitled Success Window, has been released by Poor Claudia of Portland, Oregon. As filmmaker, she was the recipient of a 2005 NEA Digital Filmmaker Residency, and her work has screened at festivals and museums around the world. See some videos here.
She lives in Amherst with her husband the writer Greg Purcell. They produce the poetry podcast called Noslander.