Joseph O. Legaspi, author of Imago (CavanKerry Press)
Residence: New York City
Graduate degree: MA from New York University
Job: Cofounder and programs director of Kundiman
Influences: Truman Capote, Pablo Neruda, Sharon Olds
Time spent writing the book: Seven years
Time spent finding a publisher: Five years
Why CavanKerry? "Its mission strongly appealed to me. Furthermore, I was tired—and broke—from entering contests, so I decided to pursue the 'open reading' route, and I struck gold. With CavanKerry I had input in every aspect of the process, from cover art to the last comma. Imago is truly my book!"
Sample: "As soon as we became men / my brother and I wore skirts."
Blurbs: Marilyn Chin, Philip Levine, Patrick Rosal: "Poems forged from a devotion and keenness about the sometimes violent transformations from boyhood to manhood."
What's next: "I'm painstakingly writing poems—it's all I can ask of myself—and hoping that the poems will culminate in a manuscript."
Tips: "Concentrate on the poems; enjoy writing. Carry Mary Oliver's 'Wild Geese' with you, or have the poem in constant loop in your consciousness: 'You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.'"
Éireann Lorsung, author of Music for Landing Planes By (Milkweed Editions)
Residence: Nottingham, England
Graduate degree: MFA from the University of Minnesota
Job: "I make clothes for women and girls."
Influences: Anne Carson, Mary Oliver, Susan Stewart
Time spent writing the book: Eighteen months
Time spent finding a publisher: "I wasn't planning on trying to publish it. My thesis advisor, Bill Reichard, knew Milkweed was going to be looking for manuscripts, and he submitted it for me."
Why Milkweed? "They are local and a good press."
Sample: "Why don't you print the sky / at eight thirty? I saw your studio: it was filled / with things I didn't put there."
Blurbs: Nick Flynn, Leslie Adrienne Miller: "A young woman's love song to the planet."
What's next: "A second book of poems."
Tips: "I feel like I'm not in a place to give advice—I was just very lucky—but part of my luck was being able to surround myself with some really talented peers to emulate and be challenged by and receive criticism from. And part of it was having learned to be seeing the world all the time, without stopping. So I suppose that would be my advice: Have good readers, read good work, and see all the time."
Chris Martin, author of American Music (Copper Canyon Press), winner of the Hayden Carruth Award
Graduate degree: MA from New York University
Influences: Ted Berrigan, Bill Callahan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Time spent writing the book: "About six months, then a couple years of sporadic rewrites."
Number of contests entered: "Tons, but the Hayden Carruth Award was the first I submitted to with American Music."
Why the Hayden Carruth Award? "As far as I could tell, there were two or three contests you had to submit to, if only to propitiate the gods of blind chance. This was one of them."
Sample: "I leave home to imbibe / The dislocations of astonishment, to lose / My way and find another, tricking // The moments into line"
Blurbs: Elaine Equi, Jacket, C. D. Wright: "It's a world, bearing a fluent range of thought, feeling, language."
What's next: "A second book of poetry, centering on the concept of disequilibrium and consisting of three thirty- to forty-page poems, each exploring a different idea of the body and movement."
Tips: "Shoot high, but also foster an affinity for some smaller presses like Futurepoem or Edge or Ugly Duckling, each of which would be equally prestigious."
Dawn Lundy Martin, author of A Gathering of Matter/ A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize
Graduate degree: MA from San Francisco State University
Influences: Duriel E. Harris and Ronaldo V. Wilson of the Black Took Collective and Erica Hunt
Time spent writing the book: Five years
Number of contests entered: "Seven or so."
Why the Cave Canem Poetry Prize? "First, because the publishers that make Cave Canem prizewinning work produce really beautiful books. Second, I entered because Carl Phillips was the judge."
Sample: "When the wax dries,
finally, alongside the grass, / what rises when the dead are buried?"
Blurbs: Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nathaniel Mackey: "A long song of bodily bereavement—staccato, bracket studded, gruff, brusque."
What's next: "I'm completing a book of prose poetry that evolved from a draft of a novel I wrote last year."
Tip: "Try collaboration. Writing can be hermetic sometimes, but one of the most exciting parts of writing poetry is when I do it with groups of people whose work I admire and whose opinions I trust."
Elizabeth Reddin, author of The Hot Garment of Love Is Insecure (Ugly Duckling Presse)
Graduate degree: None
Influences: Filip Marinovich, Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh, Laurie Weeks
Time spent writing the book: Six years
Time spent finding a publisher: "I didn't look for a publisher because Ugly Duckling Presse asked me to make the book when I was ready, so I put it together knowing it was for them."
Why Ugly Duckling? "I've known those guys for a long time; we're friends. I knew it would feel right to do it with them."
Sample: "I don't know how people in charge keep their faces forward, or the ones with guns in their hands, how they keep them up. They must never get a long enough break to think...or even get to dream. / What kinds of dreams are their sons as soldiers having. "
What's next: "The story from the end of this book goes on; I would like to make the next book of it, to carry on from there."
Tips: "It's good to see the past on paper, bound with a frontispiece and a last page, so you can start again. Plus, what better than a private surprise to give away?"
Steve Willard, author of Harm (University of California Press)
Residence: San Diego
Graduate degrees: MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, MA from Stony Brook University; pursuing PhD in music composition at the University of California, San Diego
Influences: Paul Célan, Rainer Maria Rilke
Time spent writing the book: "It's hard to tell, since for some of the subgenres within the book, I'd been rehearsing analogous feelings and ways of signifying for quite some time. But I don't think I started to write well in most of my current modes much before I was thirty, and my way of editing poems has changed quite a bit since then."
Time spent finding a publisher: "I'd sent other versions of it out for several years, but they weren't as cool."
Why the University of California Press? "They chose me, but it's a buyer's market."
Sample: "don't abandon / what you cannot feel—wait for it to assume your personality."
Blurbs: Laura Mullen, Cole Swensen: "This is language at the speed of light."
What's next: "I'm always writing something. I've been noodling around with song forms a little more actively."
Tips: "don't abandon / what you cannot feel—wait for it to assume your personality."