FIRST-BOOK INTERVIEW WITH MARC RAHE
Marc Rahe received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his poems have appeared in Gutcult, la fovea, Notnostrums, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sixth Finch, and other literary journals. Marc lives in Iowa City and works for a human services agency. His first collection of poems, The Smaller Half, was published by Rescue+Press in 2010.
First Book: The Smaller Half
Author: Marc Rahe
Publisher: Rescue Press
Tell us about the title, The Smaller Half. Where did it come, what does it mean to you, or how did you decide on it?
MR: The title is from a line in the poem “Outstretched” in the collection. The phrase is one I’d been thinking about because I’d been taking a medication which came in pills which I would have to split. Of course, I could never get them to split evenly, so I’d end up with one ‘half’ smaller than the other. I liked the idea of two halves and thinking about what makes one thing equal to its counterpart.
As a title, I hoped it was perhaps intriguing enough to capture a potential reader’s attention and imagination.
The title also, I think, is a bit of an introduction to my voice in these poems. All things being equal, I tend to prefer the small and quiet over the large and loud. I think that is echoed in many of the poems in the collection.
How would you describe The Smaller Half in a few sentences to someone who doesn’t regularly read poetry?
MR: Somewhere between Sean Connery in The Name of the Rose and Bill Murray in Meatballs. It’s sort of like hoping you’ll do okay despite yourself. Or the relief of getting yourself home and getting your key – slowly, eventually – into the lock, drunk. Only with line breaks.
Can you give us a rough idea of how long it took you to write all the poems in the book?
MR: Most of the poems were written during and after grad school, between 2003 and 2010, though a few were written in the early 90’s. So, most of my adult life.
How/when did you come to the realization that your manuscript was finished and ready to be sent out?
MR: The manuscript was originally my MFA thesis, and I felt it was basically finished and ready when I finally had about 50 poems I thought were ‘good enough’ to send out. My instructors were quite insightful and generous in helping me arrange the poems in my thesis.
What was the process like trying to get it published? How long were you shopping the book before R+P picked it up?
MR: I sent it out for about 5 years. I sent to pretty much every contest I could. At times I thought of the process as sending away for rejection letters. I’d change the Table of Contents around, put in new work. It was hard for me, while receiving rejections, to not feel like there was something ‘wrong’ with my manuscript. So I’d tinker and send out and watch the mailbox.
Also, some rejections were more encouraging than others. A hand-written note meant a lot. And my manuscript was sometimes a finalist or a semi-finalist in the contests.
What was the submission process like for individual poems from the book? Are there certain places you had poems published that you felt generated momentum for getting the book out?
MR: For years, I sent poems all over the place. One would be taken by a magazine, then years later a couple more would be taken by another. It’s a pretty discouraging activity, trying to share one’s poems. I found it comforting to think that, at least, one stranger was taking the time to look them over before rejecting them.
I don’t know if publishing individual poems generates momentum for getting a book published. I do believe enduring frequent rejection can harden one’s resolve to persevere, and it’s pretty rare to have success without a lot of failure first. Getting poems published is also encouraging, of course.
Tell us about finding out that Rescue + Press was going to publish your book. What was running through your mind?
MR: Danny Khalastchi and Caryl Pagel had said several times, during various nights of drinking over the years, that they would love to see my manuscript published.
Early in 2010 they asked me to lunch and told me they were starting Rescue+Press. I got excited about their press as they told me their vision for what kinds of things they wanted to publish. Then, they told me they wanted their first publication to be a collection of my poems. I went from being excited to thrilled.
Initially, we talked about a chapbook. Later they proposed publishing my book, and I became even more thrilled.
It was a great experience. This was the ‘first book’ for both Rescue + Press and me, an experiment we did together. It was exciting and fun; I couldn’t be happier with the result.
What was it like working with Rescue + Press after they accepted the manuscript? What kinds of things needed to happen on your end from acceptance to print?
MR: Caryl and Danny were wonderful. They are both attentive, thoughtful readers. They gave the book a lot of their time. We had a lot of conversations through email and Skype about the individual poems and order of poems in the book. Punctuation. Caryl Pagel has some thoughts about the comma, let me tell you.
So we worked together on that. They took care of the book design, and arranged for Andy Masur to design the fantastic book cover.
It has been very moving for me to do this with Rescue+Press. When I first started writing, I was drawn to peers that were also writing. I made friends in writing classes, joined writing groups. It was important to me as part of my development as a writer and as a person. When I signed my contract, Danny said “Welcome to the Rescue Press family.” That is what it has felt like. I have had a rich experience with this press.
Describe how you felt holding your printed, bound, and finished book for the first time.
MR: I had printed out and put a binder clip on my manuscript so many times, that had come to seem its natural state. This bound, finished book was an elegant stranger. I felt quite gratified to meet this book.
Do you have a favorite poem from the book? If so, which one and why?
MR: I don’t really have a favorite. I can say though, when I’m giving readings, it’s always fun to read “Hangover at the Family Diner,” and “Nice Ass.” People tend to be so quiet when they are listening to a reading so, you know, it feels good hear them respond with a little laugh or two.
How has it been promoting the book now that it’s come out? How is the publicity work split between yourself and the press?
MR: I’ve loved traveling a little and giving readings, meeting people. I’ve had some great audiences.
Rescue+Press has helped arrange most of the readings, and sent the book around to reviewers. Others have been generous in featuring pieces from the book on their sites.
Do you have a piece of advice for poets still shopping their first book? What’s your take on open reading periods vs. first book contests vs. open contests?
MR: I would say send everywhere. Enter as many contests as you can afford. Patience.
What’s the most memorable response you’ve gotten to the book?
MR: My father told me he enjoyed it. He’s not someone who reads much other than magazines, Popular Mechanics for instance. My book is the only book of poetry he’s ever read. It means a great deal to me that he enjoyed it.
Can you recommend a first book by another poet you’re loving right now?
MR: Post Moxie by Julia Story. Try it. You’ll like it.