KY: Why don’t you first talk about your process in writing The Glass Crib: How long did it take you to complete the manuscript?

AA: I began writing these poems in January 2006 as part of my creative writing undergrad thesis project at the University of Houston and then continued writing and editing the poems during my time in Bennington College’s MFA program. All told, I spent about 2 years on the manuscript.

KY: Did you have any teachers or mentors who helped you wrestle with particular stumbling blocks in the material? If so, what kind of input helped you overcome obstacles in the actual writing of the poems?

AA: At UH, I worked with some really amazing teachers: Nick Flynn, Matthea Harvey, Jericho Brown, Brian Barker, Claudia Rankine. Claudia was my thesis advisor and was a godsend. She really helped in such a gentle way to break me out of my linear way of thinking of poems. She introduced me to the possibilities of poetry and to the work of other great poets that I admire. She also helped me realize where I could go with my own work and ideas. I am so indebted to her.

I also worked with Brigit Pegeen Kelly at Bread Loaf in August 2007. I have equal amounts of gratitude for her. She was such a kind mentor and I think saw from the beginning where I wanted to take this manuscript. She sat down with me and went over what I had at that time of the manuscript and talked me through my ideas, my fears, my triumphs. Her spirit is something I go back to when I need a pick me up and she really helped me see how spiritual poetry — and this manuscript –can be, its utterances.

KY: From what I’ve read of your work, many of the poems deal with loss and suffering (often explored through the very interesting thread of religious icons—I would love if you commented on how that theme emerged in the book)—how did you find your way into that difficult content?

AA: The theme of “religion” or “spirituality” was both deliberate and an accident. I was raised Catholic and when I began writing these poems in 2006, I was a lapsed Catholic (really still am), but a stronger believer in the divine nonetheless. I had never addressed spirituality in my work before. The body, yes, but faith, what have you, no. Right before I began this project, my sister was involved in a serious car accident that left her in a coma for a good part of my thesis semester at UH. On Christmas Eve 2005, I came home from the hospital where she was staying to find the new issue of Poetry. In it was Mary Karr’s amazing essay on her conversion to Catholicism. Picture it: Christmas Eve, my sister’s in the hospital, I’m reading that essay alone in the house and crying like a baby. It was then I “knew” what I wanted to address in the manuscript.

I’m drawn to crazy things and I think the manuscript reflects that in the stories of the religious icons & female martyred saints. I also thought of my sister when I was writing those poems — how does the pain of the body respond to the spirit and vice versa? I still don’t know, but these poems show that journey, that struggle.

KY: I wonder if you would also talk about the process of the manuscript making its way to a book. I know the road can be fraught with setbacks. Would you share your experience—specifically geared toward other poets trying to compile a manuscript for a first book?

AA: Compiling a book — ordering it — is ridiculous. Anyone who has done it knows what I’m saying. I hated this part the most. It’s a headache. You want to tell a story with your poems. You want to have some sort of thread or thread running through (it doesn’t even need to be slap-you-in-the-face-obvious) and you don’t want it to appear haphazard or lazy. My husband, a non-writer, actually ordered the manuscript. He’s so orderly and thoughtful and offered to help me with it. We spread out all of the poems on his workbench (his hobby is woodworking) in the garage and went through each one, reading them, moving them around, taking some out until there was consensus. I was extremely happy with how the ordering turned out. Later, after Zone 3 Press picked it up, Rigoberto Gonzalez, who judged the prize, helped me tweak the ordering a little more.

I started sending the book out in the fall of 2007 without a lot of expectation. It ended up being a finalist for 6 different prizes, all of them tremendous and I was blown away. By the sixth one though, I was like “come on already!” You have to laugh a little. It gave be hope for the book, but was also disappointing. I sent it out like 25 times over 2 years. There was a lot of rejection, a lot of almosts. There was a certain press who wanted it and made a big deal out of it, then screwed around so much and kept pushing back the date to like 2013 or something that I pulled it. I want to say this to writers sending out their first books: you can pull it. It’s your book.

Zone 3 Press picked it up in Sept. 2010 as the winner of their First Book Award. I got the call when I was grocery shopping in Kroger and had to duck into the frozen food aisle because that was the only place where I could actually hear Blas Falconer. It was hilarious.

There was, as mentioned, drama in the process but I just kept going forward. I started teaching and working on a new manuscript as I was sending out the old one. I never went back to look at the poems after I knew the manuscript was ready. Ed Ochester at Bennington told me to not go back and try to revise when sending it out or else I’d overthink the work and end up ruining it. A lot of writers do this — they get rejected or it takes years to get a book deal and along the way they think “what’s wrong with my poems?” and over-edit. I think you need to ultimately trust your instincts and edit only when its essential. Have faith in what you put out into the world.

You can Purchase a copy of The Glass Crib here: