KY: I wonder if you would talk about the process of assembling a chapbook. How, in your mind, does it differ from a full length manuscript? Can you share your overall experience compiling the manuscript?

KR: I started with a few poems I knew I wanted to include and, as I went on, found the other poems that seemed to be drawn towards the originals like iron filings attracted to a magnet. My chapbook does not have a single narrative arc, but I hope I managed to collect poems that cohere in some way nonetheless. For me, assembling the chapbook manuscript was like creating a collage. Try pasting that green hummingbird onto this strip of newsprint! Where does the second red shoe belong? I find it exciting to see what kind of resonances can be created by having poems jostle up against each other from neighboring pages.

KY: Can you talk a little about how the manuscript ended up with Black Lawrence Press?

KR: A few months after I graduated from the MFA program at Bennington College, my husband was in Liverpool on business. Though it was the middle of the fall semester and I was teaching a couple composition classes, I joined him for a few days and wandered about the waterfront while he was at work. I was carrying a stack of ungraded student essays in my backpack, but I couldn’t bear to look at them. Something about walking unfamiliar streets, watching women cut through the October wind in their tall boots, smelling the sharp salt in the air, jarred me into action. I started mulling over the shape of the chapbook while I was abroad and after finishing the manuscript at home I submitted it to the 2008 Black River Chapbook competition. In the spring of 2009 I was delighted to learn that the chapbook was a finalist for the award and would be published in the spring of 2011.

KY: Were there any themes or formal approaches that were important to you when composing the poems? What influences helped to shape the poems?

KR: The only conscious approach I have towards a poem is a pursuit of what Federico Garcia Lorca calls “duende.” My desire, in any poem, is to capture at least a whisker or a wingtip of that “mysterious power that everyone senses and no philosopher can explain.” Poems can take many different shapes, but if they don’t have that something that “burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass,” they fall flat.

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

KR: My primary stumbling block is that I want to write a good line, and then I want to follow it with another good line, and then I want to follow that with an even impossibly better line. And, as you probably know, that is very hard to do.

In one of my favorite Rumi poems, a man gives up praying to Allah because he never receives a response. Eventually he realizes that the longing itself is “the return message.” I figure that even if a poem fails—which happens a lot no matter how badly you want it to succeed—the poem still matters. The poem, which is a kind of longing, is “the return message.” It signifies that there is something out there beyond myself.

My Bennington teachers were enormously helpful as I worked on these poems. Timothy Liu had me turn a poem upside down, literally, so that the last line became the first. Major Jackson got me using syllabics. Amy Gerstler suggested I just say what I want to say without attempting to sound unnecessarily lyrical. You never know what’s going to work with a particular poem, but I’ll do whatever it takes to lure one to the page. I’ll give up peanut butter, if I have to, or set out plates of ladyfingers every morning before the dew. Yet tough as she makes it to write a poem sometimes, I won’t give up my firstborn.

You can purchase a copy of Basil here: