Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lisa Mottolo : My (small press) writing day

I wake up at 6:30 am. I’m the Project Manager for Atmosphere Press and I’m a poet.

I start with a small pile of dirt. Some days a great poem grows underneath it like a sly potato that threatens to go extinct out of spite. Other days the dirt pile seems to be the result of a grave dug beside it for every crumbly word I produce.

 I spend more time than a reasonable person should trying to figure out why some writing days are vastly better than others when my life remains fairly consistent.  It makes me think of how you can use the same recipe for banana bread one day and it’s great, and then the next day the middle looks like that scene from Jurassic Park where Laura Dern reaches her hand into a heap of dung to figure out why the triceratops is sick. Now I’m worried that no one else remembers that scene.

I’ve read that poet Ruth Stone, while working in the fields of her home, would feel and hear a poem coming on like a “thunderous train of air.” She would have to rush back to the house to get the poem onto paper before it barreled past her, sometimes just barely catching it by the tail. I like to settle on magical ideas about poetry like this. It serves as an explanation for why sometimes I can’t find the mysterious potato, so I can go about my day.

At least once a day I’ll look at Submittable to see which submissions are now “In Progress,” which benefits me and my productivity in no way, and which I acknowledge is not necessarily representative of what is actually “In Progress.”

I’ll read poems and try to dissect why they worked, why they didn’t work. I’ll read fiction, nonfiction, blogs, Facebook posts, advertisements. I’ll ask what the heck did they do here to draw me in and try to honestly answer the question.

I carry around some writer accessories like coffee, chipped nail polish, and a purse of self-doubt that digs a red line into my shoulder. If it were 7 years ago I’d tack cigarettes onto that list.

Sometimes I have my parrots come sit next to me or on my shoulder while I work because I think how fun that is in theory, but then in practice it is distracting and sometimes painful.

I want to write poetry for people who like the same kind of poetry I do and are growing annoyed looking for it. A continuing activity that is both frustrating and necessary is finding poets that I genuinely enjoy. I sometimes encourage myself to try squeezing enjoyment out of popular poetry because if it’s popular, it must be good, and that’s where I’ll end this paragraph.

About half my day is dedicated to my own work and the other half is dedicated to Atmosphere Press, where I have the fortune of discovering new authors and watching books come together from the very beginning.

My schedule is in no way concrete. It looks like a bit like a Rorschach test. If I had you look at the splatter and asked you what you saw, you’d probably say, “you wake up. You drink three cups of coffee. You look for potatoes in a layer of dirt that seems too thin to hide potatoes. You write at some point. Then you sweep the dirt back into a little pile and go to sleep.” And I would say, “wow, you are good at reading these things.”

Lisa Mottolo studied copyediting at UC San Diego and is the Project Manager for Atmosphere Press. She is from upstate New York and currently lives in Austin, Texas. Her writing is published or is forthcoming in Typishly, North of Oxford, Barren Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, and New Feathers Anthology.  She loves birds and has 4 adopted parrots at home.

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