Eduardo C. Corral graciously agreed to answer a few questions in the wake of his recent good news. Letras Latinas Blog sent him six questions, which he worked on while in residence at the MacDowell Colony.
Letras Latinas Blog:
Can you contextualize how you learned that Carl Phillips had selected your manuscript as the next winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award? Where were you, what were you doing? Did getting the news while at the MacDowell Colony add anything to this experience that you’d be willing to share? If so, what?
Eduardo C. Corral:
My studio at the MacDowell Colony is deep in the woods so I don't get all my phone calls. On February 12th, after dinner, as other residents played ping-pong and chatted in Colony Hall, I checked my voicemail and discovered three unheard messages. I listened to the first message. A voice said, Hello Eduardo Corral this is Carl Phillips. My first thought? He must be calling to tell me he liked one of my poems he'd read in a journal. Then I remembered two things. That never happens. I've never included my phone number in a contributor bio.
I saved the first message, heard the other two. Three messages! In each message he said he looked forward to talking with me, that I should call him back. It must be good news, I told myself. Then I started getting worried, thinking, What if he changed his mind, picked another poet because I hadn't called him back ASAP! I immediately called him. He didn't answer so I left a message on his machine. After that, I walked around Colony Hall dazed. Another resident, a non-fiction writer with an MFA in poetry, asked if I was okay. I muttered, Carl Phillips left three messages on my voicemail. The resident smiled, said something sweet and sensible, Calm down, let's go sit down. We walked to the dinning room. I sat down at a long table with a few other residents. My head was spinning. I felt like I was going to pass out. All the other residents looked at me kindly, knowingly. One of them said, Wait for him to call back, don't jump to conclusions.
I tried to make small talk but my mind kept going back to those three messages. I got up from the table, walked to a corner, called my friend and mentor in New York City. I quickly filled him in, then asked, It has to be good news, right? He said, Yes, but don't get crazy, wait for him to call back. We talked for a few minutes; his humor and his advice reminded me again why I always turn to him. After I hung up, I realized I needed some fresh air. I was going to faint at any minute.
I left Colony Hall, walked to the library, a stone building with tall windows. The air was cold. Patches of snow littered the road. The library was empty. I logged onto my Facebook account, sent a few frantic messages out. I had to talk to other poets while I waited for the call. A few immediately answered my messages. I told them about the calls and what it might mean. They all were ecstatic and excited beyond words.
Then my cell phone rang. I walked over to the piano, rested my elbows on it, and answered. After we exchanged a few pleasantries, Carl Phillips asked, Is your manuscript still available for publication? I said, Yes. Then he said, Good, because I've just selected it for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. I honestly don't remember much of the conversation after he said that. But I do remember three things. I thanked him. I asked him to repeat the news. I quietly sobbed while he said amazing things about my poems.
Readers of your blog know that it had been something of a challenge for you to mail off your manuscript to book contests. Now that you have won one, is there any sense of relief in terms of working on your second book? Can you share your thoughts on this, as well as what your second book project is?
Listen: It's a huge relief! I now can earnestly begin work on my second project. I don't want to reveal too much about it because I'm still fleshing out the details, but I know it will be a book-length sequence. I already have a notebook full of images/lines that are waiting to be hammered into poems. In fact, this past fall I wrote two short lyrics I thought belonged in my first manuscript but I soon realized they belonged to the book-length sequence.
Also, I now know that my instincts didn‘t let me down. People kept telling me to send out my first manuscript; it didn't matter if I wasn't completely happy with it, a so-so book was better than no book. People kept reminding me I wasn’t getting any younger, a horde of younger poets was nipping at my heels. Honestly, this kind of advice filled me with despair and it amplified my self-doubt. Maybe I was incapable of completing a manuscript. Maybe I was writing the wrong poems. Maybe I wasn’t a poet. Thankfully, I didn‘t listen to their advice. I knew I had to trust my guts; when my manuscript was ready, I would know. So I kept revising older poems, drafting new ones, and tinkering with the order.
I had a major breakthrough in 2007. I went through my manuscript, threw out any poem that didn’t surprise me as a reader. I tossed out about twenty pages. It broke my heart. Some of the poems were published in great magazines like Colorado Review, The Nation and Quarterly West. I shed a few tears. I ate a lot of cookies. Then I moved on. I began drafting new poems. I starting thinking of my manuscript as a space to highlight my strengths as a poet, as a space to take risks. Sounds obvious, no? But no one at Iowa told me this; none of my friends told me this. I arrived at this realization on my own, which freed me to write, in my opinion, the best poems in my forthcoming book.
When is your award-winning book slated to appear (What's the title?)? Have you thought about what you will be doing between now and the publication date to pave the way for the book? If so, what are some of the things you hope to accomplish to this end?
It will be published in April 2012. Just in time for National Poetry Month! I'm thrilled Yale University Press will be doing my first book; Yale designs and publishes gorgeous books. Just check out It Is Daylight by Arda Collins and Radial Symmetry by Katherine Larson
I sent out the manuscript with Border with Violin as its title. I don't love the title. More importantly: the title doesn't gesture toward the whole book, the varied themes and images weaving in and out the poems. Right now, I'm reading and reading my poems to find a phrase or a word that might serve as a new title. Serve is the wrong word; I'm looking for a word or phrase that will reverberate through the whole book. Fortunately, I have a few months to finalize the manuscript.
I have thirteen months to prepare for the publication of my first book. That might seem like a lot of time, but I know once I send in the final manuscript the months and days will fly by. But I'm lucky. Many of my friends have gone through this process. I've had a front row seat all these years and I've learned a lot by watching them set up readings and websites, and arrange reviews and interviews. I will be doing all that. And more. I will be knocking on many doors and asking friends and strangers for help and advice.
I'm very interested in how some writers are using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to potential readers. Right now, I'm researching the pros and the cons of using these social networks to launch a book. Though I blog, I've never thought of my blog as a marketing tool. It's been a space for me to chew the fat, vent and act silly. I will be posting updates about the book on my blog: cover art, blurbs, forthcoming readings. But I won't be gross about it. I've seen some bloggers go too far; turning their blogs into marketing machines. A constant barrage of updates and self-congratulatory posts about their upcoming books. Yuck. Manic self-promotion turns me off as a reader. I won’t be doing that.
What will your strategy be for the year or two after your book is published? Is it too early to start thinking about how many readings you hope to give, and where? Do you have any models in mind in terms of how to successfully promote a first book of poetry?
My strategy? Readings, readings, readings! Plus, reviews and interviews. I want to give a ton of readings. Where? College campuses, Latino cultural centers, bookstores, cafes, galleries. In short, everywhere! I will work hard to arrange readings before and after the book is published. Hopefully, I will get the chance to read with Carl Phillips. That would make me very happy.
You are the first Latino poet to win what is arguably the most prestigious first book prize in American poetry. Therefore, you have made history. Do you feel any sense of responsibility because of this fact? If so, have you begun to think about how you might channel this sense of responsibility?
I’m proud that I’m the first Chicano to win the Yale Series of Younger Poets. But this fact, when I think of all the enormously talented Latino/Chicano poets writing today, also angers me. This is 2011. I shouldn’t be the first Chicano winning the Yale.
I didn’t get here on my own. The other day I went to the MacDowell Colony library to locate the exact spot where my first book will be shelved. Let's face it: Not many Chicano writers are shelved here. (Apply, gente!) My book will be shelved next to Alfred Corn. And though my name will be printed on the spine, I won’t be the only Chicano poet next to Alfred Corn. My poems are scored with the influence and the words of Gloria Anzaldúa, José Montoya, Robert Vasquez, Lorna Dee Cervantes and Angela de Hoyos. These poets, these teachers of mine, helped me win the Yale Series of Younger Poets. They will keep me company at the MacDowell Colony library.