Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Falling Forward, a full-length collection of poems (sunnyoutside, 2009); The Map of Our Garden (verve bath, 2009); Dream Big Work Harder (sunnyoutside press 2006); The Tear Duct of the Storm (Green Bean Press,2001); Cadillac Men (NYQ Books 2013) and the poem “Logic” on a postcard (sunnyoutside). She received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and her BA in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York’s Hudson Valley. http://www.rebeccaschumejda.com/
Interview by: g emil reutter
GER: You often speak of your father and his influence in your life. Could you share with us his impact on you and on your poetry?
RS: When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked the class to write poems and I eagerly complied. A few days later, my parents were called into a meeting at the school where my teacher, the principal, the Vice-Principal, and the social worker discussed how my assignment was unacceptable and how they were worried about my mental state. After reading my poem, my father sat quiet for what seemed like forever before he looked right at me and said, “This is a great poem, Rebecca!” Then he looked at the teacher and said, “Don’t ask your students to write poetry if you don’t want to hear their truths.” My father, a hardworking roofer, has always been my inspiration.
GER: What poets have influenced your poetry and why?
RS: There are so many, but the one that stands out most is Raymond Carver because of his narrative approach to writing. I love some of the poems that he wrote to his daughter. Lines like, “You’re a beautiful drunk, daughter, but you’re a drunk,” and “She serves me a piece of it a few minutes out of the oven. A little steam rises from the slits on top. Sugar and spice -cinnamon – burned into the crust. But she’s wearing these dark glasses in the kitchen at ten o’clock the morning – everything nice as she watches me break off a piece, bring it to my mouth, and blow on it.” Poems like “To My Daughter” and “My Daughter and Apple Pie” helped shape my earlier work.
GER: You’ve worked with several presses: Bottle of Smoke, Words Dance, sunnyoustide, New York Quarterly, and Bottom Dog Press. Could you share with us the development of the collections and what is like to work with the small press?
RS: I have been very fortunate as I have worked with some really great small press publishers and have grown and learned from each experience. Bill Roberts, from Bottle of Smoke, is an amazing craftsman, who is well-known for his letterpress printing and hand-binding. The quality of his books are phenomenal. Bill published a limited edition chapbook of mine, From Seed to Sin, which includes artwork by Hosho McCreesh. I love what Bill is doing and highly recommend his books.
Words Dance published a handmade, limited-edition chapbook for me, The Map of Our Garden. Amanda Oaks did an amazing job and the whole process was intimate. There were so many cool features included such as a map I drew, a picture of me drawn by Hosho McCreesh, glow-in-the-dark fireflies in a jar on the cover and a handmade bookmark that had an actual petal from the sunflowers in my garden. The book sold out, but Amanda recently released a kindle version. In addition, I still collaborate with Amanda on projects at Words Dance.
sunnyoutside published my first full-length collection, Falling Forward as well as my chapbook Dream Big, Work Harder and a poem of mine on a postcard. I really enjoyed working with David McNamara, he actually did some editing for my second full-length book, Cadillac Men, published NYQ Books. Most recently, I had the pleasure of working with Bottom Dog Press and being part of their working class series. Larry Smith’s vision for Waiting at the Dead End Diner paralleled with mine and he helped me fine-tune the collection
GER: Your collection Cadillac Men was influenced by a pool hall you and your husband owned. Tell us of the people who inspired this collection?
RS: Well, pool players, a dying breed, men like Mikey Meatballs who convinced a kid that he shot like shit because he was using a left-handed pool cue, Dee who went out to buy ice cream for his pregnant wife and came back empty handed and in debt, and Wally the Whale who was once a well-known circuit player who now his toughest opponent is his failing vision.
GER: You tour in support of your poetry collections. Traveling can be rigorous, can you share with us any stories relating to touring?
RS: I read here and there, but I don’t tour. I work full time and have a young daughter, so I don’t have the ability to go anywhere for more than a day or so. I will be doing some reading this summer for my new book and will be reading in Cleveland, Ohio in October for LevyFest. As far as stories, I read at the Dire Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Nathan Graziano and Daniel Crocker and because we are friends and don’t get together that often, we began drinking very early in the day. Somehow, I thought it was alright to take over for the host and introduce Nate, and then all hell broke loose. Dan and Nate, who could barely stand, had people in the audience read parts of their work and it was pretty chaotic. The moral: I don’t drink heavily until after reading.
GER: Waiting at the Dead End Diner was recently released. Can you share with us the inspiration behind the development of the book and any reactions you are receiving concerning the collection?
RS: I had to wait tables while putting myself through college, and when I was in graduate school I actually worked in the college cafeteria’s dish room and dining hall. My life was very different from many of my fellow classmates because I did not have the luxury of just being a student. On the flipside, I lived in the real world which greatly impacted my writing. An early version of Waiting at the Dead End Diner was actually my thesis for SFSU that was rejected by my graduate advisor. My advisor told me that no one wanted to read about waiting tables, ha ha. So, I went back to the drawing board and the waitressing poems just played out in my mind for decades. Then after writing Cadillac Men, I decided it was time to go back and explore the restaurant world that consumed a decade of my life. I even went back and waited tables when I was working on the collection
RS: I don’t know. I kind of hope it does not fit in. I want to write work for people, everyday people. I hope I can do that.
GER: Could you share with us your thoughts on the submission process for publication?
RS: It is a little like gambling, the odds aren’t really on your side unless you pick your game wisely. I would not play money games against Wally the Whale or Mikey Meatballs and I would not submit to The New Yorker. I think you have to really read what is out there and see who may be interested in what you are writing. I also think you have to be persistent if you really want to get into a specific publication. I am a huge fan of Rattle and they rejected my work for over a decade before accepting my work. And for what it is worth, they actually nominated my poem “How to Classify a Reptile” for a pushcart. Ha ha. I did not take the decade of rejections personally and I did not stop being a fan of Rattle. I think that it is important not to lose sight of why you are writing.
GER: Do you have any favorite venues to read your poetry and any publications you would recommend to others?
RS: There are so many. I usually enjoy the reading because of group dynamics. I loved the Fox Chase reading because I got to read with John Dorsey and because the audience was receptive and fun. I love reading at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York because of the acoustics and The Social Justice Center in Albany because of the crowd.
RS: I am working on a collection of poems about a working-class neighborhood, characters from Cadillac Men and Waiting at the Dead End Diner make appearances.
You can read the poetry of Rebecca Schumejda in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/w14schumejda.html http://www.foxchasereview.org/11AW/RSchumejda.html http://www.foxchasereview.org/10AW/RSchumejda.html