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How a Book Happens with Tomás Q. Morín by Kristi Carter

Click below to listen to Tomas Q. Morin read his poem "The Home Front".

This is the third installment of our new series in which Kristi Carter, our Book Prize Coordinator, speaks with book prize winners to discuss what goes in to the preparation of a manuscript, how winning affects the life of the writer, and the life of the book.

To submit your fiction or poetry manuscript to this year's Prairie Schooner Book Prize contest, click here.

Today, we're featuring her interview with Tomás Q. Morín who won the 2012 The American Poetry Review /Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry, for his first poetry collection A Larger Country.

How many times was the manuscript submitted for contests and publication? Were there any exciting milestones prior to winning the APR/Honickman First Book Prize?

A Larger Country was submitted 42 times to contests and open reading periods over a course of 4 years. Some of the milestones were when it started getting selected as a semi-finalist and finalist in some contests. This helped reassure me that I was on the right track. Of course, I have to point out that I might never have reached these milestones had I not had some very smart friends suggest I change my title and order, which were in desperate need of an overhaul I didn’t have the sense to see myself.

One poem, “The Home Front,” describes a speaker who is so accommodating to the women in town, he creates life-sized papier-mâchés of himself to keep them company. What lead you to choose the word “vertiginous” in the closing lines of this poem?

I chose “vertiginous” because I wanted to convey in some way how hard it is for the family soldiers leave behind when our leaders send them into harm’s way. My hope was that by making the color a trigger for dizziness that a reader would understand this family’s emotions are so fragile even beets on a plate could send them off the edge. But, that’s not actually what happens. Instead of the family getting dizzy, it’s the speaker who’s been trying to help them that sees that color, swoons, and then feels he has try to harder to comfort them. He’s one of those rare people who always puts others first and so sometimes he gets walked on for all his trouble. In the end though, he can’t help but be who he is. And that’s ok.

If your book was a room, how would you hope people feel when they walk into it? How would they leave? What color are the walls? (feel free to add in as much detail as you like with this)

If my book were a room, it would be a sunroom with screened windows all around. And there would be a palm tree right outside. Throughout the room would be comfy sofas and chairs where you could relax and make up stories about yourself all day long while the birds sang and the wind gently shook the lone palm tree in the yard.

How has winning changed your life?

Winning the Honickman didn’t change my life, but it did change the lives of my poems in the sense that it’s a little less challenging for them to find readers now. I worried for a long time that they would never find the readers they needed. I worry less now.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my second collection a couple of months ago and sent it off to my publisher. Other than that, I’m teaching and trying to help students learn what a comma splice is. I won’t write again until the summer returns.

If you were a natural disaster what kind would you be and why?

What a question! I guess if I had to pick, I would be a swarm of locusts because they’re not driven by malice or anything petty like revenge, but hunger, a hunger for food and a hunger for life. Aren’t we all?

 

Tomás Q. Morín’s poetry collection A Larger Country was the winner of the APR/Honickman Prize and runner-up for the PEN Joyce/Osterweil Award. He is co-editor with Mari L’Esperance of the anthology, Coming Close: 40 Essays on Philip Levine. His poems have appeared in SlateThreepenny ReviewBoulevardPoetryNew England Review, and Narrative.