Interview with our 2020 Chapbook Winner Frederick Speers
In the Year of Our Making & Unmaking made a stunning debut this month—a powerful and innovative meditation on love and beauty and mystery punched into the chapbook form. Carl Phillips chose this chapbook as the winner of our 2020 contest. Download and read it entirely for free! We chatted with Frederick Speers, the winning author, to peak behind the writer’s curtain.
The Genesis of the Book
Frederick Speers: Here’s my working theory: In my corporate day-job, I’m often working with tables, spreadsheets, and text-boxes. Those everyday patterns began following me home when I sat down to write poems. So I thought, hey, months are tables, yeah? I remember printing out some fill-in-the-blank month templates from the web and experimenting first with pen and paper. At some point, I switched to the computer. As the calendar of poems started to come together, I remember thinking, hmmm… if these are months, what would hours look like? These constraints and patterns offered me a new sort of freedom to write and read in different ways. The borrowed forms were generative, in other words; I worked within them and stretched them, but didn’t let them dictate my choices. You know, what poets do every day.
That’s how the shapes came to be. As for the subjects, well, those chose me a while ago.
The Writing Process
It took over a year to write these handful of poems. For me, writing is 90% editing. But I need that initial 10% of wild, generative writing to work with first. And before any of that can happen, I have to read a lot, from various disciplines and authors. Finding the time to do all this is hard.
I started writing these poems in early 2019, well before the pandemic hit. I finished them up in spring 2020 and submitted them to the Frontier Poetry contest in May. So the title of the chapbook, while it may seem to suggest the events of this past year because of when it was published, it’s not, in fact, a backward glance. Nor was it prophecy. Unless prophecy includes writing about the kinds of love and sorrow that can be found throughout time.
Being Chosen as the Winner by Carl Phillips
I was over-the-moon that Carl Phillips found these poems to be good enough to win the Frontier Poetry chapbook prize. Where the poems go from here depends on everyone else finding something in them, too. If they have any effect, I hope it’s good. What that good may be will depend greatly, I imagine, on who discovers them.
Writing new poems, when I can, and continuing to experiment with form. I just published a new poem in SFWP Quarterly (May 2021), which is their special issue featuring work from the LGBTQ+ community. This new poem is part choose-your-own experience and part how-to guide. It’s in 29 parts, and it’s all about cruising and god, among other things. I’m also working on a full-length collection, which I’m calling Fruitlessfully.