Poet in the Mirror: Joan Kwon Glass
We’re so proud to share some insight into the lives and hearts of today’s poets with our Poet In The Mirror series. This month, Joan Kwon Glass— author of Night Swim (available now from Diode Editions)— shares insight into writing about publishing a first book, writing through grief, and the shared process of loss and writing.
On Submissions and Rejections
First of all, congratulations on your first full-length collection! Not to mention your success with chapbooks recently. Please tell our readers: What was Night Swim’s relationship to rejection? How long and what did it take to find a home?
Thank you so much for your kind words! It has been an incredible year and I’m deeply grateful to my publishers Diode Editions, Harbor Editions & Milk & Cake Press. Incredibly, Night Swim was accepted for publication at my dream press, Diode– the place I truly believed would be the right home for it. I sent it out to only six or seven other places. The time between sending it out and acceptance for publication was about three months.
On Putting the Book Together
Night Swim moves narratively through the five stages of grief. There is a lot of loss in this collection, but there is also a great deal of survival. How and why did you decide to order the book this way?
I can’t take credit for the initial idea–Lynne Schmidt, my incredible editor and friend, suggested it after her first read of the manuscript and it made perfect sense to me when she did. Not because I believe grief to be linear, but for exactly the opposite reason. I experienced a significant amount of anger and rage in my grieving process. As a result, I lost several friendships with people who were uncomfortable with my process. I hope that readers will ask themselves why we draw lines and feel the need to hold people to certain expectations when it comes to grief, and how loss to suicide creates unique challenges with these boxes and linear ways of thinking.
On that note, having sat with loss and survival for so long, what craft elements did you consider while writing this book? Was there a piece of craft advice that motivated you throughout writing?
Originally the book did not include the erasure poem, the police report poems, the poem “Red Flags,” or the poem “Elegy for my Sister’s Journal.” These came when I realized (with the help of my editor), that the manuscript needed more of a context. When I struggled to write a poem, I looked to poets such as Jane Hirshfeld, Tishani Doshi, Margaret Atwood and Ellen Bass to help me. The only piece of craft advice I can recall strongly is to “write the poems that scare me.” It turns out that those poems are the ones that people write me e-mails about. They’re the poems that are the most impactful.
I can only imagine how difficult it was/is to write about autobiographical loss. What do you do to re-energize your creativity?
I tend to go through periods of very intense creative bursts (thus four books in one year!), and longer periods of rest and focus on other areas of my life. I read every evening before bed and give myself the space and time I need. I trust that I am a poet even when I’m not writing.
On Trust and Community
What do you wish you knew between your book’s first and final drafts? What advice would you give to emerging poets who are yet to publish their first book?
I wish I’d known how important it would be to trust my own poetic voice. As there are so many difficult poems, I had some fear about how my work would be received. You can forget when you’re in the process, that the whole point of poetry is to create art, and art is only art if it’s authentic and aligned with the poet’s voice. My advice for emerging poets would be to develop your own community in which to obtain and share feedback on your writing and to maintain the soul of your book but look for ways to make it stand out. Ask yourself: why does the world need this book? And who in the world needs it?
What did you gain and what did you have to give up as a result of publishing a book in which grief is presented in a way that might be difficult to read?
I had several people walk away from my life because they saw my book as “speaking ill of the dead.” It’s a shame that we are not all allowed to have our own processes of loss & remain in one another’s lives. I gained a faith and trust in myself as well as validation from a literary community that has welcomed me with love.
Joan Kwon Glass‘ first full-length poetry collection, Night Swim, won the 2021 Diode Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbooks How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy (Harbor Editions, 2022) & If Rust Can Grow on the Moon (Milk & Cake Press, 2022). In 2021 she was a Runner-Up for the Sundress Publications Chapbook Contest, a finalist for the Harbor Review Editor’s Prize, the Subnivean Award & the Lumiere Review Writing Contest. Joan is a graduate of Smith College & serves as Poet Laureate for the city of Milford, CT & as Poetry Co-Editor for West Trestle Review. She has spent the past 20 years as an educator in the Connecticut public schools. Her poems have recently been published or are forthcoming in Diode, The Rupture, Nelle, Rattle, Pirene’s Fountain, SWWIM, Dialogist, South Florida Poetry Journal, Honey Literary, Mom Egg, Rust & Moth, Lantern Review & many others. Joan has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net. She tweets @joanpglass & you may read her previously published work at www.joankwonglass.com.