Suzanne Feldman and Anthony Moll discuss their new works.
In a unique installment of “Author’s Corner,” Caroline Bock, co-president of the cooperative, nonprofit Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH), leads a discussion with Suzanne Feldman and Anthony Moll, two writers who’ve recently published prize-winning collections with the small press, a DC literary institution since 1975.
Each of your collections opens with such evocative moments in time. Suzanne, The Witch Bottle & Other Stories begins with “Untitled #20,” set in Baltimore in the 1970s. And Anthony, you begin your poetry collection You Cannot Save Here with “—the first day of The End.” How do these specific moments inform your collections?
SF: I have a special and personal connection with Baltimore in the ‘70s. I was there, as a student, making art, having a wonderful time while I struggled with my assignments and the prospect of earning a useless degree, which I wanted very badly. “Untitled #20” deals with one of my favorite subjects — the inner lives of artists and their skirmishes with the real world. Though not all the stories are about artists, they are all about facing the real world while observing it through an inner lens.
AM: Oh, I also originally went to Baltimore for a degree that some folks might consider useless. It’s an incredible city that has informed both this book and my poetics generally! For me, “The x day of the end” is a phrase that readers find at both the start and the end of the collection, in part because the repetition acknowledges that our collapse isn’t the sudden end so often depicted in a lot of apocalyptic stories, but rather an ending that creeps in, barely noticed, and stretches on. The collection starts on “—the first day of The End,” but readers see that so much collapse has already happened prior to this first day, and that feeling extends to the “seven hundredth day of the end” that readers find toward the end of the collection.
Each of you has some big ideas that you keep returning to in these works. What do you see as the themes?
SF: Although not all of these stories are about the inner lives of artists, that is one of my favorite subjects. The insight that artists have — that flash where you just know what to do — isn’t limited to artists and writers. People have flashes all the time, and I love the lead-up to that moment. It’s like a forgone conclusion in the back of your mind that suddenly surges forward and informs your next actions. I love that turning point, and I love writing about it.
AM: You Cannot Save Here is about collapse and what we do during and after collapse, but to say that is to suggest that it’s only a collection about big ideas. Honestly, though, I’m exploring smaller, personal themes of gender, care, desire, family, and work/life identity, and I’m trying to consider those themes in the context of collapse. Though we’ve seen in the past how the term “domestic” has been used somewhat pejoratively to describe poetry, I’d be honored if readers found my work to be and feel “domestic.”
Since we know there are so many avenues to publication these days, what does WWPH or any small press mean to a writer?
SF: I’ve been published by big houses and small houses, and I have to say that the biggest and most wonderful advantage to publishing with WWPH is that I got to join a team of extremely committed people. The local networking — always so important — has been amazing, and I feel like I have made friends for life.
AM: It really has been. I wish more folks understood this unique model, because I think it’s one of the most rad concepts in publishing. In winning the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, my collection was selected by a panel of celebrated poets (with a variety of backgrounds and poetic values) who won the prize in years past. After the work was selected, that panel also offered me feedback on the entire manuscript, something we see almost nowhere else in the industry. As our books make their way out into the world this month, the entire press (both poets and fiction writers) is out in the world discussing and promoting the books. While WWPH isn’t alone in having press mates informally promote each other’s work, they (we?) are one of a rare few who do that by design, who make it the structure and intent of the press. To me, that’s gorgeous.
A challenge: If you have only one or two sentences to describe your collection, what would they be?
SF: The Witch Bottle & Other Stories is simply: Everybody has the right to fight for their own particular happiness.
AM: You Cannot Save Here is a collection of poems about how we live when each day feels like the world is ending.
The 2023 Washington Writers’ Publishing House book-length manuscript contests in poetry, fiction, and (new in 2023) creative nonfiction are now open. Learn more here.
[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]