Volunteer Karolina interviews Bill Lantry and Kate Fitzpatrick about how their award-winning writing and publishing partnership works.
Karolina: You and your wife work as a team: you write, she submits your work. How has this partnership affected your writing?
Bill Lantry: She’s extremely demanding, and very persuasive. If I haven’t written what she wanted, she’s like that character in Seinfeld: “No soup for you!” I joke about her swinging a cast iron frying pan at my head, but she’s never actually done that. I just don’t get dinner until I’ve written something. I really am just as lazy as she says. We were watching a movie about Dylan Thomas the other evening, and it had this bit of dialogue:
She: Did you write me a new poem today?
He: You still love me for the last one.
That’s how we’d all be, and nothing would ever get written without people like Caitlin and Kate. But there’s something she does. When I’m writing, I go into an incredibly focused state. In those moments, only the words matter. Not punctuation, not spacing, even capitalization falls aside. I write until I can’t hold the focus any longer, it never goes for much more than half an hour. When I come out of it, I look over what’s there.
When I’m done, Kate and I sit down together. She puts in punctuation, or takes it out, fixes the formatting, makes my ravings readable. She’s incredibly good at it, because she’s an artist herself, with a beautiful coloratura soprano voice that would reduce you to tears. Seriously, I’ve seen entire halls filled with people weeping, overcome by the loveliness of her voice. She calls down beauty the way Elijah called down fire. And she knows my own work better than I do.
Karolina: What are the benefits and challenges to having your wife manage your submissions?
Bill Lantry: Writing and publishing are two very different activities. I may do well at one, but I’m terrible at the other. She does it calmly, gracefully, with a focused detachment I could never match. I wrote a poem about a 12th century Chinese scroll, a painting as famous there as the Mona Lisa is here. But what American journal would accept such a thing? She did her research, found a journal in China, and sent it off without a second thought. And they took it. It began a long relationship with one of our favorite editors.
Where did she send a poem based on a medieval Sufi mystic from central Asia? Why, to Kazakhstan, of course, and if you walk into a bookstore there you can buy some of our work. Or in India, Bosnia, Mexico, Scotland, Canada, France, Ireland. It doesn’t matter, whatever the poem is, she’ll find a home for it.
Karolina: Kate, you see new material by your husband almost every day. How has his writing changed since your forcing him to write more frequently?
Kate Fitzpatrick: I seldom resort to a cast iron pan or food deprivation…anymore. I characterize our joint project as a collaboration. A few years ago we made a pact: Bill would write a poem each day, I would send out a submission, often with the day’s piece included. Instead of forcing him to write, I would say I free him to write, giving the space, and often providing the inspiration.
I recall the first several months, he wrote about craft, everyday themes, and our life together. As a woodworker and gardener, Bill finds parallels between his daily activities and Art. Our shared experiences soon became fodder for the lazy mule’s work. Even our trips to Trader Joe’s inspired prize-winning poems. But you can only write about trips to the grocery store so many times. And when you are committed to daily writing, you can’t sit waiting for the Muse to call, like a schoolgirl sitting next to the telephone.
Gradually his work became centered around his expansive research: a fascinating möbius strip of music created by J.S. Bach, the invention of Champagne, the Gacelas of Lorca, which led to a published collection of Bill’s Gacelas, The Language of Birds. I catch him watching strange videos all the time. One was of a Saaki, an Indian woman who offers a Cup of Divinity to the poet. Another was from California, a Ribbon Dancer. I had to explain to him her movements symbolized Earth, Air, Fire and Water; he always misses the obvious.
By far the greatest number of pieces are inspired by editors’ calls for submissions and issue themes. I’ll tell him, “I need something by midnight about a movie. Pick your favorite. Don’t go over 40 lines.” I don’t think I have actually ever said, “No soup for you.”
Karolina: Kate, how much time to you spend learning about a publication before submitting Bill’s work there?
Kate Fitzpatrick: It used to take me almost an entire day to research a journal, figure out the kinds of things the editor might like, even to decide if we wanted to be part of their community. I’d look at the other poets they’d published in the past, and if I had questions, I’d get Bill to look at their work to help me understand the poetics involved. I concentrated on French poetry in college, so American poetics was a foreign land to me.
I’ve gotten more efficient since I first started. Now it only takes me a few hours rather than the whole day. But by far the most important thing to me has always been building a relationship with the editor. And I’m not above a cheap trick. I find the editors’ bios to see if there is overlap between Bill’s publication credits and theirs, and if there is, I include those venues in Bill’s short bio.
In the end, this is one of the few things Bill’s right about: I work much harder at this than he does. He’s just the scribbler, the wordsmith, the ink slinger. If I left it up to him, he’d write one poem on my birthday and one for Valentine’s Day. I don’t want to get to the end of our lives together and have him turn to me and say, “Why didn’t you make me write more?”
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a coloratura soprano with an extensive sacred repertoire, performs regularly as a liturgical musician and soloist. She works as a church Director of Music & Choir Conductor in the Archdiocese of Washington. In her spare time, she manages her indolent mule’s literary career, and sings Weddings and Funerals.
W.F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, received his Maîtrise from L’Université de Nice, and PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Honors include the Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (Israel) and the 2012 Old Red Kimono and Potomac Review Poetry Prizes. His publication credits encompass print and online journals in more than twenty countries on five continents, a chapbook, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011), and a full-length collection, The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012). He currently works in Washington, DC. and is a contributing editor of Umbrella Journal.