Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Samantha Cramer - Black Lawrence Press (2024)

After participating in our Manuscript Consultation Program, Samantha Cramer went on to publish her debut poetry collection, In Situ, with Allegory Ridge Publishing. In this interview, we will discuss advice for publishing a first collection, the role that poetry fills when processing our pasts, working with new presses, and more.

Black Lawrence Press: Your debut poetry collection In Situ is described as “delving deeply into personal mythology, and the juxtaposition of inner power and longing for connection”. What made you want to write this book?

Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Samantha Cramer - Black Lawrence Press (1)Samantha Cramer: That’s such an interesting question, and one I’ve thought about a lot recently. The very surface level answer is that I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 10 years old and have always wanted to hold a book of my own work in my hands and then let it loose in the world. Deeper than that, however, is that this collection really embodies a certain time period in my life and the questions I was asking myself at that time. I went back and reread the collection recently and was struck again at how In Situ is essentially an archeological dig documenting the entirety of my twenties and early thirties. It’s one of the things that made me choose to call the book In Situ, almost as if it were an emotional artifact in and of itself. It acts as a very intimate look at my internal world at a time that was challenging and lonely at times, but also a time of intense growth and self-discovery. I feel in many ways that I really only felt fully settled into myself and my life as I was putting this collection together, as if the creation of In Situ was a way for me to document, acknowledge, process, and ultimately move forward.

BLP: How long did it take you to write In Situ?

SC: The oldest poem in In Situ dates back to about 2011 or 2012, so in that sense the collection was about a decade in the making. However, I would say that I really started putting the collection together in earnest about 2 years prior to its publication. I spent a lot of time reading through all of the poems I’d written, choosing ones that fit with the themes I was most interested in to try and create a cohesive collection that spoke to my musings on mythology and womanhood and loneliness. I was publishing individual poems in various journals in the meantime, but even after getting the manuscript to a place I was satisfied with, it took about another year to place it with a publisher. So it was definitely a long process from start to finish.

BLP: During your revision process, you worked with Black Lawrence Press manuscript consultant Brandi George. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?

SC: I really enjoyed my experience working with Brandi as part of the manuscript consultation program that Black Lawrence offers. Being a poet who was no longer in graduate school with a built-in mechanism for critique, and really feeling a lack of community during the pandemic, having someone to provide feedback on my work felt so invaluable. Writing is often a very solitary business, and it can feel like you’re writing into a black hole at times. The importance of having a qualified writer to share their reaction to your work, point out where your message might be less than clear, and offer suggestions with clear eyes can’t be exaggerated! Brandi offered concrete suggestions as well as wonderings that made me think more deeply about my work and what I was trying to say. It helped me refine both my individual poem and the collection as a whole, and made me more confident shopping it around for publication.

Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Samantha Cramer - Black Lawrence Press (2)BLP: You published In Situ with Allegory Ridge. If I’m not mistaken, your book was the sixth published by this relatively new press. Please tell us about your experience with them.

SC:I feel very lucky to have worked with Alden, which is Allegory Ridge’s publishing arm, to get In Situ out to readers. They are certainly a new press, and a small one, so working with them was a very collaborative process. I was able to work closely with them on the cover art, which I think turned out wonderfully, and had a lot of input on the formatting and editing of the poems themselves. Working with a small press does come with some additional work on the author’s part- the small staff at the press necessitates taking on a good chunk of the marketing for the book yourself- but I enjoyed the personal touch and design input that it afforded me.

BLP:What advice do you have for poets and writers who are preparing to publish their debut books?

SC:I would say that patience in key, throughout the process of sending a manuscript out and shopping it around. I’m sure it won’t be shocking to hear that there will more than likely be a lot of rejections before acceptance, and its important not to let that stop you from continuing. Your voice is important. I truly believe that the world needs more fresh voices in poetry and fiction, and so patience and resilience are key for new writers. I would also say that, once you’ve gotten an acceptance and celebrated it, create a marketing plan for yourself. If you’re publishing with a larger press that has marketing/advertising resources, work with them to create a plan together. As someone who worked with a smaller press with fairly limited resources, I took on a large share of the promotion of In Situ, and if I were to go through that process again I would definitely create a more thorough marketing plan for myself.

BLP:Do you have a favorite book or essay on craft?

SC:A book I’ve come back to again and again over the years is The Right To Write by Julia Cameron. I have enjoyed many of Cameron’s books on artistic life and inspiration, but this is one that I resonated most with me. It’s a really wonderful mixture of writing exercises and personal reflection on what it means to be an artist. I recently revisited The Right To Write and found a new appreciation for the way that Cameron acknowledges the challenge of being an artist with a day job, family, and social life. Her advice on how to create a life conducive to creativity when writing is just one of the balls we’re juggling really struck me on this reading, and I’m working on incorporating some of her suggestions into my own practice.

BLP:What are you working on now?

SC:After publishing In Situ I actually took a break from writing for a while, and am really only now coming back to the page on a regular basis. I’m trying my hand at fiction these days, working on a historical ghost story set in a Northern California lighthouse in the 1800’s. It’s a ghost story but also a queer love story, and I’m having a lot of fun working in a different genre. I know I’ll also be writing poetry again moving forward. Poetry is my first and deepest writing love, and I know I have much more to say in that medium.

Interested in participating in our manuscript consultation program?

Learn about this month’s consultants right here.

Excerpt from In Situ

Salt, Water, Yeast

Prayer as breadmaking;
kneading this
floursoft
and trembling thing
of my hands- these
tendons and cuticle and
whorl of prints, the
wheat sighing with yeast
and rosemary.

I have learned to be
still when I ache
to scream
Pressed words behind ribs,
told them
Stay. Sit with this.
Be smaller than you are.

Hair clings to the dough,
potteryred of Grecian shards,
the broken wine dark
vase of my hair holds
nothing. No
fingers threaded through
like benediction,
only the silver of daysgone,
pulled free of the scalp
one by one-
another rosary of
loneliness.

I pray

Send me a shipwreck love
seatossed and salt
kissed
I’ll gather you up, push
myself into your lungs and
lips
lifebreathing, a goddess,
no need or desire for
forgiveness,
only the bread and wine of want
between us,
rosemary and grapes and olives to
eat, for remembrance
and intoxication and
salt, like our firstmeeting day
of lips and gasping
air.

Let’s get drunk, shipwreck love.
Winegentle and foolish
let the bread rise an hour
-two, three-
my hands and mouth
can pass the tick
and feathered rush of time
well enough.
Honey and apples for after, to
fill us up with sweetness,
exchanged for the bitterness
of riblocked
words
Solomon song of joy
and flesh

I ache to be known
that way-
still raw like the dough
that rises, waiting
to be finished with
heat.

Bread burns.
Blackenedchar carbon soot
that crumbles
to ash
and ash
and ash.
Perhaps I will bury it
in the garden,
overmade offering, gone
back to the soil’s womb
lightless, airless, and
waiting.
I know a thing or two, I think,
of waiting.

Rough-hewn time

A fox cries out like a woman
with a knife at her throat

Wild things know only death

Inside, I weep at the bulky farm table
with Neruda and his infinite
woman, scent of twisted pines
and distance.

The moon is a fever-struck girl
dying for love

Ripe breath-holding moment before
disintegration, and art is
the specter in the hall, red lips to hide
a rictus grin.

Beauty is not my friend

The mother knows this,
tiny feet dance umbilical
tribal circles around the bonfire
of her belly-

and even this, a slow unravelling.

Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Samantha Cramer - Black Lawrence Press (3)

Samantha is a Northern California native who works in education, and loves to hike the foggy redwood coast, cook meals for her friends, and dance in her kitchen. Her work has been published in, among others, deLuge Literary Journal, Aurora Poetry Anthology, Wild Roof Journal, and was awarded 2nd place in the LaPiccioletta Barca Poetry Contest. Visit her website or purchase In Situ here.

Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Samantha Cramer - Black Lawrence Press (2024)

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Black Lawrence Press is an independent publisher of contemporary poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. We also publish the occasional translation from German. Founded in 2004 by Colleen Ryor, Black Lawrence became an imprint of Dzanc Books in 2008.

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Amber Communications Group is the largest African-American publisher of self-help books and music biographies in the US. Of the listed US black-owned publishing companies, Broadside Lotus Press has the largest history, merging in 2015 out of Broadside Press (1965) and Lotus Press (1972).

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A truly independent, privately owned publisher, with offices on both coasts, Blackstone is home to a vibrant and eclectic community of storytellers and story lovers, adding hundreds of new titles each month to its catalog of tens of thousands of books.

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