Just a year ago, Andrea Deeken ordered Sondra Upham’s Freight from Slapering Hol Press (SHP) after her friend Tara introduced her to the poetry collection and publishing company. The package arrived with a small flyer for SHP’s annual chapbook competition, and Deeken had a manuscript waiting to be reviewed.
Her piece, Mother Kingdom, peels back the many layers of motherhood to find a child at the center. In this 28-page volume that crosses over space and time, the speaker shifts between child and parent, and in a memoiristic approach, Deeken is both.
“I didn’t write the poems with the thought of ‘This will be a chapbook,'” she said during an interview from her home in the Portland, Ore. area. “I just had all these poems and I was like, ‘Oh, interesting, they kind of do all fit together.’ I think it’s just kind of testament to the stuff that I was thinking about at the time.”
Soon after submission, the SHP editors selected Mother Kingdom as the winning piece for the 2021 in-house contest. Deeken’s collection then underwent an editing process for print publication, which has since garnered public attention. The American Book Fest announced on June 3 that Mother Kingdom has been named an award-winning finalist in the Poetry: Chapbook category of the 2022 International Book Awards.
“I feel like I’m kind of new to the poetry community … So I was really, really excited. It’s the first thing I’ve applied for,” Deeken said.
Though Deeken had initially dedicated herself to fiction writing, she found more comfort and connection to the self in poetry. She remembers reading poets like Marie Howe, Ada Limón and Sharon Olds for the first time and feeling “completely blown open” at the possibility of writing autobiographical snapshots. At the time of realizing this, Deeken and her wife welcomed a daughter – a pivotal moment reflected in Mother Kingdom, where she “reclaim[ed] that mother space” as a challenge to the nuclear family.
“In my fiction classes, my favorite thing was always to write these really detailed scenes, where I would almost go inside a moment,” she said. “And looking back, I think I was trying to write poems.”
These honest glimpses into Deeken’s life were not written in absence of worry. In uncovering her own narrative, Deeken found herself writing about family members, who, some of which, have responded to Mother Kingdom with opposition.
“I’m still kind of learning how to be a poet,” she said. “And I guess for me, being a poet is really about paying attention. But also, I think there’s some responsibility, too, with what I’m writing about and who I’m writing about.”
Conversations like this can affect the shape of a poem and define its limits, which is often talked through during the revision stage. Deeken worked closely with SHP Co-editors and poets Susana Case, Mervyn Taylor and Founder Margo Taft Stever in a series of intensive workshops for Mother Kingdomto read as a complete and strong collection. The experience, Deeken said, was beyond rewarding, and she anticipates her next project to be an extension of this one.
“The Co-editors and Slapering Hol Press Advisory Committee are always thrilled when an emerging poet, who wins the annual Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition, goes on to greater recognition,” Taft Stever said. “After winning the 2021 SHP competition, with some guidance from the press’s editors, Andrea Deeken was able to place more poems from her chapbook before its publication. We are honored that her Slapering Hol Press chapbook, Mother Kingdom, is a finalist for the Poetry Chapbook Category of the International Book Awards.”
SHP, a small press imprint of the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., routinely seeks to publish emerging poets through this anonymously judged competition, and has done so since 1991. This year’s SHP chapbook contest is currently accepting entries until June 15. All new and non-published writers can submit their manuscript through the page’s Submittable link.
“If there’s a voice in your head saying ‘You’re not ready,’ or ‘You’re not good enough,’ just ignore that voice and just do it,” Deeken said about entering the contest. “You never know what’s gonna happen.”
Natalie Tsur is a staff editor and writer at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. To get updates on all upcoming programming, special events and calls for submission, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
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