Mom in Space: Lisa Ampleman on Her New Book


In the Q&A below, Lisa Ampleman, discusses her new book Mom in Space which was released in January 2024 and includes “Lunar Deceptions,” featured in Volume 72.2 of Shenandoah. Mom in Space is a complicated love letter to both the intergalactic and the terrestrial. Using the lens of spaceflight, Lisa Ampleman explores subjects ranging from the personal to the political, from fertility tests and parenting to climate change and civil rights.


Can you tell me the story of this book: When did you start working on it? What were some of your preoccupations as you were writing it? How did you know when you had a complete collection on your hands? 


I’m going to cheat and copy/paste a section of an unpublished essay in the middle of the book, “Neil and Me and Work and the Body,” because it explains those first two questions:


Fifty years after Neil [Armstrong] stood in the solar particles of a lunar morning, our local museum—where he’d been a board member—exhibited the Apollo 11 command module, an eleven-foot-tall relic of a Cold War crusade. Across the room were his handwritten edits on a museum-gala speech he gave in 1993: “It is not easy to predict the next 175 years—but we just might give you a preview. [. . .] It’s probably true that some folks are indifferent to museums. They are not into dynosaurs and plants and ice ages. There are important problems of today—like the budget deficits and global warming.”


Because I stood marveling at the displays too long, my hip joints ached as my husband and I walked to the car to head home to our son and his babysitter, and I felt residual pain for several days after. That was October 2019. I was still a few weeks away from meeting with my second-opinion rheumatologist, the one who started me on the right meds [for an autoimmune spinal arthritis].


Four months later, in February 2020, I sat on the Florida beach of a writing residency, reading about the Apollo program: Neil within a larger context, hundreds of thousands of people in private companies and at NASA working together to engineer a moon shot, and then another. And another. Until Gene Cernan looked one last time at the Taurus mountain ridge before he closed the hatch.


When I finished the book, I wanted to learn what happened next. In March 2020 I began the work of studying spaceflight, poring over books about Skylab, the shuttle program, Mir, the International Space Station, the year astronaut Scott Kelly spent in space. And while I did so, we all began to stay at home. A pandemic raged, my body hurt, but I could escape to space.


If things had gone differently—if I hadn’t been able to process through my new diagnosis and through the emotions surrounding infertility and miscarriage in the years ahead of that; if I hadn’t been fascinated by the exhibit and looked more into it; if I hadn’t had time at home to read and think and write, to feel like I was just writing to myself, in a way—the collection wouldn’t exist as it is, and I wouldn’t have been as vulnerable. (Sometimes now, I find myself thinking, “I can’t believe I published X or Y!” But it’s too late now…)


I put together a draft of the book’s order in January 2021 and showed it to one friend a few months later. She saw, rightly, that there was a section of poems that didn’t quite relate to the rest. I agreed quickly, took those out, and started writing toward a reorganized book. At that point, I had things I still wanted to write (a piece titled “Try Staying Home” based on a quote from an astronaut’s wife; another titled “Lava Tubes on the Moon; eventually, a long part-speculative poem), so I knew it wasn’t ready. But about a year later, after doing that work and more, I knew it was ready for review by the LSU Press team. A friend of mine, Felicia Zamora, had reminded me that we don’t need to get feedback on everything, which is often my knee-jerk response; she pointed out that I can trust my own judgment at this stage of my career. I’d done that for individual poems before—known they were as finished as they would be—but I gave myself permission not to focus-group the book with lots of people and just to send it forward. I did add one poem after the book was accepted, but it’s basically what it was then in January 2022.


Is there a poem or essay you feel is a good representative of the collection as a whole, or do you have a current favorite? What is the book’s relationship to “Lunar Deceptions,” which appears in Shenandoah?


“Lunar Deceptions” actually opens the book! It introduces many of the book’s themes (in/fertility, parenting, illness, space, women), and when I finished the essay, it definitely very quickly became, in my end, something that would start things off. It explains the kinds of experiences the “I” speaker of the book has had and introduces that speaker as a character, in a way.


One of my current favorites is the title poem, which feels perfect as the final poem if I’m giving a reading. It’s funny and serious and space-y and mom-focused, and once you’ve heard some of the other work, it closes things out nicely, even though it sits in the middle of the book.


I’m curious about some logistics: How did you come up with the title? How about the ordering of the book—its organization, how the parts cohere or relate to one another? These are poems and essays together, is that right? Or do you consider them all to be poems? How do those forms work together? And…What about the cover art? I love it! Did you find it or did the press?


I knew early on, before there was a full first draft of the book, that it would be called Mom in Space. Sometime during those pandemic days when we spent a lot of time on the couch together—him playing video games, me working, reading, or writing—my son said the phrase like “a mom in space,” as part of his riffing on words, as he did at the time (was four or five). He knew I had become interested in space. I wrote that down, and it shaped what happened as time when on.


I think of the work in the book as on a spectrum between poetry and essays: there are two lyric essays (which anchor the two sections of poetry, illuminating their concerns in the way “91 Revere Street” did for Lowell’s Life Studies), and prose poems, and a verse essay, I think, plus more traditional poems. I see a lot of hybridity happening in our field lately; Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony, Hoa Nguyen’s A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, Allison Cobb’s Green-Wood, and Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory come to mind as pieces that straddle the genres of poetry and creative nonfiction, so all of that reading influenced my choices.


And thanks for asking about the cover art! Again, long before I had a full draft of the book, I decided to do a thought experiment looking for art that might work for the cover. One of the artists I came across was Karen Jerzyk, who has an amazing Lonely Astronaut series (her work is also available on the front and back covers of Amy Miller’s Astronauts poetry chapbook). I looked through all her work and gave the press a few options. The image we chose (my favorite and theirs) reflects themes of domesticity, ruin (climate change is a theme of the book), and a complicated emotional state, all with bright, bright colors. We actually cropped the image, so I hope people check out the full piece in its landscape form. I’m thankful to Karen Jerzyk for licensing the image.


Anything special you have planned for the book’s launch, a book tour, or for marketing the book?


Coincidentally, a poetry series invited me to be a part of a group reading (#PoetryStacked) at the main UC library on the book’s actual publication date, so that felt like a launch of sorts, as will signing the book at the AWP Conference. LSU Press also hosted a Facebook Live reading a week before.


In mid-April, I’m going to be a part of an event at the Cincinnati Observatory, so that will be a local in-person event, and I’m thinking about putting together an online reading on Zoom to celebrate the book too.


Anything special you’re working on now or next?


I have two sequences I’m working on, one about salt (with recurring references to the Clementine song, nuclear materials, and climate change), and another titled “Newest Affliction.” Other than that, I’m just waiting for life circumstances to find the catalyzing agent that will pull the next book together around itself.

Lisa Ampleman is the author of a chapbook and three full-length books of poetry, including Mom in Space (forthcoming 2024) and Romances (2020), both with LSU Press. Her poems and essays appear in journals such as 32 Poems, Colorado Review, Ecotone, Image, and the Southern Review. She is the managing editor of the Cincinnati Review and poetry series editor at Acre Books.