The Making of Books, Essentialness of Allies
A Box of Books
One year ago I received a box containing copies of my second collection of poems, Pilgrim, a small body of work written during my first year of living in a very quiet town in western Massachusetts. I wrote it out of the silence of that time, and the cold of that winter, and out of love for the man I’d moved 1000 miles to be with, though doing so meant I would leave behind my home, friends, work and family. I wrote those poems despite the daily pressure to find a job, or create one for myself, because I’d spent everything I had to make the move, including a savings bond I’d saved since I was 9 years old, won in a poster contest at the local bank. I wrote out of the longing for a sense of home and the sacredness of simple things: the single blue pot I brought to make soup in, the sound of familiar footsteps on 100 year old stairs, the movements of deer in the fallow corn field out my window. I wrote about my questions, my heartache, my wonderment. I wrote without readers, because I’d left behind a wonderful writing group when I moved. I had to judge and resolve those poems mostly on my own, and so I also had to learn how to trust my instincts better, which is a particular kind of growth for any writer.
The day the box with my new books arrived, I left it, unopened on a chair. I didn’t come back to it for several hours. I ignored the box. I did the dishes and worked and took a walk. Why did I wait to open something so long awaited? Would I regret what I’d decided to publish? I do the same thing when a copy of a journal arrives. I always hesitate. I rarely celebrate. Have you ever had this response?
Without much ceremony, I eventually opened the box in private. My husband insisted we open a bottle of bubbly, which we did. I said a prayer: May these poems travel to where they are needed, to those who will appreciate them. May more poems grow from this effort.
The sacredness of stories
The book has had two print runs so far and I’ve enjoyed hearing what others see in the poems. I wouldn’t know that they sing to anyone else if I didn’t make them public. I tell my students every day that I’m working on behalf of a world in which there’s room for poetry, for poets, and what I mean by that is I believe in small moments, quiet observations, the sacredness of stories. Poems have taught me to notice more and to pay attention; to recognize beauty in unexpected places.
I’m glad for how ‘Pilgrim’ has lead me to other projects: the Urban Renga project where we’re projecting poems in public spaces; an online Poetic Pilgrimage for writers interested in writing as contemplative practice; a collaboration, ‘Here Stands,’ with visual artist Melanie Mowinski of poems in trees; and a book of writing prompts for poets and teachers called ‘Poetry Boot Camp,’ based on the prompts and practice related materials I’ve created for my students over the last nine or so years of teaching creative writing. ‘Pilgrim is on its way and I’m ready to do the other work I’ve set out for myself.
Before I do that, some gratitudes are in order. Pilgrim would not have been possible without allies, because after all, we don’t really do these things alone. On this one year birthday of my little book of poems, I want to celebrate my often invisible, yet totally essential collaborators.
Jill Peek, Publisher and creator of the Alice Greene & Co. poetry series. Our happy alliance began when I sent her a fan letter, praising what she was doing with the work of other poets I admire. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to work and grow under Jill’s guidance. Her delicate eye was exactly what my poems needed.
Alison Swan: long-time friend and fellow poet. In the late 90’s we worked together at Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor, and have shared a dialogue about poetry, the environment, activism, and stewardship for almost twenty years. When her beautiful poem, “Aubade,” written in one of my Traverse City workshops, appeared in her collection Before the Snow Moon (Alice Greene & Co, 2013), I took particular notice. I celebrated. Because of her and that poem, I decided to submit some of my own work to Alice Greene & Co.
Katey Schultz and Jennifer Steinorth are two writers I’ve shared my work in progress with for a number of years. Pilgrim is better for their close looking and reading and encouragements along the way.
I also recognize the unflagging support of my sweetheart, Matt, who in his gentle, often very subtle way, he made sure that I felt accompanied and fortified along the way. On my 40th birthday, he drove me to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s country home in The Berkshires, where I met Jill Peek for the first time, and hand-delivered the poems that would become the book. He soothed me when I doubted the endeavor and myself. He fed me when I forgot to eat. He reminded me that looking closely, and describing what it means to be alive, in our time, in this life, is worthy work.
Thank you, Literary Citizens
Lastly, I want to thank the kind literary citizens who’ve let me know when a poem has meant something to them, or that they’ve enjoyed a reading or free public workshop, and I especially appreciate those who’ve taken the time to write a reader review for Amazon or Goodreads. This gesture is especially valuable to me at this tender point in my work because gestures of public support will help me do the next thing in a world where it’s ever more essential that emerging authors show that we have an audience, readers, and people who want to hear from us.
I’ve just finished reading musician/artist Amanda Palmer’s essential book “The Art of Asking: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Ask People to Help”, I though I’d share something I keep thinking about:
“One of my favorite yoga teachers once told a story during class.
Since ever, in China, bamboo farmers have planted baby bamboo shoots deep into the ground. And then, for three years, nothing happens. But the farmers will work, diligently watering the shoot, spreading hay and manure, waiting patiently, even though nothing is sprouting up. They simply have faith. And then, one day, the bamboo will shoot up and grow up to thirty feet in a month. It just blasts into the sky.
Any small, sustainable artist-fan community works like this. Crowdfunding works like this.
There’s years and years of authentic work, tons of nonmonetary exchanges, massive net-tightening, an endless collection of important moments. Good art is made, good art is shared, help is offered, ears are bent, emotions are exchanged, the compost of real, deep connection is sprayed all over the fields.
Then, one day, the artist steps up and asks for something.
And if the ground has been fertilized enough, the audience says, without hesitation: Of course.”
So here’s where I could use your help:
I am serious about this next book project and it’s meant for you: fellow writers, fellow writing teachers, and especially those who write alone, possibly in isolation, and would benefit from some of the structure and discipline that’s provided by a teacher or a workshop.
My book of writing prompts is useful, tested, and inspiring. It leads writers down paths that result in good poems. It’s the book I wish existed when I started teaching poetry workshops to college students in 2006. I will need to find an agent and a publisher, which means I must also show some evidence of a community of interested readers.
If you have read my work at any point, or taken a class with me, or been a private student, would you write me a brief review of this book? Will you speak up on my behalf? On behalf of a world in which indy writers and artists like me can continue to make work and have a voice?
Here’s a link to my book page on Amazon. Just scroll down to where it says “Write a Customer Review.” It’s okay if you didn’t get your copy there. You can still write a few words.
The more reader reviews my book receives, the more it will show up in search engines and in “related titles” and other avenues. The more I can persuade an agent, and then a publisher (that is my hope), that my book is worth bringing into the world. It’s a crazy publishing world we live in today and for anyone with aspirations to continue publishing and working, it’s essential to play the game at least a little bit. I know that I can’t do the next thing without help.
If you don’t have a copy of the book, I’d be happy to email you a pdf version. Just ask. If you have a copy already, that’s great, too. I’ve long ago given away the few review copies I received a year ago, but I have some copies for sale on my Etsy page. I’ll gladly add a personal inscription, too.