Post 1 of 2, June 28, 2005
Earl notes & office redux
I had a phenomenal signing at The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, SC. This is the city where most of the events in my latest book occurred. So many people visited and picked up both Killing Earl and A Poetry Break. This was technically my first tour stop, since the Jacksonville events were pre-release. Next up on my calendar are Fernandina Beach (Books Plus), Miami (Books and Books), and Savannah (Barnes and Noble) followed by Jacksonville again (new Barnes and Noble store, St. John's Town Center). I’m working on a New York event, and will also make my way to North Carolina and possibly Alabama. My publisher is busy working with the book orders and will soon have the online book sites fleshed out. I’ve been busy doing direct mail, news releases, emails and other contact work with media and those interested in my book in each geographical area. Meanwhile, I had a couple stories to turn out and some inquiries to tweak. I’m tweaking a new post for One Night for Life. Never a dull moment. A side perk: I can still see the lovely Carolina hills and the lake where I stayed, about 50 miles west of Columbia. That is beautiful country, upstate South Carolina.
Post 2 of 2, June 28, 2005
How my poetry got published, PT.1
The next few posts will be directed to poets who are hoping to publish a book. I get dozens of emails from poets who ask me how to go from poet-in-residence-of-the-home to a writer whose work leaves the kitchen or home office and hops into the world of either academic or commercial poetry. These opinions are my own, no one else’s, and if someone tells you something different than I’ve written here, listen to him or her. Evaluate many different opinions and suggestions and see what is best for you. All I can do is tell you how I met some goals and missed some others.
In the beginning
I wanted to be a writer since I can remember remembering. My mother read me Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and for reasons unknown to me, it influenced my intellect immediately and my poetic ear years later. In 3rd grade, our teacher Mrs. Eleazer asked us to write a poem. I wrote mine about a haunted house. She sent it to the newspaper and it was published. A small taste of accomplishment stayed with me, the sense of it, really. It felt nice. I had won an essay contest in first grade, so being rewarded at an early age probably had a serious impact. Otherwise, I was a shy, difficult child.
I wrote poetry from that point on. By high school, I was sending work to The Atlantic and other magazines who were merciful enough to stuff the rejection slip into an envelope and return it to me. I continued to write poetry. I also continued to read poetry and just about any other printed page I could get my hands on. I thought a lot about it, and I think I read so much because I am just plain curious.
When a person tells me she or he writes poetry, I ask, “What poets do you like to read?” If the person doesn’t immediately, with enthusiasm, name several poets he or she adores, I’m sad. This diminishes the idea of their work immediately, at least as far as I am concerned. I am sorry to say this. But it is true and to offer you anything but the truth about poetry as I know it would be unfair. So if you don’t read poetry, lots of poetry or at least a few poets in depth and volume, I can tell you I probably will not enjoy your work. But it’s not your fault, it’s my mindset. Your mother or spouse may praise your poems, however, and that is fine by me.
I have often said we poets take ourselves too seriously. We don’t, as I like to remind people in workshops, perform brain surgery. But we do aim at performing a sort of intellectual surgery, or spiritual (or both), and thus we must exercise great care in what we do with a poem. Otherwise we are dangerous to ourselves, like a blindfolded person behind the wheel of a car on I-95 in Labor Day traffic.
So my first recommendations to a poet wanting to publish rest on simple suggestions. Read poetry, a lot of it. Read about poetry, in magazines, on literary Net sites, in books. Equally important is that you must live as fully as your spirit will permit. Be curious. Nurture your intellect and your imagination. Pick a holy book and read it. This way, you will have something to write about and you will have an idea how the masters wrote about it, because there is virtually no new subject matter in poetry.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2.