Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More tour notes; Pt. II Poets who want to publish

There's so little time right now, because of project deadlines for freelance work and of course, the book tour. So I'm late with this second post. I'm using this blog to create a map for how I did what I wanted to do with my work, in hopes it will save me re-typing answers to email from poets who want to know how to get their books published.



How my poetry got published, part II

There was never a time in my life, once I could form words on paper, when I didn’t write. Poetry has always been and will always be my strongest inclination, but I also enjoy writing fiction and nonfiction.

I chose the college I wanted to attend because a poet I admired taught there. He was a “famous” poet, a very learned man. I spent 4 years studying with him and several other writers who taught there. I formed life-long relationships with some of them, in the sense of friendships based on intellectual interests.

I practiced writing in different forms in my classes, but my tendency during those years was almost exclusively free verse when I could choose. Even then, there were illusions of meter, because to me sound lends a dimension to poetry much in the way variations in chords influence a song. I studied music for 11 years as a child, so I am certain this influences my poetics.

I continued to read poetry from different time periods. I submitted work to my university’s literary magazine and to magazines at other colleges. I simply sent the poem with a straightforward letter along the lines of, “Please consider this poem for publication in your magazine. I have been published in the Coco-Crunch Review.” And like that, names of small magazines and such.

I set the letter up in a standard business format; I produced all my work then on an Underwood manual typewriter. In my junior year, I entered a contest because one of my professors urged me to do so. I earned an honorable mention; it was one of the Academy of American Poets contests, but I don’t remember the name and haven’t any idea where the certificate might be. I do remember who won first place: a fine poet named Paula Goff, for a wonderful poem about an owl.

Once I entered the workforce full-time (I'd worked in various part-time jobs since I was 13),I began to workshop online and occasionally attended workshops by poets who’d published widely. I did this for several years and learned a great deal because of the diversity in the workshops I frequented. I had some lovely jobs, but I was basically a work-place cripple. I’d nurtured the idea of being a renegade writer since childhood. I simply couldn’t do things any other way. By the grace of God, I survived.

I began to submit work, and some small magazines as well as a few larger, mass trade type magazines published my poems. I entered many contests and won or placed as a finalist in some. Concurrently, I was writing articles and educational material for various organizations, newspapers, and magazines in order to contribute to our income. I tried to keep a list for awhile. I gave up. There are around a dozen large boxes in my garage, full of articles, books, manuals, posters, and other publications for which I received payment. One day, I hope to make a complete list.

If a poet I admired was reading within a hundred miles of my house, and if it didn’t cost too much, I went. I learned a great deal by watching other poets present their work. This became useful to me once I began to do public speaking.

During all those years, study and scholarship occupied as much of my time as writing. This is my preference; it may not necessarily be yours. However, I do not see how a poet can move beyond his familiars without knowing what has gone before. I read history, poetry, fiction, and most anything I could get my hands on. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize I do not know.

A book that was an eye-opener, in the sense of broadening my perspective, is Women Poets from Antiquity to Now by Aliki Barnstone (Schocken). I emphasize its influence because with one exception, the poets who taught me personally were male.

Perhaps because I am Southern, I always had a keen sense of female empowerment. So as I visited and revisited voices that stretched back to 2300 B.C., I felt a kinship that was almost holy.

Once my children were born, they quite naturally affected my outlook, subject matter, and philosophies. I continued to write for a living, sandwiching poetry in between projects.

A festival director, having been sent some of my work by a mutual friend, invited me to read with distinguished writers. The director assumed I had a book. I didn’t. So we organized a small chapbook and it was printed in a small run, 200 copies if memory serves me correctly. The chapbooks sold there at the festival and at conferences where I spoke, often on creative writing and publishing topics. By this point, my children were getting older and my time was opening up. Soon all but a few of the chapbooks were gone.

I took the manuscript and added essays that had been published in various places, and for $99 a new print-on-demand outfit (recently acquired by amazon.com) produced my self-published book. It was profitable.

Two years later,when I signed with the commercial press Ocean Publishing who now publishes my books by a traditional arrangement (no subsidy or cooperative publishing), I agreed to pull the self-published title off the market. A few copies remain in stores and on Net sites, but the book is no longer being printed.

At the time, I was earning a comfortable income with writing, and finding time to study works by other authors and to write poetry.

And then everything changed because my younger daughter became ill and my husband, with all of us in the family in agreement, accepted a promotion with his company. When we moved to Florida, everything changed.

Stay tuned for part III

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