For ten years after college I didn’t write much. Or rather, I didn’t write poetry, which for anyone who knows me is a strange thing. I’ve been writing since I was three or five and scribbled ridiculous amounts of tragic/melodramatic verse since the age of eleven, all of which I saved. For a while, though, all I was writing were technical manuals (this made me fall asleep at my desk). After that I was too busy dealing with a serious lack of shut-eye since my kids hated sleep (oh the irony). However, even the most apocalyptic writer’s block eventually fades and by 2007 I’d accumulated hundreds of poems: some good, some bad. Last year, I’d just begun thinking about recycling the copies of bad poems I’d kept (because really, who needs more than one copy of dreck hanging around?) when one of my favorites of the good ones leaped out at me as I was going through the piles: “How to photograph the heart” sounded like the title poem for a collection. I went through the rest of my work, finding a number of poems that encompassed love and relationships. Hmm, I thought as I gathered them up, I should send these to someone. However, before I could even so much as press Compose in my email, I received a request from a good friend who’d been talking about starting a small press. I sent the poems I collected to him pronto and to my very great delight, he loved them. “How to photograph the heart” became the title poem for my first chapbook, published by The Lives You Touch Publications.
Working with O.P.W. Fredericks and his assistant editor Daniel Milbo from The Lives You Touch was wonderful. Both are careful readers and when I gave them my manuscript, we agreed to whittle the thirty-some poems down to twenty (and by we, I mean they, because I am terrible at picking poems that work together). I gave them total control over which poems to use and in which order to put them. For several weeks we talked about what we wanted the chapbook to look like, to feel like. They suggested sections and I came up with some ideas for titles for those. I took a few pictures that I thought reflected the title poem and O.P.W. worked with the best one to create the cover. It’s an incredible gift to be able to work with others on a creative project and have the result be so damn awesome. I love my first chapbook and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have it published.
The only small worry of mine going into the project was that as the first chapbook for a new press, I felt responsible for its success. I hoped that my chapbook would help launch the press, would be everything it needed to be for them as they began this endeavor but I needn’t have worried. The editors have a genuine commitment to making everything about their press as excellent as possible. It’s true that my chapbook was a sort of experiment: they used my work to try out ideas and we went through a number of proofs trying to find just the right size, just the right paper and typeface. I thought this might be stressful and difficult, but on the contrary, it was a very interesting experience to be there at the beginning as they designed the chapbook format and created their website and order forms. It was both fascinating and fun.
My second chapbook also began at the edge of a recycle bin (not mine this time). I’d spent the month of April 2007 writing a series of poems loosely centered around parenthood. This was my first foray into the excitement of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) where poets across the United States write a poem-a-day during National Poetry Month. This was the first time I’d actually tried to write a collection of poems that all worked together on purpose, and though writing that many poems at once was much harder than I expected, it was also addictive (like sour candy: even though you pucker up with each bite, you can’t stop yourself because the sweetness after is so intoxicating). After the month was done, I spent the next thirty days relearning how to breathe without a keyboard beneath my hands (cold-turkey) and then spent the next year tweaking the poems obsessively. In 2008 I submitted “The book of small treasures” to the Seven Kitchens Press Keystone Chapbook contest. It didn’t win. I may have cried (but I will deny that if you ask me). Several months later the editor of Seven Kitchens Press, Ron Mohring, sent an email explaining that he was just about to recycle my manuscript when he started reading the poems. He wanted to know if I’d done anything with them. I hadn’t and I was delighted when he asked if he could publish it in his Editor’s series. I may have jumped in the air (I will deny this as well).
For this chapbook, I was once again able to use one of my own photographs as the cover. I spent a few days shooting photos of my younger son holding an old box open (he accepts bribes, thank goodness) and I was quite pleased Ron liked the pic. We’d planned on releasing the chap in late 2009, but as sometimes happens, the electronic copy of the manuscript I sent to him was missing its line breaks and unfortunately, the intern designed a really awesome proof of prose poems. I have to admit, they looked great without the line breaks. I almost broke down and didn’t mention the typo because the proof was so pretty (a square book! fabulous stitching on the side!), but upon actually reading the poems I had to face the sad truth that they just didn’t work that way. Happily, in the next proof the poems were formatted correctly and after tweaking the cover a bit we had a gorgeous chapbook (a lovely green thread holds the pages together). This redesign pushed the release date ahead by several months but all of us involved wanted it right rather than early. Once again, I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to work with an editor who genuinely does his best to make everything he publishes as excellent as possible.
I have several more unpublished manuscripts sitting around (nowhere near the recycle bin) and I hope to publish them someday. It seems strange to me now that I’d ever worried about those ten years of silence (and I did, I really, really did). In the past few years I’ve written two novels, four chapbooks, one full-length poetry manuscript, and am hard at work on another full-length poetry manuscript (and a mini-chap of bicycling haiku for which I need art—I pay with sour candies?). Today I began another novel and now it feels like my head is stuffed so full of ideas that I will never find the time to get them all down on paper. I used to think that getting published would be the ultimate success for me as a writer, a sort of barrier to hold out against the silence, but now I realize that wanting publication is only part of the writing life. Publishing anything at all is wonderful, but the writing itself is what sustains me between the rejections and the acceptances. And the recycle bin. (Okay, okay, I’ll fess up: I don’t have a recycle bin. I have an old fashioned wire trash can. The paper floats into it oh so gracefully.)