Sunday, October 31, 2010


[Hey, everybody—how about a little free content today?  Here’s the poem Aaron Wilson wrote about in his review on Soulless Machine, which you can read here.  At Aaron’s blog you can also hear yours truly reading this poem, as well as watch a video version.  Enjoy!]

A curlew whooping & dipping between the dimensions you look up but you don’t see it the ghost swooping into the past & future the present’s
so rarely here in my hands the washed-out yellow & purple 

twilight that lasts forever in early July
                                                                a caquelon first rubbed
with a garlic clove then melting raclette I
want to ask everyone what they want in this poem I can’t 
it’s all up to me now the heat lightning the crusts of
bread the swallows zigzagging toward every cardinal 
point the poems
I wrote & may write & haven’t written & won’t the
words you speak when you’re standing outside yourself &
wonder why all the while
                            dipping between dimensions the pale 
purple twilight melts into the space-time continuum
just another Star Trek: the Next Generation episode the USS 
Enterprise suddenly shifting at light speeds into the wrong place at 
the right time or vice-versa—this happens all the time
the consistent heat that keeps the cheese from burning
it could be Gruyère stirred constantly the ghostly twilight yellow 
melting—tinges of purple—it could be raclette the white sky 
overhead awash with curlews you can’t see I want to ask everyone 
what comes next in this poem it’s up to me of course—the words 
you regret—the words we don’t say of course we mean them so 
urgently we say something else a joke perhaps dipping into
the past the future present’s so rarely here—the natural sustain 
of an archtop acoustic’s low E string humming for seconds & 
seconds until you damp it
                                                                by accident the curlew dipping 
between the Gruyère & raclette patches of sky its call
melting into the poems I won’t write
                                                                        in this pale purple twilight 
at some point I’ve held everything in my hands at some points
I’ve held nothing why can’t I ask everyone what they want in this 
poem a thin crust of toasted cheese—not burnt—what remains
the sky as purple as a bruise in the east—There was a
Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode like this

Jack Hayes
© 2010
Just a quick reminder: you can purchase The Spring Ghazals here, & from now thru November 11th you can buy the book for 15% off by entering coupon code LEAF305 at checkout!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reviewed on Soulless Machine

Good morning, folks.  I’m happy to announce that writer Aaron Wilson has written a really nice review of The Spring Ghazals on his always interesting Soulless Machine blog.  In the review, Aaron focuses on one poem from the “Kitchen Poems” section of the book, “Fondue”—you can hear yours truly reading it on Soulless Machine as well as seeing my first ever attempt at making a video setting for one of my poems.  I want to thank Aaron so much for his review, & also for suggesting the video, which I was a bit hesitant to try at first, but ultimately was quite fun.  Following this week, with reviews by Aaron Wilson & by Jessica Fox-Wilson, I have to say: Minneapolis rocks!

In other news: Many thanks to Raquel Matos for her great suggestions in the comments section of yesterday’s post.  Anyone who’s interested in self-publishing really should check out what Raquel had to say.  I’d also welcome more feedback on that post, should any of you wish to weigh in on what works & what doesn’t when self-publishing.  By the way, I recommend Raquel Matos’ blogs, Out of the Past—A Classic Film Blog & Thoughtful Eating.   I’ve followed both for a long while & always enjoy reading what Raquel has to say.

Following Raquel’s advice, I joined Goodreads & submitted an application to be recognized as an author.  As it turns out, The Spring Ghazals already was a Goodreads selection.  My author page (pending approval) is here—of course, I only wrote three of the books—the first three in the column. 

I’m also slowly working on a book trailer (again, thanks to Ms Matos) & hope to get that completed over the weekend.

I want to say that I’ve really been touched by the support I’ve received from folks online—it’s really been quite wonderful.  & finally, if you’re thinking of buying the book but haven’t gotten around to it, remember: between now & November 15th you can buy the book for 15% off by entering the coupon code LEAF305 at checkout on Lulu.  The Spring Ghazals is available for purchase right here.

Have a great Friday, & don’t forget to swing by Soulless Machine

Curious about the pic?  Head on over to Soulless Machine!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Works?

After a string of mostly “promotional posts,” I’m returning to an earlier thread on this blog—namely, the logistics of self-publishing. & this is a post that really requires audience participation.

I started this blog just a month ago, & The Spring Ghazals (book) has been available for about 3 weeks. There have been a number of positives in that time frame: the blog has had a very respectable number of page views & I’m gratified by the folks who’ve chosen to follow &/or subscribe. I’ve been touched by the efforts of poet Jessica Fox-Wilson to promote the book on her blog with both a review & an interview, as well as by the efforts of Kat Mortensen to get the word out thru her blogs (here & here). In addition, I appreciate that several folks on Twitter have gone out of their way to help me get the word out. Despite the efforts of these good folks—cyber friends one & al
l—the book has only sold a half dozen copies to date. This is a bit disappointing. My expectations are low (at least I thought they were low), but they are actually signficantly higher than this.

So I ask readers who have self-published: what “marketing strategies” (for lack of a better term) have worked for you? I know there are a few folks in the regular readership who have already self-published their writing, & I’m very open to suggestions. I am aware that readings are a good idea, & I’m working on that. There is zero poetry reading culture in my location, which is a very rural & conservative enclave—& in the west, rural means big distances between places. Given the realities of my location, I’m particularly interested in things I can do via the interwebs. I’d also be interested in knowing anything you tried that didn’t work so well.

This information won’t just be helpful for me—I know of at least two readers who are actively working on books that they’re going to self-publish; I’m sure the experience of others would be welcome to many.

Also: I’ve heard from a few folks about problems purchasing the book on Lulu, but only know the details in one case. Has anyone else had problems with this? If so, please let me know, with as many details as possible so I can follow-up with Lulu. You can contact me at

Thanks! I really do appreciate your support & your help!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Virtual Reading #3 & an Interview

The virtual reading continues here on The Spring Ghazals with two more poems from the “ghazals” section of the book. Both of these poems found their titles in the works of others—“don’t think twice” obviously coming from the old Bob Dylan tune & “what can we talk about that will take all night?” coming from a powerful Kenneth Patchen poem titled “Do the Dead Know What Time It Is?” Patchen is a personal favorite. The poem “don’t think twice” falls in the middle third of the ghazal sequence, while “what can we talk about that will take all night” falls in the final third.

Speaking of the latter poem, you can read what I have to say about it, & much more over on poet Jessica Fox-Wilson’s wonderful blog everything feeds process. As a follow-up to her excellent review of The Spring Ghazals, Jessica asked me for an interview, & I was only too happy to oblige
—you can read the interview here. She came up with some good questions—challenging too! I really appreciate her efforts in helping to promote the book.

Remember: if you use coupon code LEAF305 at checkout, you can purchase The Spring Ghazals on Lulu for 15% any time thru November 15th!

Hope you enjoy the poems & the interview.

Pic shows roses on the pergola at Swannanoa, Virginia-detail from a larger photo

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Save Some Dough! & More Besides!

OK, here’s the commercial: thru the largesse of Lulu, you can get The Spring Ghazals at 15% off from now until November 15th! Here are the details as presented by Lulu herself:

Disclaimer: Use coupon code LEAF305 at checkout and receive 15% off THE SPRING GHAZALS. Maximum savings with this promotion is $10. You can only use the code once per account, and you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. Sorry, self-purchases (buying books that you've published) aren't eligible. This great offer ends on November 15, 2010 at 11:59 PM so try not to procrastinate! While very unlikely we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so. Finally, Lulu incurs the cost of this discount, so it does not impact the Author's proceeds of the book.

Hey, sounds good to me!

For those who’d like to take a look at the poems before they buy, I have revised the preview on Lulu so you can read a poem from each section of the book; there’s also the ongoing “Virtual Reading” series on this blog, where you can hear yours truly read poems from The Spring Ghazals. & if you want a second opinion, check out poet Jessica Fox-Wilson’s excellent review on her equally excellent everything feeds process blog—Jessica was also kind enough to write a review on the book’s Lulu page—much appreciated, as are the positive ratings folks have left on the page.

Hope you’ll take advantage of this offer.

Now we return to our program—tomorrow: the Virtual Reading continues!

Costs less than shown in pic!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reviewed on "everything feeds process"

There's a version of this post on Robert Frost's Banjo, but I did want to take a moment to note that poet/artist Jessica Fox-Wilson has written a wonderful review of my book, The Spring Ghazals on her blog, everything feeds process.  You can read her review, for which I’m truly grateful, right here.

Ms. Fox-Wilson’s blog is always worth reading—I subscribe & look forward to new posts, which can be anything from poetry to insightful discussions on the creative process to photos taken during a commuter bus ride.  Jessica Fox-Wilson is currently working on her own poetry manuscript, which she intends to publish in the near future.  When she does, I assure you I will be reviewing it!

You also can read some of Jessica’s poetry on our own satellite blog, Writers Talk, right here;  you also can read her interview at this link

I would welcome other reviews, & would be very happy to reciprocate with reviews of your work both in this space & on my "main" blog, Robert Frost's Banjo.  & even if you can't write a full blog post review, I'd certainly appreciate positive short reviews on the Lulu page itself.

Thanks so much, Jessica! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meeting Beatrice: the Rest of the Story

It definitely wasn't like this!

Once upon a time, just about exactly 24 years ago (it was an October), a poet who had just turned 30 was giving a reading in an art gallery in a university town.  This poet’s readings were fairly popular events & usually were well-attended.  That night—a Sunday as it turns out—was no exception.  There was a good audience gathering.  & amongst that audience, the 30-year-old poet noticed a young woman & quite immediately lost his heart.

Now, you must understand, this poet had a great capacity for falling in love.  We may find that capacity jejune or neurotic or otherwise objectionable on any of several levels, but this was the truth about him.  Given that, what should have made this evening different?

But he believed it was, & in fact, from our perspective over two decades removed, we must admit he was right, tho probably not in the ways he suspected.  After the reading, he met the young woman, whom we’ll call EG (exampla gratia?  she might get a laugh out of that.) They spent the evening together, & something akin to a romance began.  Unlike Dante, the young poet didn’t just glimpse this woman at a distance.  He came to know her as a brilliant poet in her own right, as someone with a giddy & flamboyant sense of humor, & also someone whose psychological complexities seemed a match for his own.  His poetry took a decided turn—if we look back over all his work, we might say this was when his style started to take a definite & recognizable shape.  People noted that his new work was innovative & exciting.

I imagine you think I could go on at length with this story, & you’re right.  The young poet & EG spent a lot of time together.  Tho she didn’t live in the same town as the poet, her sister did, & she visited often.  The winter passed & the spring came, bringing with it all sorts of promises, as it has since time immemorial.  The poet & EG seemed quite happy, tho their relationship was decidedly unconventional & difficult in some ways.  But she soon
would be moving to the same town.

Then, suddenly, there was a rift between them.  It was indeed sudden & drastic, & the poet didn’t understand what had caused it.  This went on for months, during which the poet (of course) wrote a long poem about it all.  Then, there seemed to be a chance for reconcilation, maybe even a brand new start.  For various reasons, the poet couldn’t bring himself to act on this, because he was afraid of being hurt, & because, for reasons we won't go into here, he believed the relationship was "impossible."  He was in the habit of quoting the line from Five Easy Pieces about “things that get bad if I stay.”  At a certain point, he learned that the obstacles he believed had stood in the way of the relationship were not in fact real, & he felt very hurt.  Still, he seemed to move on with his life, & wound up on the other side of the country.

But he never felt resolved about EG, & in fact, she continued to play a significant role in his poetic imagination.  Characters somehow based on her cropped up in a lot of his poems.  Then, 10 years after the first meeting, the poet—now 40—met an old acquaintance from that earlier time.  The acquaintance knew the story about the poet & EG, & the acquaintance told the poet how EG had never wanted things to happen the way they did—how much she had regretted that & had wanted to be reconciled.  The acquaintance said that EG was now married & successful in Hollywood as a screenwriter; he also told the poet about love poems EG had written to the poet that the poet had never seen.  He asked the poet if he’d like to be in touch with EG again.

The poet felt strangely helpless, as if someone had just given him a glimpse of an alternative life he had let go by.  He was sad—the hurt he’d felt for the years intervening came to the fore on that evening in a San Francisco studio apartment.  But he said, “It’s too late now,” & passed on the acquaintance’s offer to put him in touch with EG.

Then it was 12 years later still, & the poet had moved on to a new life—a settled, middle-aged life, generally full of great contentment.  But he no longer wrote poetry.  In fact, he really hadn’t written poetry since around the time that he met with that old acquaintance who had revealed more of the story about EG.  One morning, he found an email in his inbox.  He couldn’t believe his eyes: it was from EG.  It was almost like seeing a ghost; but after a brief deliberation, he responded.

For a couple of months, he was in touch with EG, mostly thru email, but a few times on the phone.  He was really quite happy, & felt as if everything that had gone so wrong was now redeemed thru this newfound friendship.  In fact, he began writing poems again.

But things went wrong again, rather dreadfully so, & since this is no longer “once upon a time,” we’ll leave it at that.  My father used to say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” & perhaps that applied to this situation.

The poet stopped writing again, but not for too long.  He began a blog; when the next spring came, he wrote some poems, & then more in the fall & winter.  Once the poems were done
—& the poet knew exactly when that was—he published the book of them.

The book was called The Spring Ghazals.

Image is "Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita", by Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Virtual Reading #2

Happy Sunday, all!  Now that the music performing season is winding down (I think), I’ll be putting more time into the poetry side of life, & that will include the rather unfamiliar territory of marketing The Spring Ghazals.  Sales continue to be slow, but on the advice of the good folks here, I’m starting to explore some options for public readings. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a lot of experience as a reader, both in Charlottesville, VA & also San Francisco.  Given my current location in the rural Idaho rangeland, reading venues are few & far between, but I’m looking to get creative.  There are probably options in Boise, & I’m also hoping to use connections in Portland & San Francisco to set some things up in those cities.  Obviously, one doesn’t turn a profit driving from Idaho to California to sell poetry books, but since I’m due for a visit to friends in the Bay Area anyway, I’m hoping to combine “poe-business” & pleasure.

Closer to home, there’s the resort town of McCall, & I’d like to set something up there in the near future.  Long term, Eberle & I, in concert with a new artist friend, have concocted a rather elaborate (&, Eberle believes, grant-worthy) concept of poetry reading as multimedia event—including both live music & live art creation.  That’s a ways down the road, but it is an exciting idea.

In the meantime, I offer you, dear readers, another virtual reading—two more poems from The Spring Ghazals, both from the “The Spring Ghazals” section of the book, & both much concerned with musical imagery.  The title of the first poem comes, of course, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, while the title of the second is taken from Anne Waldman’s fine poem, Holy City.  Both poems fall within the first third of the sequence.  In fact, you can listen to all four poems posted so far if you’d like.

Thanks for stopping by, & hope you enjoy the poems.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Virtual Reading #1

Back in the spring of 2009 when I was actually writing the ghazals section of the book, The Spring Ghazals, I made recordings of a handful of the poems—this was requested by readers on Robert Frost’s Banjo, where the poems were being posted.  I thought it would be a good thing to re-post these recordings on this site.  At some point, I’ll take Jacqueline T Lynch’s suggestion & post a short “video reading.”

The poem “Ghazal 4/24” is the first poem in the sequence, & was also the first poem I composed in the “Spring Ghazals” section of the book—the poems in “Kitchen Poems” section & some of the poems in the “Cloudland” section were composed in 2008.  The April 24th ghazal was in fact inspired by a vivid & somewhat disturbing dream the night before: the dreams that arise from grief are probably always unsettling.  The title of the second poem, “it is night & it is serious,” comes from Kenneth Fearing’s poem, “Green.”  “it is night & it is serious” is positioned in the last third of the 19 poem ghazal sequence.  I should point out that the ghazals only make up one section of a four section book.

In other ghazal news, I’d recommend checking out Jessica Fox-Wilson’s ghazal, “Ghazal on Falling and Flight,” on her excellent everything feeds process blog.  Ms Fox-Wilson handles the ghazal in a more traditional way with consistently rhymed refrains, & has crafted a fine poem within the form.  I also very much appreciate her shout-out to The Spring Ghazals in her post!

Hope you enjoy the poems.

Pic shows the statue of Christ at Swannanoa.  It was taken in the spring of ’87, on a day that recurs in the Ghazals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Good morning, dear readers.  I wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated the response to this blog so far, especially on Twitter & Facebook Networked Blogs.  The re-posts & tweets & re-tweets have been great.

It’s still early days on the re-launch of The Spring Ghazals, but so far the response to the re-publication in terms of actual sales has been very slow.  That being the case, I thought I’d approach the readership here with a few practical questions.  These questions will, I hope, draw on your experience both as self-published authors & as folks who actually buy books of poetry.

My wife, Eberle, offered the opinion recently that “no one buys a book of poetry unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.”  While I can think of times that I’ve bought a poetry book on an impulse, there’s probably some truth in this.  & it probably becomes more true when we’re talking about the book published by an unknown author.  After all, we all have budget limitations on entertainment purchases, & there are films & music & live theater, etc., all competing with books for the entertainment buck.

So any insight on the following questions—or any additional practical tips—would be much appreciated.  Thanks!

  • Do you think that $12.00 US is a reasonable price for an 80-page book of poetry? 
  • Would the option of purchasing a signed copy directly from the poet make you more apt to buy the book?
  • Do you find that live events like readings add significantly to sales? (admittedly, where I live this is a marginal option, but I’m sure I could get something put together)
  • Would background material about the poems (on a blog such as this for instance!) make you more likely to purchase a book?
  • Would you be more likely to purchase the book if some or all of the content was also available for free online?  In that case, you’d be paying not for the content per se, but for “the content in a convenient, highly readable form.” (to borrow a phrase from Dave Bonta of the excellent Via Negativa blog.)

That last question is a particular poser for me.  Mr Bonta noted in a very helpful Twitter discussion that posting the poems in his collection Ode to Tools hasn’t hurt the books’ sales.  On the other hand, I’ve had the experience of making content available for free & having virtually no sales: in its original incarnation, The Spring Ghazals was available as a pdf download, & as I’ve mentioned here, most of the poems have been posted (tho not in any sequential manner) on Robert Frost’s Banjo, where they were greeted with quite an enthusiastic response.  Also, The Days of Wine & Roses continues to be available as a free pdf in addition to being available as a book for purchase, & at this point, practically all the poems in the collection have been posted sequentially on the dedicated blog of the same name.  These things being the case, I’ve been reluctant to post poems from The Spring Ghazals, especially en masse—after all, while I think of gone into this publishing process aware that there’s a limited market for self-published poetry, I’d like the book to be in as many hands as possible & to at least recoup my modest investment.

So these are my questions—no doubt I haven’t thought of several that are at least as relevant!  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated—thanks so much.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Self-Publish?

A quiet day in Indian Valley, Idaho—sunshine coming thru the matchstick blinds, but also silver clouds & the rhythm of the willow branches; the gray blue mountain to the east, the sage on the hill—sounds of a keyboard from upstairs, the computer’s hum. A day for introspection.

So I sit & wonder. The Spring Ghazals is again available. I could have put it in your hands, dear readers, in a number of ways. I could have been content with posting most of the content on Robert Frost’s Banjo—at this point, I believe only a few of the poems from the book aren’t there somewhere in the archives; I could have started a dedicated blog & posted the poems there on a regular basis, as I did with the poems from my San Francisco collection, The Days of Wine & Roses. In fact, I could have circulated the poems in either digital or paper versions simply amongst my “3-D” friends—after all, that was how the majority of my poems have been read looking back over a 30+ year writing career.

These would also be forms of “self-publishing.” But instead, I chose to make the poems available in a print-on-demand book. Why is that? When I was a young man & more directly involved in the poetry scene, self-publishing was considered the “kiss of death” for any kind of legitimate writing career. Of course, this was before print-on-demand—before the internet for that matter. At that time, the publishing market for “legitimate” poetry was closely controlled by a circle of presses & literary magazines. Although no one was making any real money from it (at least that’s my impression—the poets certainly weren’t), poets & to a large extent, fiction writers, were confined inside this circle. Staying within the circle—sending poems to the right journals & presses—afforded some promise of success. Any attempt to distribute one’s work outside that circle would automatically make the work “illegitimate.”

Things have changed since the 1980s. We now have not only the internet, but a proliferation of social media that encourages networking. As such, the digital age is a potential boon for all artists who want to make their own niche outside the traditional distribution channels that are controlled by institutions, be they academic or corporate. But do we ourselves still attach a stigma to self-publication? We may forget that William Blake, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings & James Joyce all followed this route at some point. Perhaps the most surprising book to come up on the list of self-published titles—not a literary work at all: The Joy of Cooking!

Abbie Hoffman aside, we certainly don’t expect to go to the bookstore & slip the latest bestseller (or the current edition of The Joy of Cooking) into our pocket & slide out the door; when we go to iTunes or Amazon, we don’t expect to find our favorite musical offerings for free. In fact, a number of bloggers offer artistic products for sale, whether these are calendars (or here) or t-shirts or artwork—& these links only point to four examples among many. Why should it be any different if the creation offered for sale is poetry or fiction writing?

I hope you take a few moments to listen to what Amanda Palmer has to say in the video embedded at the bottom of this post. Ms Palmer is a phenomenon, someone who’s been able to parlay a singular mix of talent & will & savvy into a solid musical & artistic career outside the corporate channels that have controlled music until very recently. Others are following her example: to name just a few whose work I know, these would include cellist Zoë Keating, guitarist Matt Stevens & “found” music whiz Sxip Shirey.

Is music somehow different than poetry? Is there presumption in asking for compensation for words? The French historian Braudel said something to the effect that money is a metaphor that conquered the world. If money is indeed fundamentally metaphorical, wouldn’t it be a good thing to put more “value” on the arts? & that goes for art beyond the mainstream, corporate-run distribution channels (which is what Amanda Palmer is attacking in her talk). If we don’t put our art out there as something of “value,” then, far from exploiting our art for profit, we are placing our candle under a bushel. The same is true if we allow ourselves to put our arts' distribution (or lack of same) into the hands of instituions. The internet & social media have created ways for artists—all artists—to establish an audience. The ability to create an audience & market to that audience, is no longer solely the prerogative of corporations, whether record labels, publishing houses or mainstream art galleries.

So yes, I’m placing my poetry before you in this way. Without being presumptuous, I’m confident in saying The Spring Ghazals is a good book of poetry that deserves a readership. I hope you’ll agree.

Pic: Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy & Ezra Pound: all published outside the mainstream, all now canonized. Stein & Loy are personal favorites, btw.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not Ideas About the Book, But….

the book itself.  Yes, friends, The Spring Ghazals is “live” on  Yes, you can purchase your own copy for $12 US at this linkThe Spring Ghazals also should be available within the next several weeks on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

If you’re one of the few that have a copy of the “first edition,” I can tell you that very little was changed.  The poems are all the same, & in the same order.  I revised the biographical blurb a bit, but this is a minor point in the “big picture.”  To my mind, the big change between the original version & this one—aside from its slightly more official standing in the worldwide book world—is the addition of the following epigram from Edith Wharton’s diaries at the beginning of the book:

“In every heart there should be one grief that is like a well in the desert.”

Perhaps at some point I’ll address that epigram on this blog.  However, even with no real background, I believe the epigram will make sense to anyone reading the poems.

I do hope that you’ll purchase The Spring Ghazals.  From a poetic standpoint, I believe these poems will not disappoint; & from a personal standpoint, the poems are dear to my heart.  If you purchase the book (or if you already have a copy), please consider reviewing &/or rating the book on the product page.  It would be wonderful if some of you also would consider reviewing The Spring Ghazals on your blogs—I assure you, I’ll certainly return the favor!

I’ll be back to “ideas about the book” & the process soon—it’s a busy time right now on the musical front, but I intend to get another post up here within the next few days.

Thanks so much for your interest, & hope you enjoy The Spring Ghazals.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Have You Published?

When I was a young fellow, I had a consuming passion for a young woman who lived in Chicago—let’s simply called her JM.  & so, off & on for a couple of years, I found myself in that great city paying her visits.  Truth be told, she was one of those very distinct faces in the front row of my poetic audience—so distinct, in fact, that perhaps she was almost the only face I focused on for a few years.

This is all to indicate that I placed extraordinary importance on her opinion of me & my poetic gifts.  During one of my visits to Chicago, I met her at an ad agency where she worked, downtown on Michigan Ave in one of the landmark skyscrapers.  During the visit, I met her boss—an urbane & older man.  When JM introduced me to him as a poet, his first question was, “What have you published?”

This was 1981, & I’d published nothing at that time.  I can still remember my chagrin!  I told myself that I was going to remedy this just as soon as possible, & once I was back in Vermont, I started sending out poems with a will.

& whaddya know?  I got published!  I was published in a few literary mags & was feeling pretty good about myself.  I was then accepted into a good MFA program at the University of Virginia.  Most people who knew me, peers & professors alike, believed my life’s course was clear ahead: a career in academia as a successful poet.

But something happened in Charlottesville.  While I did well in school & gained respect from my teachers (Charles Wright & Greg Orr), I also started to question the career path I’d seen so clearly only a brief year or two before.  I found myself not wanting to write the sort of poetry that was getting published in the mid 80s—I experimented rather a lot with form, but for various reasons, my poems also didn’t fit very well with the “new formalism” that was current then—this was the period when one of my peers characterized my writing as “beat formalist,” which may have meant that in editors’ eyes it was “neither fish nor fowl.” 

& in fact, as it got more difficult to publish what I was writing, I tended to become more, rather than less, contrarian, & more determined to write what I pleased.  It was also true that a good number of my peers liked what I was doing, & some of them started literary mags, so my publications continued, tho now outside the circle of journals & contests that one was (is?) compelled to write for in order to foster an academic writing career.

One event regarding publishing really stuck with me during that time.  A peer in the MFA program won one of the more prestigious young writer contests, the prize being a book publication.  & I remember seeing that same book, less than a year later, in the remainder bins of the Charlottesville bookstores.  On the other hand, & in fairness to this “process,” this poet does have an academic career.

But I found myself in the position of rebel, but without the wherewithal to carry this all the way thru—because I realize in retrospect that had I carried this stance to a logical conclusion, I also might have achieved a sort of “success.”  But in fact, my poetry began a long residence in a sort of limbo—respected & liked by a fair number of peers, including folks who were achieving success in “poebiz,” but gaining absolutely no traction in that “poebiz” world.  As time went by, I sought publication less—for one thing, I saw its main purpose (at least in terms of mainstream lit magazine publication) as providing stepping-stones toward the academic career I’d rejected.  & speaking of rejected—my poetry still didn’t seem to match what any of the mainstream mags were looking for.  Also, by this time I’d moved to San Francisco, where I developed a presence as a café reader.  My readings were popular, & to a great extent, I found them more satisfying than publication—I’ve always had a “performer” streak.

Now I’ve written all this & still not addressed the self-publication question!  Next time, I promise!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Who’s in the Audience?

Anyone’s who’s ever performed under stage lights knows: the audience is for the most part a group of figures, their features indistinct, if visible at all.  & yet as performing artists, we thrive on this group of unseen people—why?  Energy: although we can’t see the audience except for a few faces in the front rows, we can feel them.  Audiences give something to the performer: energy, vitality, inspiration.  Almost without exception, an integral part of a good performance is a good audience.

How does this idea of audience energy pertain to writers?  After all, theater, music & dance are “performing arts”—writing poetry & fiction—the actual creative acts—this is almost always done in isolation—we don’t invite our friends to watch us while we type out words!

But for me, audience has always been a crucial part of the writing process.  However, for the longest time, I focused exclusively on those few faces I could see past the stage lights, not on the figures beyond them who were faceless shapes.  Yes, I’ve always written with an audience in mind, but an audience made up of a discrete number of people—a half dozen, perhaps a dozen at most.  & indeed, I received energy, vitality & inspiration from that audience.

How is this relevant to publishing in general & to the process of publishing The Spring Ghazals in particular?  The Spring Ghazals actually began with a series of poems addressed to an old friend—I say “friend,” because I don’t know a word to better define what has been a complex & perhaps unique relationship.  In any case, the poems that now appear in the book as the “Kitchen Poems” section began as a direct address to her, tho they were shared with a handful of other people as well—other distinct faces in the audience. 

This was before Robert Frost’s Banjo.  With one exception, a poem which this friend posted on her blog—a popular site that’s no longer extant as she’s moved on to different things—the “Kitchen Poems” had a very small audience.

I’ve generally made myself comfortable with that—I was content circulating poems in a circle of other writers & creative people while taking an MFA—this included publishing in journals run by friends & acquaintances; I was content giving readings & publishing in a punk rock ‘zine while in San Francisco.  I used to say I had a very 16th century view of publishing—that I wrote poems for an intimate circle—those few recognizable faces in the first rows.

But at a certain point, I realized that if I were to keep writing now, in my middle-aged return to poetry, I needed a larger sense of audience.  First there was the Robert Frost Banjo blog—the prose poems in the “Cloudland” section of the book were written for the blog long before I even knew a book was in the offing.  Then the “Ghazals” themselves were written for the blog in the spring of 2009, & as the sequence grew, I began to see a “book” taking shape.

But all the time I was posting these poems on a blog with a growing readership, to be read & commented on by people I scarcely knew, I was also writing the poems for the same intimate circle as always; & I was writing them as much for my old friend as ever, tho at that point we were no longer in touch….

Here’s the fact of the matter: at a certain point I realized that it’s necessary to draw energy & inspiration from the audience as a whole, not just from those few faces you can see.  If what we’re giving in art is a mode of communication, & this seems true whether we’re using words or notes on a guitar or dance gestures or brush strokes, then at some point we have to decide whether we really want to circumscribe that communication.  If I’m onstage playing music & I decide to somehow restrict my communication to the few people I can actually see in the front row, then I won’t give a good performance—it’s all about “giving” & “receiving.”  But yes, I do focus on a few faces I recognize, but I let them take me to the rest of the audience—the indistinct figures in the further rows.

In the writing game, we call that publishing.

Next time (sometime in the next few days!) “Why self-publish?”

Photo of the Alice in Wonder Band during an ovation at the Alpine Playhouse by Tim Hohs