Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Do I Want?

It’s been wonderful to see the positive reviews of The Spring Ghazals from fellow bloggers; I’ve appreciated the time & effort you folks have put in so much.  It’s gratifying also to see that other folks “get” what I was about & find these poems moving—the latter is particularly gratifying because in so many ways the poems in The Spring Ghazals treat personal—some might even say, private—matters. 

Because I ask myself what exactly it is I want or expect from these poems now that they’re gathered together in a book that people can buy—people, at least in theory, who know nothing about me or about any of the circumstances that led to the poems being written.  Of course, since I have made these poems into a book & made that book available to the general public, that must be what I want.

The “Kitchen Poems” were the first poems written in The Spring Ghazals manuscript, & at first these only intended to be shared amongst friends.  Then later, in the midst of a lot of personal distress, I started the Robert Frost’s Banjo blog.  At first I didn’t intend to post any of my poems there, tho I did write some prose poems in the first couple of months that eventually were gathered into the “Cloudland” section of The Spring Ghazals.  & as the blog began to develop a readership, I slowly began to post my own work—poems from my San Francisco days at first.  The poems drew a positive response from readers.

In the spring of 09, again in the midst of quite a lot of personal turmoil, I started writing the actual ghazals.  Without even as much comment as I’ve offered on this blog as to what was behind them, I started posting them on Robert Frost’s Banjo.  Again, they were met with enthusiasm, & I was grateful for this.

Now the poems have moved from the flickering computer monitor to ink & paper.  They are available at a price.  I ask myself these days—especially as sales still remain extremely slow—what that means & how it fits with what I “want” for these poems.  I’m not naïve—I never thought that I’d make real money off the book.  Did I think I might sell, say, dozens of books?  Yes, I did.  Perhaps when the book moves onto Amazon & Barnes & Noble that still will be true.  But at this point, I think I need to assess what a realistic idea of “success” is.

I wrote this book in a state of emotional upheaval, it’s true.  Of course, in the composing of any individual poem, there’s something like joy—there’s the feeling of being lost & outside oneself, looking at one’s own experiences from a more focused & intent place.  One isn’t in “distress” in the moments of writing anymore than one is abysmally depressed while actually playing the blues.  Does writing poetry cure this sort of distress, as singing may “take your blues away?”  I can’t say that I’ve ever found it to be a long term solution—in fact, there have been times in my life when I’ve thought that far from helping one to surpass distress poetry—at least in my personal experience of it—actually seems to foster it.  I don’t say that this is true for everyone—perhaps not even for most.  It has been true for me.

So what do I want?  In an ideal world, dear reader, I would have liked the person to whom the book is dedicated, the EG I wrote about earlier on this blog, to have the poems & to like them.  The fact that this isn’t the case is beyond my control.  Beyond that, tho, I believe in these poems as good poems—I believe that, despite their personal origin, they can move & interest others.  But now I realize that to a large extent, whether this happens is also out of my control.

It seems there’s an act of letting go that’s called for—perhaps in some way, that’s what’s “wanted,” even if it’s not what “I want.”  The Spring Ghazals have gone past me—even if they only ever find their hands into a small handful of people who read & enjoy them, they are out of my hands now.  Yes, I’ll continue to do what I realistically can to draw people’s attention to them.  But after that, this is all between you—the people who somehow encounter the book—& the book.

Letting go—as it says in the book: “this is so far the hardest poem/before the next poem in this lifetime”

Pic: To add a bit of levity to the proceedings, Hogarth’s “The
Distrest Poet”


  1. I think that you're asking some really good questions here, John.

    When poems are left in our drawers, and not published or shared, they don't get to live a life of their own. We (as the poets) have total control of them. We imagine them in idealized (or degraded) states. We don't know what they are really like, because we're often too close to them. Back when I used to teach literature, I would tell my students that a poem or a story isn't literature until it's published. The audience makes the work come alive. Cheesy, but true. The size of the audience isn't as important as the engagement of the audience.

    I think the question of "what is successful" for a poet is also skewed. Poetry books in general don't sell very well. There are very few (if any) poets who can support themselves solely with their book royalties. So, we do have to define success for ourselves in a different way. Is it completion of the project? Is it getting the attention of an intended reader? Is it making a reader see things through your perspective? Is it selling 5, 10, 25 books?

    Watching your process unfold has been really instructive for me, as I prep my manuscript. I am glad that I have this post to remind me that I'll have to reframe my ideas of success throughout the publication process.

  2. Hi Jessica: I'm sao glad you liked this post & took the time to comment. Yes, there is a letting go involved that I hadn't thought about or acknowledged. I particularly like this: "The size of the audience isn't as important as the engagement of the audience." That seems right on. Thanks, & continued best wishes for your work on "Blameless Mouth!"

  3. Hi John,

    Sorry for being absent for a while; I have been aware of your posts recently on your blogs, but not been able to commmit to read them. (I still need to catch up.)

    I agree with Jessica about the "letting go". I think not only does that mean letting go of the books themselves and where they ultimately end up, but also, letting go of expectation (at least for me, that's the case) of selling many of them.
    I don't think we should be disappointed - I think we need to find small successes in what we've accomplished. I learned yesterday, that a friend of mine who is undergoing cancer treatment, has my book at her bedside to "cheer her up". That was truly gratifying to me, more than I can say.

    I must apologize also for not having written a review of "The Spring Ghazals" for you. To be honest, I feel ill-equipped to do so - your poems always challenge me and I really want to do them justice, but I don't know if I can.

    I will have a look at the book again soon (I found it on a shelf at the house) and will endeavour to write about it soon.

    All the best,


  4. Hi Kat: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As far as a review goes, don't feel compelled to write one--you've done a lot to advertise & promote the book as it is, & I assure you I appreciate it all. One thing I realize about a number of folks in the Blogger community that you & I are associated with: they approach poetry in a different way than I do, & because of this, it's going to be a hard sell to get them to buy this book. Also, there's a lot of free content out there, & I think there are some folks who have misgivings about making content for sale. Anyway, that's a long way of saying don't ever feel like you haven't done enough to support my poetry--you've been such a wonderfully consistent supporter & friend!