Kind of embarrassing, the things we swear we'll never do, then end up doing . . .
We vowed not to publish our own work in Tiger's Eye. We broke that vow only once in the "crane fly" issue. And now, very unexpectedly, we are going to publish my chapbook this coming autumn with Tiger's Eye Press.
While working on other people's chapbooks, I realized I knew exactly what I liked, and decided I wanted to create that kind of book for myself. My fonts. My layout. My cover.
The boundaries of self-publishing have relaxed considerably. A Colorado poet we are publishing has recently published her own book. It is classy. It is as professionally done as any publishing job created in a publishing house. The beauty of the book and her tenacity have made me reconsider my stance on self-publishing.
Am I for it or against it?
I am both.
Having an editor choose your poems or manuscript will always be wonderfully vindicating. Always. To have someone take an interest in your work, to recognize your brilliance, well, we all want that. But there is something freeing and surprisingly fun, yes fun, in creating your own book. From writing the poetry, to choosing fonts and tweaking lines to fit the layout, the book is entirely your creation.
The traditional process of submitting and being accepted, invited, included and finally published is a long drawn-out affair. Some writers hit pay-dirt early and some don't. Some hit pay-dirt once and then wait years for another similar acceptance. In the mean time they're questioning their talent, their marketability, maybe even their self-worth.
You may have read the derogatory comment Sue Grafton made about self-publishing. She later apologized and said she'd missed the entire modern self-publishing movement, and then apologized some more. Hers was an honest reaction, and maybe she had missed the changes in publishing, being wildly successful taking the traditional route, but the stigma still endures. It is that stigma we either bow down to or help to eradicate. With each successful self-publishing experience, we can relax our belief in the all-powerful, all-mysterious world of publishing.
My familiarity with publishing, layout, printing and the process of working with other people's poetry, has erased all of that mystery. There are inky words on paper. There are printers and there are bills to pay. There are trips to the post office and phone calls to the printer. And there are more phone calls to the printer.
At the end of the day the most important issue is getting our work to a reading audience. And whether someone publishes our book, or we do it ourselves, it is going to be hard work. After the writing, after the layout, after the decisions about printing and costs, there is the inevitable and superficial marketing of our product. The mostly-dreaded realm of self-promotion.
Notes to people we haven't seen in 10 years
The irony is that although there is little fame or money connected to writing poetry, this is the very permission we need to self-publish. The publishing mystique may be gone for me, but the magic is still present. The magic though is not about seeing my work in print; it is the creative process itself, the germ of an idea, the fleshing out of that idea, and the unexpected phrase or image or emotion birthed in the creation of something no one has ever written before. That kind of magic isn't dependent on the publishing process; it is instead particular, personal and dangerously sacred.
First, do the writing, that is what you've been called to do. Later, choose the best publishing route for your work. You may have to go back on your own vow to never ever no matter what self-publish, or you may keep to the standard of submission and acceptance. Either way, get your words out there where they belong, in the hands and hearts of other humans.
Nearly six weeks on the road.
And more than six weeks behind at Tiger’s Eye Press.
Tiger’s Eye Press is truly two women at their computers. It is driven by a love of poetry. And it is often a bumpy process, because both editors have big families and other obligations that can take them away from their computers.
On Dec. 7th, I left Denver for Boston to fulfill one of those obligations. I got home on January 16th.
I have promises to poets that have gone unmet, chapbooks left unfinished, the journal itself stalled, along with my own work. But it has been necessary to hesitate long enough to answer to a sinus infection, and to consider my unusual drive across country to deliver a car, Christmas in Oregon, and then the birth of my grandson in California.
A trip is never what we envision, no matter our planning or dreaming. It is like a relationship, it goes where it wants to go. We do well not interfering with the inexplicable process.
Descending into Boston, the water on both sides of the airplane surprised me. I’d never landed at Logan before. But I thrive near water, and could not wait to see the Atlantic, or my friends who waited for me. A week of touring the area with them, and then their leaving, and me left to drive their car across country. I’d volunteered for the drive, a kind of personal “on the road” experience. But the day they left, a nasty storm cancelled all incoming flights, and JoAn, who had planned to accompany me, had to cancel her trip. It would be a solo drive after all.
The iced sidewalks were daunting, but I live in CO, and a little ice wouldn’t stop me from enjoying my last day in Salem. I was determined to see the Asian exhibits at the local art museum, the PEM. But the fact that I couldn’t maneuver the car out of the parking lot made me forego the museum. Until the snow melted enough to back my car out, I spent my time gathering up my friends’ last stray belongings, gave some away, putting a “free” sign on them, and leaving them in the lobby of their apartment building. I tossed whatever else I couldn’t give away or store in their car, and did my final packing for the road trip from Salem, MA to Denver, CO, and then on to Portland, OR. And later to Sacramento, CA.
What I expected from the drive was:
a crack in the ennui of the past two years.
What I got was two days of wiper fluid being frozen in the lines, having to stop every 50-100 miles to drench the windshield with wiper fluid poured directly from the jug onto the filthy surface. There were times I had to scrunch down while driving to look through the tiny clear triangular space left between the two wipers, and a few others when visibility was zero. When that happened, I held my breath until a semi flew by, sending up sheets of water that cleaned the glass off enough to see again. The weather had turned arctic, there were tolls at most exits, and I had no idea where I was once I left the interstate.
My choice was to keep going or to find a mechanic in a strange town, adding hours, possibly days to my trip. So I kept driving.
On day three, after staying in a hotel that I jokingly considered moving into, I got up my courage and left for the final push to Denver. The temperature in Iowa was warm enough to melt the frozen fluid in the lines, and I filled the reservoir with the precious blue 20 below fluid. I used the washer fluid constantly that day, even though it wasn't snowing, the relief of a clean windshield my new obsession.
The drive to Portland was a caravan, my husband driving our Escape, me driving our friends’ Escape. This leg of the drive was equally harrowing, people hitting black ice and sliding off the freeway, cars in ditches, fog that gave us almost zero visibility, and the surreal but frightening blowing snow, which I'd never experienced before. But still, it was those first two days that stand out in my mind. My choice to keep going, to not lose my composure when I had no idea if my vision would be obscured too long or not, was both necessary and foolhardy.
Was there a right decision?
You could unwind the story back to volunteering to drive someone’s car from point A to point B. In Oregon for Christmas, later in California waiting for my grandson Ryker’s birth, I had little time to consider if the choice was smart or foolish. Now, back at home, sitting at my desk, I sense the changes I envisioned were not about revealed truths or imagined independence, not even about getting my writing mojo back; but instead about learning to trust myself again. I had lost that somewhere, had deferred to others too often, had leaned in too far and let go of my own voice.
So easy to do this without even knowing.
JoAn has been working hard to complete two issues of Tiger's Eye at the same time. I am finally able to settle down enough to assist her, and to finish the projects we owe people. I am once again riding the tiger, holding a grail cup filled with diverse images and emotions. The cup belongs to all of us, but the voice inside is mine.