It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. David Whyte
Recently I have been drawn to David Whyte's writings. This quote that encourages us to consider the losses and disappearances, has helped me to put recent publishing experiences into a healthier perspective.
This past year printing publications for Tiger’s Eye has been a bear. We almost went with a print-on-demand service, but after doing research, decided it wasn't for us. We were straddling the fence, one printer in Oregon, one in Colorado. The Oregon printer known for not following through, the Colorado printer precise and blessedly accessible, but also charging twice as much to print the journal, which is not an option.
Issue #23 will be mailed this coming week after months of wrangling with the Oregon printer. Issue #24 was mailed last week, and we’ve heard from two poets. One said that her copy was pretty battered by the time it arrived. The other said she received an empty envelope, all three copies missing, and an apologetic note from the post office. She lives no more than 15 miles away, so I find this incomprehensible.
Just when things seemed to settle a little, just when I took a deep breath, an email from a poet saying his entire order, the newest Infinities chapbook, never made it to his house. These are gorgeous little books, made with care, the poems cohesive and important to he poet.
I am considering the time and love that goes into a business like this, to say nothing of the money. All of the years JoAn and I have read and published and communicated with poets whose work we fell in love with. I’m no longer angry, I am simply mystified by this current run of bad luck.
The universe asking us to sit up and pay attention
Whatever is going on, I am not ignoring the information, nor am I making excuses. But we do apologize for late orders, missing publications, and miss-communications. It seems that no matter the love and attention given to the work on this end, the printing process, and now the US Postal Service is creating a feeling of chaotic imbalance.
This is less about blaming than acknowledging, this is less about business than how we react when our lives on any level do not go as planned. Like Whyte, I'm willing to admit that part of our lives are bathed in difficulty. As much as we'd like to be lost in the lightness of flight, and we poets do appreciate flight, we know the dark loam of the earth is equally viable.
Thank you for your emails, your submissions, for asking us hard questions. The only answer we can give is that we are doing our best.
footnote: The missing-in-action box of chapbooks was found sitting on a post office shelf. One mystery solved.
As poets we choose levels of revelation.
I can tell you about my trip to Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keeffe painted her magnificent skulls, that I walked the labyrinth with my friend, each pass looking up to see the orange striated mountain as if for the first time, about the women I went with, or I can dig into my feelings and be starkly revealing.
How the air felt overly thin, how I resented the dryness of the southwest, missed my fecund Oregon. I can tell you that I was lonely in ways I had not thought possible. That although I’d chosen years ago to be open to life, it felt like salt in my mouth.
And at the same time I laughed like I was in middle school, was silly and honest, and was taken up in the flow of friendship. We drank wine, ate incredible food, snacked, walked, and we started a new press under the influence of wine . . .
Both experiences are true. But what do I choose to tell you in my poem?
This is the dilemma all writers face. Cheryl Strayed can write from that honest place, dark and light not far apart. Terry Tempest Williams too, although her Mormonness allows for some distancing. She often lets science and nature speak for her, through her. I never doubt her honesty.
I too have a Mormon background; how hard it is to be starkly honest, to say what I think instead of what I think someone would hear without judgment. My hope is that the generations after me have less and less reason to pretend. My hope for myself is for revelation, for the see-through quality I seek in other writers. Not self-protection, but self-revelation.
I have a stack of poetry books nearby, all written by women, one from England, the rest from the US . . . I opened one, read a few lines and put it down. The poet was philosophical; telling me what she did/thought/experienced in a way that spoke to my head, not my heart. I'm weary of intellectualism and cleverness. I can skirt around it, but what I want is for the heart to be touched.
a skipped beat
a rapid pulse
a little sweat above the lip
we expect it of love
I expect it of poetry
Maurya Simon is a poet who has moved me, made me sit up and consider. She speaks from that place of revelation . . . reminding me of Rilke, her language rich with vulnerability and God and the body.
and there was a clarity I'd never seen before
on your face, your fine bones relinquishing, at last,
our worldly hold upon you--as you entered
that doorway through which you'd never return.
It closed behind you with a barren chill, raising
the hairs on our arms, part of us dying with you...
from Dearest Mother, found in Poemeleon, A Journal of Poetry
In order to write this poem, the author had to go deep, she had to be willing to express something personal and particular. She breaks our hearts, because first hers was broken. What we choose to tell, how we choose to tell it, says everything about us as writers and as people. My hope is that I too can break hearts, even though first my own must be broken.
I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.
Several days in New Mexico, a surreal time spent with three incredible friends. The stark landscape is still with me, the oranges and yellows, muted reds, the blue of the sky.
Unexpectedly, what I've come away with, besides the memory of landscape, of long talks and laughter, wine and extraordinary meals, is more courage. And that may be the women I was with influencing me, their courage seeping into my bones.
Last night I forced myself to write. And then again this morning. What has always been a joy, what has flowed naturally, became dammed behind a life of pragmatism and duty. I had become robotic in my daily living, doing what was necessary, but not allowing myself the one thing I love: writing.
No matter how I got to that place, or how any of us gets there, this is not about self-blame, the point is that I wrote something. Not brilliant, maybe not even publishable, and yet there were a couple of turns within the poem that moved me, that brought me that familiar feeling of having come home.
Touring Georgia's O'Keeffe's territory, I was struck by my own singularity, how it must have felt for her to live in such an unforgiving setting. There is no room for posturing, no place for ego to enlarge when you're surrounded by striated mountains and the howl of coyotes.
To all of you poets and writers who are stuck, my advice is to write anyway. Write bad poetry. Lousy memoir. Write prose that you wouldn't read to your dog. But write. Like most things in life, we learn by doing, we improve by repetition, and we move into the flow not by thinking about it, but by doing it.
If you're short on courage, borrow a little of mine, but keep it just long enough until you discover your own. Look to the mountains, lean into the sky.
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.