Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Poetry Life In Review

Putting my Spotify on "random" as I begin to type this, I have experienced a bit of synchronicity:  The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" began to play.  What a fitting opening for me as I reflect on this past year.

This past year has been one of great writing success but at the price of a healthy dose of reality.  This sums up several other people's posts reviewing their year, too.  Being in good company (as far as  I can tell) I will take that and my Spotify coincidence as a sign the universe is speaking directly to me and will hereafter channel my thoughts in an unfiltered manner.

1.  I have had two full length books released.  This was by both design and by serendipity.  My book Hobble Creek Almanac (Aldrich Press) came out first, and was accepted amazingly early in the submission process.  In fact, I found Aldrich Press by way of my friend and fellow poet, Jeff Newberry.  As it turns out, his wife, Heather, designed the cover art for the book.  The book has received a good reception and some remarkable reviews, for which I am eternally grateful.  Design and Serendipity.  My next book, Sailing This Nameless Ship (BlazeVOX), was picked up after a long and arduous process which had it's origins in late 2008.  For years I labored under the assumption the poems were not the kind anyone would ever want to see.  Then Geoffrey Gatza from BlazeVOX suggested we put the book out as an e-book.  I was thrilled because it seemed to be the best way to unburden myself of the manuscript.  However, shortly after the book was accepted, Gatza asked me if we could just make the book happen as a physical entity. As it turns out, I was able to pay Heather to create some wonderful ads for STNS. Serendipity and Design.

To think I would have two books, let alone two books released in the same year was an entirely foreig concept t me even three years ago.  In the past nine years, I have seen four poetry chapbooks and three full length poetry collections come to life.  I still have a hard time conceptualizing it as I look back over what has transpired.  This year with the two books in quick succession has me thinking 2013 is a professional highlight I will never see again.  Oh, I hope to write more books, better books, but I cannot see a time when I will be this fortunate again.

2.  I received a Jackpot Grant from the Nevada Arts Council to aid in the publication and distribution to the tune of $873.  I have been applying for the Nevada Artist Grant for the past 14 years, with only one recognition in the form of an honorable mention in 2008.  Receiving this grant was more than money.  In a state where only two major population centers exist (Las Vegas/Henderson and Reno/Sparks) it is a hard thing to remind the powers that be there are other places in Nevada where the arts exist.  Living off the grid certainly makes this sort of recognition all the more special, and I am sincerely grateful.

2.5  I attended a writing workshop in Boulder, Utah, where I was treated to some really fine workshops and close reading exercises.  It was a really great way to recharge my batteries in preparation to returning to the active pursuit of writing poems---an activity I have not undertaken for more than a year.  Oh the ideas came in drips and drabs, but for a long time I have been turning away from writing for the most part, wanting to get out from beneath the weight of the business side of writing/publishing.

3.  The down side to this year, professionally speaking, has been the invisible barrier I have run into while trying to promote these two new books of mine.  It can be summed up with my inability to return the favor.  I am not affiliated with any university or college.  Not having my MFA or my my PhD, I have nothing to offer in return for having instructors put me into the mix for readings and workshops.  Am  I qualified to teach writing workshops?  I think so.  In spite of not having advance writing degrees I have managed to ave more than 100 poems, four chapbooks, and now three full length poetry collections published.  I also edit an on-line literary journal.  I have been teaching for 16 years.  On those counts alone one might think I could very well teach workshops about the non-MFA route to creative writing.  But the reality?  Because I cannot point to presentations at AWP, cannot promise readings, and cannot buy books to teach in the classroom, I do not rate.  I have been flatly rejected and ignored by colleges and former professors alike.  Even with the offer of  doing the work for free, my presence is (to quote my son) "neither needed or wanted."  I know some of it has to do with my remote location, but I know distance is only a part of the situation.

* * *

As I look forward, into 2014, I am hopeful for my writing.  I am hopeful for my ability to get more people to read my poetry and possibly take a chance on me as a reader.  I have no idea if anyone will, but in the absence of spreading the gospel of poetry, I will still endeavor to write it.  In the words of Bill Kloefkorn, "The writer, for better or worse, always writes."

1 comment:

  1. Dear Justin, as someone who also had a book come out in 2013, I will say this year was tougher in terms of promotion for me personally than either 2011 or 2006 were. It could be something about the recession-values, the toughness of the abundance of competition (more books of poetry coming out all the time) and I do understand what you're saying about reciprocity. It's so much easier if you've got readings you can offer or if you can teach a book. But think about the stuff you can do independently: write reviews, offer a community workshop featuring people's poems, mentioning stuff on your blog. This is not nothing, so don't undervalue yourself. Congrats on everything you've accomplished - it does seem like the universe was giving you positive signs, but promoting two books in one year would be tough for anyone!!