Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm going to self-publish a book of my poems, Wild Once and Captured, this summer. My plan is to have a combined book release/65th birthday party in August, the 25th to be precise (at my house in Washington, DC). I'm going to do a book tour after that, visiting Dayton, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Champaign-Urbana and Asheville, NC. Maybe other places where I know people I'd like to see.

Many of the poems in Wild Once... have already been posted on this blog, but most of those have been revised (improved, I hope). It surprises me to say that it has been a fun project. After all, I'm a little bit work-averse, and even saying that I'm going to do this thing--find partners for the project, compose an introduction and other new elements as necessary, edit and revise existing poems, write new ones, and meet intermediate deadlines--the whole idea of making a commitment and bringing things to a conclusion felt like risking big failure. But it has been fun, and the work is almost done.

I am getting serious help. My sister-in-law, Ella Epton, is doing the layout and design for the book. And her daughter, my niece, Stacee Kalmanovsky, has produced several fine and evocative illustrations, enhancing the tone and feel of the manuscript beyond anything I thought possible.

Elissa Miller, a friend for more than 40 years, and newer friends Andrea Vincent and Leigh Dingerson, read an early version of the manuscript. Almost every comment and suggestion they made led me to changes I wanted to make. It's a hard thing, sometimes, to share creations to which one is emotionally attached, but it is a good and healthy thing and improves poems, which also seem to need a village, if they are going to grow up and make a little headway in the world.

Over the next week or so, I am going to post or repost all the poems that will be in the book. In July and August, I plan on making audio recordings of the poems, too. It turns out some poems are never actually done, just sort of left alone for awhile. In reposting and recording these I expect to learn even more about them. And I want to create an option that will allow readers to hear the poems in my voice, if they wish. But I fully expect that some readers will prefer their own voice finding new meaning. That would be great. I hope that I get to hear some of that new meaning in their voices, as well. Maybe on the book tour.

In the meantime, I have asked other old friends, John Hinchey and Alan Neff among them, to take a look at the manuscript and consider writing a blurb for the project. John, long-time calendar editor for the Ann Arbor Observer, was also the political writer there for quite a while. I never met a more skilled and passionate observer of a political scene than John was, and still is. He also has written a book about Bob Dylan's lyrics, Like a Complete Unknown (another is in the works) and was a poetry instructor before he was a journalist.

When I met with John and gave him a copy of the manuscript to review, he reflected a bit about Dylan's very poetic lyrics and how easy it is to find the rhythm in his work, even without the music. Check out how Tombstone Blues works as a poem, John said, the rhythm jumps off the page, even without the musical beat.

"People assume the thing on the page is the poem," he said, "when, in fact, a poem is, as Ezra Pound observed, quoting Yeats, made out of a mouthful of air."

This matters especially because, although I wish I had understood the point better before I completed the manuscript that will be Wild Once, and Captured, I heard it anew from John on the way to getting done, and will be more mindful of the "puff of air" the very next time I pick up my pencil.

I'm also reading Maps of the Imagination: The Writer As Cartographer, a very interesting investigation of the boundaries that writers define, explore and transgress as they write. I've just gotten to a portion where author Peter Turchi discusses lines and blank spaces in poetry and I find myself wishing that I'd thought about white space a little harder before I finished revising the manuscript of Wild Once...

A line in a poem, Turchi tells us, begins where it does and ends where it does for reasons that include what the line does not include. It is a map that tells us as much by what it excludes as by what it includes, by where it ends abruptly in space and by where it begins anew. Ah well, I will be more mindful of the white space the very next time I pick up my pencil.