I started this blog in March 2011, during a Fulbright fellowship in Wellington, New Zealand, as an intellectual diary during one of my life’s biggest adventures. My forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, is in many ways this blog’s culmination. I’ve always read to survive my life, and in the blog, then called “The Cave, The Hive,” I chronicled what I was reading and what I thought about it. This book puts reading under a microscope: how do poets create little worlds, and why does it sustain me to dwell in them?
I began conceiving and drafting this hybrid essay collection–criticism blended with personal narrative–in 2012. I had NO IDEA it would take this long to deliver it to the world. I started with questions about audience, wanting to write a book that non-poetry-insiders might enjoy: hence each chapter begins with a contemporary poem reprinted in full, so you can have your own feelings about it before I bring my professorial wonkiness to bear. I dialed the wonkiness way down, for that matter, although I researched the hell out of many intersecting fields: narrative theory, poetry studies, the cognitive science of “literary transportation,” and more. And I got pretty personal. I read these poems as my parents split and the astonishing scope of my father’s lies came to light. He died; my kids grew up; midlife crisis slammed me; my mother got sick. Poetry helped me think through harassment at work, the repercussions of sexual assault during college, and my struggle to accept life in an aging body. It’s all in there, my intellectual, artistic, teacherly, physical, and spiritual selves in collision. I gave the book everything I had.
That emotional work made the book hard to shape, but so did trying to invent a form. The chapters braid story and argument, a mixed art plenty of people practice, but I had to ponder what proportions of each would serve each of my goals best. I have scholarly standards–you need to read every text you can find that bears on your topics!–but then I sublimated that research in service to pace, suspense, and readability. I thought a memoiristic book might be easier than writing straight-up scholarship like Voicing American Poetry, but ha! It was at least as strenuous, just in different ways.
And soon I’ll hand it off to readers, which is always a terror and a wonder. You should be able to pre-order it in a few weeks, if it interests you, and I have digital ARCs I can send now to potential reviewers or people who might want to adopt it for courses. It’ll be pretty cheap, at $20, and part of what helped me devise and hone it was a developing sense of what kinds of classroom texts I wish I had. Research-based writing is a crucial skill for students, but the conventional research essay of English classrooms everywhere is of limited use beyond grad school applications and, for the very rare few, scholarly article publication. Isn’t there a way to challenge students, I wondered, but also make them care more about the research and writing for its own sake? Poetry’s Possible Worlds is my best answer to that question, a cure for my own academic frustration, and I hope a threshold work for others, too.