Tendrils, connections, & kindness in publishing

We arrived in Virginia yesterday to a home landscape that’s lusher and more humid. This morning I went to the weekly farmer’s market and the produce has changed: zucchini, beets, and cherry tomatoes are edging out the strawberries, delicate greens, and scapes. My son and I took a walk after and found vines extending tendrils into our airspace, reminding me, as I wrote in the poem “Spirals” in The State She’s In, that “Even on the street, I am in the forest.” I’m tired from travel (flights screwed up, long airport lines, other hassles), but the trip was restorative in other ways.

The 3 1/2 novels I read purely for pleasure during the journey were powerful, including deeply moving literary sf by Jason Mott (Hell of a Book) and Emily St. John Mandel (Sea of Tranquility). Museums always nourish me, and I was particularly jazzed by the “Enchanted Modernity” exhibit at the Guggenheim in Venice (lots of poetry connections, plus tarot!). There were also little moments of humans being kindly present to each other: the two women at the airport who reticketed us after a massive Expedia mistake (I yelled, uncharacteristically, “You are angels!”). The proprietor of a Budapest hot chocolate shop interviewing each of us at length about what our perfect cups would be (and then delivering them–they were amazing). People being considerate on public transportation, imagine that. And, of course, having my family of four together after my son’s four-month study abroad.

Finally, while I spent much less time on social media or email than during my May book launch, I kept getting lovely notices for Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I was feeling a little let down before traveling because it is so so hard to get big media attention for a book, and I’d been pitching furiously. Then I read descriptions of exhausting, demoralizing book tours by bestselling authors in Hell of a Book and Sea of Tranquility–just a random coincidence, I chose the books for other reasons–and was reminded that big-time writerly success has drawbacks. When your work becomes “product” that makes money for corporations, it’s both lucky AND a ton of work and pressure (and media training–yikes). The gift economy less famous authors participate in has plenty of problems, but it’s also kinder. Mott’s and Mandel’s fictional writers, in fact, throw away the brass ring they’d grabbed in favor of the human connection they need to survive this stupid world. I notice that Mott and Mandel are not themselves making this choice!–but it suggests that both remember their former small-press careers with nostalgia, maybe even a little regret.

Some of the kindness I’ve appreciated lately from other writers: astonishingly generous reviews of Poetry’s Possible Worlds by Jane Zwart in Plume and Jane Satterfield in The Common. Jeannine Hall Gailey wrote generously about it on her blog. Briefer but also hugely helpful are a couple of new reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Readers and would-be readers have tweeted lovely things. And as my spouse drove us home from Dulles, two emails popped up on my phone: an acceptance from Poetry and an essay commission from Poets & Writers. I may never dig out from this trip email-wise, but these tendrils of connection have given me heart.

Now, more errands, sleep, and, I hope, working on my next poetry book and submissions again. The universe seems to be encouraging me to keep reaching out.

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