May 17th is the one-year birthday of my first nonfiction book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Bringing the threads of my life together, it interweaves a story about reading contemporary poetry during personal crisis; critical reflections on how poetry works; and cognitive science about how the process of reading can change people. I was considering a wide audience as I dreamed up the book’s structure. It reprints full poems by twelve other authors as well as one poem of my own, a strategy I hoped would increase the book’s appeal to non-poetry-insiders. Each chapter tells a story connected to my father’s life and death, or the way growing up with him primed me for later harm–as I analyze the experience of getting lost in a poem, in other words, I’m telling immersive stories. I also strove to write a book that would interest specialists in my fields of creative writing and literary scholarship. Constructing it tapped all my research skills. Poetry’s Possible Worlds advances knowledge in these fields, although without the traditional scholarly apparatus; I’m using my expertise but wearing it lightly.
The journey toward Poetry’s Possible Worlds was challenging. I conceived the book in 2011 but only finished revisions late in 2021. Sometimes it was a joy to work on, sometimes a bear. The autobiographical material was rough to keep revisiting. The research and craft, too, were hard-won. I sometimes joke that after much struggle, I invented the lyric essay to make disparate elements harmonize. (I did not invent the lyric essay.) Placing the project was almost as stressful. I had a version of the manuscript with Chicago-style citations that I submitted to scholarly presses, and one without that I sent to literary presses such as the book’s eventual home, Tinderbox Editions. It had many near-misses in both categories, some of which I remain a little wistful about because bigger presses typically entail wider audiences. On the other hand, no one could have made the book more beautiful than Tinderbox did, and their price point of $20 couldn’t be better. I’m grateful to Tinderbox’s people and proud to be an indie author.
And then there were the epic months just before and after publication. As I documented here, I worked with a publicist for the first time, Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media, which was a revelatory part of the adventure. With her encouragement and help, I labored harder than at any other book launch. I placed side pieces such as “Brave Words” in Poets & Writers and elsewhere, and I gave a lot of readings and talks at bookstores, festivals, and conferences. It was all worth it, but it was also a LOT, as I sandwiched events between weeks at my more-than-full-time job. I love parts of what Frost called “barding around,” but I’m also an introvert, and time to recharge and think was in short supply.
In retrospect, what felt best: thoughtful reviews such as those quoted here, and private notes that affirmed the book’s success at reaching people. Riding the small press bestsellers list for months was awesome. Holding the book in my hands and knowing I did well by its ambitions. I didn’t achieve everything I fantasized about–no top venue reviews, and many of my applications for events and post-publication prizes struck out–but so it goes for everyone. There will be a next time. I’m very slowly building toward a book in a similar hybrid mode with the working title Haunted Modernism (that’s the concept, anyway–the title is probably too common). I’m revising a second novel. And my sixth poetry collection, Mycocosmic, is already contracted for publication with Tupelo in winter 2025. Meanwhile, it feels good to be heading into a summer of writing and revision–challenging activities but quiet ones.
Yet I’m aware that I still owe plenty to Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Publishing industry energy is all about the three months after a book appears, but the whole point of a book, I think, is that it lasts, and with some luck holds up over time. A slow burn is exciting in its own way. I will keep stoking its little fire, because what I want more than anything is for the book to appear on the radar of people who might enjoy it. I ordered more copies when it went into a second printing, so if you might teach Poetry’s Possible Worlds or have some other way of encouraging readership, I can still send review copies. Reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere remain VERY welcome. I’m thrilled to give talks or visit bookclubs. My middle-aged heart beats faster when you ask your library to order a copy.
On that note, THANK YOU–readers of this blog have done an awful lot to help this book find its way, and this pilgrim couldn’t be more grateful.
5 responses to “Voyaging to and through Poetry’s Possible Worlds”
Bought the book, read the book, loved the book. I sent in a recommendation that our university library buy the book (I am at University of Victoria). Long live Poetry’s Possible Worlds!
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Thank you so so much, Maddy!!!
Another reader who enjoyed the Poetry’s Possible Worlds and the melded concept. And whatever title it arrives at, the possibilities of “Haunted Modernism” intrigues me too.
Picture looks like you may be enjoying your new porch. I’m sitting on my ramshackle one overlooking my midwestern urban street, listening to crepuscular birds and some kids playing at full voice down the block.
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Thank you, and here’s to porch season!
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