I remember when I first fell in love.
I was sitting in freshman English class, bored out of my mind because the class was sucking (as usual) all of the wonder and magic and poetry out of something. I’m thinking it was probably Romeo and Juliet. If you sat through my freshman year English class, and were a visitor from another planet, you’d think Romeo and Juliet was a play about two arguing families, and also “don’t commit suicide, kids, it’s wrong, ‘kay? Thanks.”
SO EFFING BORED.
So I did what I always did when I was bored: I skipped around in the textbook.
What, you didn’t do this in class? You instead daydreamed about cute boys or girls or something? Ugh, whatever, what a waste of your time. I WAS CAPABLE OF DOING BOTH, OK? My hormones were on high alert at that point in my developmental history and I was (and remain) very multitasky.
So, I skipped ahead in the textbook and got to the poetry section. The poetry section! Now, that seemed good. Quick reads, I could sneak them in while still half-paying-attention to what was happening in class and also daydreaming about making out with the boy with the joyful laugh two rows over and one row up.
Up until that point, I wasn’t a poetry person. I knew it EXISTED, of course – who didn’t? – but I hadn’t read much, or at all, and I would be hard pressed to tell you any poets. I probably could have told you Emily Dickinson, I guess. We all know Emily Dickinson. It’s like we’re born, and someone tells us, “There’s this poet, Emily Dickinson. That’s going to be on the test later, remember that.”
I flipped around. The teacher was about to ask a question, and I knew it would fall on me to answer it. It always did, because I was the only person in class who’d read the play. I found a short poem. Good, that would do.
I wonder if there’s ever any tickling in the back of a poet’s brain, when he’s writing a poem, that 44 years later, it will grab a fourteen-year-old girl and spin her around so hard it will change her entire course in life? Probably not. But maybe there’s a whisper there. A hint. The knowledge you found the perfect words in the perfect sequence, and that they’ll hit the perfect reader at the perfect time and take root. Maybe.
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
I read the first lines and thought, huh, war poem, ok. Interesting language. I like “fell into the State.” I like “State” being capitalized. Ooh, I like “wet fur.” Oh. “nightmare fighters,” nice.
Then I got to the last line and every bit of me froze up. I was still. I could hear my breath. I read it again and again. Tears welled up in my eyes.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
Simply put. No complaints, no mourning, no wailing. A statement of fact, a boy probably not much older than me, writing his own elegy.
When the teacher called on me to provide an answer to something (I don’t know what, what holy palmers’ kiss meant? Why Mercutio was named thus? The utter inadequacy of parental units in the play? Who can remember such things?) I had no answer. I was in the belly of a plane with a boy about to die.
We never studied that poem in the poetry unit. I asked the teacher why. She didn’t seem surprised. I don’t know that there was a single class that passed without me staying after to ask her something. “Parents complain about that one,” she said. “Because the narrator dies.”
I fell in love with poetry sitting in a class reading a poem I wasn’t supposed to read at a time I wasn’t supposed to be reading it. This kind of sums me up perfectly, for those of you who know me.
I read everything I could get my hands on (I don’t remember where I was when I ate my first peach or when I found out that there was no Easter Bunny but I can tell you not only exactly where I was but what I was doing the first time I read Poe’s “Annabel Lee”) and then one day I thought, huh, can I do this?
I could. And I did. And at first, as with anything, I wasn’t very good at it. But I kept doing it. Because I loved it. Because it felt good to do it. Because the thrill of getting the exact right words out at the exact right time was better than almost anything. Because you could look back on a poem and feel the emotions you were feeling when you wrote it.
I wrote all through high school. I went to college with every intention of being pre-med, until I realized I was not at all good at paying attention to either math or science, but I was quite good at the arts, and moved over to a creative writing degree. I took poetry class after poetry class. I attended readings. I participated in one myself (poorly – I can act from a script sufficiently, but ask me to get up in front of people and read something I’ve written myself, and you get mouse-voice and near-angina.) I started submitting poetry to journals for publication, and when one finally got accepted, I don’t know that I’ve ever been prouder of anything I’ve ever done in my life up until that point. Yes, it was a tiny publication, nothing that would be read by more than a handful of people. That wasn’t the point. I was published. My name was in a publication. I was a writer. Someone, someday, might read something I’d written and think, oh. OH. I can do this. I want this. I want to do this, too.
I continued to write and submit. Sometimes my poetry was accepted, sometimes it wasn’t. I learned to accept rejection gracefully (because listen, if you’re a poet, you get a lot of it.) I did another brief reading not long after I moved to the area. Ten years passing hadn’t made me much braver. Still mouse-voice and heart palpitations. I kept writing. I had long breaks where I didn’t do much of anything, but I kept writing poetry. Some of it was terrible; some of it went unfinished; some of it was the most emo nonsense that ever emod. But I kept writing it.
And, at the end of March, I got an email from my friend Jenn. Jenn writes at The Loser’s Table with me and I love her like crazy.
Hi, the email said. I’m starting a small press. If you, or anyone you know, has anything they’ve written that might be publication-worthy, and you’re interested, please let me know.
I thought, huh. I have poetry. I have poetry, and some of it is good, I think. No, I know. I know some of it is good. I know we’re supposed to be all humble-pie about ourselves, because otherwise people think we’re assholes, but sure, some of the shit I’ve churned out over the years should never see the light of day, but some of it? Is good.
And I have enough of it to make a book of it.
So I mulled and mulled and mulled and that little self-doubting voice in the back of your head that’s all “you SUCK! Who would read that? NO ONE! No one would read that! NO ONE CARES! Jenn will take one look and laugh! LAUGH AND LAUGH!” got super-loud and obnoxious, and then I thought, you know what? You don’t lose anything by trying.
And oh, how I’ve dreamed of having an ISBN of my very own since I was a wee one entering my first library. Oh, how I’ve dreamed that.
So I emailed Jenn. “SEND ME SOME POETRY!” Jenn said. (No, not in rude all-caps. That’s all me.) I did. And she liked it. “We’re a go, more, please,” she said. Simple as that. A book? Yep. A book with my name on it. A book of my poetry. A book.
So for the past three months, I’ve been editing, collecting, re-writing, and writing new poetry. Going through twenty years of poetry and choosing the best stuff. I did this on top of writing this every day, and doing all of the other things I’ve been doing. And last night, at 10:30, I sent Jenn the last poems, and the general housekeeping-y stuff like a list of previously-publisheds and thank-yous and such. (Also, just a small side note – Jenn’s been amazing to work with through this. A-MA-ZING. I can’t even say enough amazing things, I just can’t. I’m utterly blown away.)
I didn’t want to tell you until I was done. But I am. Done. All done. I wrote a book of poetry. That will be published in August. With my name on it. MY NAME WILL BE ON IT. I will have MY OWN ISBN. Multiple ISBNs! For the multiple formats! MINE MINE MINE!
(A couple people know. Thank you, people who know, for not telling everyone. I know I was weird about keeping it all on the down-low. I don’t like to count chickens before they hatch. What if I got in a catastrophic car wreck before I finished? Wouldn’t I feel ridiculous if I announced I had a book coming out and then it never happened? YES I WOULD.)
Oh, and the title. Ready? It has a title. Which I am in love with.
Out of True.
And here’s the exciting part. You can buy it. If you want to, I suppose. I know, poetry’s not everyone’s thing. I’m down with that. It’s not all ZOMGs and YOU GUYS. My poetry’s a little more serious than my blog. Promise. Or, I guess, I’m sorry, rather than promise, if you were expecting poems about vaginas and aliens and badly-written porn. Oh, shit, though, there’s totally one about the zombie apocalypse, I’m not even kidding.
OK. So, in about a month and a half, you can buy my book. I will let you know how. It will be available in many e-reader formats, as well as a gorgeous paperback copy. I will be talking about this probably until you get so sick of me and GET OVER YOURSELF AMY so, apologies in advance. But, yeah. I wrote a book. I WROTE A BOOK. I might be so excited I can’t sit still right now.
It’s early, but I know I have some booky-reviewy-type people who read this. If you review poetry, and would like to review it, please let me know – I’d appreciate it times a million, and I’ll get your contact information to Jenn, who will get it to you in whatever format you desire.
It’s only twenty years in the making. I think that’s very timely.
You guys. YOU GUYS.
I wrote a book.
(The title is a quote from Anne Lamott’s brilliant Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Highly recommended if you write, want to write, like to write, know a writer, like to read, or just like beautiful things. Most sincerely.)