Advice Column starts to the Left
Poet seeks advice! Not exactly headline material, although it could be as the local newspaper wants to interview me this week for a possible feature article. The question of how to best promote poetry often furrows my brow. In the old days I wrote poems on a yellow pad and shared them with a few friends before trying them out on stage for an audience of perhaps a dozen other poets waiting to do the same thing. Fast forward to the current century and I write on a fancy website, share on Twitter, etc for an audience of, well, you, and a dozen other poets waiting to do the same thing.
I know so little about traditional publishing routes. As a street poet I relegated writing enquiries to literary magazines, entering contests, or submitting manuscripts to the realm of academia poets. Folks with initials after their names. My idea of self publishing then was to xerox a poem (Google it!) and staple it to a telephone pole. My first book, Woof Dem Babies Down, a little brother’s response to my elder sibling going off to fight in Viet Nam, was done on a mimeograph machine by an underground press that literally was in a basement. Subsequent books; Witch Willis Adventures and Recipes,(for the YA market) I Have A Secret Body and The People I Trust were offset productions with illustrations and a glued spine, certainly the pinnacle of any young, or maybe not so young anymore poet’s aspirations. The thought of sharing them outside our immediate community made about as much sense as mailing a zucchini to a farmer’s market in a different zip code. The emphasis seemed to be on being a fish in your own pond as if there were poetic boundaries separating the versed turf of Milwaukee from say D.A. Levy’s roost in Cleveland.
Like most limitations eventually prove, it was all in my head. The notion of poetry becoming a career rather than a civic duty never took root. I recently published another collection of poems. Head Lines, Poems and Provocations, as an outgrowth of teaching a creative writing class at a small private school just down the road from my current adobe. It is a beautifully done project and the opportunity to offset production costs with actual sales of the book has rolled away the stone between my imagination and reality. Most mornings I wake up with a sort of oh my dear in the headlights sort of panic, but a good cup of coffee ,the Lord’s Prayer, and a favorable review on Amazon, get me back on the keyboard to compose myself, and send out hopefully appealing appeals for support, subscriptions, and subsequent feedback. The underlying question being, “Am I doing this right?” and more importantly, “Does it matter to you?”, because if it doesn’t it doesn’t matter at all.
One of my approach lines to marketing the book is even if you don’t think of yourself as a poetry reader you will enjoy Head Lines because it is designed to host the creative being inside of you. It might seem like a tall claim, but if we don’t aim for the stars in our eyes how will we ever get over the moon? I mean if a cow can do it…what I’m selling is the place of poetry in our lives, our families, our communities and frankly I need, request, your help. Buy a copy for yourself, for a friend that needs a creative nudge , maybe donate a copy to your local library or laundromat. Getting the word out is just another name for letting the Spirit move you into a new neighborhood. If we lived closer together we could brainstorm face to face, but for now we must meet up on the blank page, where there is always room for improvement. Thank you