Thoughts on Publishing “Escape Velocity"
My first poetry collection will be published by Kelsay Books in April 2021. When I received the email, “Acceptance Letter and Contract for ‘Escape Velocity," I needed to read the subject line several times before comprehending. When I realized what that meant, I hooped & hollered, sang & danced. My 12-year-old, at first frightened, generously joined me in some spinning. That was two weeks ago now. My feelings and reflections on being published have been largely shelved since the school year started. I teach fifth grade special ed. Outside of the class day, I fight Zoom fatigue, sleep too little, struggle with technology, and try to tame cumbersome platforms and websites into something that may be manageable for students. I take this opportunity of a Friday night with no particular plans to pull news of my impending publication from the shelf to share and look at in the light.
When I pulled up the carpets and refinished the floors two years ago, I took the advice of a friend to appreciate my beautiful work and then forget about it. No one else would care to appreciate or preserve the wood floors and they were bound to get scuffed and stained. And yes, there is much evidence of use in two years! Maybe I took his advice too seriously. But I also think of that advice when I submit poetry. I send it off, write it on a list, and try to forget about it. Seems to me everything’s a long-shot. I rarely seriously expect to have work accepted, not because of the caliber or subjects of my work, but because there are a lot of brilliant poets and a variety of factors publishers weigh -- taste, groupings of themes, layout, personal preferences… I probably don’t even know the half of it. So I shrug off rejections and am sometimes happily surprised. This one, “Escape Velocity,” a full collection, had me the most happy and surprised.
I submitted similar manuscripts in the winter to two small presses. I liked the individual poems. But after re-structuring my work, as well as adding some stronger pieces, I was grateful the publishers I submitted to in January declined the book. I had more or less structured early drafts in chapters around categories by theme. After having fun organizing a chapbook (subject of my July blog post) I decided to spend time imagining the conversation between the poems and went down many rabbit holes perceiving ways the poems could fall. I settled upon sections generally based on ideas from Newton’s laws of motion, namely Reaction, Force, At Rest and In Motion. The degree of movement implied in each poem dictated the chapter in which it settled and the 55 poems sorted relatively evenly given those headings. Somehow it makes sense. I have a fair number of poems that use scientific imagery and “Escape Velocity,” a phrase from one of the lines, stood out as a title that well-tied together the chapters. And now it feels ready.
I wonder if I’ll conceive of a better order or find a particular thematic thread in my poetry tiresome in six or seven months, or future years. It’s another side to the type of brave I try to embrace to put my stuff “out there.” Sharing what is often an intimate and private voice takes some courage but then too to trust that I got it right (enough) and that I won’t regret the best I’ve got now even when I hope to keep getting better. It all requires a ton of faith and maybe that’s part of why I love writing poetry. I love acting on faith.
I look forward to the rest of the process, seeing how it unrolls, learning it. I’m rather intrigued by what I might suggest for cover art, because right now I only have a couple of vague ideas. It’s not that I can’t wait, because I’d rather lay low through this pandemic and hope the release corresponds with a more friendly environment for a magnificent launch party. So reflecting on my feelings for the past couple of hours, I’ve landed on content. Those who know me know that is exceedingly rare. Given everything going on in the world, I gratefully accept it.