Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest in classes taught by a colleague. As a part of her Religion & Literature courses, she assigned my poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. I visited both of her sections twice, with the one class session focused on the first half of the book and the other session focused on the second half.
I read all good books this year. Well, I did start one that I didn’t finish, and you can read about that experience in an earlier post. That wasn’t a good book. But of all the books I finished, all were good. As a result, it was difficult to pick out my ten favorites, but here they are.
Disclaimer: only one of these books was published in 2018. Only 3 of the books that I read this year were published in 2018.
It was 100 degrees on Friday afternoon when I was discussing with a colleague one of my favorite books: Silence in the Snow Fields, by the Minnesota poet Robert Bly.
He and I had recently agreed to start a mini reading group, as in the two of us. We wanted to pick things that one of us enjoyed and wanted to share with the other. I thought of Bly’s 1962 book, and I excitedly texted my friend.
Summer is always when my reading drastically spikes, a habit developed long ago in my childhood and also a result of the library summer-reading program. Since my early thirties, I’ve maintained a quasi-routine with my summer reading: a couple of novels, a collected or complete poems by a poet, a couple full-length poetry collections, and a book or two on the craft of writing. In addition, I throw in some nonfiction.
For a writer, this is a regular question: you finish a draft of a piece, or perhaps even a piece finds a home somewhere, and then where do you go next?
Three weeks ago my new poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life, was published. It’s making its way into the world, and I’ve been signing and selling copies. More promotion lay ahead. Yet in the few months leading up to its publication (while reviewing the proof, approving the cover design, filling out paperwork, etc.), I started pondering a question: What’s Next?
In this particular case, the question has some important clarifying language. What’s the next poetry book? I am now at stage in my writing life wherein I’m thinking more about which individual pieces of writing would mesh to make something larger. This is an unexpected but necessary shift in my focus.
I began looking through my folders (both electronic and paper), taking down titles of poems that might be possibilities. Not even looking at whether they necessarily fit together, but were they possibilities as individual poems, even in their nascent stages. As of this point, the document has around forty poems, and the list is not yet complete. In that process I noted several recurring ideas that could help shape a book.
On a related note, I have been drafting a poem a week this new year, something I hadn’t planned on doing but has just sort of happened. My writing momentum is helped because I’m teaching my junior-level poetry-writing course this semester, immersed in the world of contemporary poets and young poets-in-the-making.
So as I continue into 2018, I’ll be promoting the new book, while at the same time, looking ahead. A writer’s work is never done. And that’s one big reason why I enjoy writing so much.