In Track a Book, we follow one manuscript’s journey from creation to publication. This monthly series will look at Brent Newsom’s upcoming CavanKerry release Love’s Labors, which is scheduled for release in April 2015.
What a Book’s Worth
by Brent Newsom
New poetry collections seldom register as even a blip on the radar of contemporary American culture, especially if it’s a poet’s first. We’re much more preoccupied with TV, film, and the listicles that populate our Facebook news feeds. Even fiction and memoir get their share of press, or at least have the prospect of being discussed in a book club. So to friends, family, and acquaintances who don’t read poetry, the news that I am publishing a book of poems tends to provoke the obligatory congratulations layered on top of a glassy-eyed blankness. Or, if I’m lucky, a new found inquisitiveness: You’re a poet? Do you do slams?
When CKP asked me to blog about the inspiration and process of writing Love’s Labors, and about the manuscript submission process, I knew exactly what to write. Not so with the topic for this post: what getting published means for me right now in my career. It’s perhaps easier to say what it does not mean: no fame, no fortune. And though I’m an Assistant Professor of English, my institution places much greater emphasis on teaching than publications; so publishing a book (while appreciated) certainly doesn’t grant me tenure, either.
But there are a few things that the occasion of my first book certainly does bring with it:
- The chance to share poetry with others. One thing I love about CavanKerry is their dedication to expanding poetry’s reach. As a CKP author I’ll have the chance to bring poetry into schools, prisons, hospitals, or other spaces outside of the academic sphere to which poetry is often linked. And publishing, of course, creates the opportunity for readers to encounter my work.
- Membership in a tribe. If the broader culture hardly notices what goes on in the poetry world, that world is nonetheless a vibrant and active one. Having a book does potentially open some doors, making me eligible, for example, to apply for certain grants or writing residencies. It’s given me the chance to teach a workshop on persona poems for The Red Earth MFA next month. More than these perks, though, I hope it signals to fellow poets and readers of poetry a shared commitment to the art for which we are all so passionate.
- The realization of a long-held dream. My eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Jones, concluded a unit on poetry by having us all make booklets containing the poems we’d written—haiku, cinquains, acrostics, and rhyming couplets neatly penned on white construction paper folded in half. On the last page, she had us make an “About the Author” page, complete with a school photo. On mine, below a photo of me with the modified bowl cut that was de rigueur, at the end of a paragraph proclaiming my love of basketball, I added that someday I would like to write a real book of poetry. I’d completely forgotten this exercise until a few years ago, when I stumbled upon my booklet as I was sorting through old stuff at my parents’ house. My love of basketball didn’t lead to the NBA, but Mrs. Jones’s efforts obviously had an effect.