Sunday, June 26, 2016

First book reflections: I’m ready for my closeup

“Hi Karen, you have a package coming tomorrow.” That’s the text of an e-mail from UPS, informing me that by the end of day Monday I will be able to open a box containing copies of my very first full-length poetry collection.

I could not be more thrilled. It’s been a long poetic life with little to show for it—I’m nearly double the age of John Keats at the time of his death, for heaven’s sake, yet I’ve published only two (very beloved) chapbooks so far. Can a book that weighs five ounces be an anchor to secure my spot in the literary world? Because it feels that way. It really does.

One of my favorite things on social media is a genre of photograph that only people with lots of writer friends regularly encounter. This, of course, is a picture of the opening of the box and the first time seeing and holding the brand new book.

My press, Sundress Publications, and my editor, Erin Elizabeth Smith, gave me a lot of say over my cover—which is not always the case in literary publishing—and I love what Erin put together with artist Gabrielle Montesanti and cover designer Kristen Camille Ton. I don’t anticipate any surprises when I open my box, having approved a proof, but still, I can’t wait to see my book—to hold it in my hands.

And of course I’ll need a photographer at the ready to record the moment—my moment. Mike, my partner, is standing by to take the picture, and he may be even more excited than I am.

Have you ever planned an outfit for opening a box? Have you contemplated a manicure for the occasion? Well, that’s where I am. It’s a little like buying a pretty nightgown for the first pic with a new baby. That shit gets a lot of looks, and despite the pain and effort of pushing nine pounds out of the vague, feminine region my nine-year-old refers to as “your butt,” new moms are expected to be radiant. Strangely, it usually does work that way. Creation makes us glow.

As far as the idea of prettifying myself to receive a box goes, I’m resisting. I’m determined to greet my book as naturally as I produced it—over years, mostly still-dark mornings, of quiet focus and contemplation, and long stretches of frustrating revision.

Making poetry is not necessarily pretty. I spend many long minutes each day with my hands pressed over my eyes, or with my lips moving soundlessly as I go over a poem in an attempt to get it just right. I’ve caught myself digging my fingers into my hair and pulling, as if I could extract the right word out the top of my head if I just applied enough pressure.  I regularly scrunch up my face and grimace at the dumb stuff I come up with on the way to a finished poem. I produce a whole lot of stupid in my desire to serve truth and beauty.

In short, I suspect I look kind of crazed in the writing process. It’s ugly work. And I’d hate to think that my poems would arrive home and not recognize their own mom in the literary equivalent of a frilly new duster.

As in the delivery room, I suspect there will be two pics taken. One will remind us of the red-faced, sweaty astonishment of a mom awkwardly first-time holding a gooey screamer, and one will show all the composure of a Madonna cradling the nestling babe whose arrival might save us all. The second, of course, is the one I’ll approve for social media.

Either way, I could probably use a manicure.


  1. Wahoooooooooooooza! I'm so excited to see this picture! Hope you have the champagne on ice, too.

  2. Uh, book launch party! That's when I would do the "glamor" thing.
    Of course, I'm an Internet hound, so I would have an in-person AND online party. Preferably on Facebook with my publisher advertising the event. Heck, all events. And I'd invite everyone with an Internet connection.

    What is your promotion/marketing plan? Any tips you could pass on?
    Chapbooks don't give you legitimacy? Or does a full collection just feel better? How old (to you) is old when talking about publication of a poet's first collection? At what age did you get your first chapbook accepted?

    I'm thirty-one with no chapbook publication in sight. Sometimes, I don't care how old I am when people see me as a "legitimate poet" but, other times, I feel like I'm almost too old to make a "proper splash".

  3. I just saw this because the internet is weird and my internet service is wack. That aside--Congrats! I want a copy! And I just loves ya. Are u using SquareUp or PayPal? I can order around August 18th.

  4. I just saw this because the internet is weird and my internet service is wack. That aside--Congrats! I want a copy! And I just loves ya. Are u using SquareUp or PayPal? I can order around August 18th.