Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Poetry Reading: A Home Game

Going to poetry readings – to read my poems in public – reminds me of going to a funeral. I want to go. It’s what I need to do. I know I’ll feel better later for having done it. But I always dread facing it, and I always feel uncomfortable...

Back in elementary school, I was one of those kids – you probably had one in your class, or maybe you were one yourself – who was terrified to get up in front of the class to give an oral report. The first time it happened, I was caught off guard and felt like I had come down with an illness. My heart pounded. My mind went blank. Embarrassed that I had no control over my shaking voice and hands, my face turned bright red, making the obvious worse.

I really don’t understand stage fright. It’s not a logical fear. It’s not as if anyone is going to shoot you, but somehow you feel in danger, adrenaline coursing through your veins...

When I first began reading my poetry in public, about 15 years ago, the trauma of public speaking was already deeply grooved into my nervous system. Back then, I couldn’t even bear to put my name on a sign-up sheet because I was never sure if I would actually get up and read. If the MC was an understanding one, I would signal when I was ready.

I’ve given more poetry readings in the last couple of years than I probably have in the last 15 years. The more I do them, the easier it gets. But it isn’t easy.
I have to rest the day before a reading, take rescue remedy (a Bach flower tincture for hysteria) as the reading time approaches, and if the reading is held in a restaurant, drinking a beer can really help. I begin to have pangs of anxiety about 2 days before a scheduled reading. Hanging out at the threshold of fear, but not opening the door to it, I repeat my mantram OM MANI PADME HUM (the jewel in the lotus of the heart) every time my mind wants to sink into panic.

My Writers’ Workshop and Oddfella’s Cantina hosted a spoken word evening this past Sunday night. My reading went fine. The variety and quality of work others shared was rhythmically rich and deeply touching. Not only was there a decent attendance of attentive guests, but I enjoyed myself and was probably was less nervous than I have ever been (that bottle of New Castle didn’t hurt).

Even so, I (half jokingly) said to my husband, who is well aware of the challenges I face keeping my phobias at bay, “You know, training my mind to resist the compulsion to sink into fear is hard work. Maybe it would be easier just to let myself be a nervous wreck?”

Oddly, it’s easier to do a reading than it is to deal with the anxiety of waiting for it to happen. When it’s over, I always feel better for having spoken-up. I think it’s our job as human beings to speak-up for each other and for those who are voiceless. For poets that’s especially true. And not only have I never been shot at while speaking-up at a poetry reading, when I finish reading, people usually clap.

Post Note: No one took pictures the night of the readings. The one posted here is of me reading at Floyd’s Pine Tavern, taken a year ago. The italic text above is excerpted from an essay that appears in my poetry collection, “Muses Like Moonlight” (pictured above). It’s one I occasionally use at readings as a sort of homeopathic remedy for stage fright. This post was originally posted on on September 21, 2005.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drive-by Sales

My favorite thing about having a published book has been witnessing all the attention and support that my mother (after losing two sons) has received in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts because of it - and if the book were a vacuum cleaner, she would be the salesperson of the month. After the article about the book, "Hull Native Mines Memories for First Book," appeared in the Hull Times Newspaper, my mother had people coming to her house wanting books; some she knew and some she didn't. One woman wanted my mother to sign the book, another said, after reading it, "Barbara, what a wonderful family you have!" Then there was the call from a local hairdresser asking my mother if she could drop by with a book because a customer there wanted to buy one. She doesn't go out without a couple of books in her pocketbook now, just in case. ~ Taken from my web page, Silver and Gold, What’s New? Nov 22, 2003, in which I describe selling the first 300 Jim and Dan Stories in just over month.

Did you know that the well-known author John Grisham self-published his first book and sold it out of the trunk of his car? “The Joy of Cooking,” a book I own, was self-published in 1931 and currently sells more than 100,000 copies a year. “Mutant Message Down Under” and “The Celestine Prophecy” are two books I’ve read that were also initially self-published.

Dan Poynter, author of “The Self-Publishing Manual” (who comes from the Massachusetts city I was born in), compiled a list of authors who had self-published at one time or another. I was surprised by some of the names on the list, which include: Deepok Chopra, Louise Hay, Mark Twain, Ken Key’s, Jr., Gertrude Stein, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stephen Crane, George Bernard Shaw, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Virginia Woolf, ee. cummings, William Blake, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau.

If you were going to write a book, what would it be about?

Note: Originally posted on on September 10,2005.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Power of Print

When we do what we were made for and follow it to a completion, when we offer our work as a way to touch others, it opens the way for more. ~ Colleen from “Book Signing”

My husband, Joe, and I recently attended the 1st Annual Franklin County Book Festival where I met other local authors and publishers. Held at the Rocky Mount Library, the day’s events were structured around morning and afternoon sessions related to Local Fiction, Regional History, Local Publishing, Memoirs, and more. Each session consisted of a panel of authors and publishers who shared their literary experiences and then took questions from the audience.

We arrived too late for the morning sessions, and so, after a light lunch at a local cafĂ©, Joe attended the afternoon session entitled “Jack Tales and other Appalachian Stories,” and I headed for the room where the memoir panel was converging. There, I listened to the following four authors: Ibby Greer, publisher of the Blue Ridge Traditions magazine; Judy Light Ayyildiz, creative writing teacher, founder of the Blue Ridge Writers Conference, and former editor of Artemis, a Roanoke poetry publication; Rodney Franklin, a Roanoke author and retiree from teaching and the military; and Diane M. Popek-Jones, freelance writer and author of two book on local history as well as 2 memoirs.

Each told a unique and interesting story of how and why they chose to write a memoir, and each, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, had self-published their memoir in some form or other.

When I lost my brothers 4 years ago, I already had a number of articles, commentaries, and poems published. It was natural for me to make meaning out of loss through writing. In fact, it felt as I was born to write “The Jim and Dan Stories” and that all my writing before their deaths was done in preparation for it.

I’m a firm believer that stories are meant to be told, that real-life stories are often the most interesting, and that the power of print should be accessible to the general population. On my website, where I chronicle how I came to write and locally publish my own book, I wrote …start where you are and let your expression grow from there, work locally, be famous in your own small town for whatever it is you do, because a small town is really just a microcosm in which the whole world is reflected.

One of the memoir authors at the Book Festival published her book via “books on demand,” a fairly new online publishing option that is affordable and available to most everyone. Another, pointed out that when you publish with a small press, you will be doing most of your own marketing anyways. With self-publishing, you have full control. The financial investment is all yours, but so are all the profits.

Indeed, after I set up Silver and Gold Productions as my virtual publishing storefront and then employed local resources to print the first 300 "Jim and Dan Stories," a couple of people wanted me to publish their books under the "Silver and Gold" umbrella (which I would do if I had more skill and ambition). This is often how small presses are born. It’s also an example of what “in house” publishing is. The following is a excerpt from an essay from “ Muses Like Moonlight“ called “Homegrown,” in which I address in-house publishing.

One of my husband’s mentors, Bo Lozoff, is an author and co-founder of the Prison Ashram Project, which teaches meditation practice to prison inmates. Bo has a new book out called “It’s a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice.” After years of “in house” publishing, his new book was published by a mainstream publisher. On a recent visit to the Human Kindness Foundation in North Carolina, where Bo and his wife Sita live, Bo told my husband that mainstream publishing isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. He can’t get copies of his new book without buying them, which creates a problem since part of the Prison Ashram Project is making Bo’s books available to inmates free of charge.

I must have done something right because The Jim and Dan Stories, was first published in 2003 and is half-way through a 3rd printing now. Beyond that, all the re-connections that it’s rekindled, and the heartfelt positive feedback it’s received by the students at the Radford University class where it’s used in a grief and loss curriculum, through letters, emails, and in person…has been PRICELESS.

Note: Originally posted on on September 5, 2005