Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Book of Now and The Shy One

Copywrite Bill Fulton & Fisher King Press

      A few days ago I sent the completed manuscript of The Book 

of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide, to Mel Mathews, my publisher at Fisher King Press. It will be published in the next month.

The Fisher King - how that title resonates: The wounded king who keeps the Grail, and only one person can succeed him, Parsival, whose first sight of the grail castle leaves him at a loss for the words he must have, the question he must ask. It will be a long journey before he learns what he will need to know to complete his task.

Alright Leah, you may say, but what does the fisher king have to do with editing an anthology? It’s like life - you don’t know what you will have to learn, or overcome, in order to complete a task - even if it is a task you have chosen.

I took a long time, or so it seemed, for the book to become what it is supposed to be. It began by Mel asking if I would like to write an anthology. Yes, I said. I imagined a book full of poems by many authors, and my image was a dance hall - a magician’s dance hall, and dance as a metaphor for life. We discussed a web site where poets could submit poems, and maybe a submission fee, and then Mel thought about permissions, and fees, and we both had doubts. Mel said, “The right approach will come to you.” What he always says when I’m stuck. Or when he thinks there is a better title, or approach. So far he’s been right.

Bill & I went to Yucatan & Chiapas, and the great trees of the rain forest, what remained of them, took over my voice when I came back. I began writing poems about extinction, the harm to the earth, a new Noah, poems of praise to What Remains - and the dance hall became the earth, but I still wanted poems that danced, and poems that unified beauty and terror.

I begin to let what I found, what I read, what I saw take over,  let go of having A Theme, A Concept, and what I found! I searched books and websites. My dear friend Naomi Lowinsky’s wonderful poems about the environment fit with my own, but then I saw the video of Crystal Good reading BOOM BOOM in a quantum hip-hop Mountain Mama wild style unlike ours, and thought Yes! Inclusion. 

And I found Dunya Mikhail, an award-winning poet, who wrote remarkable poems about war and exile,  and I cried with relief that those poems had been written. But could I just write her without knowing her and ask to use her poems? The Shy One emerged and suggested we go watch butterflies. But the Book spoke and said Write to her. Write what you feel. She may say no, but you may get the poems!  And I did, and felt such gratitude. 

Some poets did not respond. But Anita Endrezze said Yes, she who writes of the wild, and the deep and her people. And I knew that Jane Downs’ The Minotaur, which I had read years ago, had to be in the book. The other poems she sent opened up another perspective.

I asked Frances Hatfield for poems, not knowing how they would fit, but loving her beautifully crafted work. I realized that of course the Underworld, The Soul’s Geometry, had to be in this anthology. The tide is indeed rising!

Each poet would have a portrait, an essay about their work - and I hadn’t written an essay for years. Mel wanted my writing as well as poems, so it would be more than just an anthology. (Just an anthology?!) But I sat with their poems for hours, and their words and worlds told me what to say. I felt the pressure of a deadline,  wrote seven essays in two weeks, then fell asleep in my garden, on the grass with the cat mounted on my chest. Meanwhile Bill, always magically in tune with my work, created the beautiful cover, and Mel approved.

Perhaps one of the hardest thing was asking a well-known and highly-respected author, who I at least knew personally, for a cover blurb. It took two months to send the email.  Shy One was about to run out the door before I sent the email, taking me with her. The author said Yes. I was so touched and pleased.
The Shy One is still with me. We will probably finish our lives together. A part of her is the humility I was raised in, which I value as an antidote to whatever inflation or arrogance a girl with an almost photographic memory might have had.

      The Book is done, and the last thing I wrote was a back cover description:
       Seven lyrical women poets, each accompanied by a study of their work, navigate our contemporary world. They travel to the depths of the psyche, experience exile, rhapsodize on the beauty 
of our planet, lament loss and celebrate renewal. These poets write courageously on what threatens us: climate change, war, 
mountain-top removal, loss of species, environmental damage, 
the scourge of cancer. They are witnesses, ‘Couriers’, who bring 
us their visions. As the tide rises they reach out to us in deeply personal and clear voices, each providing a unique experience in contemporary poetry.