Today I had my first book signing (nobody really tells you that any “firsts” as an adult pretty much come with a side of terror/quaking in one’s boots — and yes, those were literal boots for me today because Texas). I found the prospect terrifying, yes — but it goes well with 2018’s theme of BOLDLY.
Boldly. So when they asked me, I said yes. And today was the day.
It was great! I’m not going to say that I sold tons of books, because I didn’t, but I didn’t expect to. And I did sell some books. Some is good! Some is fine, especially for the first time. The store owners are kind and delightful to hang out with, and now the prospect of a signing has lost its power to scare me. I’ve got this.
I learned a lot today…and I discovered that everything I assumed a signing was for is (for me) absolutely wrong.
It’s not just to sell books. (Poets don’t publish for money.) It’s also not just for exposure, or for establishing good relationships with local book shops, though those are good aims too.
People “don’t read poetry.” Most people don’t, anyway, according to almost anyone you ask. Why is that, though?
I suspect that it’s partly because the way we teach poetry (from a literature standpoint) renders it so cerebral as to be inaccessible — or prompts that feeling, which is as damaging as if the reality were so; the end result either way is that, after we get out of school, many of us never reach for poetry again.
I’m not going to debate the merits of various approaches to teaching poetry; that’s a topic for another day. Poetry feels foreign and poets feel dead, dusty, and remote. There’s no humanity in the dry word-remnants of their lives; we don’t even go looking for a more visceral experience of poetry because it doesn’t seem possible.
But when you walk into a comfortable used book shop and I am there, you can amble by my table and ask your questions, the things you have wondered about poetry (reading or writing). You can pick up my book and put it down again, leaf through it or not, ask me personal questions about why I write poetry or how I got started. You can ask anything — and I will answer, openly and gladly.
My favorite guest today was an older woman who freely admitted she didn’t like poetry because she didn’t “get it.” We chatted back and forth and she seemed a little surprised that I was a poet because I didn’t seem “all like that.” I laughed with her and admitted that my poetry is fairly plainspoken, and that my earlier collection, Opalescing, was mostly about straightforward nature themes. I talked about how the title came about and it was like a lightbulb came on for her as I explained my thought process (it’s never as cerebral as others probably assume, haha).
“That makes a lot of sense, yeah, I like that! I can see exactly how you got there,” she said, and promptly bought a copy. I autographed it for her and she left telling me how much she looked forward to getting into the book.
She taught me something vital.
The public events I do won’t be moneymakers; they won’t be hugely successful in exposure (most likely). But these events make poetry, especially modern poetry, accessible and real. I am a poet, an author, but I am probably not what people who feel disconnected from poetry imagine.
I bring you poetry that lives and breathes, poems that still have the sticky-new feeling around the edges, and a poet as alive and imperfect and winging-it-boldly as you are. And once you can see me as both poet and regular gal, maybe it’s easier to see Frost, Blake, and the rest as the ‘regular’ people they were too, and their verse loses some of that daunting dusty feeling. We’re all writing from very human places, just in different times and situations.
I am the bridge; I am the connection.
This is why I do what I do.