Happy Poetry Friday and happy almost Leap Day! Do you know any Leap Day babies? How do they celebrate?
2020 marks a huge anniversary for me. Ten years ago this month, my first book was published. You can read about my poetry chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone (CityLit Press, 2010) in Part 1 of this series.
For the next few weeks, I’m looking back at each of the six books I’ve published in the last ten years — from MLS&S and my latest middle grade novel, A Place at the Table, which comes out in May. From each one, I’ll highlight one poem.
A few months after my first poetry chapbook was published, I heard from my friend and former critique group buddy Ally Machate.
Maryland Writers Association, which we were both members of, was planning a poetry anthology. Would I be interested in editing the book? I would be working with Ally and another MWA member, Gary Lester. The two of them would be the publishers, managing the process.
I said yes! MWA was the first writing group I got involved with when my husband and I moved to Maryland. Through this organization, I’d made writing friends, participated in a critique group, and began to feel like a real author. I would be editing the book as a volunteer, but I was thankful for the hands-on experience and the opportunity to give back to MWA.
Ally, Gary, and I decided to give the book a theme: love poems. But this anthology wasn’t limited to traditional romantic verse. Submissions from the MWA membership could cover any aspect of love: love of friends and family, love of art, love as we age, love of nature, etc.
It was important to me that this book to reflect the community feel of MWA, so I asked several poets whose work I admired to captain the different sections. Poets like Ann Bracken, Shirley Brewer, Dennis Kirschbaum, and Fernando Quijano III helped make final selections for these themed chapters, wrote introductions to each section, and consulted with me on the order of pieces.
There were certainly ups and downs, but it was a joy to work on this book, which ended up included 100 poems by 50 Maryland authors. For months after the anthology was published by MWA Books (2011), contributors from all around the state hosted group readings.
We got to know each other at these events and began to feel like a tight-knit group. So much so that a few years ago, we had a fifth anniversary reading celebrating Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems.
Though I won’t be covering it in this series, editing Life in Me had a profound impact on my life. A local literary journal, Little Patuxent Review, was looking for a new editor — a position I’d end up taking on for the next three-plus years.
Here is one of the poems from Life in Me that has stayed with me. A group of my women poet friends were talking about how important female friendships are in our lives. The poem that I sent them was B. Morrison’s “Christine.”
By B. Morrison
Forty years of friendship: We cling to our coasts
as white buildings cling to valley walls, connected
by frail walkways. Sometimes we meet: D.C., Princeton,
Seattle, Portland once, at the end of the trail.
Sharing a bottle of wine in our hotel room, talking as we once talked
after curfew, relating stories of friends lost or far away,
who was still married after all this time and what that meant–
we two who would not know. I think, you said,
it’s having someone who remembers the things you do.
Later we whispered between our beds, counting over the dead,
and if life is so short then what dreams must we toss,
like furniture dragged from Boston in covered wagons,
so we can get to the end.
In the morning ice glazed the city, twigs and stones
encased in treacherous shells. We held each other’s hands,
slipping and sliding to the square. We stood and saw
the glitter of the Sunday sun; we breathed the thin sharp air.
The journey has not ended. Ice melts. Stone remains.
You, I said, you do that for me.
Posted with permission of the author. Find more of B. Morrison’s work here.
I’d like to dedicate this post to Gary Lester, who passed away unexpectedly in the summer of 2019. He was a kind-hearted man and I’m grateful that I had the chance to work with him on this wonderful book.
Next up, we’ll take a look at the book poet Virginia Crawford and I co-edited for the Maryland State Arts Council, Voices Fly. It’s available as a free PDF at the MSAC website!
In the “Celebrating 10 Years of Books” series: