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:
Part 1: Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone
Part 2: Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems
Laura, Part 1 and Part 2 of your writer’s journey are interesting, as is the first poem you shared. Thank you for letting the reader have a quick glimpse into your writerly life.
Thanks for reading, Carol!
What a stunning cover, and wonderful title. And that poem is just beautiful! Thank-you for sharing. (And congratulations on 10 years of publication. I didn’t know that!) I especially love; ‘it’s having someone who remembers the things you do’ – because that is precious-true! I’m so glad we have shared memories. xo
Hi, Kat! Yes — that line and how it resolves in the poem’s conclusion speaks to me too. Miss you!
Thanks so much for sharing your publication journey and B. Morrison’s beautiful poem. My husband and I are hopping a plane tomorrow to visit friends from college. Lasting friendships – the best!
Enjoy that trip, Rose!
Taking the time to remember your path to where you are today is valuable, and I’m glad you are sharing it with us. I have always wished for the kind of friendship in the poem, but realize, with humble gratitude, that my husband and I are best friends for each other.
Thanks for saying that about revisiting the path, Margaret. It’s sweet when one’s partner is the “you do that for me” person.
The poem you shared reminds me of two long time friends who I love very much, but are far away, as well as my sister on the other side of the country. It was a good way to begin Poetry Friday. Thanks, Laura.
I’m so glad the poem spoke to you, Janice. It is one that I carry in my heart.
Woo hoo! What a fabulous celebration of your poetry journey! I simply love this poem, especially this week as I’m leaning heavily on those friends. My favorite line–it’s having someone who remembers the things you do.
Thanks, Kay. Female friendships are so sustaining. That’s why this poem sticks with me.
So glad you’re sharing your writing journey, Laura. I do remember featuring a poem from MLS&S years ago when I was doing Poetry Potlucks for Poetry Month. I think it was my first chance at getting to know you better — so blessed that we are still connecting online. It’s been especially exciting to see you publish your MG novels! Of course I can’t wait for A Place at the Table to come out. 🙂
Love Morrison’s friendship poem. Lasting female friendships are so important. I treasure mine because I didn’t grow up with any sisters.
Hi, Jama! Yes, I remember that too. I think you’ll enjoy A Place at the Table — so much cooking! (I don’t have sisters either, so I hear what you’re saying.”
Love reading about YOU, Laura & then you think of your readers & post this special poem for us. I am still in touch with one best friend from junior high! We see each other only once a year yet “it’s having someone who remembers the things you do.” is always true. Thanks for a poet’s poem that knows how it is.
Hi, Linda! Wow — that is a way-back friend. Glad you enjoyed B. Morrison’s poem.
Wonderful, captivating post, Laura. I love your story and the poem… the clinging cities, the glazed twigs. Thank you so much for sharing.
Huge congratulations to you on your 10 year anniversary, Laura! And what a distance you’ve come over that short period of time, despite life pulling you in multiple directions at once. Thank you for sharing “Christine”—I know I’ve read it before (you may have sent it in an email exchange), but I’m as wowed now as I was the first time around.
Hi, Michelle. I know I emailed this poem to a small group of friends recently, as we were discussing life pulling all of us in unexpected directions. It is a definite “wow” because of the emotional truth here.
Such a rich writing path you’ve journeyed Laura, I’m enjoying traveling a bit on it here–Congrats on the past 10 years! Love this poem you shared by B. Morrison, and she creates a deep bond with this line, “it’s having someone who remembers the things you do.” Thanks!
Hearty congratulations, Laura. I love process and journey posts. It’s fun to learn a bit more about our far away friends. Many thanks for all you do for the community. Cheers!
Wow, Laura! What a journey. It’s a treat to get to see it from the milestone of ten years. Many congratulations to you…and the wonderful writers along the way that succeeded with you and because of you. I can feel the village in the poem you shared. I can feel the special and unique bond of female friendship. I have experienced what the poet describes. It is beyond special and so worth the trip. Reading that poem makes me want to weep. It makes me see older women that I don’t know differently. It makes me take note of my journey. Thank you for that…and so much more!
What a lovely post! And that poem! The ending brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Laura!
I love short poems, but once I read the first couple of lines of this, I couldn’t stop. So much reality and beautiful imagery and love…thanks for sharing this, and happy 10th anniversary!
That cover is striking, and the poem is beautiful. Congrats on ten years of books! 2019 was the ten-year anniversary of my first book, but I don’t think I marked it in any way. Love that you’re looking back and telling the story(ies). 🙂
Oh that poem–gorgeous. I enjoyed learning a bit about your writing journey, Laura.