Friday, February 06, 2009

Gentle, fertile, life-giving rain. We woke to it this morning, drumming on the roof. It's continuing gray, and I don't mind. Let it rain, we need it. Already, my neighbor's tiny seedlings look slaked and grateful. I'm sitting here working on the love book: 45 pages and counting so far. I need a minimum of 48, so I'm almost there. Of course, they have to be 48 good pages, and coherent. I'd like it to be fuller than that, at least 50 or 55 pages actually. But you can't force poetry (you can't force anything.)

I'm liking this process of building a book, consciously, poem by poem, in a unified way. It's satisfying to have a theme around which the poems can coalesce.

This past week I coached a couple of the winners of the school-wide Poetry out Loud contests; this Sunday is the county-wide competition. I'll go and bring my Little Sister--along with a coloring book, crayons, and fried pork rinds to keep her happy. Meanwhile, C reminds me of the March 1 deadline for the book of essays which I should be working on. And the new play...


This was my entry. I published it and went back to the poems. A gray day, quiet, the house quiet, just putting one line after another, occasionally emailing a poem to Ruth for her critique. Either she's getting soft in her old age or I'm really on a roll here, because she's been liking the poems I've been sending her--a lot. But still, nothing special.

"I have a very boring life," I told my essay class last Tuesday, only half-joking. "I get up, I roll over to the computer, I drink coffee, I write, I get the mail."

The phone rang. It was Marilyn Johnson of Pearl Editions. I won their poetry prize this year. See How We Almost Fly will finally be published!!!

I screamed in that poor lady's ear. She laughed. She's a poet herself, she understands. I was too excited to ask any of the relevant questions: when will it come out? Will there be any readings? I wonder about distribution. How do they get their books out?

Mostly I'm just so relieved. I called C at work and he was excited for me--champagne with dinner tonight. And I know the ritual I want to do with him. I want to take out the lists and lists and lists of contests to which I have submitted this book and just show him--just have him witness--how many there were. I want him to see, and I want me to see too. In fact, I want to count them up. Eight years.

If I am anything to anyone reading this blog, let me stand as a monument to persistence. Fourteen years of personals ads and blind dates and un-blind dates (which may as well have been blind) before I met my love, my life partner. I honestly don't know why it had to be so hard or take so long. My friends say I wasn't ready before, but I certainly felt ready. I was ready back in 1995! On the other hand, if I had succeeded in my quest, what adventures I would have missed along the way (but what other adventures I would have had.)

I don't know why things have to take the time they take, why some stuff comes so easily and a lot of it has to be worked for, sweated for--and in the end there's always that element of chance. This book has been good enough to be published for several years now--the individual poems that were in the ms were published, many of them had won prizes. It came in as runner-up finalist in several contests, but it never won; it was the proverbial red-headed stepchild. I loved it, but I was beginning to doubt--maybe it's just too raggedy, too inconsistent, about too many things at once. Why can't I write a book that's about all one subject, like Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, or that book by what's her name, the Pulitzer prize winner who won the Pulitzer Prize? Why do I have to be so all over the place?

And this is how it happens. Athletes go to the Olympics and either it's their day or it isn't. The judge likes the gymnastics routine or he doesn't. The audience comes out on a rainy night to see the play, or they stay home and watch Netflix. You go to the dance and you either meet the right partner or you don't. But you have to keep going to the dance--or doing something--or nothing happens.

Was it the right dance, this contest route? Sometimes I think I got addicted to the quest. I passed some kind of point of no return where not only did I not give up, it was as if I couldn't give up. The quest had taken on a life of its own. I hope this next project happens more quickly, more organically. This next book, the love book. How great would it be to just create things and hand them over to the production people and go on to creating the next thing instead of having to be an administrator for one's own work for years and years. But whether it happens or not, I'll be here at my desk, drinking coffee, looking at the mail, putting one line after the other.


oreally said...

Congratulations, Alison! What wonderful news on your book finally getting published! I love your poetry. Keep me posted about when it will be published, and I can put something in Kol Kehilla.

Anonymous said...

hard work
and gift of genius
pay off

you are

Anonymous said...

Bravo! This is a life lesson for all of us who work hard with some recognition but not quite enough. Or some love but not quite enough. Never give up. Thank you for being an inspiration

Carla Zilbersmith said...

My persistent hero.

Alison said...

Thank you all!!! Virtual champagne and roses all around! On me! (and a recording of Etta james or Beyonce singing "At Last" in the background)


Jennie Brown Hakim said...

Dear Alison,

Reading this wonderful news is proof that being published takes persistence, patience, and an unshakeable belief that you are a good writer after all. I will be thinking about this tonight.

Anonymous said...

This is the greatest news!

I cannot wait to buy your book.


Suzanne said...

Oh, Alison, what fabulous news! Congratulations!!

Yes, it remains a mystery why some things come so easily and others seem to take forever. The important thing is to not give up on ourselves, our lives and our loves.

I'm so happy for you, my friend! You remain an inspiration and a wonderful example of hope and achievement!