Friday, April 24, 2015

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Jessica Young

Thanks to Jessica Young for today's post about what it meant to her to publish a book.

Jessica Young is the author of “Alice’s Sister” (Turning Point, 2013), a book of narrative poetry re-envisioning Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Her Pushcart-nominated poems have been featured in venues like The Massachusetts Review and Rattle, and in her chapbook, “Only as a Body” (Bateau, 2010). She attended the University of Michigan (MFA) and MIT (BS). She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and their cats. 

Publication: A Forgettable Yet Deeply Worthwhile Experience

Being a published author is different than I thought it would be. I don’t know if that disconnect is a result of my misunderstanding the experience of publication, a comment on the sleepy world of poetry, or because my book didn’t have Oprah’s backing. But I do know this: Some days I walk by my bookshelf, see the bright spine of Alice’s Sister and think, “Ohhh yeahhh. I have a book out there.” Which is to say, I forget.

Alice’s Sister has been out for a year and a half now. The initial frenzy of readings and mailing out signed copies has subsided. And it’s not like being a poet became my job. It’s not like I saw people reading my book on the subway. I’ve been lucky to see my book in a few independent bookstores, and I’ve been surprised to have two strangers recognize me from the photo on the back of my book. Aside from that and a few kind Amazon reviews, the world hasn’t taken notice. Did I think the world would notice? I suppose I did. Ultimately, though, having a book out has been a real nothing. 

At the same time, having a book out has been huge. Here is this concrete thing in the world that will outlive me. Not that my sweet collection of DVDs wouldn’t, but that I can imagine my future grandchildren discovering my book on a shelf and turning its pages in wonder. So even though my life would look more or less the same had Alice’s Sister remained a measly Word document, I’m glad for the experience of publication. I’m glad that something I so carefully created and crafted has taken a physical form. I expected the experience to be something else, but I’m happy with what it is.

It is, dare I say it, a good life lesson. I think about how we walk around expecting something big to happen to us—something that will bring our lives into dramatic focus. We’ll publish a book! We’ll travel the globe! We’ll buy a house and own something! We expect that accomplishing this thing will grow us as individuals, will make us wiser or stronger. I do think I’m a stronger writer for having had the experience of publication, but has the core of who I am shifted? No. Has the world been affected? Doesn’t seem like it.

My ultimate feeling is that it’s perfectly okay if we don’t all win Pulitzers and get immortalized on Wikipedia; there is still so much pleasure to publishing, and such long-living pleasure. I get to slide my book out from between its neighbors on the bookshelf. I get to hold it and feel its lovely weight. I get to explore its cover—the deep colors of its ink, the swoops of its graceful font. When I get lost in it, I think about how this physical object connects me to a world of writers across time and space. The vast majority will never read my book, nor I theirs. But there are our books, sitting patiently on their shelves, waiting for someone to pick them up and for the worlds we’ve created to unfurl off of the printed page.

The whole thing, really, is magic.

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