“I always had this notion that you earned your living and that poetry was a grace.” Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), Irish, poet, playwright, translator, educator and Nobel Prize winner
I’m sure my friend, John Anstie, poet and renaissance man, The Bardo Group core team member, and editor of and contributor to Petrichor Rising (eBook and paperback), a 2013 poetry collection of The Grass Roots Poetry Group (GRPG), would prefer that I focused on the poems and the collection. The feature-writer in me loves a good story though. (Forgive me, John!) The coming together of this group and the publication of their collection is as good a story as any and better than most … and hence, I break my usual self-imposed word limit on posts. Read on … You may recognize yourself in some of this …
“I do accounting. I am a writer.” an employee corrected me when I introduced him as an accountant.
I spent many years in the employment and training field, serving in sundry positions and writing columns, feature articles and journal pieces ad nauseam about recruiting and job search, chosing careers, assessing post-secondary vocational education programs, structuring community programs for at-risk populations (read the poor and marginalized), as well as writing about labor and job market trends including changes evolving out of advances in technology.
Wherever I worked whether it was counseling, placing executives in career positions or teaching career development and job search to ex-offenders or people transitioning off welfare, I found the same thing. Scratch the surface of almost anyone and you will find an artist. Several of the poets to this anthology earn or have earned their living doing something other than writing. John Anstie talks about discovering his “inner poet.” At core, we are creators. This is a great truth about human beings.
It used to be that most evidence of creativity ended in storage somewhere: dresser drawers, file cabinets, attics or garages … until the accessibility of social networking and self-publishing via blogs, videos, blog radio and other venues. Now creatives have easy means to deliver their work independently and to find their own audiences, modest but genuine. No longer unknown, these poets and artists join the ranks of lesser-knows. They also have a wider opportunity to meet others with the same interests and values. Put the mix together – a wonderous serendipity – and the birth of productive collaborations …
“As far as I recall, it all started with freshly-baked lemon drizzle cake . . . ‘@peterwilkin1: Good Morning. Coffee & lemon drizzle cake, anyone?’ …. One may be forgiven for thinking the GRPG is an international social network-based association for the deep appreciation and virtual consumption of cyber cake and other comestibles. Indeed this is what they do, but they also do something else remarkable – they write poetry – delightful, delicious, scrumptious, tasty, and delectable at that, poetry.” Introduction, Craig Morris
And thus it began, with friendly – often quick-witted – Twitter chat and an affinity evolved. Two years later Petrichor Rising was born and featured artwork by one, the Introduction by another, and the poetry of the rest. How did they pull it all together?
Interview with John Anstie
JAMIE: Expanding on your piece about editing Petrichor Rising (posted this evening on The Bardo Group): Learning to use language gracefully and words accurately is a lifelong challenge (and a pleasure); but editing English when the works are from such diverse regions of the world throws extra spice into the mix. There are many variations on the themes of grammar, spelling, and on syllable accent and speech inflection, how did you approach that particular challenge?
JOHN: Your first question is not a question, it is several questions, which, as you imply, could take me a lifetime (and possibly a few pages) to answer! But the simplest way I can answer this is to be entirely honest. By and large, I took each piece as it was presented and interpreted it as it was written. Grammar and spelling was not really a problem, since I left the words spelled as they were presented; my two North American friends, Jackie and Joe, if they used American English spelling, that’s how it stayed, of course. There were few issues in the grammar department. As for syllable stress and speech inflection, I had little issue with the effects of these on scansion, since almost all of the poems, except some of my own, were pretty much in the ‘free verse’ form. But you certainly have raised a valid issue for editors of international poetry collections.
JAMIE: How did you work out the collaboration? The book is admirably unified and surely there must have been some back-and-forth about which poems to use from each poet and how to organize the sequence.
JOHN: Over the two years of its gestation, there were a few changes of poems. Some of the original poems submitted were withdrawn, because of submissions elsewhere and a handful were edited and resubmitted for inclusion. The sequence was the greatest challenge for me. Initially, I asked each poet to attach key words or tags to each of their own poems, from which I intended to attempt dividing the whole body of work into sections. That didn’t work, simply because I inevitably ended up with too many key words. In the end, after we’d decided on the title, I felt it important that any themed sections should reflect the theme of the title in some way. So I worked through the whole collection of sixty-five or so poems and categorised them myself. The three sections were the end result of that part of my work on the book.
JAMIE: Have you had the opportunity to speak by phone or meet in person with any of the members of the Group? If so, what was that experience like.
JOHN: Five of us live in the UK. It was Louise, who bravely blazed a trail to Yorkshire to stay with Peter and his wife for a week. I guess she judged him to be trustworthy enough (and not the mad axe murderer he might have been!). I journeyed up to meet them both on neutral ground. We spent a fruitful and enjoyable day in each other’s company. Shan and Abi were the next to visit Yorkshire. I’ve lost count of how many times we met after that, including a couple of poetry readings at Ally Wilkin’s shop “Crystal Space” (one of the locations in Peter’s and Marsha’s joint publication, “Brianca and The Crystal Dragons”). All of this was capped in a confluence in May 2012, when the five of us from the UK, along with Joe and Quirina, who flew in from Albany, New York and Germany, came together in London – photos of this are in my Facebook album of that day HERE.
It was a very happy day, but one that wasn’t long enough for us all. Finally, last June, Marsha came to the UK for a conference in Leeds. She lodged with Peter and Ally for the first part of her stay and with me for the last part. It was very special to meet her too. So, in answer to your question, I’ve met nearly all of them; only Jackie in New York and Craig in South Africa have yet to meet us. Quite incredible, considering we only met on Twitter two and a half years ago! One final twist to this tale, to cut a long story short, is that Abigail turns out to be the daughter of an old school friend of mine, whom I had very recently met up with again along with another friend! It’s a very small world!
JAMIE: What made you choose print-on-demand over ebook? Does the GRPG plan to offer the book in ebook format? It a lovely volume, and I think would make a fine addition to anyone’s poetry library. These days, though, many appreciate ebooks for their portability as well as the saving grace of saving shelf-space.
JOHN: Print on demand, in the end, seems like a very sensible choice. Self publishing would have been difficult, deciding how big a print run dramatically affects the cost-per-unit economies. However, it was the publisher, Aquillrelle, who determined the route to print and we chose them, because they had published Marsha’s collection, “Spinning”, and she was very impressed with their service and attention to detail. It proved to be a good choice for me, as their Chief Editor, did have a keen eye for detail. As for the ebook, Amazon should have produced one by now, but it’s not happened yet. I suspected it might be a demand thing; I’m not sure. Even though I own an iPad Mini, which is, of course, a perfect ebook reader, it has to be said that I prefer to have a real book in my hands.
Note: I see that Lulu has an eBook available since we did this interview. The link is above in the opening paragraph. Jamie
JAMIE: Would you do it all again and if so, why?
JOHN: I think the answer is yes, probably, but not in the same way. What would I do differently? I couldn’t answer that until I saw the material I was working with. However, there are two more projects on my horizon before another anthology comes along. The first is going to be some kind of account of the story of an historic house, gardens and estate, for which my wife and I are members of the volunteer teams. The second may be my own first full collection. Then, for the sake of my family history, maybe I ought to complete my own autobiography.
Book Review in Brief
Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.
I dislike using the word “accessible.” There have been times when I’ve wondered if that is code for a lack of intricacy or profundity. The work here is comprehensible but still complex. The poems move from nostalgia to appreciation, from the beauty of nature to the frailties of humanity, from sorrow to hope. From Craig Morris’ Introduction, which sets the mood, to Joe Hesch’s theme poem Petrichor, which closes the book, it’s a joy. Well organized with the weather metaphor as the through line, the sections are The Drought, Gathering Storm, and The Rain. Its hallmark is the show of humanity at its best.
This morning I will cast open the curtains, chasing the fear away and hold this crystal up to the sunlight, releasing my soul to fly
– Prism, Abigal Baker
…. and at its worst
Haunted by proper thoughts of his wife at home he wryly recollects how he told her before friends and family on their silver anniversary “I love every wrinkle, every scar I celebrate, such wonderous depths are etched upon your body a cartography of our marriage I love the silver in the gold of our hair” then renewed his marriage vows his fingers crossed, avoiding his own reflection in the mirror
– Cracks of Angst: A Portrait of an Unhappy Man, Marsha Berry
Both my thumbs up on this one. There’s still time to order Petrichor Rising for the holidays and profits go to UNICEF, making it a definite win-win.
Monty Wheeler’s collection of poems, The Many Shades of Dark, was midwifed into the world by Winter Goose Publishing. An Arkansas poet, Monty has been blogging at Babblessince December 7, 2010.
Another one of our own (a poet-blogger, that is), Monty says he’s “naught but a little old feller living out his days in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.” He says he likes,” traditional poetic forms, writing in meter and rhyme, and I strive to keep the art of formal verse alive.” In addition to poetry and writing, he enjoys fishing, hunting, and gardening … the later apparently being a new interest.
Of his blog, he tells us in the subtitle that we’ll find a “sampling of colloquial diction, informal verse in which lacks the convoluted similes and metaphors that too often fill the lines of verse . . . and who says that poetry can’t be just plain fun.”
In reading his book and going backward on his blog to sample a few of the poems he wrote when he started out, I was struck by three consistent characteristics: humanity, growth and honesty. Monty’s writing is genuine. A love of and knowledge of the Bible and his religion is clear in many of the themes explored and often in the way he uses language and imagery. A man of the South, one also senses that his idioms, diction, and cadence have their roots as much in geography as they do in the Bible, “colloquial” as he says.
Some of his poems have the feel of horror literature, but essentially they deal with the traditional Christian realms of sin, retribution, redemption and salvation. The collection ends with a simple, upbeat beauty. If these themes and styles appeal to you, you will absolutely love The Many Shades of Dark. Clearly, Monty gave much thought to the poems selected for inclusion and the order in which they are delivered.
I was particularly moved by the first poem where Monty remembers his mother’s death and contemplates the pending death of his father. He writes in relatable heart-speak:
I sense the coming loss somehow;
And with his death will come the tears
Of which I’ve fought to hold for years.
Real men don’t cry . . . or so they lied;
And even when my mother died,
I raised the River Tears’ floodgate
And brought that lie a worthy mate.
And ere before Dad’s time has come,
The knowledge that I will succumb
Runs deep and icy cold in me
Like shards of ice that none should see.
Monty’s poems speak of illness and death, of struggling with issues of faith and hope, of tragedy and triumph, of environmental abuse, and of the …
I’ve unkempt hair and wild-eyed stare;
On paper’s white and callused glare,
My pencil flies like winded kite,
And long into the night, I write!
I brave those murky catacombs,
Where long I’ve locked my tears in tombs,
Releasing each dark fear and fright.
And long into the night, I write.
It’s only through my words, you see
The monsters of my mind set free;
I thank my God the night’s finite!
And long into the night, I write.
The demons of my private Hell
And Satan’s imps I can’t dispel,
Will flee my pencil’s sword-like fight.
How long into the night, I write!
Monty closes the book as gracefully as we all hope to close our lives:
Love’s Day’s End
When sunset settles in your eyes at last,
And when your day is dark as Night’s black skies,
When naught is left ahead and Life has cast
You aside like yesterday’s old lies,
Remember me, remember our long past;
Leave not this world with heavy heart that cries.
And come the day of Death’s assured demand,
We’ll know we lived and loved as God had planned.
Bravo, Monty, and congratulations. Both my thumbs up on this one …