The Hermit Poet

June 23, 2008

On Writing an Author’s Statement

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:17 pm

I’ll probably go into more detail once I’ve finished working on my own (which is turning out to be more complicated and involved a process than I expected).  For now though, here are some of the things I’m learning as I study other writers’ statements and my own earlier written comments on this book and my writing in general.

From Heidi Lynn Staples (author of Dog Girl – Ahsahta Press):

What I enjoy most in an artistic statement are an account of the writer’s process and descriptive comments illuminating the work. What I dislike most are divisive assertions of aesthetic allegiance and grand proclamations.

I think this is good counsel.  Statements which move into the grandiose or partisan tend to divide and alienate.  People don’t care about your allegiances (at least they shouldn’t), they should be brought into the world of the author and the making of the book — and feel some connection there.  An author’s statement reveals the human side of the author and sheds light on how the book came to be or the concerns which guided it into existence.

Ethan Paquin in his author’s statement for The Violence (also from Ahsahta Press) begins by noting his own dislike of discussing his own work, but follows up with this passage:

All my poetry owes to bigger and better things than poetry: the natural world, painting and sculpture and architecture, spirituality. All my poetry is informed by things deeper than poetry: love, loss of love, ruinous relationships, redeemed relationships, the bond between a landscape and a man, between a man and his children, between a man and art.

This is illuminating for me.  From this brief passage, I already know to expect these elements and themes in Ethan’s work.  And, where not apparent, to know that the poems on some level are engaging these ideas and may require further contemplation.

What is an author’s statement?  It’s what accompanies the book when it’s sent out for reviews as part of the press kit.  It’s your chance to say why and how the book was written, how it’s changed you, and perhaps where you and it may go from here.

It need not be long or complicated, but the process of coming to a good statement can be difficult.  It’s humbling.  Perhaps it means saying those things you haven’t even admitted to yourself yet.  Certainly it requires you to have some perspective, to be able to stand outside of the text you’ve dedicated so much time to and spent so long inside.

More to come.

June 16, 2008

Making the Most of Your First Book: Blurbs

Filed under: First Book Advice,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:40 pm

(Also long overdue — here’s my post on blurbs)

If you’re like me, when you’re working on your manuscript, book blurbs and author statements are usually the furthest things from your mind. Your attention is on the poems and rightly so.

Once the book has been accepted, suddenly there is a mad scramble to line up your blurbs — which can often be something of a crap shoot — you just don’t know how people are going to respond, what they’ll write, and when they’ll turn it in.

Some things you should consider in advance:

  1. Blurbs from people you know - In general, this is the route that is taken. Most blurbs come from former or current professors, close personal writer friends, or long-time professional acquaintances. The good thing about doing this is that generally these people know what you stand for, what your project was about, and are willing to devote time and energy to write something compelling. However, sometimes these blurbs can seem less than genuine or suspect if a potential reader feels that the writer’s connection to these individuals is too close or tainted in some other way. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone, so if you go this route, it’s in your interest to choose people that will appear above the board and whose opinions are widely respected.
  2. Blurbs from people you don’t know or who you respect, but have no personal connection with – This is a tougher way to go, but does mean you can hopefully count on a more unbiased response to your work. If you go this route, choose someone whose work has meant something to you in your development as a writer. This makes it easier to approach them — you can honestly tell them that you have admired their work for some time and that you feel that they might enjoy reading an advance copy of the book. Send a short selection of poems from the manuscript and ask if they would be willing to look at the book and if they enjoy it, possibly write something on its behalf. Do this early in the editing process. Even if you have to send a binder-clipped copy of manuscript, send it early enough that this person has time to reflect on it. After a few weeks, check in with them to see if they have received the manuscript and if they would be willing to write a blurb. The more well-known the author, the busier they are likely to busy — be prepared for them to turn down the invitation and thank them nonetheless. Have some backup plans in place. This is why you started early.
  3. Let your blurbers know their deadlines and follow up. This is key. If they know when you need the blurbs, they can plan for it. If there is no fixed deadline, then they may put it aside and not get to it. Regardless what the actual deadline is with your press / editor, you should build in a buffer and set an earlier date with your blurb writers. This way you can appear generous if they ask for a little more time :)
  4. Create a brief description or synopsis of the book (if possible, several). This can help a blurb writer (especially one unfamiliar with your work) a general sense of what your book is about and why it might interest them. You’ll need to be able to describe your book in a few sentences anyway — it’s part of the short sell that you’ll be giving whenever someone asks, “So what’s your book about anyway?”  Sometimes I tell people:  “My book moves between narrative and lyric in its exploration of loss, exile, and return as it pertains to the loss and recovery of countries, languages, and family.”  I might follow up with something more personal.  In a different audience, I might mention its strong elegiac turns or its preoccupation with travel. Or maybe its concern with memory and forgetting. Or maybe tell the story of how it became an unintended elegy of sorts for my father who was dying even as I was finishing and revising the book — and whose passing ultimately shaped the book into what it became. Or maybe how it’s a love story about loss. Depending on your audience, you should have a variety of ways to talk about your book.
  5. Keep your blurbs to a maximum of 3. Really. Sometimes less is more. Try to keep them at a reasonable size as well — if the blurb is too long, a potential buyer isn’t likely to read all of it. Keep the long version on the website — along with any extra unused blurbs and reviews.
  6. Consider what audiences each of your blurb writers will bring. Your blurb writers should help a reader triangulate where you and your writing fall. You are an unknown, but hopefully your blurb writers are known to your reader (or least their tastes can be surmised). If you write primarily narrative free verse poetry and have blurbs from avant garde language poets or new formalist poets, regardless of how good the blurbs are, you are creating confusion for a potential buyer. There’s a clear disconnect and the wrong audiences are being attracted — simultaneously, your best potential buyers are missing the connection. If there is a range of approaches in your book, then try to have blurbs from poets with a range of styles.

Late, But Not Forgotten

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:49 pm

A poem for my late father, written several years ago after being inspired by a short image-rich email he sent me. Something about its brevity and omission spoke volumes about how much he missed having me at home. This Father’s Day was less about grieving and more about remembering, and perhaps even remembering to remember in new ways.

This past weekend I spent surrounded by tokens and symbols of heritage and culture, celebrated the diversity of the multi-racial experience, made many wonderful new friends and acquaintances, and in general felt very much a part of a community. Part of my ability to do so, to open up and accept, is the legacy of a father who cared enough about all our cultures and family histories to weave them into our lives in meaningful ways. He didn’t just observe, he embraced and he encouraged others to embrace what we hold in common and what sets us apart.

Thanks Dad.

Letter From Home

My father’s words
laid down
like old shoes
at a back door.

Worn out, grey,
or that distant pale
that night paints the world
just before dawn.

Not knowing
how far this road goes on
moving in slow circles
or sinking into crisp unfathomed snow.

My father sleeping
in long sighs, unaware
of the way a line disappears
at the edge of meaning.

How few words he takes
to recreate a world
in the mind of a son
longing for home.

The last remnants of trees
pulled from the earth
stay hidden for years
till the wind blows them free.

First published in Spillway

June 13, 2008

Weekend Readings – Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival (June 12-14)

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:25 am

I’m reading in the afternoon today and tomorrow (readings start at 2 pm).

Location:

Japanese American National Museum
369 East First Street (Little Tokyo)
Los Angeles, CA

June 11, 2008

Updated Website + Sneak Peek of Book Cover

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:11 pm

I spent the last few days tinkering and redesigning some of the elements of my website. The big changes? A new image for the splash screen and a major update to the Book section (new blurb added from Terrance Hayes, more information about the cover design, and yes – finally – an image of the front cover).

Check it out here: www.neil-aitken.com

The Lost Country of Sight - cover