My friend & poet Jeff Tigchelaar recently asked me to participate in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, where writers describe the projects they're working on. I’ll answer his questions below, then send them on to five more writers...and the happy dance continues. This may seem like a strange chain-letter of sorts, but ask any artist how it feels when someone (other than our spouses) takes the time to ask, "How's your work going?" It's pretty wonderful.
Jeff’s responses are here at his blog, and a list of the writers who've taken part in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop can be found here.
I'm ruminating on three book ideas--one nearing completion (poetry), one partly done (also poems), and one in the brainstorming stages (personal essays). But the project I'm sleeping/eating/breathing right now is a book full of others' work... See below.
In 2010, I stumbled across the fact that American poet William Stafford served as a WWII conscientious objector in Civilian Public Service (CPS) during the same time as my maternal Grandpa, Ivan C. Amstutz. To be honest, during most of my MA/MFA in poetry, Stafford wasn't even on my radar. In my mind, he was just another white American poet-patriarch. I was much more interested in international poetry and poetry by women. But when I began reading about Stafford's life example, starting with his master's thesis Down in My Heart (a creative nonfiction account of his CPS days), I was hooked and inspired and-- ultimately -- rejuvenated as a writer. At the time, I was questioning whether I wanted to be part of academia and what "success" would look like post-MFA. Stafford challenged me to do some real soul-searching.
And then, the Universe seemed to be tapping me on the shoulder wherever I went. Every poet I was befriending had a Stafford-related memory, poem--even dreams! When I looked on Amazon for an anthology of these Stafford-inspired poems/experiences, I found...nothing.
With Stafford's 100th b-day coming up in 2014, I decided that editing an anthology of poems inspired by the life and work of Wm. Stafford would 1) be the closest thing to meeting him and thanking him, and 2) would hopefully encourage more discussions around his ideas and teaching methods, some of which still get people all riled up (Just watch the trailer to this Stafford-inspired film Every War Has Two Losers, and you'll see what I mean.)
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. It's impossible for me to imagine anyone else but the actual living poets in a movie version of this book, all sitting around a great table and talking about life. Wouldn't that make a great reality TV series? Let's get all these poets together (preferably in a beach house) and discuss all those unanswered questions Stafford posed! We could bring in some "Amish" people, just to get more viewers! Haha.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
How might we honor/grapple with/challenge/respond to William Stafford today?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? This is my first big editing project, so I'm learning as I go... Some days it feels like Christmas. Some days, I'm so moved by the letters and submissions, I sit at my computer all misty-eyed. Other days I ask myself, "How did I get myself into this?" I'm in month #8 of the editing process. Since last summer, I've been querying presses about the idea, writing up proposals, and tapping possible contributors on the shoulder. I think it's pretty amazing that the press who said yes (Woodley P) was #13, just as 2013 started up. A good sign! As for the book's content: One poet said he'd written his submission 25 years ago and never assumed it would be published; another said she wrote hers last week, getting up every morning to write, just as Stafford did. Some of the poems have been previously published, but so far, more than half are new or never-before-published.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Honestly, I wanted to connect with other writers and readers of poetry who believe in a better world. I needed to know they exist, and that poetry can still inspire conversations that change us, not just entertain us. I love a good challenge, and I want this anthology to be a real dialogue--no "sainting" Stafford.
Stafford was a poet-teacher who never stopped believing in "the greater good," even in the worst of times. But he knew it would take a lot of work and transformation. I want to be like that/live like that, too.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
So far, poets like Ted Kooser, Susan Kinsolving, Kim Stafford, and Dan Gerber have contributed NEW poems for the anthology. It's very exciting. I've been using the phrase "humbling bliss" a lot.
Look for the book--complete with a study section for use in classrooms/writing groups--this November!
A few of my favorite writers who will (or have been asked to) answer these questions next week:
Carrie Oeding, Kent Shaw, Robert V. Hansmann, James Dickson, Sarah Green -----------------------------------
Becca J.R. Lachman teaches and tutors writing at Ohio University. Her 1st poetry collection The Apple Speaks (Cascadia House, 2012) is dedicated "to humanitarian workers around the globe, but more for the families who love them."