DRAWER NO MORE!
The Saga Continues and Miracles Happen
You mean they didn’t fly off the shelves, after all?
As mentioned in the last installment—way back in a previous era of self-publishing, I had wrangled a grant to fund the printing of my grief-themed poetry book. Numerous copies (let me save a bit of face by omitting an exact number) still languish in my garage and closets. It dawned on me that American poetry books, especially self-published ones, rarely fly off of shelves unless one lives in hurricane country.
So I confronted the fact that self-publishing equals self-marketing. Chief of Sales did not seem a promising role for me, considering that I became a writer to accommodate a tendency toward introversion bordering on agoraphobia. For the sake of my poetry, however, I bit down on the hardest object available—in this case, the hefty tome of Writer’s Digest’s Poet’s Market—and steeled myself for an exercise in self-promotion.
Leafing through the fine print, I compiled a list of publications that, allegedly, “Accept books of poetry for review.” How fitting! I thought. I’ll persuade a few of these folks to review my lovely book, thereby attracting others to purchase a copy! Of course, sending out review copies and receiving orders with checks enclosed would all take place via snail mail. So quaint! It’s almost as if I were Jane Eyre, posting inquiries for a situation as governess to a good family.
I organized my list of publications where I planned to request reviews in three categories. The “Prestigious” category included fancy quarterlies like Prairie Schooner that printed famous poets in every issue and reviewed books from presses like Copper Canyon and BOA Editions. Although I had already sent many individual poems to Prairie Schooner with much stubborn hope but no avail whatsoever, I couldn’t resist giving the book a try as well. Next, the category of “Not So Prestigious but Nice Enough” included journals of smaller print runs that published poets I hadn’t necessarily heard of, but that seemed to uphold high production standards like pretty cover art and perfect binding. Here I placed the River Oak Review, Kestrel, and others. That left the “Basic but Still Worthwhile” category, which covered the great many titles that cried out to me from the pages of Poet’s Market: The Old Red Kimono, Earth’s Daughters, Djinni. This included the hated saddlebacks (stapled booklets like I made at home with my children) and even several tabloids.
Was my attitude snobbish and deluded? Go ahead—you be the judge.
I mailed out thirty copies of my book: ten for each category of my list. I enclosed a personalized letter to the review editor of each magazine, along with a self-addressed postcard so he or she could let me know how quickly to expect the review of my book to grace their pages.
Out of thirty postcards, three came back. One bluntly stated that grief is a fitting topic for the world’s greatest poets. It behooves the rest of us to hold our tongues to spare insightful readers our sentimental clichés. Another informed me that the magazine was ceasing publication. And the third offered a balm of compliments (“What a lovely and deeply spiritual book you have produced”), while explaining that they had stopped reviewing books due to limited funds and space. God bless Kathy DiMeglio of Kalliope, wherever you may be today!
Thank God for the tabloids and saddlebacks! One of these finally published my only review. It wasn’t actually a litmag from my list—just a regional newspaper for the New York Finger Lakes resort towns that ran short poems as filler. Truth be told, they offered to print a review of my book if I took out an ad, which I did. Something irresistible like: GRIEF POEMS FOR YOUR LOVED ONES. JUST $6.95 ppd.
The review duly appeared, but I can’t find a copy in my records, even though I’m a notorious saver of everything. I think it ran about 20 lines and said some nice things. But despite my ad that appeared on the same page, I never received an order from the Finger Lakes region or from much of anywhere. Like the majority of poets throughout history, I sold a handful of books to people who knew me. Once, at a street fair, a woman stole five copies for reasons unknown. She slipped them under a hand-woven poncho and hurried away before I realized what she was up to. Dismayed at the time, I thank her today. Five less books in the garage!
As I said, these poems concerned grief and healing. I wrote many of them in response to my husband’s harrowing experience of the death of his teenage daughter. Others reflect losses in my own life. So it befits these themes, I think, that we wound up giving away many dozens of copies of the book. For a time, I was mailing them out to any locale where I happened to read of young people dying of illnesses or in unfortunate events. When my husband and I visited Denver, I took copies to all the churches I’d seen mentioned in the news in connection with memorials after the Columbine shootings.
I was pleased to receive occasional notes of thanks. Still, the excess boxes were beginning to molder.
And then, at some point along the years, a miracle took place.
My husband is a well-known scientist who attends a number of professional conferences. At one such conference, where I tagged along, we met a kindly older gentleman who owned a sales and distribution business for books related to alternative medicine. My husband persuaded him to accept my poetry book for distribution. Naturally, I was thrilled, imagining that someone other than myself would now take over my marketing and selling.
But that was merely a minor part of the miracle.
The distributor sold only five copies of my book in five years. At the end of that time, I received a form letter from the kind gentleman’s successor. They were terminating our professional relationship due to a “poor fit” of content areas. And they were charging me $45 for five years of storage fees, plus postage for returning my “unsold stock.”
All of that was irritating at the time. It is nothing, however, in light of what soon happened. One of the copies the distributor managed to sell came into the possession of a very special person.
One morning, my husband received an email from a woman asking permission to set a poem from my book to music. She explained that she was a music therapist and had picked up A ROAD BEYOND LOSS by Anesa Miller from the sales table at some nearly forgotten meeting. Now she was preparing to move house and had been sorting through her shelves, disposing of unneeded stuff. When she came across my book, something made her pause before dropping it in the giveaway box. She half-remembered opening it a year or two earlier and thinking she really should take time to read it more closely. Sinking down on a chair in the disarray of moving boxes, she opened my book again. She read the first stanza, and something happened: A fresh, beautiful sound welled up around her. As she read on, the sounds flowed and changed and flowed on anew.
She heard music.
The woman’s name is Jane Click. She had never composed music before, but the words and rhythms of my poem had inspired her to try a new path. Eager simply to capture the melodies born in her mind, she promised not to seek profits, or to share them with the poet (me!) should any proceeds unexpectedly result.
Of course, I gave permission for Jane to set the poem to music and share the resulting song with whomever she wished. Less than a week later, she emailed again. She had discovered that each poem in the book gave rise to its own melody. Her project was expanding—she would like to write music for all the poems and arrange instrumental lines to accompany the vocals.
My mind was boggling: In spite of all the frustrations with publishing and marketing, in spite of the unsold stock in the garage—one copy of my book had found its way to the hands of An Ideal Reader. And she was a reader who not only perceived the feelings I’d hoped to express but extended them. A reader who found a use for my words beyond my wildest dreams.
As I got acquainted with Jane, it came as little surprise to learn that, like my husband, she is a bereaved parent. Her path to becoming a music therapist later in life was a winding one that helped her move beyond her own grief at the loss of her son to a drug overdose. She understood every milestone described in my poems. With a group of musicians at her church, she recorded the songs she wrote, created a CD, and produced a booklet of sheet music. She sold at least a dozen copies of my book and sent me a check for the full amount.
The following summer, Jane traveled from Tucson, Arizona, to my home in Ohio to visit me for the first time. She played her music for me on the piano. She said, “Everybody cries when they hear your words, or when they read them.”
I broke down, too, and cried in her arms.
Jane held me around the shoulders on the piano bench. “It’s okay,” she said. “Everybody cries.”
Everybody: from the world’s greatest poets to all the rest of us.
Listen to a sample of Jane’s music:
For a copy of Anesa’s poetry or Jane’s CD, leave us a comment below or a message via the contact page.
The first song sample is titled “Guess Who.” I don’t know why it gets cut a bit short. Very sorry about that…I’ll try to find an expert to sort it out. The second song is “A Year Gone By.” The photo at the top of the blog illustrates it—
…Butterflies filling all the trees,
butterflies rising with the breeze,
butterflies wafting everywhere,
a ghostly blaze,
through the air
above your grave.
Sounds like eurythmy birthing — the expression, often physical, of music, that is a visceral experience of poetry and harmony and melody. How the songs are born from different expressions coming together. So moving, like Socratic midwifery, the birthing of ideas.
See definitions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurythmy
I wish I knew more about eurythmy. Does it mean the common element of various art forms, or an organic level of self-expression with rhythms and such? Not sure, but I’m honored it would come to mind in response to my sad-happy self-publishing story. Thank you for that.
You & Jane must be so proud! The “saga” was a difficult trial for you. I am so glad you were able to maintain your sense of humor and continue to pursue the “marketing” of your book of poetry.
Now your loving words have jumped off the page onto a CD and then put back onto the page as sheet music!
You knew that your poems needed to be read by people who have endured loss, or sadness, or grief, and needed to discover that they are not alone.
Jane and I have become fast friends, which is the best outcome my poems could have produced. Her music has now been performed in many places. and she continues to compose. Thank you, Orchid, for visiting the blog and giving me your thoughtful words of encouragement!
Anesa, Reading this blog post was an inspiration. Your experience reveals that we need to know the real reason we write and also shows that it only takes one person reading something we have written to have an impact. Like your poetry, I write everyday to reach those who are struggling or sad due to loss. I lost my mother at nineteen and dad five years later, so I use my blog to help others heal and to remind myself who I am and what I am about. It is enough right now that I hear from those that want to tell me how my blog has helped them in some way to recover, but soon I will be thinking about publishing my book. I am halfway through another rewrite, and it is satisfying to see it truly take shape, but it is more important that I have found healing in the writing. Thank you for reminding me why I write and giving me another moment of clarity.
Like you, Kim, I lost my parents as a young adult and have continued to struggle with the aftereffects of loss. Another special aspect for me of getting acquainted with Jane is that I’m the exact same age as her daughter, so it always feels that there’s something very “meant-to-be” about our friendship.
As you point out, art can be healing, and that is where I’ve tried to put my focus. It’s wonderful that you’ve devoted your blog to these issues. Thanks for sharing the URL–it’s a lovely site. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me.
Anesa, Thanks for sharing your saga of hope and redemption, a wonderful saga of another creative soul taking your poetry to the realm of music. I will try to get the last copies of your book to share heartfelt issues of grief and longing from Amazon, and if they don’t have copies will contact you directly. It is a pity that fine poets have difficulty being heard through the modern media din. PBS should open up a new service to the country–a “Poetry Corner” where artists can share their work in person. Indeed, why don’t you take the remaining boxes of your chapbook and leave some at select locations in your travels. . . with a simple offer–“Please read and share.” You might also consider putting a pdf here on your blog so anyone who wishes can download your spirit-quest with a click of a mouse, with the simple offer “Please download, read, and share”. . . and perhaps your words of solace will soon circle the world, seeking out the minds of the many that still care about such efforts, while also providing solace to those in pain who need such words and sounds to heal. I trust we would all appreciate easy access to your past works. After all, the second most important goal of writing is to be read. Just a few reflections. Thanks for your artistic efforts! BB
As ever, you are a veritable font of ideas, BB! I would like to create a “Little Free Library” in my home neighborhood: a sheltered box where people can come by and take or leave a book for free (info on this international movement here: http://littlefreelibrary.org/ ). I could offer copies of my poetry book. Such examples of a gift economy can be a real asset to the community!
Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!
Anesa, I remember when Jane (my mother) was writing the music to your poems. And, later, gathering the performers to create the recording for the CD. It was a profound time in her life. I am so very glad you two found each other. And so very, very glad for your beautiful poetry to have sparked it all.
I’m thrilled you stopped by Catherine! Thanks for your good words and for your memory of that time. I really appreciate every sign that people are visiting my fledgling blog–never thought I would start one, but for self-publishing authors it seems almost required. This is my most important post so far. I love sharing the song clips. Hope folks are listening– ))))
Thanks so much for sharing this.
And thanks to you for visiting! Hope you’ll stop by again–
We never know when, or how, our words will affect another. This is a perfect example of the beauty of words, the inexorable quality of a poem, or other art form. Blessings to the both of you~
So grateful for your fine words of support, Laurel. You make an important point, and it means a lot. I hope you’ll visit me again–
This is an incredible story filled with the grief of real life mountains that seem impossible to climb, like the death of a child, layered with the heartbreak and struggles of being a poet in a world that moves too fast to care, and is frankly just cruel ( I can’t believe that distributor tried to charge you for storage and return shipping!) The whole thing being heartbreaking is still very relatable. Yet, through your and your husbands grief, in an almost miraculous way, the story finds flight, two friends meet and create something beautiful together.
This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, moving, epic story, with an endearing ending.
I cried when I was reading your post, then I cried again listening to the poetry put to music.
All of this would make a great movie. You should find a filmmaker!
I can’t tell you how much your kind words mean to me, Nicole! So often, it seems that we labor in a vacuum, striving for beauty and truth but without enough feedback from fellow human beings to know whether we’re getting anywhere close to capturing those lofty values. When a special communicative person comes along–like Jane, or like you–it makes all the difference in the world. I appreciate your visit to the blog and your very positive feedback. So glad you liked the songs!
The voices are clear but rather gives a formal sense to me.Do not coming more deeply and not warmly enough.
Many thanks for your visit and feedback, Bilal. In case you haven’t found it, please stop by this page: https://www.anesamiller.com/?p=456 to read “The Ladder of Words.”
How truly wonderful that Jane found your poems and you two have found each other. It is my prayer that your poetry and Jane’s music can bring comfort and healing to many more people.