Things have been a little quiet for me on the library front recently—periodic Twitter rants aside—as I've been working behind the scenes on refining the Panorama Project's focus for 2020 in light of recent events, identifying areas where we can have a measurable and actionable impact and figuring out how to implement the right initiatives. While I'm excited about what's in development for 2020, it's still too early to announce any of it, but two articles I wrote recently offer a glimpse of where things are heading.
The weirdest Summer of my professional career came to a surreal close this past weekend as I attended the Writer's Digest Annual Conference as a speaker and journalist rather than the publisher and marketing director who curated ~80% of the event before my departure in early July. I'm obviously still biased, but overall, it was an invigorating experience—from the amazing keynotes and insightful presenters, to the mini-reunion with some of my all-time favorite colleagues, all survivors of F+W Media's disastrous bankruptcy process that seems to have ended relatively well... for Writer's Digest, at least.
Don't be fooled / by the cul de sac / the gingerbreading / the German engineering
The slam isn't the automatic audience draw it used to be (for us, at least), and I can't help but wonder if that's partly because, a long time ago, the organized slam became much less about putting on a good show for the audience and providing an open forum for a variety of voices, and more about establishing an alternative career path for a select group of poets. The revolution gone corporate, as so often happens.
As a married father of two who has long struggled with finding the right balance that allows for enough time to write, I was disappointed by the absence of voices that resembled my own experience, and was inspired to do something about it. And so, “Writer Dads” was conceived and, finally, born.
The original version of the poem, written back in 2003, was entitled Mozer, Bethea and I (as published in Handmade Memories), and it had a ranty, overly political ending that tried to be a little too clever and felt like a different poem from the opening, I tightened it all up, including a bit more nuance in Mozer's section, while heavily revising the closing to end up with what I think is a far stronger, more personal, more relatable work. Veteran's Day isn't a time for generic sentiments, positive or negative, but a time for personal reflection. I'm generally ambivalent about my time in the military because I met far too many people who defied easy stereotypes of what it means to be pro- or anti-war, and I've always had nothing but respect for anyone who has served, not to mention a fair bit of curiosity about why they did so.
I've always been fascinated (and frustrated) by poetry's "delicate snowflake" status, and how such a diverse variety of forms, styles, and voices often gets lumped into such a generic, cavernous category, like literary fiction and graphic novels. One of the things I've always loved about good anthologies and open mics is the inherent (or the potential for) diversity in those formats, something that's not clearly communicated on bookstore shelves nor the Dewey Decimal system.
I've noted often in the past that most of what I preach and practice when it comes to marketing and community-building, I learned during those four years of Mondays, and by the end of the night last Monday, I realized how big a hole I'd created when I walked away from that part of my life. So, I'm back.
Perhaps it's just the drama this week offered -- from the tragic and inspiring events in Boston, to some big things starting to shake loose at the day job -- combining with the unexpected introduction to some good poems, but I'm getting that feeling again, a tentative spark that danced unusually bright in my brain throughout my run this morning. It wasn't a full-fledged poem, just the beginnings of one, words and ideas tap-dancing to a vaguely familiar rhythm, a lucid dream that lasted for a couple of miles before threatening to fade if I didn't write them down. So I did, cheating my cooldown and stretching to get to the computer as fast as I could.
In the beginning, when I was trying to sell my first novel, I had a weird experience of editors really wanting me to write, sort of magic realism set in the Caribbean, or about recent immigrants with a magical ability (I've had two editors actually give me that logline and ask if I'd be interested in writing that story, but it's just not there for me, I've got other stories still to tell). There was a strong sense that, hey, this is how you can be marketed as a Caribbean novelist.