The River is Rising
Publishing your first book is always the most exciting experience of all. After you’ve determined somehow that you are a poet who must satisfy that urge in you to see your work in print, it certainly feels good. You spend years, I mean many many years trying to get that one book published. You cannot believe why publishers think your book sucks, and take an entire year looking at it or keeping it in the trash bin before sending you that small piece of form paragraph that says, “Unfortunately, your poems do not meet our needs at this time.” But then much later, not expecting, that first book is actually accepted by some kind-hearted individual who puts their money on you, a bet of a life time to publish what is supposed to be your first book.
You get word either through e-mail, a small note, a phone call that your first book of poems will appear on the market. Of course, you do not believe your new publisher-to-be, so you just shrug him off with a smile. He’s not going to buy your nonesense poetry, you tell yourself. You do not tell your friends because you think to yourself that something’s bound to happen to stop the publication of your first book, a thunder storm that kills your publisher, a tornado that destroys the town your new publishers lives in, a plane crash, something to prevent you being called “a poet.”
So you keep it all a secret if you are lucky enough to have a town that hates poets enough to keep them out of their limelight. But then, nothing happens, and you become a true poetry book poet like your father told you not to be. You are actually a poet, soemone who makes no money for what is the world’s best product of genius. People don’t think poets should eat, so you have your first book, and you are still broke and your family thinks you should not quit your day job because they need to eat. But you are a poet, a real poet, and you discover that there are others like you, poets, poor, but still poets. And you love them too, because it is something wonderful to belong to that clan, that international world where poetry shapes your one world. So, your first book happens to be a first BABY for you. You expect the book, counting the months, weeks, then days until the book hits the stores. You discover however that you’re not any best seller because only a few understand poetry or care to, but you are a poet, at last, to your father or mother’s disappointment. You really really love yourself for being that disobedient child to your good parents.
Then if you are lucky like me, a few years later, someone who does not know what trouble they’re getting into picks out your second book in a selection of hundreds, of sometimes, better poets. You are again lucky to get published not because you are the best on earth at that moment, but because this is YOUR TIME in history, your moment to be blessed, to be singled out of the crowd of other well-meaning, book-loving, sleep deprived poets. You have the luck to know that your book has actually won an award and is being published.
At such a moment, the excitement is there, but like having that second child, you’ve been there, done that, so the moment of discovering is not that scary or that strange to you. You now know that there are people in this world who will put a bet on your work because the stars told them to. You do not jump up and down to tell yourself this is happening to you or pinch yourself that you’ve got another book coming out. After all, this is a book, not a lottery winner, you now know. But you are happy, not too scared to say to others that your book is coming out. You now believe that publishers don’t lie, don’t just drop off the earth because they’ve decided to publish your random thoughts into a book. You now believe in your guts that you are a poet. How you came to believe that, don’t ask me, but you do believe it is true-you are now a poet.
At first, you thought you were a poet, but now, you know it is true. You finally can look at your family members and accept the fact that you are one CRAZY individual. That while they were sleeping, you actually wrote all this nonesense down long enough to make another book. That your thoughts, though strange, are worth putting money on, and that someday, if they and their children live long enough, long after you’re gone, they might get some money for the words you’re publishing.
But your third book, like mine now- that third child you thought was a bonus, is coming out. Don’t get me wrong, many poets go on to become great, to publish up to sixty books of poetry, to be called poets. And yet others who have published less or more never go on to become great. You know I’m not speaking of Bill Gates kind of great, so we’ve agreed on that. Great, meaning that they leave this world with someone believing in their words or a whole lot of people thinking they’ve contributed something.
Publishing your third book is exciting, but hey, you know you’re not getting richer. You might even be getting poorer since people who think you are rich just because of your publication constantly make demands on you. You might be a bit famous, but hey, you’re no Michael Jordan. But you have your world and meet people who actually think you’re smart, people who will analyze your words as if you were some Shakespeare, people who pay money to attend a conference to read a paper on your work. You might even say, “I know I am crazy, but what are they,” when you meet people who cry just because of the words you’ve written, who truly love your words, who care to tell you, who fall in love with your words and think they’re in love with you, who marvel at the world just because of something you have written. Bless their hearts, poetry lovers, bless their hearts, I’d say.
If you are like me, you will need someone like my publisher, Mike Simms, to excite you. He is a blast, and will make a stone jump up to love their own efforts. So, you say, it’s only a book.
And if you are a poet, one who now believes you are a poet, you find other poets to read, and continue to write because this is all you know. You know you are not going to get rich from doing this job, so you pray hard to keep your day job. And if you are like me, bless you, you are writing from another perspective most of the time, an African world view, using African images in a foreign language, that is not really foreign to you since your country uses English for everything, but yet, you have the power over other languages, so your work is being read with magnifying glasses by your first audience in the Diaspora. But you say, hey, that’s okay, and you continue.
This is your third baby coming, girl, you say to yourself in the mirror, and you want to be excited with your publisher, so you send out the announcements, the notes from your publisher. You tell your friends you’re really really excited about your new book, but all the time, you’re thinking of your next book. Your next move is already in midstream. You are writing, if you are me, not thinking that what you’re writing is a book, but that it is poetry, your way of carving up the ugliness and the beauty of this world for yourself, for your own pleasure, and if it turns out some day to be another book of poems, so be it.
But you keep that in mind because you have seen it all. What matters now is whether or not your poem makes you smile or cry.
So, when the book arrives at your door nearly a year after it’s acceptance in the form of a real book, you smile and try to read it to see if any editing needs to be done again with the book, if you are me. You’re never satisfied, always wanting to fix the crooked edges of this world so everyone can see or just to line up the twisted parts on display. You look for any binding problems, any editing problems, as if you never had a chance at proof-editing, like a mother, counting the fingers of her third child, you examine this new creation.
You are not panicky as you were when you examined the fingers of your first child, and you do not miss a heart beat when some silly thing you wrote surprises you. You know that’s you, that’s the way your babies look of course, one might be light skinned and different from the last one, but it’s your child, your book, your voice. In the meantime, you are looking for the newest trouble to get yourself into writing while you hold on to your day job.
You send out the announcement, and in this competitive world, you take care not to make enemies at the birth of another book. You keep cool because someone might cry because of something you’ve written. You are the crazy poet, the no-brain poet who all the time looks at the world differently, but like other poets, you have your place.
And then after reading the book back to front, being disappointed at your photo which you really hate to see every time you think of the book, you go to work, and a colleague says: “How come you’re not so happy today?”
You are surprised, shocked, flabbergasted. What is he talking about, you think. After all, I just published a new book, and this dude says I’m not so happy? So you look at your colleague, a gentleman, a visual artist, and you wonder whether visual artists are as crazy as poets. You agree, they are or even worse.
Why is he asking such a question, you wonder, but you do not say anything, just stand and stare at him, laughing at you in the hall. “Two days ago when you heard that your book had arrived at the publisher’s office, you were so happy, you were jumping around here, so what’s happened now?” He asserts.
So you think, yes, he’s right, what’s happened now?
“I finally got the book, love it, and now I’m a little sad today,” you manage to say.
“Oh,” he says, “Postpartum depression,” he slides away down the hall as he is known to do. Artists are very perceptive and strange like poets. You look at him, and think, yea, I do not need a psychiatrist to tell me that.
Postpartum depression? After something you’ve worked on for years, a book of poems that should have been published two years earlier, rejected or almost rejected twice, then taken within minutes by another publisher after you’ve waited and waited to see it published. Now it’s out, and you think, what was the big fuss about? What is there to look forward to? What am I going to do with myself now?
Or maybe, if you are like me, you’re thinking of your life. How is it possible to be so far away from your homeland and still celebrate the birth of another book away from all the poeple the book belongs to.
But if you are like me, you say, “I am thankful, just so very thankful for this life now and now.”