Publishing My 7th Poetry Book
August 31, 2014
Poetry has always been important to me. However, when a poetry teacher recently asked me about my favorite poets, they were nearly all musicians. Aren’t songs really poetry set to music?
Since I was little, I have listened to music and played instruments. I’ve found that music helps me remember words. Although I like instrumental music and poetry, it’s hard to imagine life without combining them into songs.
Musical ability runs in my mother’s side of the family. She plays the piano and her two brothers play guitar. Our interest in music and our predisposition to musical ability might have something to do with our Irish heritage. I often think and talk in rhymes without trying.
As I am publishing my 7th poetry book called, 39.5, I wanted to reflect on poetry. Did you know that more than a billion Christians/Catholics and more than a billion Muslims think God speaks to mankind with poems and songs? For instance, all of them accept the book of Psalms.
I’m a big believer in the “write what you know” adage. Who wants to read something written by a person with no knowledge or experience of the topic? It’s probably impossible to write about something without understanding it anyway. It’s certainly impossible to teach it.
39.5 is a collection of 39 poems I wrote in 2014. They’re about life, relationships, and searching for meaning on the streets of Long Beach, California. My poems are often deep, yet to the point. Sometimes they celebrate life and sometimes they’re highly critical of the way things are and the way people are. In this book, I experimented with writing some shorter poems. I think one of the challenges for the poet (and the musician) is to know when it ends. Sometimes I have felt inclined to write to the bottom of the page, but I endeavored to have no boundaries or limits on most of these poems.
I kept most of these poems private until publishing them. This was difficult because I feel my poetry explains what I am going through and I like to connect with others. The things I write resonate in others and I enjoy seeing their real time responses on Twitter and in my blog. In fact, I think they can shape society like my stories do. Consequently, I plan to publish most of my future poetry on my blog before I remove them and publish them; which is always the case. Before I publish them in a book and offer them for sale in paperback, Kindle, and e-Book formats, they’re offered for free online.
Before college, I didn’t write too many poems. However, when I took a creative writing class at San Diego State University, I regularly wrote poetry. Since that inspirational class, I have went through dry periods and months where I have written poems every day. It just depends on what’s going on in my life. When nothing particularly great or horrible is happening, it can be harder to write. I find myself more poetic in the highs and the lows.
I’ve always enjoyed journaling and I’ve filled books with prayers, wise quotes, song lyrics, etc. Eventually, I compiled the quotes and published a book called, 10,000 Wise Quotes and Spiritual Sayings. Even though 39.5 will be my 18th published book, I recently started publishing poetry.
At Long Beach City College, I took poetry classes in 2012 and 2013 with Jeff Epley and they improved my writing. When I walked in the door, I felt like I was somewhat a “slave to end rhyme”, but the first class helped me break that habit. I enjoyed the feedback from other students and Mr. Epley in the weekly poetry workshops.
Unfortunately, a reading poetry from a class in a big American city can feel like the antithesis of great poetry. While it was helpful to get diverse input from students, they were all Americanized and similar. How much honest, deep poetry can you really squeeze out of students who are 20 years old, who watch several hours of TV each day, drive an old car around, live in a stick-built house, wear trendy clothes, and think and look like everyone else? This isn’t to say everyone is this way, but almost everybody is.
Great poetry comes from introspection, struggle, and pain. It isn’t for the lighthearted, but it can be therapeutic. If you’ve never tried to write a poem, I recommend trying. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just like other types of writing, you can figure things out as you write it. It helps me articulate my thoughts and feelings about all sorts of issues.
I rarely read poetry and I can’t cite poets who have influenced me. However, I am a fan of Charles Bukowski. When I watched his poetry reading and heard his voice, it resonated in me, entertained me, and sounded legit. One of his famous lines is, “Hey baby, when I write, I am the hero of my shit.”
Enjoy and be real. You only live once. Good luck.