The very first collection of poems I ever published were put into a plastic comb-bound chapbook entitled Satin Grit: Poetry for the Average Joe. I know, I know — a truly horrible title, and unfortunately, the poetry inside this little 25-page first effort wasn’t much better. Forced rhymes, trite metaphors, tired cliches, and “borrowed” clip art from Windows 95 made that initial attempt truly laughable in retrospect.
But that first little gathering of bad poems, which I sold for $5 apiece from a folding table at a small central Florida authors’ get-together, gave me some elementary experience in the business of publishing. I understood what it meant to assemble a collection, choosing just the right piece for just the right page. I gained some sense of the work that goes into the physical process of making a book, no matter how small.
At the end of the event, I still had a box full of my homemade chapbooks, but a few kind patrons actually ponied up their hard-earned money for inexperienced and unrefined verses of a twenty-something dabbler. I had an “author’s profile” in the local newspaper, and a few other perks came my way as a result of those terrible, dot matrix-printed chapbooks. These rewards were enough, however, to keep me going. In 2005, I would publish an entire collection of Florida poetry, and in 2012, I would enroll in the University of Tampa’s MFA in Creative Writing program to further hone my skills. That sorry, self-made chapbook served as a gateway to further pursuits, despite its questionable quality.
So today, when I received word from Kelsay Books that they’d like to publish my newest chapbook, a 30-page volume dedicated to the issues of fatherhood and mentorship, I felt a few rogue memories returning. Would these little texts be no better than Satin Grit? My poetry has come a long way since those folding-table days, but would people treat this new work seriously, or see it as simply another “ploy” by a struggling poet? A friend of mine who also published through Kelsay assured me that their products were professional and artful, and that I would be pleased with the end result, for certain. And of course, no plastic comb binding. Whew. I scribbled my signature and date onto the contract, sent it back off to the publisher, and now, the waiting game begins.
The Boys of Men will be available in September 2014, according to my publisher. It will be sold through Amazon and other venues, and I will receive five author’s copies as a starting point. And even though poetry chapbooks aren’t the hottest selling commodities, the royalties I will receive on sales aren’t bad, either. I intend to have a book launch and a few other events (more details will follow). The faith I have in my work is greater than when I began peddling my word-wares more than a decade ago. I now see the chapbook as an honorable literary endeavor rather than a cheap avenue to push my name under people’s noses. I also admire the history of the chapbook: its humble beginnings as reading material for the less-than-royal draw me to it just as much as its modern, wildly artistic iterations. My writing, many rejection letters and maturing experiences later, is finally worthy to be bound into a quality chapbook. I am honored by this new proposition, and equally honored to partner with Kelsay Books.
I’ve become many things since those Satin Grit days — a husband, a father, an educator, and yes, a REAL poet. As I finish out my final months of the MFA program and I await the publication of The Boys of Men, memories of badly bound manuscripts and the head-shaking pity of small-town strangers may continue to haunt me. But at least now I know that, when the time arrives to launch my latest work into the world, this time it will soar on its own wings.