poetry, Uncategorized, writing

How to Add More Poetry to the Holidays

Once in a while at this time of year, workshop participants and seminar attendees express a desire to integrate poetry reading into their holiday celebrations. There’s a fine tradition of reading verses at Christmas get-togethers, and it dates back centuries. As we get more high-tech and less connected to the old ways, events like reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas” can restore in our homes a generational bond, and a continuation or a renewal of tradition.

But we don’t have to limit poems to old standards; even newer poems and those with remote connections to Christmas can have value and add a fun, unconventional event to parties and family gatherings. For this post, let’s look at two poems that could give guests something meaningful and memorable:

This poem appears in my latest collection, The Places That Hold. And while it isn’t a formulaic holiday poem, it uses lots of Christmas imagery and takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s a good one to read at occasions where anglers and outdoors-folk are present.
This poem, actually set during the hotter months of the year, uses Christmas carols, Santa, and strong nostalgia. It appears in my third collection, Middle Class American Proverb. It’s a good one for Florida Christmases that can occasionally be hotter than those elsewhere.

Now is also a good time to mention that books of poetry, usually slimmer and more travel-friendly than prose books, make great stocking stuffers. There’s always someone in our circles who is resolving to read more poetry in the new year, and the books linked to above will provide hours of truly engaging reading. Help make a poet’s Christmas brighter, and purchase copies for friends and loved ones! I am grateful to all of you, readers and followers, and I hope this season treats you well.

poetry, Uncategorized, writing

How to Add More Poetry to the Holidays

Once in a while at this time of year, workshop participants and seminar attendees express a desire to integrate poetry reading into their holiday celebrations. There’s a fine tradition of reading verses at Christmas get-togethers, and it dates back centuries. As we get more high-tech and less connected to the old ways, events like reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas” can restore in our homes a generational bond, and a continuation or a renewal of tradition.

But we don’t have to limit poems to old standards; even newer poems and those with remote connections to Christmas can have value and add a fun, unconventional event to parties and family gatherings. For this post, let’s look at two poems that could give guests something meaningful and memorable:

This poem appears in my latest collection, The Places That Hold. And while it isn’t a formulaic holiday poem, it uses lots of Christmas imagery and takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s a good one to read at occasions where anglers and outdoors-folk are present.
This poem, actually set during the hotter months of the year, uses Christmas carols, Santa, and strong nostalgia. It appears in my third collection, Middle Class American Proverb. It’s a good one for Florida Christmases that can occasionally be hotter than those elsewhere.

Now is also a good time to mention that books of poetry, usually slimmer and more travel-friendly than prose books, make great stocking stuffers. There’s always someone in our circles who is resolving to read more poetry in the new year, and the books linked to above will provide hours of truly engaging reading. Help make a poet’s Christmas brighter, and purchase copies for friends and loved ones! I am grateful to all of you, readers and followers, and I hope this season treats you well.

life, poetry, publishing, teaching, Uncategorized, writers, writing

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

The title of this post is a question I often receive. Whether it’s in a writing workshop, a traditional classroom, or simply in casual conversation, people regularly inquire about the origin of creative ideas. Second only to this question is, “What do I write about if I’m not inspired?” Today’s post is an effort to answer both of these common quandaries with a single practice: Socratic Journaling.

Anyone who has spent a moment or two in school knows about the Socratic Method — that time-honored practice of invoking thought through questioning. First mastered by its namesake, Socrates, the method has served educators well over the years. And even today, we can use it to generate great ideas and to “get unstuck” in creative writing using a technique I pioneered over the course of 15 years.

Socratic Journaling works like this: A writer begins with a “big” question (ideally, this should be one that is fairly philosophical or abstract) and answers it swiftly, almost without thinking. That fast answer then leads to another question, which leads to another answer that also then gets questioned. This process repeats until the writer finds within their questions and answers a subject to write about. See the example of Socratic Journaling below to get a better idea of what this process looks like:

A sample of my own Socratic Journaling that eventually led to a poem that was published.

In the sample above, I examined the nature of a simple phrase I heard growing up: “Laying Claim.” I thought the expression was odd, and so I gave it a thorough analysis through the wringer of Socratic Journaling. The result was a poem that integrated many of these initial wonderings and supplemented them with strong imagery. Occasionally, the act of asking and answering and asking repeatedly yields something different:

A response to a curiosity I had about sash weights in old farmhouse windows. This, too, became a longer poem later.

Drawings, scraps of curious artifacts, and other non-text items can often wind up in the pages of a good Socratic Journal. Historical notes, scientific questions, and even the logging of sensory impressions can serve as good kindling for the fire of creativity. By asking and answering sequentially, we break the often self-imposed limitations on our inspiration. This practice represents a kind of liberation, an unmooring from the safe harbor of pragmatism, and a break from mundane normalcy.

The great American poet Theodore Roethke once advised young poets to “…live in a state of constant astonishment.” Socratic Journaling aids in this quest for seeing wonder in everyday life. As the holidays arrive, what better gift could someone give than inspiration? I have collected and published some of the biggest “starter questions” for creatives of all sorts in the workbook pictured above. To give the thinker in your life a real present, spend $10 and watch their inspiration thrive as they encounter The Socratic Journal. Not only will you be providing the recipient hours of creative engagement, you’ll also be helping out a poet and educator who has some holiday bills of his own to pay.

Obviously, I’m a big believer in Socratic Journaling, not just because it has worked for me as a creative over the years, but because it has served so many of my students so well. When young writers especially feel mental drought, this practice stimulates them back into productivity. And if it works for the young, it can work for the…shall we say, mature? Give this a try. You won’t regret it. Thinking more deeply and more creatively is an incredibly rewarding experience, and The Socratic Journal can get you there. Click the link below to get your copy:

THE SOCRATIC JOURNAL by JOHN DAVIS JR.

life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

Po-Biz Discernment: A Brief Publishing Guide

Sometimes, a publisher just doesn’t do enough for a deserving author.
Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

My publisher is exemplary. Since publishing The Places That Hold with Eastover Press in December of last year, I’ve seen my work publicized, advertised, marketed, and recognized in ways no other book of mine has ever been. Some of this positive buzz is my doing as the author, but much of it is the direct result of the good people at the press itself. I’ve recommended that the editor and publicist do a conference talk on how small presses can keep their authors satisfied and their relationships productive. That’s how good they are.

All the above being said, I feel like I’m a little spoiled. I see authors whose work I admire and respect receiving little to no support. Fellow author “Chris” wrote a splendid collection of poems a while back and published it through a small independent press that runs an annual contest with a hefty submission fee. I think the book may have been their contest winner, in fact, though it’s hard to tell from the publisher’s near-secretive presentation of the book. Today, I looked for a copy of Chris’s collection at the “big boy” bookstores online, and they have no trace of it. I’ve seen no print ads for it, heard no talk of it, and, aside from a brief and subtle mention on the publisher’s website, there’s been no noticeable promotion of it via social media or other online sources. The tough part of this invisibility is, I know this author’s work to be truly worthwhile, and if his publisher had done just a little more, we’d all be talking about his poems right now. It’s a shame.

What else? It helps to have an editor whose work ethic is similar to your own. I grew up in a rural area known for farming, and I was taught early and often the value of honest labor. Someone who didn’t put their back into their work wasn’t much account, my grandparents believed, and even though the kind of work I do today is less muscular, I remain convinced that true diligence has value. Thankfully, my publisher’s people don’t see their press as some little throwaway sideline venture for an additional revenue stream. They pour their love into it, and that translates to giving it 100 percent. Their authors (like me) reap the rewards of their commitment and devotion to good literary business practices. I suspect certain rival presses are hoping to succeed on auto-pilot, as their business model has demonstrated a lax, even indifferent, attitude toward their products and producers.

At an after-reading get-together with several writer friends recently, I heard one say, “I do almost all of my own publicity and scheduling. [The publisher] just put my work into book form and hopes I’ll do the rest.” I remained silent. I didn’t want this person to feel bad, but it was hard not to brag on my publisher. And honestly, I think my friend’s experience has been similar to that of many indie authors today: Find some publisher who accepts your work, and then prepare to do all the legwork on your own just as though you self-published. Accept whatever terms appear in the contract because literary publishing is such a subjective and tough racket. Give up; conform to the expectation of being “the poor artist.” To be fair, this friend has done Zoom readings, library gigs with similar authors, and a range of other book-related activities, but he’s had to fight tooth-and-nail to get these opportunities. A professional publisher eases that struggle, and mine has done exactly that.

When I was submitting The Places That Hold to potential publishers, there were some well-meaning acquaintances who said, “Don’t you want to go for a big-name place this time? Haven’t you published enough with these small presses?” I was flattered by their faith in my poetry, but I also had a vision in mind that excluded Random House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or even W.W. Norton, a big publisher renowned for their support of poets.

There were also some who advised against a “newer” press, citing statistics that independent book publishers often fold within a year or two of opening (been there, done that, know better). Eastover Press was still fledgling at that time, and these admonishers of mine worried about its sustainability. What the pearl-clutchers didn’t realize was that I knew some of the faces behind the masthead. I knew they would approach my book and their others with tenacity, quality, care, and a spirit of earnest work. My decision has paid off.

In late July, The Places That Hold will receive another award. This time, the Florida Authors and Publishers Association will be giving it a medal (I’ll know the details at the actual awards ceremony). The book has already earned one medal at the Florida Book Awards. It has been featured on podcasts, websites, and in publications large and small. And the good news keeps rolling in.

Novices: When your book is ready, trust a publisher that sees the endeavor of literature the way you do. If your work is truly remarkable, the press you decide upon will give it wings or bury it. Choose wisely.

life, poetry, Uncategorized, writing

What I Write When I Don’t Write Poems

Back-porch scribblings while looking across the pond.

Sometimes people ask me, ”Why don’t you write fiction or nonfiction?” My answer to them is, ”I do; it’s just not my first love or my calling.” I sometimes begin with prose before arriving at a poem. Today was one of those days. Sitting on my back porch with a yellow legal pad in my lap and a cup of coffee nearby, I began writing something, anything, to prime the mental pump. Gym-goers, consider this like the cardio before the weight training. As I cursived out a few initial throw-away words, the garbage truck pulled up out front, its brakes emitting that high, industrial screech that precedes a brief stop. This quick encounter prompted the following to appear on my notepad:

The sound of our neighborhood garbage truck takes me back to Fort Meade, circa 1986, when garbagemen (yes, that’s what we called them) would leap from the backs of slow-moving, dirty white trucks and, with Herculean muscle, lift and empty our large metal trash cans into the waiting, hungry mouth of the compactor in the truck’s rear. The work was filthy and stinky, and the men who did it went home every night smelling of other people’s refuse. But the men who did it grew strong and made a decent enough living to send kids off to college so they’d never have to become “sanitation workers.”

Today, the truck extends a mighty mechanical gripper. The machine lifts, empties, and returns the dumpster, which is lifeless gray plastic. There is no poetry in this process. No clang of cans, no yelling among workers. No Clyde, no Cecil [whose names we knew because they were embroidered onto gray-blue name-strips above their breast pocket, sometimes ripped]. No quick wave before the resumption of a route. Just an ugly claw taking waste, leaving vacancy.

Ironic, I suppose, that I openly stated the lack of poetry in modern rubbish collection. Had it not been for the shiny blue truck’s arrival and the sensations that went with it, my recollection would not have been triggered. I know that Cecil and Clyde (conveniently two C names) will probably make an appearance in a future poem. I know that those noises and memories will probably appear in that poem, as well. And I know that right now, I must allow those images and ideas to rest a while before they become something else. I’ll stash away this yellow piece of paper, and some morning at 4 a.m., much to my family’s chagrin, I will revisit this small vignette, and it will take on new life in my chosen genre.

This is what a life in literature sometimes looks like: not the gleam of an award or the bustle of a book-signing, but the simplicity of a legal pad, a ballpoint pen, and a cup of coffee. A view of a pond, a quick sensory stimulation, and a ready place to process all those thoughts that arrive. This is what I write when I don’t write poems.

life, Uncategorized, writing

Encouragement, Persistence, or Something Else?

I’m social media “friends” with many people I knew during my secondary school career. It’s interesting to see who has gotten married, moved away, had kids, or recently switched careers, among other things. Some folks make you think, “Yes, that sounds about right for so-and-so,” and others surprise you: “Really? I never thought (name here) would ever (insert seemingly strange life event here).”

Every once in a while, though, a name pops up in my feed and I think, “Now why aren’t they writing more?” After all, I went to school with a great number of people who were stellar writers at the middle school and high school level — far better than I was, definitely. They had a strong sense of language’s musicality, wrote with a unique personal diction, and went well beyond any of the formulaic writing advice handed out by teachers at that time.

I think of “Rosa,” a Wauchula Hills girl Mr. Pace praised for her innovative compositions in eighth grade. I think of “Ralph” and “Jorge,” both of whom dominated English class but who could equally demystify math and science, a feat my right-hemisphere-heavy brain could never perform. These students and others were cheered for their writing prowess in both the creative and academic genres, but today, they’ve abandoned the art altogether. Adulthood and all its myriad obligations appear to have stifled the authorial impulse for these classmates, and I want to implore them, “Go buy a legal pad and scribble down the first things that come to mind! We need more writers like you!”

Admittedly, the affairs of their lives are not mine to judge, no matter how well-intended my wishes for them may be. It could be that some of them gave writing a try only to find that it is fickle: Some days are diamonds, some days are stones, to quote the late John Denver. Maybe one or two started a blog like this one and discovered that it doesn’t pay the bills, so why bother? Truthfully, there is much I just don’t know, but I suspect that the lack of immediate reward could have been a turn-off. Some people labor at the inkwell/keyboard all their lives and never see any impact, yet posthumously, their words are cherished (think Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe for starters). Why persist under circumstances like that?

I still write because of both encouragement and endurance. Plenty of people in my life motivated me along the way, and I’ve come to understand that doing a thing for a long time has its rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic. This year marks my twenty-fifth as a “real” poet — someone who has gone beyond dabbling with clever rhymes and poured time, resources, and significant work and research into the craft. There are plenty of much younger people who have achieved literary fame (and even fortune) from their words at ages far lower than mine. But I genuinely don’t perceive writing as a competition, and because I don’t, I just keep going at my own pace, on my own terms. I take heart from poets like Billy Collins and Ruth Stone, both remarkable writers who weren’t “discovered” until about age 60. Things turn out okay for scribes who keep at it, and even if I’m never discovered in the same way they were, I will have compiled a considerable body of work for my family to remember me by, for better or worse.

Writerly classmates of old Hardee High, please pick up a pen. I promise that your words will make it worthwhile. Even on the hard days, even on the dry-well days, even on the apathetic days, having written anything at all still feels good. Do it because it’s therapy. Do it because it leaves a legacy. Do it because you have a talent to either use or lose. I look forward to seeing your latest work soon. Until then, happy scribbling.

poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

Book Launch! You’re invited

Hello friends, fans, and followers!

The official launch of The Places That Hold will take place Saturday, January 22 at 2 p.m. at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin, Florida. It’s a stone’s throw from Tampa and St. Petersburg, so if you’re local, come on by! For those on Facebook, see the link below:

www.facebook.com/events/595926751480194/permalink/596159064790296/

Here’s hoping you can make it to this fun event!

life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

The Joy of Author’s Copies

Look what arrived today!
There’s nothing quite like holding your book after it’s just been published.
Even the back cover is beautiful. So satisfied with this collection!

Ready to get your own copy? Visit:

https://eastoverpress.com/books/the-places-that-hold/

life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

Accepting Preorders Now!

front-cover-davis-2

The Places That Hold

John Davis Jr.’s newest poetry collection published by Eastover Press. Small-town life, rural truths, and poems of captivity interweave themselves in this volume.

$20.00

For all those who’ve eagerly asked to be notified when the new book is available, I have special news: Tuesday is the official release day! In preparation for this major event, I’m offering my preorder folks a unique bargain — order today (before the release) and you’ll have a signed copy made out to you. I’ll ship it to you (shipping included in price above) along with a personal card of thanks as soon as I receive my author’s copies. As the holiday season arrives, please help me celebrate this new collection with your support. Just click the “Pay with PayPal” button above. Thanks in advance!

life, poetry, publishing, teaching, Uncategorized, writers, writing

How We Begin Making a Better Year — NOW

Greeting 2021 before it Arrives…Photo by Tairon Fernandez on Pexels.com

What can we do to ensure that 2021 isn’t just a 2020 redux? There are plenty of actions that have nothing at all to do with masks, social distance, or near-obsessive handwashing. Supporting those who create and facilitate culture and helping nonprofits that have suffered are just a couple of ways we can begin the return to something like normal.

Small presses and their authors have been profoundly and negatively affected by the COVID pandemic. Cancelled author events, fewer sales opportunities, and closed venues have all created major deficits for those who keep original thought alive and well. Yes, even your loyal host has been impacted. It isn’t often I use my website and blog for overt sales messages, but you know the old saying about desperate times…

https://negativecapability.storenvy.com/products/10446729-middle-class-american-proverb

A purchase or two of this book (visit the link above) will help begin the restoration. It may seem like a strange bit of logic to prescribe buying poetry to overcome a crisis like this one, but here’s the truth: A moment spent reading poetry is a moment spent without present worries. Poetry transports us to a different place and time mentally. It can allow us to breathe air unencumbered by danger, visit maskless friends and neighbors, and feel genuinely connected in ways we’ve so sorely missed. If you’re seeking that connectedness, poetry (and especially THIS poetry) is the answer.

Next, consider year-end giving to a worthy nonprofit. Arts nonprofits have faced an especially horrible setback. The small cultural center where I give workshops has had to reduce programming and opportunities while moving most events online. While this isn’t terribly different than businesses and schools “going virtual,” moving to the online platform completely negated the famous hands-on approach that Firehouse Cultural Arts Center classes are famous for. As we begin to mitigate the damage of 2020, I would ask that you give generously to this cause. The link to do so is below:

Please give here and help out an organization vital to our area. Donations are tax deductible, as FCC is a 501c(3) charity.

If we are to do better and see a light at the end of this terrible tunnel, we must begin by supporting those causes and ideas that would ordinarily receive our favor. Helping writers, small presses, and arts nonprofits is a great way to start overcoming a bleak period.

Victory hinges on so many things: precautions, herd immunity, and even an eventual cure. But if we desire to regain that missing piece of shared human experience, we should prove that with actions: Contributing to the humanities rolls out the welcome mat to a new, brighter, and healthier era. Please purchase and give today. A new year awaits.