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, teaching, writing

The Literary Scoutmaster

Photo by Bryce Carithers on Pexels.com

When I was the age of my current students, I was busy finishing up the requirements for Eagle Scout. I genuinely enjoyed scouting, mostly because the things I learned there were hands-on, useful, and seemed to have real-life application. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that one of my very first jobs was camp counselor, teaching younger boys how to safely and accurately shoot both rifles and shotguns. Scouting was good to me, and it gave me skills I use and teach even now when I take my sons camping, fishing, skeet shooting, hiking, or kayaking, among other activities.

Admittedly, the Boy Scouts of America is not what it used to be. Over the years, the organization has made a series of egregious missteps that have caused me not to place my sons in a troop, and I’ve largely cut all ties with the BSA. But this isn’t a political post, nor is it one intended to defend or prosecute “Scouting USA” as they now prefer to be called. Instead, I’d like to reflect upon how my present teaching experience embodies what was valuable within a former version of scouting: Practical guidance and retainable learning through meaningful relationships and memorable experiences.

I teach at an all-boys high school. Every day, I get to walk into my classroom and impart subject matter I love to young men who are eager to start the first chapters of their “real lives” beyond secondary education. Like tying a square knot or administering first aid, the skills I provide (reading a text more deeply, writing a clear sentence, etc.) are ones that will follow my pupils the rest of their lives if they’re wise enough to grasp this opportunity.

And I do all I can to ensure that my subject matter is imparted in a tangible, relatable way. We don’t just sit in rows and uniformly parrot back the rules of reading and writing; we investigate texts and tear sentences apart to see what makes them work (or not). I choose material that the boys will find engaging so as not to lose their focus. I show them that poetry, an oft-dreaded element of high school English, can be cool. They earn metaphorical “merit badges” in matters like fiction, nonfiction, composition, rhetoric, and critical analysis. And throughout all this, I lean into their experiences.

They write about their lives, their parents, their worries, and their friends. They give presentations about how they share traits with certain characters we’ve encountered. They read paragraphs with highlighters like navigators would read maps with compasses. And they build essays and compositions as a camper might carefully structure his log-cabin fire lay: each piece discerningly placed atop the other until the warmth and light reach optimal climax.

These boys remind me of a better chapter and give me hope for our cultural future. While all around us, young men give in to so many negative influences, I prefer to think that my small part in shaping my students will in some way brighten tomorrow through integrity and knowledge. I know that some of them will make bad choices just as certain scouts in my troop did. But if a small-town poet can reach into the minds of enough youth with lingering lessons about words and ideas, I will have succeeded. When my students enter the world beyond our campus, I know they will have heeded, even adopted, a certain old motto that remains in my heart: Be Prepared.

life, poetry, publishing, writers, writing

Franklin’s Lightning: A Birthday Post

I’ve been telling myself my age this year is inconsequential. Benjamin Franklin says otherwise.

At the age of 46, Benjamin Franklin flew his famous kite, proving that lightning is an electrical discharge. Why does this matter? From my poet’s perspective, 46 seems relatively unimpressive — a sort of in-between age where people go along and get along until something better (or worse) happens. In other words, I’m pretty indifferent to turning 46 today, and I’m glad I stumbled upon the above historical fact to change my attitude.

If one of our founding fathers was still thinking, still pioneering, still researching at 46, then there’s no reason for me to slow down or “ride the year out” complacently. Even now, I have in mind a concept for my next collection of poems. The pieces I’ve written and had published lately reveal to me a common thread, and it is this common thread I intend to use as I begin to think about assembling the next book.

I am beginning research right now on a particular era in Florida history — one dominated by intriguing characters, wild landscapes, natural (and man-made) dangers, and a whole culture of its own, complete with songs, traditions, and superstitions. By the time I’m done, the poems driven by this other time and its people will be (I hope) truly original and extraordinary. I hesitate to say more since over-talking a project can often kill its spirit.

But I tell you, my readers, about this venture because on this birthday, I’m also requesting a small gift. I have set up a Patreon Page where anyone can donate to help fund the research for this important book. When you go there, you’ll learn more about the book itself, its purpose, and its potential. I sincerely hope you’ll pay a visit to the page and help make this new collection’s research possible. As many of you know, I am no longer employed by a university, which means securing research funding is up to me individually, and this is my small way of beginning that process.

Some people have said that giving through Patreon presents them with challenges, so here’s another possibility: If you read over the description of my new project there and want to give another way, you can use PayPal (@poetjohndavisjr) or Venmo (@John-Davis-1204). These other forms of donation will also be used toward my ongoing research through the Florida State Archives, the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History, and other venues.

With luck and strong support, my 46th year can be my very best. I plan to use my charge of inspiration to produce my most relevant and best-written work yet. My kite is in the air and the key is attached. Let’s see what strikes.

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, publishing, writing

A Season of Good News

Photo by ViTalko on Pexels.com

Sometimes the cards are in your favor. Lately I’ve had my fair share of the positive, and I thought I’d apprise you, my loyal readers.

Item number one: Southern Literary Review did a fantastic review of my latest book, The Places That Hold. Claire Matturro, a phenomenal writer in her own right, really absorbed the meaning, the imagery, and the depth of this latest collection. You can find her lovely words here: https://southernlitreview.com/reviews/the-places-that-hold-by-john-davis-jr.htm

Item number two: The day after the great review above came out, Southern Literary Review posted a Q&A they did with me, as well. This really gets into the why and how of the book: https://southernlitreview.com/authors/claire-hamner-matturo-interviews-john-davis-jr-author-of-the-places-that-hold.htm

Item number three: I recently learned that The Places That Hold has won a bronze medal in the Florida Book Awards. For those outside the lovely Sunshine State, this is kind of a big deal here. Scholars, university faculty members, and respected authors are on the decision-making panel for the Florida Book Awards, and typically the works that are chosen represent voices that are more established. My good friend and mentor Erica Dawson received a gold medal in the Florida Book Awards a couple years ago for her book, When Rap Spoke Straight to God (Tin House Books). To be in the company of such fine voices is honestly humbling.

So yes, things are going well here. The launch of the book at Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin was a success (even amid high COVID rates and bad weather), spring break is a mere three weeks away, and another fair season is in full swing. As the Ferris wheel spins its nightly neon colors over in Tampa amid the noise and oily-delicious smells of the midway, I’m reminded that everything is cyclical — there are highs and lows, lights and darkness. I’m grateful to be in a higher, lighter time.

If you haven’t yet purchased a copy of The Places That Hold, let me recommend the best possible site to get one: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781934894682 (This site will connect you to your local independent bookstore, who needs your business now more than ever — Don’t get me wrong, I use the “big boys” too, but let’s help out our smaller merchants). Thank you for supporting poetry!

If you’d like to allow others to enjoy the book, you can help spread the word about The Places That Hold by making a donation of any size through PayPal: https://paypal.me/poetjohndavisjr?country.x=US&locale.x=en_US

poetry, publishing, writers, writing

Preparing for the Big Launch

I used to serve under a school administrator who repeatedly used the cliche, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” In fact, he kept a large wooden sign with the phrase painted on it in his office. I hate that expression now.

Tomorrow I will launch my fifth book, The Places That Hold, at the Firehouse Cultural Center in lovely small-town Ruskin, Florida, where I’ve given many poetry workshops over the years, and I find myself repeating the “first rodeo” cliche as a way to assure myself that everything will go just fine.

Book launches are always a crap shoot: You could have zero people or 100, just depending on so many other factors. This time, there’s Omicron lurking around us, a children’s parade, and a handful of competing events. Truthfully, poetry isn’t known for bringing in the masses, and I get that.

I’ve done my part — The word has been put out on social media and through other outlets, I’ve readied all the supplies, and I’ve recruited at least a few good friends to comprise an audience in case nobody else shows up. I know what I’ll be reading, wearing, and doing at the event itself. I’d like to say this is “old hat” by now, but with all transparency, putting a new book into the world with a special engagement like this always tends to be nerve-wracking until it’s done.

So yes, “This ain’t my first rodeo,” but you never know which way the bull might buck, either. Stay tuned, readers. There may be figurative face-manure or a shiny buckle ahead; only time will tell.

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/