I finally started working on The Next Thing. It's taken me a long time to come around to it, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the production of a book, from start to finish, is quite a daunting thing--the seedling ideas, the writing of poems that may or may not work, the visions and revisions, the contest gamut (or the equivalent: open reading periods, queries, publishing on demand, whatever you may choose), the rejections, the acceptance, the changes and edits, the final proofs, the waiting, worrying, and fretting about the final product, the final product itself. I went through it at almost exactly the same time that my husband was going through it, with our books coming out 4 months apart. (The experience was very different for each of us, but that's a different post.) And when I was in the midst of all of that, the last thing on my mind was writing what came next.
But apparently, that's something I was supposed to be thinking about. When my book first won a prize, I got a call from my dear friend Rodney Jones, who said, "That's wonderful. Now you're free to move on to the next thing."
The next thing? What next thing?! I was just getting started with this thing! For me, getting the book taken and slated for publication meant that the serious work on that book was just beginning. Getting it ready. Making the changes that needed to be made to make it right. Marketing. Drumming up readings. Finding ways to get the word out about the book (which, I realize, is an ongoing process). And all of that work left me little time to think about what came next, much less actually engage in it.
But apparently, it's something you're supposed to be thinking about.
After my husband's first book came out, he was tapped by the Poetry Society of America as one of the upcoming poets to watch. We flew to New York for the reading and celebration. He and the other twelve poets took the stage one at a time, with each one reading from--and talking a little about--their Next Things. It seemed a rite of passage almost to create something tangible to hold on to and work on and toward--regardless of whether or not that specific project ever came to fruition.
But I was stymied. I was languishing in the space between books and between projects. Instead of picking up a pen, I put on my philosophical hat and started thinking about how we navigate our second book. For some authors, it seems like the second book is a logical extension of the first, both in terms of content and stylistic approach. But for others, the second book marks a radical departure from the aesthetics of the first. Hmmm, I thought. Why is that? And where will my second book position itself? Will it be an extension or a departure? Hmmm.
One thing I've learned about myself is that if I spend too much time thinking around something, it always means there's something there, smack dab in the middle, that I'm not letting myself think about.
And once I looked at it, really looked at it, I realized that I knew what my next project would be all along. It was there, gestating, accumulating, gathering momentum and words and images. It was just that the subject is really close, and difficult, and more than a little painful, and so I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to dive into it. I wrote a couple of children's books. I negotiated some nonfiction work. But always, the poems were there, just beneath the surface.
That's how poetry works, isn't it? Even when we're not working on it, it's working on us--feeding itself, fueling its own fire, readying for the moment when we come to it, open our arms, and embrace it, welcomed back.
And so my arms are open. My pen is finally uncapped. The poems are falling into place in my mind and in my ears and on my page. I'm letting the games begin, again. And I couldn't be happier. I've got a project!