AWP brings all kinds of people together. This year, Chloe Miller invited me to lunch with some people she knew, and I had the privilege of sitting beside Margaret “Peggy” Rozga, a wonderful poet. Today, Peggy reminds us that publishing changes everything and nothing – a good reminder for me, certainly.
Before publishing my first book of poems, Two Hundred Nights and One Day, I read interviews with writers who had achieved the distinction of publishing books, trying to learn, trying to uncover a sure path to my own publishing success. I usually found some helpful information, but I also often found something that annoyed me. Published writers often insisted that is it not publication but the writing itself that is important. As someone working toward a manuscript worthy of publication, their emphasis didn’t quite ring true to me. It sounded like the voice of privilege. Of course, I thought, you can say that publishing isn’t important; you have a published book. It’s like saying money doesn’t matter when you’re rich. Publication doesn’t matter if you’ve published a book. But it matters if you have not, not yet.
I vowed I would never say publication doesn’t matter when I reached that milestone and had my book in hand. The longer it took to reach that goal the more firmly I resolved that when, like my hero Amy Clampitt, I’d finally publish my first book at age 63, I would celebrate, not dismiss or belittle this joy.
Now I’ve just published a second book of poems, Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad. How has book publication changed me and my writing? I find that now when I write a poem, I push myself to think in terms of how it might fit in a manuscript. I still write isolated poems, poems that don’t fit, or seem not to fit, in a larger project. I now know that poems can be retro-fitted into a manuscript. More importantly, I’ve learned that larger projects suggest themselves after the fact, after they may already be well on their way. The way may be slow. The way is complicated by thinking of publication. And I wouldn’t know the way, wouldn’t know where this writing is headed, if I didn’t make the writing primary and follow it even if it seems headed in unpredictable directions.
In some ways, publication is like bearing a child. Your status is changed. In one half of that metaphor, you’ve become a parent; in the other half, you are now a “real writer,” one with a book. When someone asks, “Oh, you’re a writer? Do you have a book?” you answer with a confident yes and put their, http://andilit.com/wp-admin/media-upload.php?post_id=3624&TB_iframe=1&width=640&height=529and your, doubts to rest. When you propose workshops or readings, you have the book as a calling card and a powerful credential. Yet, when you sit down at your computer or with your paper and pen, you’re starting all over again.
I’m finding a new and different kind of primary focus on the writing, but the writing is not divorced from thinking about publication, especially book publication. I enjoy the irrefutable evidence of my fertility, my creative success. That’s what I think writers are after, something to ease all the doubt under which we all labor. So I celebrate with all the friends who congratulate me and wish me peaceful nights, and the next day I get back to work.
How do you think life will be different or remain the same after you publish a book?
Poet, essayist, activist, and playwright Margaret Rozga brings the resources of literary craft to her writing about major social issues such as war and civil rights. In Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad, she details in well-crafted poems her responses to her son’s deployment first to Mosul, Iraq, in 2004 and then to Bagram, Afghanistan in 2008-2009. He served in the Army Reserve as a member of the 330th Military Police Detachment headquartered in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Her earlier book, Two Hundred Nights and One Day, tells the story of the 1967-68 campaign for fair housing legislation in Milwaukee, a civil rights movement in which she participated as a college student. This book was awarded a bronze medal in poetry in the 2009 Independent Publishers Book Awards andnamed an outstanding achievement in poetry for 2009 by the Wisconsin Library Association.
She has had work included in six collaborative exhibits with visual artists. Her poems and essays have appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Nimrod, Verse Wisconsin, Your Daily Poem, and Wisconsin Magazine of History. Her play about the Milwaukee fair housing marches, March On Milwaukee: A Memoir of the Open Housing Protests, has seen three full productions and three concert readings since its debut in 2007. A professor of English at UW Waukesha for over 25 years, she now offers poetry and journalling workshops throughout Wisconsin and nationally. She now lives in Milwaukee where she reviews books of poetry for several journals and blogs about poetry and social justice at www.benupress.com/for-words.