May marks more than one anniversary in my life, some good and some not so good, but today I’m revisiting the journey that became one of my proudest achievements.
Two years ago I published The Renaissance Cycle, a collection of poems spanning 2011-14. At the time of publication, little did I realize I was truly moving from one era in my life to another. Similarly, those three years followed a period that began in 2009 when illness ravaged my body and nearly killed me the following year. In 2011, when the book’s poems begin, I was still recovering.
Forgetting illness, 2011 was also turning point in my writing life. Never had I posted original work online, but that January I discovered a newly-formed, online group called Why Writing is Good for the Soul where people shared poetry. Eventually, I found courage and shared awful poetry that improved thanks to mentoring from the late Peter Fifield.
The idea to assemble a book surfaced in mid 2013. It was, to say the least, a daunting task, for I’d written over 450 poems (like I say, most were terrible). Over the following year I weeded and whittled down to about 120. From there, I continued the process while refining those worthy of the effort. In the end only 87 poems remained.
Besides working on the poems, the year leading up to publication was a busy one that concluded with relocating to Montana in the middle of a snowstorm in February 2014. Yet, little did I know my biggest challenge was ahead. I’d long wanted the book to be more than just a collection of random poems and my gut told me there was a theme, perhaps a story, within the entire collection.
And so I found it.
Since childhood my arch nemesis has been depression. Those stories are many and varied, but all lead to anti-depressants. Over the decade between 1999 and 2010 I discovered I have no tolerance for the meds. Thus, the book became a chronicle of my battle with depression AND the battle that became finding alternatives like mindfulness and meditation so as to live a happier life. As it says in the foreword:
This loosely arranged collection’s first and shortest part, Sadness, examines depression, abuse, heartbreak, loss, tragedy…various sources that have brought me pain over the years. Despite its dark tone I encourage its reading, for it puts what follows in context. The second part, Awareness, focuses on opening the mind, discovering truths, and altering perceptions. Part Three, Reason, explores choices, mindfulness, determination, and self-reliance. The final part, Renaissance, celebrates love, hope, creativity, thankfulness…in general, a happy life.
The book’s arrangement was no easy decision. Despite the explanation I knew I was committing sales suicide. After all, anyone checking the book’s preview who jumped straight to the poems might conclude the book was me wallowing in depression. I could have placed happy poems at the beginning, but I’m a Taurus and I’m stubborn and I wanted people interested in the journey to read it as it unfolded. I did hope, though, that people would see the layers that existed even in that first part. Yes, some of the poems are deeply personal, but others explore the darker sides of topics like aging and child abuse.
Nothing, though, prepared me for publishing the book, which was my task one hundred percent, and that includes the formatting. The misery, though, was of my own making. I could have slapped a poem on each page and called it good, but I didn’t. Long poems and short poems alternate. Some poems are left-justified and others centered, and all had special vertical positioning. There were also four section headings and two different tables of contents, one for the ebook and one for the hardcopy.
At some point during the process I went a little mad, I think…
And then it was done.
Still, to this day I can pull the book off the shelf, page through it, and discover I remain satisfied. Massive sales figures would have been nice, but, hey, it’s poetry and not many people buy poetry. The book’s 87 poems aren’t available online, but I will leave you with Someone…
I can only be myself
and not someone else,
for someone else is for someone else to be.
If I’m not true to my mind
and am hollowed with lies,
then my life is tied to a false self and not to me.
©2011, 2014, Christina Anne Hawthorne