Saturday, August 07, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Poet Geof Hewitt, THE PERFECT HEART

By way of introduction, let me offer this description of Vermont poet and teacher Geof Hewitt that Champlain College provided for its May writing conference:
GEOF HEWITT lives in Calais, Vermont. Vermont's slam champion, Geof has been teaching, editing, writing, performing, and passing out wolf calls for forty-five years. This makes him sound like an oracle, and he is. His latest books are Only What's Imagined (poems) and Hewitt's Guide to Slam Poetry and Poetry Slam, which comes with a DVD and won the Mom's Choice award for poetry in 2008. His collection of selected and new poems, The Perfect Heart, is [now available from Mayapple. (Photo credit to Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)
Now here's Geof:

For Whom, My Word, For Whom?
Geof Hewitt Reflects Upon Publishing
The Perfect Heart

Publishing a “Selected Poems” is my major accomplishment of the year, after a span of 36 years, during which I managed to get three smaller collections into print. But who is the audience? For whom were these poems, some as old as forty-five years, written? What reader wants to be jolted from poem to poem without an overall theme or plot, a two-line practical joke of a political poem followed by a two-pager in a completely different voice? How does one approach a mishmash of more than one hundred poems, all written by a single author?
            After my first two books found print with Ithaca House (’74 and ’89, by which time the Greenfield Review Press had acquired Ithaca House), I self-published my third collection (Kumquat Press, 2000), and started daydreaming about a selected poems. A grant from the Vermont Arts Council in 2004 bought me time and confidence to assemble a manuscript, which I gave to a (fine arts) painter-friend whose native language is Russian. He advised with plus and minus signs on the 200-plus poems how I might “thin.”
            Now that’s friendship!
            I was not especially aggressive in seeking publication; I entered the manuscript in a couple of pay-a-reader’s-fee competitions, and received a personal rejection slip from a friend of a friend at one of the best-known small presses. All the while I was tinkering with the manuscript, mostly thinning and adding new poems. My most recent submission of the manuscript had languished almost a year in the hopeful pile at another small press when along came an email announcement from Mayapple of its annual submission deadline. I was on it like yellow on a banana.
            In June, advance copies of my book arrived while I was in my first week of a two-week residency in Castleton with 120 teenage artists and a staff of twenty-five working artists. It was an important moment in my life as a writer; that night I modestly alluded to it in the annual faculty performance where each teaching artist has ten minutes to strut or discuss recent creations. I swallowed the urge to sell the book, a rare sensitivity to the nature of young minds and a captive audience.
            Meanwhile, I’d been adding email addresses from my inbox like crazy since May. Unaware of Internet ethics, I copied and pasted to my contact list anyone shown as a co-recipient of several group emails and announcements that I hadn’t deleted. Included were my fellow staff members at the teenage arts institute, college acquaintances I hadn’t seen since graduation, numerous colleagues from my former job, etc. Soon as the institute adjourned and I was back on home turf where I could efficiently fulfill orders for the book, I pressed the “send” button on my announcement and braced for the response.
            Were these the people for whom I’d written these poems? Would the publisher find a broader audience?
            How does one sell a life’s work? To whom? And why?
            And what comes of it? In my case, silence is a sad anticlimax. I want the plus signs and the minus ones! At the same time, I realize that almost all these poems were written without a specific audience in mind.
If I wrote them for anyone, I guess you might say I wrote them for myself.

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