"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

The perfect word

By on July 26, 2017 in Arts with 0 Comments

Susan Blair has a split personality: she writes for kids and for adults.

I pad through the bone yard

of discarded poems,

pawing through broken metaphors

and remnants of rhyme,

sniffing for a trace

of freshness

among the similes.

Mold and moss

drape the old thoughts;

the staleness

stifles.

I gasp for clarity.

By Susan Lagsdin

This opening passage from Old Poems for New by Wenatchee writer Susan Blair exemplifies the dilemma of many poets who search for new ideas in new language.

She’s serious about finding ways to connect with readers (she’s serious, too, about being “Perri The Poetry Fairy” in local elementary classrooms, as seen in last August’s The Good Life) and, with several years of poetry competitions and readings under her belt, Susan, 62, has decided it’s time to publish her first formal collection.

She characterizes her own style as “lyrical and accessible… through my writing I try to reach out to the world with grace, attention and humor.”

What Remains of a Life (called a chapbook, usually a 20-30 page collection of poems) centers on moments with people, gone now, who have significantly impacted her over her lifetime.

Susan described a few of the subjects: the gas-station guy who bantered with her every week for years and whose sudden death left the first heart-gap she recognized could come from brief encounters. A terminal cancer patient, enrolled in Susan’s therapeutic movement class, whose good cheer under pressure brought joy to the group. Her father, whose hands holding her doll’s teacup, gripping a tennis racket or slapping in anger were the same hands folded on his own funeral suit.

Some of the poems are intensely personal and were difficult to bring to light, but she’s ready to share them with the world.

These years, any writer seeking publication has an array of options, from the traditional publishing house to purely self-financed and self-printed books. Susan has chosen the medium-risk option of working with Finishing Line Press, contributing the cover artwork and sharing contacts of a 100-person focus group to help them test the readership waters.

Strong results mean the company will start distribution and promotion on mainstream online book-selling sites. With realism and optimism combined, Susan knows she may not have a blockbuster, but she’ll have readers, and that’s what most writers envision when they take this leap of faith: people holding the book (or the tablet) in their hands and saying “Oh, this is really good.”

Good poetry doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

The old image of the lonely garret has been displaced by a more vital scenario — assisted by technology — featuring classmates, teachers and mentors, writing groups, first responders and critics. Susan says she’s benefitted from all these connections.

She found fellow poets and performance opportunities through the Write On The River organization when she moved here four years ago, and she especially praises her local Castlerock Writers Group, comparing it to an earlier Seattle one. “This is so much more alive and supportive — the writers are much more committed.”

As with publishing, there are many options for managing the critique process. In this group, each person emails everyone else ahead of time a short piece for close reading, and then every three weeks the six friends meet, and one-by-one around the table they take time to comment from notes on each writer’s selection.

Susan said the genre are varied, “We have a science fiction writer, some poets, a scientist who’s done academic writing trying flash essays. One of our members uses this group for her humorous essays and another one for her novel in progress.”

Writing groups have multiple benefits for writers. Susan feels that the imposed deadline is important for defeating procrastination.

There’s laughter and abundant good will at the sessions, and best of all responsive readers are willing to point out flaws or highlight excellence.

A poet’s job is mind-wearying, and publication is a little scary; staying with it is certainly eased by good company. And yet, struggling word-by-word, image-by-image is often how a poet really puts it all together.

The last lines from Susan’s poem show her willingness to do just that.

A glimmer

among the refuse,

and I pounce.

The hunt has yielded

this gem:

“Hope is bone-deep.”

I keep digging.

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