The Windy City continues to amaze me and make my job as editor a whole lot easier. Chicagoland authors Ben Tanzer and Patricia Ann McNair have already done ALL 'LIT' UP a turn via the Lost Weekend 6-Pack segment and the My Dinner With... segment. No wonder AWP held its convention there this year. Chi-town comes through again this week with author/editor/poet Ellen Wade Beals. Having just released my own debut poetry collection this past week, I was super psyched to get Ellen's essay and discover it was about... drum roll followed by resounding gong crash... poetry. You can call it synchronicity or you can call it kismet, but I call it insightful and spot-on writing. Enjoy ~ J. Goertel
Trained as a journalist, Ellen Wade Beals writes poetry and prose. Her work has appeared in literary magazines (such as After Hours, Falling Star, Off Channel, Eclipse, Hip Mama, Eclectic Literature and The Stony Thursday Book (Ireland), in anthologies (such as Kiss Me Goodnight and Take Two -- They're Small), and on the web (Google her).
In 1999, her short story, "Picking," was awarded Willow Springs fiction prize and she was named one of Chicago’s emerging poets by The Poetry Center. Her poem “Between the Sheets” is in the textbook Everything’s a Text (between Sherman Alexie and Billy Collins). Most recently, Ellen started Weighed Words LLC ands its first title is Solace in So Many Words, which Ellen edited, came out in May 2011.
In Service of Poetry
by Ellen Wade Beals
Regardless of whether I am a good poet, I want to be good for Poetry, and that means first recognizing that the artist is subservient to the art. I try to take this service seriously. Writing poetry and getting it published are not enough.
For one thing, I want to celebrate good poetry and share it, and that means reciting others’ work when I have the chance. At Books on Vernon in Glencoe, IL, I shared Witslawa Szymborska’s “In Praise of My Sister,” and at the Guild Complex in Chicago, I read Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.” At Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, it was Connie Voisine’s “Dangerous for Girls” and Stan Rice’s “Nearly Dissolving” that I felt compelled to read. The moment I set eyes on Stan Rice’s poem, I had the urge to recite it, and when I first came across Connie Voisine’s poem, I had to look her up and write her a fan email.
When I find something extraordinary, I feel a duty to bring attention to it, like the glorious long poem titled “The Road to Emmaus” by Spencer Reece in the October 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. I have talked it up to anyone who would listen and declared my admiration in a post on Poetry’s Facebook wall. Since composing a blog does not come easily to me, instead, I often use the space on my website to promote other writers. Some time ago, the obit for Patrick Galvin in the Poetry Ireland Newsletter led me to discover his wonderful work. So I told my web visitors about him because I think readers would really dig his New and Collected Poems.
I want to be an appreciative reader. Once, I reached out to compliment a writer on what I thought was a gutsy experimental piece in a university lit journal. My email began, “I am sure you have been hearing how great your poem was,” and she wrote back that she hadn’t heard from anyone but me. How sad to be a writer and never know whether the final step in your art has been completed. Without a reader, our writing is just words on a page.
I try to drop a positive email or note or comment to the writer. If I don’t particularly like a piece, I can still give the author props (even just an atta-boy or atta-girl) for seeing it into print. “Likes” on Facebook or Amazon pages are easy shows of support and non-committal nods to the achievement. I have made it my rule never to review something I haven’t read or to feel there is any quid pro quo at work. After all, I want to be an ambassador to literature, not a shill. My policy is that if I don’t like something, I don’t comment, but I do try to remember to say something nice when I do have a compliment. In short, I am quicker to commend and less likely to disparage.
Overly earnest though it may sound, I aspire to be generous and kind. People have been generous and kind to me, helping me out big time. A question frequently asked of me at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference and Bookfair was: “How did you get poems by Philip Levine in Solace in So Many Words?” The answer is that I wrote him a letter. Mind you, this book was five years in the making so when I approached him, he was not yet the U. S. Poet Laureate, but he was still Philip Levine. He was as accessible as his poetry. If you read the table of contents for Solace in So Many Words, you’ll see several other well-known names, and these writers also were generous and kind. For this I am forever grateful because it meant the anthology I assembled had a chance of being a great little book.
I mention Philip Levine because I was able to meet him at the recent AWP Conference. I gushed. To shake his hand was a thrill, and he remembered me and Solace in So Many Words and our dealings, which, I will dish, included a bottle of liquor (just what type of liquor I will keep to myself). It was pretty spectacular to think the U.S. Poet Laureate and I had done business.
Speaking of the AWP Conference, I would bet that among the nine thousand or so writers in attendance, there were diverse opinions on all aspects of our art. But I am pretty certain I know the one answer almost every writer has to the question: what is your least favorite aspect of writing? I’d lay down money that almost every one would answer “self-promotion.” Yes, we all hate it.
Promotion is a necessary evil in the publishing words. Especially in today’s book biz, it is left to the writer to do it. So I want to help my fellow writers and build a community by going to their events, reading their books and getting their names out there.
To me working to promote Poetry makes perfect sense. After all, how can we expect to be supported by the arts if we are not supporters of the arts?
SOLACE IN SO MANY WORDS
“Each entry feels fresh, as it offers another angle on finding a way to remain intact through life’s complexity.” — Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul
“The diverse bedfellows who appear here prove artful words can be a balm for pain, one’s own or the wider world’s.” — Susan K. Perry, Creativity Blogger for PsychologyToday.com, author of Writing in Flow
A mixed-genre anthology of smart literary writing by 52 contributors from 15 states, Solace in So Many Words includes poetry by Philip Levine, Antler and Ellen Bass, fiction by T. C. Boyle, Joe Meno and Joan Corwin and essays by Paula W. Peterson, Patty Somlo, and Michael Constantine McConnell as well as stellar work by writers who are now less known but won’t be for long. How do you find comfort when the world around you crumbles? All the thoughtful work here relates to this timely and timeless theme. The website is: http:www.solaceinabook.com
For more information on Ellen Wade Beals and Solace in So Many Words, please feel free to visit the links below:
SOLACE IN A BOOK
SOLACE IN SO MANY WORDS (Press Release)