Recently, waiting for a train, I passed the time texting with a friend who had just signed a pretty major book deal. I congratulated her with all the enthusiasm emojis could convey. She thanked me briefly and then followed up with an unrelated question about a trip I had planned, excited to hear about my travels. I called her out for deflecting––what is a vacation compared to a book deal, after all? "OMG DRAG ME," came her reply.
I'm most comfortable as a cheerleader for other people's words. But this is no way to be as a writer myself.
My friend's outsize talents aside, I recognized myself in her deflection. I work as a book publicist, which means I make my living trumpeting the achievements of others. In my spare time, I also edit an online poetry magazine, Powder Keg, where I shine a spotlight on emerging and established poets. I'm most comfortable as a cheerleader for other people's words, it turns out. But this is no way to be as a writer myself. Now that my first poetry collection is being published, I can't help feeling the familiar dread of self-indulgence, the desire to deflect.
There is a solitude at either end of a book: the privacy required for writing it in the first place, and the intimacy established as one reader at a time turns your pages. But the publishing process asks us to abandon these rooms of our own for a turn at exposure and even self-promotion. When my book, Soft Focus, first became available for purchase, I instagrammed its cover with the caption "impostor syndrome" and layered two other photos behind it––one of a book that happened to have the same title, and another of a book by a romance novelist with my name.
Someone congratulates me on my book, and I correct them. Whose expectations am I managing?
The joke is, Soft Focus has been written before, and there's already a Sarah Grimm out there. The joke on me is, I'm not sure I even know how to talk about my poems without minimizing them. Someone congratulates me on my book, and I correct them: "Oh, it's just a little thing." Whose expectations am I managing?
Thankfully, books don't materialize in vacuums, and publishing even a short collection has been one big lesson in gratitude. National Poetry Month coincides with Passover, a holiday that reminds us to appreciate process as much as we appreciate outcomes with the Hebrew phrase "dayenu," meaning "it would have been enough." An editor selected my manuscript from a heap of submissions and tirelessly shaped it into the object it now is: dayenu. Poets I deeply admire offered insightful blurbs and sharp alleyways into my text: dayenu. And if a single reader lifts a single page: dayenu.
I'm buoyed, trying to accept this strange new good with less embarrassment. Drag me.