Sunday, July 31, 2016

Learning the Ropes: Book Signings, Talks and Readings

When my book Legends and Lore of Cape Cod officially came out on May 23, I had a full schedule of events from book signings, talks and readings lined up. The last two months have been busy ones. In the months leading up to my pub date, my History Press rep, Mercedes, e-mailed me daily with invites to book signings at local bookstores and talks at local libraries. The only problem was that as the author of two poetry books, I had only done a handful of signings and had never given a talk about my newly published book. I was in panic mode!

As a poet, I have taken part in many readings. These range from open mics where the poet is limited to one poem or five minutes. Other times, I have participated as part of a group and usually given more time to read. Sometimes there is a theme. When our Steeple Street poets went to Salem in the spring of 2015 to attend the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, our poems were chosen to explore the theme of a “sense of place.” Sometimes I have been the featured poet and given fifteen minutes to read my poems. My favorite reading was the book launch for my first book, Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter. I read poems from my book and also heard from fellow poets who read a favorite poem they had chosen from my book. It was a wonderful experience!

Now I am doing something that is quite different – giving talks about my book of historical non-fiction. My first talk was scheduled for May 31 at the Osterville Library. To prep for this event, I attended a talk by fellow writer Barbara Eppich Struna, author of The Old Cape House. She gave a power point presentation with photos and text that related to her research of a famous pirate, “Black Sam” Bellamy, the famed captain of the doomed ship Whydah. She seemed very comfortable at the podium and I was impressed with her talk. However, I was going to have to wing my talk as I didn't have a visual component to my event.

On the afternoon of my talk, I dressed in what I hoped were stylish but comfortable clothes. My husband came to give me moral support and my sister-in-law, Karen, showed up, too. A fellow poet, Judy Askew, also was in attendance. It helped to have some familiar faces in the audience. I had decided to break my talk into several parts. First, I would give colorful anecdotes from my childhood growing up in an old house in East Orleans to show my early interest in Cape Cod history. Next, I would talk about my years working as the newsroom librarian at the Cape Cod Times and starting my Cape history blog, “Cape Rewind.” I also wanted to cover the months of research and writing my book and some of the pitfalls of publishing. For example, the manuscript I initially submitted was too short and I had to add 19,000 words. The finished text was much richer for adding new material. I would end with a Q & A session.

I had some stage fright as I approached the podium. My years of teaching helped calm my nerves since I am used to getting up to speak in front of a classroom. I had brought old newspapers that covered big events: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, coverage of Hurricane Bob, etc. My husband later told me these were distracting to my talk, so I didn't bring them with me for later talks. The talk was very well received and I even sold a few books. All in all, it was a good time.

Book signings are a whole different experience. It is important to arrive early and make contact with the bookstore owner or manager. I bring promotional materials: bookmarks, business cards and postcards featuring my book's cover to catch the public's interest as they walk by my table. When I gave a signing at Titcomb's Books in Sandwich, I discovered that I was expected to give a talk as well as sign my books. There was a mob of people in the store, so I was encouraged by all the interest. I was also the invited author guest for a local book club in Chatham. The members had all read my book and peppered me with questions. The meeting took place in a large house overlooking Harding's Beach. It was heavenly to sip wine, talk about my book and take in the beautiful view. The dinner party consisted of foods inspired by Cape Cod: stuffed clams, clam pie, clam chowder finished by strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I guess my take-away is to be flexible. Every event is different and the writer has to adapt to each unique situation. In the coming weeks, I will be giving talks at the Hyannis Library and the Orleans Historical Society, as well as signings at Eight Cousins and Market Street Books in Mashpee. I will bring a good pen, a willing heart, and a smile. As Judy Blume said, “I meet people on the street or at book signings and they tend to treat me as if they know me, as if we're connected. It's great.”


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Legends and Lore of Cape Cod

I am very excited to announce that my new book Legends and Lore of Cape Cod was published on May 23 by History Press. This book has been in the works for at least a year and is a volume of historical non-fiction. Many of the chapters highlight excerpts from my Cape history blog, Cape Rewind.

I cover many aspects of Cape Cod history from legendary miscreants, Wampanoag tales and murders to hurricanes and ill-fated sea voyages. I also revisit the lives of many famous people who graced our shores from Katherine Lee Bates to Mercy Otis Warren, from bird carver A. Elmer Crowell to legendary explorer Donald Baxter Macmillan. I also present village vignettes, local legends, Cape Cod eccentrics and inspirational legends. There is even an authentic Cape Cod love story (circa 1855).

For those who like tall tales, I have included a chapter on fantastic sea creatures, as well as chapters on haunted places and UFO sightings. I profile a famous Cape Cod witch, Liza Tower Hill, as well as the famous Granny Squannit of Wampanoag lore. There is a chapter on medical maladies (small pox cemeteries and a leper colony), as well as a chapter titled “Believe It or Not.”

In keeping with tradition, I conclude my book with a chapter on “Legendary Hyannis Port” and the special family who has called Cape Cod its summer home since 1929. I felt my book would not be complete without a look back at the Kennedys and their influence on this area.

In the retelling of these stories, I tried to capture the special quality of living on Cape Cod. This place is only 339 square miles with fifteen towns that cover three unique sections: Lower, Middle and Upper Cape. I also include the Penikese Islands, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in some of these tales. As I said in my introduction, “It (Cape Cod) is a place rich in culture and diversity and I will try to offer stories that show its special nature.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April: A Busy Month for Poetry



April is National Poetry month. Started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to celebrate poetry and to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States, this time of year is a busy one for local poets.
For me, the poetry madness started on Thursday night, March 24 for a quick trip to Wellfleet to participate in a poetry reading with Marge Piercy. As an honorable mention in this year’s Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, sponsored by WOMR radio, I was invited to be a guest reader at the Wellfleet Preservation Hall. Since I had never met or heard Marge Piercy read, this was a real honor. It was also fun because my fellow poet and Steeple Street member, Judy Askew, was first-prize winner and would be reading her poem “Talk about the Weather.”
After the winning poets read, Marge Piercy stepped up to the podium. I was struck by Marge’s warmth, earthiness and humor. She was clearly comfortable on stage and read from six or seven poems, including at least one from her new collection Made in Detroit. It was a magical evening and a good start to National Poetry Month.
On April 7, I traveled down Cape again to the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth for Judy Askew’s book launch. She was chosen as the first person to win the Bass River Press book contest for her volume of poems On the Loose. A week before the launch, I published an article in the Barnstable Patriot on this event titled “Cape poet launches new collection with Cultural Center’s Bass River Press in South Yarmouth.” It was a gala affair with editor Angela Howes and Cultural Center associate director Lauren Wolk in attendance. After I bought my copy of Judy’s book, I sat with friends and waited for the reading to start. Judy read from her book – funny, moving poems. Afterward, there was an open mic and refreshments.
Two days later, I was co-leader for a discussion of “Common Threads,” an annual publication of seven to ten poems by poets with ties to Massachusetts. For the second year in a row, Alice Kociemba was the guest editor. This year’s theme was “Thresholds” and featured poems by Denise Levertov, Natasha Trethewey, Susan Donnelly, Alan Feldman and others. Rich Youmans helped lead the discussion as did Alice herself. We had a small group of about eight people (mostly poets) and it was a wonderful two hours discussing poems and the poetic experience.
The following weekend, after our regular Steeple Street Poetry meeting, our group met at Cotuit Library for a publicized poetry reading. The librarian (a youthful looking grandmother with her eight-week-old granddaughter) led us to a cozy back room. It was a packed house but an enthusiastic one! Each poet read for about five minutes and then we held an open mic. I opened the reading with two light-hearted poems: “Gretel’s Complaint” and “Hairball.” I think everyone enjoyed the diversity of poems and poets.
Spring on Cape Cod this year has been slow in coming with chilly temperatures and even a frost predicted for tonight, but poetry has kept this month interesting and exciting. I look forward to new poetry adventures this year.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

In honor of Valentine’s Day: Writing a love poem


During the month of February, over 131 million cards are manufactured to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The messages may be simple or elaborate, silly or sentimental. For the poet, however, writing a love poem is truly a labor of love. It’s hard sometimes to find the right words or images to express one’s feelings for another person. Perhaps the best way to start is to read love poems written by the masters.

One of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, has written of love in many forms. In his One Hundred Love Sonnets, he writes: “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” Here love is something honored but hidden. Sometimes he writes about unrequited love: “so I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me. Till then my windows ache.” The writing is full of longing and loss. These words almost seem too sad to put into print but the poet perseveres because he has a desperate need to give voice to his feelings.

    There are many different kinds of love poems. Some are funny and playful while others tug at our heart strings. Christina Rossetti wrote: “I loved you first: but afterwards your love /Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song.” My all time favorite love poem is Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” where he writes: “Come live with me and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove.” He references “pretty lambs” and “beds of roses.” Love poems have always been connected to springtime and the awakening of the natural world.

I often use my journal as a way to harness feelings and these fragments sometimes work their way into a poem. When my youngest son was fourteen, we spent an afternoon taking a long walk. I felt a real connection with him and wrote a poem about the experience entitled “The Power Lines.” I ended the poem: “Now, you take my hand. You are no longer a child, but you are my child. A sliver of moon rises over our heads.” This poem expresses my love for my child in a way a prose piece couldn’t.

Many times love poems incorporate memories of people we once loved. In my poem “On Considering Eye Surgery.” I wrote: “When you said good-by, I saw a globe of light floating away.” My imperfect vision  referenced the splintering of a relationship. In “Missing Person,” I wrote about my first boyfriend: “Simple things are left. A man and a woman walked together down a road.” The writing is also simple because I wanted to strip away the extraneous elements to the essence of our bond.

Don’t be afraid to try a love poem. It is a way to open up your inner voice and touch on universal human emotions. The poet Ellen Bass in her poem “The Morning After,” highlights those moments of passion and love that come to all of us: “I can’t see a trace of the little slice of heaven/we slipped into last night—a silk kimono floating satin ponds and copper koi, stars falling to the water.”

Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Year, New Ventures


With the advent of a new year, I make resolutions that never seem to change from year to year: write more, exercise more, spend more time with my family, etc. When I reread over my New Year’s resolutions for 2015, I had vowed to write a new poem a week and work on revisions. I didn’t keep that resolution but I did average about one new poem a month. I also worked on revising older poems and sending them out to journals.

My hard work has panned out. I had a poem, “Flax Pond, Brewster” in the 20th anniversary issue of the Aurorean (a literary journal based in Maine). I also have a poem forthcoming in the Cape Cod Poetry Review. My big news is that my chapbook, Gale Warnings, has just been published by Finishing Line Press. I am very proud of my slim volume of poems. It can be ordered from www.finishinglinepress.com (price $12.49).

The other big news is that I have a book forthcoming from the History Press – Legends and Lore of Cape Cod (pub. date is May 23). This is not poetry but a nonfiction book looking at many of the fascinating people, places and history that make up Cape Cod. This project comes out of my work as the newsroom librarian at the Cape Cod Times and my blog Cape Rewind (a look back at Cape history).

I am still attending the Steeple Street poetry group in Mashpee. Our meeting this morning was hosted by poet Sheila Whitehouse on the theme of “beginnings.” We have two events lined up for April, National History Month. On April 16, we’ll be reading at the Cotuit Library. Next, on April 23, I will be hosting a Common Threads event with fellow poet, Rich Youmans. I am very excited about taking part in these events celebrating poetry.

What are you planning for 2016? I would love to hear from you (e-mail me at rosmithj@yahoo.com). As Brad Paisley wrote, “Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Away Time



For most of my life, I have written poems and stories. I also love to read and always enjoy having a good book on my bed stand. Recently, I have been immersed in a project that has taken me away from writing poetry and reading. This project, still under wraps, has consumed the better part of six months. It has been hard, exacting and exciting work but I long for the day I can return to my first love – writing poetry.

Sometimes when writers are suffering writer’s block or stuck in an emotional quagmire, writing becomes a chore. At those times, it’s good to step away. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear young adult author, Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak), at a writer’s retreat in Rhode Island. She urged us to explore other creative outlets that might fuel our art. She recommended visiting art galleries, taking a painting class, dancing, acting in a play, etc. The idea is that, as artists, we should get out of the usual way we see things and jumpstart our art by dipping into other disciplines.

Although I sometimes feel frustrated that I can’t wear my poet’s hat for another month, when I finally come back to my notebooks, I will perhaps have a renewed sense of purpose and a new way of seeing. Like Halse suggested, my poetic self will come alive having had some away time. I can go back with fresh eyes and fresh thoughts.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Fall Poem

Wild Turkeys    


                1.

 Rumors from the north country
 favor bobcat sightings.
 Here we have neither fat bear
 nor spindly moose
 but a family of wild turkeys
 crosses the driveway
 at dawn, the young ones
 scrabbling along the stones --
 beaks down, eager for
 acorns or nuts. The two females
 dull-brown, strut briskly
 as they scan for shelter.
 Soon enough they cross
  over to woodlands,
  a flock of feathers
  disappearing into brush.
         
    2.

   In mid-October
   the signs of change
   are everywhere.
   Red ferns, goldenrod,
   shy asters.
   When I burn the leaves
   of the aster plant,
    I drive away
    the evil spirits
    of the cold.
    Let the season
    begin. May the dry leaves
    leap and spin
     in the wild air.

                3.

    Autumn takes her

    first hostage,
    my delicate she-cat.
    No cry, no thrashing 
    in the underbrush. 
    Simply gone ...
    The shades of coyotes
     like the spirits of summer
     roam the edges of woodlots
     and forest paths.
     A blackened bush,
      victim of child’s play,
      belies the russet-colored leaves.
      Winter when it comes
      will swallow everything
       in shrouds of white.
                    
                   4.

     When a young turkey 
      goes missing
      the whole flock stops,
      waiting for the little one
      to return.
      Like them,
      I search the golden fields,
      the grassy inclines
      for that one moment
      when I spot the beloved,
      the world gone mad
      with the frenzy of my longing
       then a stalled breath,        
       then quiet, then
       fog lifting
       over the dark earth.

(From Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter, published by Word Poetry, 2013)