This is Part 2 of my Interview with poet, Roy Beckemeyer.We learn about the process of putting a group of poems into a full book, getting it published and some advice for poets and wannabe-poets.
6. Do you have professional training as a poet or are you self-taught? Do you continue to learn about writing poetry?
I am self-taught in the sense that I have never taken a degree or major program at the university level in English or Creative Writing, but have improved my writing skill by sending poems out into the world and having them rejected or accepted, and then trying to understand what worked or did not work. Associating with good poets and reading their work have also helped. As do the workshops at Kansas Authors Club annual conventions and district meetings. I have also taken a number of writing classes, both local and on-line. Here in Kansas, we are fortunate that creative writing workshops are held regularly at state universities, and that past poet laureates such as Denise Low and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg conduct on-line workshops. I still try to read poetry daily and am currently in one of Caryn's on-line poetry classes and a songwriting class that Kelley Hunt is teaching.
7. Have you won any contests or awards for your poetry?
I have been fortunate to have won quite a few awards in the annual Kansas Authors Club yearly writing contests over the past five years, and was named KAC poet of the year in 2013, the same year you were named the KAC Prose Writer of the Year. I won the Springfield Writer's Guild Jim Stone Memorial Poetry Award in both 2013 and 2014 and have won prizes in other categories in their annual poetry contest. In 2014, I won first place in the Beecher's Magazine Poetry contest. Brian Daldorph, editor and publisher of Coal City Review and Press, chose two poems from my first poetry book as nominees for the Pushcart Prize. I consider it an honor to have had my poems nominated.
8. Can you tell us about your poetry book Music I Once Could Dance To? What inspired you to create a full book of poems? What does the title signify? How long did it take to create the book? Was it self-published or through a publishing house?
My debut poetry book, Music I Once Could Dance To, was published in 2014. As I began to have more and more poems win prizes and be accepted for publication in literary journals and anthologies, I felt more confident in the quality of my poems and the authenticity of my poetic voice. I also became a bit more receptive to suggestions that I consider assembling a book of poetry. I finally got up the nerve to gather up what I thought were some of my best poems, printed them out, and tried to put them together into groups that seemed to fit together. After a lot of shuffling and cutting, I managed to have a rough manuscript with four chapters and about 90 poems.
The last poem in the book was to be one of the first accepted for publication. It was called The Geomorphology of Life. I gave the manuscript to my wife, Pat, and told her I was going to use that for the book title. Her immediate and vociferous response was "You can't name a poetry book The Geomorphology of Life! No one would buy a book of poetry with a name like that. What is wrong with you?" Fortunately, she was a bit more complimentary about the rest of the book. I said to myself "Why not look at the first poem in the book for a title?" When I read that poem and came to the last line, I decided it had to be the title. I read it to Pat. Music I once could dance to. She smiled and said "Now that is a good name for a poetry book. That is one I would pick up and look at." The title turned out to be the key to arranging the whole book and to give it focus. It even inspired the cover art. I think that it holds together very well.
The book came together pretty quickly once I dug in and started. It took from September until December. By then I had formatted the book and produced a draft pdf manuscript. I asked three friends to read the book and suggest changes. By incorporating those suggestions, I tightened up the book, thinned it out to the strongest poems, and moved them around so that each chapter was begun and ended, respectively, with the two best poems of that group. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg also wrote a great Introduction for the book.
Caryn had suggested that I query Kansas and regional small press publishers about publishing the book. I was fortunate that Brian Daldorph accepted and published the book as part of his Coal City Review and Press poetry series. Brian was a delight to work with, and his suggestions added the final polish to the book. He and Pam LeRow saw the book through the production and printing process with great care and professionalism.
9. Are you working on a new book?
Yes, in the sense that I am placing poems into a "book" folder as I decide they are worthy of consideration for a collection. Other than that, I have not identified a concept or title for a new book.
10. What advice do you have for others who are beginning poets?
Read poetry every day. Read all kinds of poetry by all kinds of poets. Figure out why you like or don't like what you are reading. Learn from it. Write every day. Get involved with some other writers who are willing to meet regularly. (I am in a group of 6-8 poets who meet weekly for a short writing exercise and then read what we have written to one another. We call ourselves the Wayward Poets. In the five years we have been together I have written more consistently than at any other time in my life.)
Read your poems out loud to yourself as you write them. Ask others to read them. Listen to where they stumble and ask yourself why and what you can do to improve the readability of your work. Send your work out to contests and literary journals. Learn to accept rejection and use it to fuel your writing engine. Go to workshops. Ask people for comments. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. Write, write, write.