The Launch

Two hundred copies of my book of poems, The Sad Joy of Leaving, arrived the second week of October, too late to sell at the Kansas Authors Club convention. Even so, I sold one book there based on a picture of the front cover I took with me and put up in the book room. After the books came, sales took off. I was surprised, but happy. Many of my Facebook friends bought one from me or from the Blue Cedar Press web site (http://bluecedarpress.com/product/the-sad-joy-of-leaving/). Some of my Wichita friends shelled out $15 to pay for the book. I got positive feedback from a few readers, who said they identified with certain poems or thought the book spoke to them.

Mike Poage, the publisher and one of the editors, said we needed to do a book launch. He suggested I read along with him and Kelly Johnston. All three of us had been published by Blue Cedar Press We discussed where to hold the book launch and readings and decided to approach Watermark Books and Café (https://www.watermarkbooks.com/). Around thirty people came, most of them writer and poet friends. We had a great time, and as is the practice at Watermark, we went to the basement to sign the wall. Our names are there with such luminaries as James Lee Burke and Katha Pollitt. It was a perfect evening. I wore a tiara—don’t ask. Well, yes, ask. After Mike, in the e-mail exchanges before the launch, told me I was the most important person, etc., etc., I said I felt like a queen and I should wear a tiara. He and Kelly thought that was a great idea. I happened to be in the grocery store right after Halloween and the clerk found a tiara, complete with fake pink gem, for me to wear.Diane with tiara.

People laughed in the right places and became somber when I read my poem, “The Yellow Dress,” a poem about domestic violence.

During the time between getting the boxes of books and having the launch and reading, I was busy selling the book and keeping track of sales. I also set up plans with Watermark and had to get ready for our big night. Nothing much mattered during that time. Now life has returned to normal. I’m still selling books, but I think I’ve sold enough to start earning royalties. We’ll see when I have time to add up everything.

In the meantime, I also got a poem published on the Ekphrastic Review web site. I may try to get more poems published there if I get a moment to do that.

Now I have to get ready for another publishing venture—or adventure, if you will. Another publisher, one who has seen my work online, wants to publish a manuscript of mine. I have until May 1, 2019, to pull something together. We’ll see how that goes. I already have an idea for the book and a picture for the front. My friend Sandra Loux will once again do the picture as she did for The Sad Joy of Leaving.

So, here I go again. It’s pretty exciting to be doing this at my age, as it would be at any age. Off to the races!

 

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From Song to Poem to Book Title

I go to water aerobics at the Y three days a week. It’s a good workout, and I enjoy talking to the friends I’ve made over the years I’ve been hopping around in the water. Our instructor plays a mixed tape of music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, music that most of us in the class remember from our younger days. One of the songs, “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey-ey Goodbye,” sung by a group I never heard of, intrigues me with me with its repetitive lines, especially the repetition of the word, “good-bye.” The song gets under my skin in a way none of the other songs do.

One day, after an hour in the water, I went into the locker room and grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser. I found the pen that I keep in my swimming bag and started writing lines on the paper towel. The lines turned into a poem, “The Sad Joy of Leaving,” which you may read below.

The Sad Joy of Leaving

A certain exquisite satisfaction

flows over the one who goes,

the one who says goodbye, walks

out the door, never to go back

to the one left behind. To return

only in the sweetness of memories

preserving only longing for what

might have been but never was.

To find the unexpected snapshots

of a life left behind, smiling faces

belying the chasm that opens

under the assault of the constant

drip of sameness, the everyday,

pattern of accommodation,

a dance routine never altered.

Diane Wahto

 

I’ve had many experiences of leaving, starting with going to college in a city three hours drive away from the small town and the home I’d lived in most of my life. My first year of college was mostly successful. I worked in the college library and I made As and Bs in most of my classes. However, I wasn’t as diligent as a college student as I had been as a high school student, and by the end of the second semester, I was sick of school. I married a student I had met while I was working at the check-out desk in the college library.

During the thirteen years we were married, we moved sixteen times, most of those moves from city to city as he got better jobs. I also managed to complete my BA during this time. Then the day came when I knew I had to take our kids and move back to Kansas. We stayed with my parents until I was able to get a teaching assistantship and start work on a master’s degree. Off we went to a new town. I met another man and fell in love, even though I said I would never fall in love again. We got married and moved to the town where I had a high school teaching job in Winfield, Kansas. After a couple of years, I came home one day to find my husband gone. I had no idea where he’d gone, but I assumed it was back to the west coast where his family lived. My kids needed a place to call home, so I decided to stay where we were until my kids got out of high school.

By the time the youngest son went off to college, I was ready for a change, so I quit my high school teaching job and got into the creative writing program at Wichita State University. I was married again, my husband had a job in Wichita, so we moved from Winfield. I left many friends behind with that move. I missed them, but I was able to get together with them off and on.

When Blue Cedar Press accepted my manuscript for publication, I had one title on it, a title taken from of the poems in the book. One of the Blue Cedar editors who had read the manuscript suggested during an editorial meeting that we change the title to “The Sad Joy of Leaving.” She said this fit the book, as so many of the poems were about leaving. I saw immediately that this title fit the book much better than my title did, so I enthusiastically agreed with her. This title brought resonance to the book that hadn’t been there before.

I still smile when I hear that strange song with the repetition of good-bye in it when I go to water aerobics. I often sing along under my breath. I do believe that poets have to take poetry where they find it. That’s true for me, anyway. It always helps to have a pen and a paper towel handy, as well.

I suppose it also helps to have had many experiences in life, some good, some not so much. Those experiences give a treasure trove of resources to draw on for poetry.

 

A Publication High

One day last fall, I was at a neighbors’ house to drop off something. The neighbors, husband and wife Mike Poage and Gretchen Eick, started Blue Cedar Press a few years ago. As I was leaving, Mike said, “Send us a manuscript.” I did, even though it took awhile to get one pulled together again. I had sent two manuscripts to two local presses with high hopes, which were dashed by rejection. This even though the few friends who read them thought they were publishable.

I’m not sure when I sent the manuscript to Mike and Gretchen, but it was sometime around the end of 2017. In the meantime, Gretchen and Mike went to Bosnia and the manuscript hung in limbo. I did get occasional e-mails from Mike, Gretchen, and their editor, Laura Tillem, telling tme how much they liked the poetry. However, this was no guarantee that they would publish the manuscript.

 In the meantime, I was laid up after surgery. Gretchen, now home from Bosnia, came by for visits to see how I was doing. Then one magic day, she came by to tell me they were publishing my book. We set up a time for an editorial meeting, a late Saturday afternoon. I went down the block to Gretchen and Mike’s house, where Gretchen, Mike, Laura, and I sat around the dining room table, copies of the manuscript in front of us. I had given the book a title from one of my poems. As we discussed the title, Laura came up with an amazing idea for a much better title. She took the title of another poem, “The Sad Joy of Leaving,” and suggested it as the title. I immediately agreed, as that title fit the theme of the manuscript much better.

From there, we continued to talk about other aspects of the manuscripts, with ideas and suggestions flying. We talked about cover art and I said I had the perfect photo, one taken by my friend Sandra Loux for our Broadside project. When I got home, I sent a copy of the photo, one of an isolated house at dusk, to the three editors and everyone liked it. I got Sandy’s permission to use, giving her credit, of course, and we were set.

 I also sent them some portrait photos of me to choose from for the author photos. They chose one taken by Kansas Writers Association member Rae Cuda. She took pictures of all the members one day to use as author photos. My photo was really good, and I was pleased it was chosen.

 We continued the editing process by e-mail, then when it was finally perfect—or at least as close to perfect as it could be—the manuscript was sent off to the format person in California. The book will come out in the fall. It’s been an exciting experience and I’m grateful for it.

 Even more exciting is that just after this book was sent off, another editor contacted me through Facebook. He said he wanted to publish a book of my poetry next year. He had seen my work on the Facebook page 365 Poems in 365 Days, a page developed by James Benger. So I will start work on another manuscript and will happily undergo another editing process.

 I’ve waited decades for this to happen. After spending time and energy preparing manuscripts and sending them off only to have them rejected, now feel justified–and overjoyed.

 

Pain and Poetry: An Update

I have left this blog to its own devices for a couple of months because of the knee replacement surgery I blogged about earlier. The weekend before the surgery, I almost called to cancel, as my knee was giving me little pain. However, plans were made, and I knew it would cause havoc if I backed out.

This isn’t my first rodeo, as they say, with surgery. I’ve had several since my first, a tonsillectomy when I was 17. If I remember, my pain then was alleviated by great doses of ice cream. I’ve also given birth three times, each time becoming easier. Since then, thanks to effective pain medication, I have never suffered a great deal of pain after surgery.

The knee replacement surgery was different. In the hospital, I must have been given pain medicine among the drugs the nurses dispensed to me on a regular basis. I got wonderful care during the three days I was there. I was in a small specialty hospital and the nurses were friendly, caring, and always there when I needed them, a welcome contrast to my last stay in a large hospital.

I came home with a bottle of pain pills and instructions to take Tylenol if I didn’t want to take the pain pills. I had already thrown up once after taking the narcotic for several days. I did have prescription for an anti-nausea drug, but I was determined not to take the opioid I was sent home with. The first night in my own bed, however, turned into a nightmare. I took two Tylenol. My husband, awakened by my moaning, suggested I move onto the living room couch. He came and stretched out on the other couch and stayed with me all night. I did finally drop off to sleep. The next day, he took the prescription for the anti-nausea medicine to our pharmacy. After that, I felt no pain.

The drug, while it eased the pain, also made me very tired. I took it for less than a week, then went back to taking Tylenol when I felt a twinge. Everything was fine. I was going to PT, doing the exercises at home on the days I didn’t go to the rehab clinic, I was recovering quickly. Then something happened I was totally unprepared for. I was sitting on the couch reading the news about the suicide of local woman whose young stepson had been found dead. There was another article about a famous chef’s suicide in the same issue of the paper. Suddenly, I went into a dark depression the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in decades.

This frightened me so much that I called my doctor and made an appointment to see her. I wrote the date and time down on a piece of paper and told my husband, who would have to drive me to the doctor’s office. The day of the appointment, I got the time wrong. The receptionist then slotted me in for an appointment later that day. However, my husband and I decided to make an appointment for two days later in the morning.

Unbeknownst to me, my doctor, not knowing I had changed my appointment, was worried that I had done something drastic. When I saw her, I assured her I wasn’t suicidal. I never have been, even in my darkest days. My thinking was, and still is, I don’t want to miss the wonderful thing that might happen tomorrow if I off myself. Besides, I’m a coward. And, above all, I have a wonderful family whom I love, and I wouldn’t do such an awful thing to them.

My doctor gave me a prescription for Zoloft, an anti-depressant. I took one dose and knew I didn’t want to take any more. I told myself I could make myself happy again. And I did.

The worst outcome of the surgery was my inability to write a poem. My brain seemed to go on vacation. I also forgot things. My brother and his wife came by with a sweet card and chocolates, which I devoured. When I saw them a few weeks later, my brother asked me if I remembered them coming by. For a little while, the memory of their visit completely eluded me. Bit by bit, the memory came back, mainly because they mentioned the sack of chocolates.

A poet friend suggested I write poems about the surgery. I told her no one really needed to read a poem about pain. I could write a poem about my husband, who was so good to me the whole time I was recovering, or about my youngest son, who came to visit me from out of town to make sure I was okay. I could write about the weekend I spent with other members of my family. I have decided, though, to write as I always do. Whatever comes to my mind is what I will write.

In the meantime. I got word that Blue Cedar Press has accepted my poetry manuscript, The Sad Joy of Leaving, for publication. The editing process for the manuscript has taken a lot of time, but it’s been worth it. The book will come out in the fall. Stayed tuned for more news.

When Life Interferes with Writing

Three and a half weeks ago, I had knee replacement surgery. Since then I’ve dealt with pain or being out of it because of the drug I take to ease the pain. Many writers don’t let physical problems interfere with their work. Flannery O’Connor wrote from her bed when she was too ill from lupus to sit at a desk to write. Stephen Hawking didn’t let debilitating ALS stop him from writing books dealing with astrophysics. Emily Dickinson, who didn’t show outward signs of illness, became a recluse, sending her poetry sailing through the air from her second story bedroom window.

 I suppose if my pain continued I would eventually overcome it to get back to writing poetry. Right now, though, I’m in a state of suspended animation. It seems like an eternity since I went walking in the park with my husband and our little dog. Our front and back yards are putting on their spring extravaganza with everything blooming everywhere. Yet, I’m stuck in the house with only a view through the windows to taunt me. My dreary outlook blocks the pleasure I get from being out in nature, even if it’s just the nature in the park.

I did manage to write two poems and I’ve started another one today. It’s not enough to satisfy me, but it’s a start. I have a folder of drafts of poems that I never got around to polishing. Some of them are at least thirty-five years old, but they still show promise.

 In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to write something, either by revising an old poem or writing about what I can see from the window.

 

 

The Politics and Poetics of Political Poetry

A poet friend and I recently discussed the integrity of writing poems with a political purpose. He said he’d never done this right before Donald Trump became president. Shortly after Trump took office, my friend wrote an anti-Trump poem. I’ve never written such an overtly political poem myself, finding it difficult to find much poetic in the specifics of politics. However, I’ve written poems that were covertly political. I wasn’t trying to be covert. That’s how the poems came out. 

Most of those poems were written for a series of Peace Poetry readings that have taken place in Wichita for three or four years. Sponsored by the People of Faith for Peace., the readings feature poets in the community who have written poems centered on the idea of peace. For example, one of my poems, “First, the Reflection,” relates my response to the Vietnam Memorial Wall on the National Mall. I’ve seen this memorial, with its 50,000+ names etched onto it, and every time I am moved to tears. One of my friends refuses to see it. She’s afraid it would devastate her. She and I were both young women during the Vietnam War and we both opposed it at the time. One of my brothers was stationed in Vietnam and I could hardly bear it until he came home safely.  

At the beginning of 2017, Caryn Merriam-Goldberg, a former Poet Laureate of Kansas, put up a new edition of her Heartland Poetry website, which she titled “Poems of Love, Resistance, and Solidarity.” It can be found here: https://150kansaspoems.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/a-blank-sheet-of-paper-a-poem-in-free-verse-for-free-women-by-diane-wahto/. If you scroll through the pages, you will find poems from poets from all over Kansas.  

When Caryn put out the call for submissions, I was surprised to find I had at least five poems that met the requirements of the web site. I sent five to her and so far the judges have selected four of them, four that were written for the Peace Poetry readings. I was surprised when one of the judges chose a poem I wrote one for a pro-choice rally held a couple of summers ago when Operation Rescue threatened Wichita with its destructive tactics. The threat never materialized in any meaningful way. The pro-choice rally was a success. However, I was sure no one would touch that poem with a ten-foot pole.  

Someone did touch it and put it up on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. An added benefit is that I’m now acquainted with the judge who chose my poem, Prof. Laura Lee Washburn, I will meet her face to face when the Heartland Poets gather for a reading at Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas, in April.

 I suppose I do write political poetry. I don’t set out to do that, but sometimes a picture or an encounter with another person will motivate me to think about an unjust situation. The poem about the Vietnam War Memorial came to me when one of our Vietnamese neighbors brought egg rolls to us on a day when his family was celebrating a grandchild’s birthday. The aroma of the egg rolls opened up an idea for the poem. He is old now, but he was a young man when he came here to escape the chaos in his country. I saw something in his face that trigged the poem.

 If the political contains poetic elements, I’ll write about it. Otherwise, I’ll move on to something else.

 

 

The Joy of Ice

Many parts of Kansas, including Wichita, have been under a cover of ice for a week or so. It’s not unusual for this to happen in the winter, leaving the outside world unsafe for driving or walking. Given that, several events, meetings, and lunches were canceled. This gave me a week to get caught up on my writing life.

During the week, I managed to start several poems. I also put the final touches on a manuscript and sent it off Friday to a friend who runs his indepedent press. He asked me to send him the manuscript, so I have hopes he will accept it. I was able to wrap up several other things that I had put off because I didn’t have time to get to them.

I belong to several poetry critique groups. I enjoy these groups and I find the comments on my poetry helpful. However, making time for these groups does take time away from my writing.  

I’m also the president of District 5 of Kansas Authors Club. This, the second year, will be my last year. Even though the board members are helpful, it does take time and effort to keep things organized. D5 will host the state KAC meeting next year, and work on that has started. I’ve organized a great group of volunteers, and my hope is that they will carry the load of getting the convention off the ground.  

One thing being iced in has made me realize is that writing takes unstructured time. It takes time staring out the window. It takes time sitting a quiet house or a busy coffeehouse. It takes time being alone. My husband leaves every day to take long walks around the city. One day he asked me if I minded his being gone so much. I got a chuckle out of that. He’s a talker. When he’s out walking, I can have the time to concentrate on what I’m doing. I told him it was okay that he left me alone for hours at a time as long as he got home for dinner.  

This is the last day for a few days that I’ll have time alone. I need to use this day to good advantage. Three poems are waiting in the wings for birthing. The laundry is waiting downstairs for sorting. I need to get busy.