Guilford author Judith Vance tells about “Crossing Bridges,” a contemporary romance novel

First, tell us a bit about your book: what it’s about, what genre it’s in, what inspired you to write it.

Crossing Bridges is the journey of Abigail Sinclair, a passionate young lawyer, as she navigates her life and searches for happiness.  The novel follows Abby’s life from young adulthood into her late 30s.  When Abby is introduced, she is overworked and single, living in New York City.  She is struggling to find the right balance of career, love and family.  In the second half of the novel, Abby is a divorced mother of two who retreats to a romantic seaside cottage in Guilford, Connecticut, to see if she can sort out the complex calculus of her life.

The book is a contemporary romance.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

The book was written over the course of several years.  In the beginning I was working full-time as the Head of Human Resources for a major financial institution.  Once I formed my own human resources consulting company I had more time to devote to the book.  I never gave up on the book since the main character became so real to me.  I needed to find out what would happen to her and her family.

Do you have a writing process that you can share with readers?

I like to find a quiet time in the morning when I am not disturbed.  A great deal of the book was written looking out over the harbor at Sachem’s Head.  I usually write for two to four hours at a time.  If I get stuck I will walk away from the book for a few days until I feel inspired as to what should happen in Abby’s life next.

The wild ride to publication is always fraught with drama. Tell us about your journey to self-publishing. Had you tried to go to the traditional route first, or was this always the way you wanted to go?

Like most rookie authors I wasn’t too sure how to get a book published.  Once I finished the book I attended the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference.  Reality quickly set in as to how tough it is to get a book published today.  I then attended Writing Workshops with the authors Amy Bloom, Steve Berry, and Matthew Dicks.  Each of these authors reinforced  how many times they had been rejected before they were able to get a book published.  The same message was delivered by the authors at the Savannah Book Festival.   (This is a great event if you ever get a chance to attend.)  Their support and enthusiasm encouraged me to keep plugging away.

What service did you use? And what help did they provide—editing, design, distribution, marketing?

One of my neighbors is a published author.  I asked her for her advice about how to approach the publishing process.  She gave me the name of a great editor. I used two sites – Kindle Direct Publishing and the Barnes and Noble DIY self publishing platform called Pubit!.  You go to the sites and you’ll find tons of rules that you need to follow to transform your word document into a style that they use to publish.  You then submit your book and they review it.  If you have followed all the rules you are good to go.  Needless to say there are just as many rules for the cover photography.  This is a bit of a process so you have to hang in there.

What have been the best and the toughest parts for you?

The editing process was definitely the toughest part for me.  I completely agreed with my editor’s comments but it is tough to delete parts of the book that you really loved.

Where is your book (or books) available?

My book is available as an e-book.  You can order to read on your nook, kindle, or ipad through either or  The book costs just $2.99.  I wanted the largest group of readers to find the book affordable in these tough economic times.

Would you go this way again, or are you wishing to break into the more traditional kind of publishing?

I tried to go the traditional publishing route.  I received many encouraging notes from agents but wasn’t making much progress.  I found it fairly easy to self-publish my book.

Everything you wanted to know about lobster shacks, as told by Mike Urban–including how to find the best ones in New England

The book is “Lobster Shacks: A Road Guide to New England’s Best Lobster Joints,” by Mike Urban. Come and meet him at R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27. The event is free, but reservations must be made by calling (203) 245-3959. He’ll also be reading on Friday evening, June 29th, at Harbor Books at 146 Main St. in Old Saybrook. Call the store for details, at (203) 388-6850.

“Lobster Shacks: A Road Guide to New England’s Best Lobster Joints”

Mike Urban is an expert on a subject that most of us can only dream about: the best places to go in New England to get the best lobster. Talk about your tough assignments! Urban’s task was to set out and learn everything he could about the region’s favorite food, visiting all the in-the-rough places he could find along the way. He went to some 75 lobster shacks–many of them right our favorites right here in our area. We here at Books New Haven know that writing a book is hard work–but it helps if it’s a subject you’re passionate about…and after writing about clam shacks, Mike (who lives in Old Saybrook with his wife and four children) knew that he wouldn’t be able to rest until the lobster shacks had been equally explored.

And we’re glad he did it, too.

Mike Urban, author and editor

Best of all, he takes us to places we already know and love, and some that perhaps are so hidden away that they’re remained the secret favorites of “people who know stuff and don’t tell the rest of us.”

In our area, he gives us the story behind The Lobster Shack, the Guilford Lobster Pound, The Place, Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale, Lobster Landing, Captain Scott’s Lobster Pond, and Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough.

We guarantee you that you’ll read this book and want to go right out to your car and head out for Connecticut’s specialty: the hot buttered lobster roll. (We don’t need mayonnaise in our lobster rolls here!)

The book is chock full of recipes, lore and legends, historical information on local fishing fleets–and even driving directions. Best of all, come to meet Mike Urban at R. J. Julia Booksellers on Wednesday, June 27th at 7 p.m. It’s rumored that Lenny & Joe’s will be providing some free snacks.

Photographer/cancer survivor Monica Baer and singer Debra Lynn Alt celebrate their new book at R. J. Julia










Every now and then, a book comes along that just reaches out and changes the way you see your life.

That’s exactly what happened when two Connecticut women–photographer Monica Baer and writer, singer/songwriter Debra Lynn Alt–collaborated on “Each Moment We’re Alive,” a photographic and musical journey.

They’ve created a touching book that leaves you with a greater appreciation for each moment, and does it in a way that is simply beautiful.

The book is made even more poignant when you know that Monica Baer continues her battle with metastatic stage 4 breast cancer. Yet the message of the captions she wrote underneath each of her vibrant photos is one of appreciation for the beauty of each moment and of the celebration she feels for having seen and lived and captured each moment.

The lyrics that Debra Lynn Alt wrote give words to all of us who drown out the sounds of our lives and fill our time with crazy pursuits. Debra gives melodic dialogue to not just the person empathizing or sympathizing with battling cancer, but for us all.

Now Monica and Debra will come to R. J. Julia Booksellers, to share their message and their songs and the exquisite photographs. They’ll be there at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 25. The event is free, but you need to call for reservations, at (203) 245-3959.

Monica Baer and Debra Alt

Monica Baer has, since 2005, pursued her interests and talents in wildlife photography. Her images have been published in Globe Pequot’s Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, Moose Peterson’s BT Journal, as well as many others. A former president of the Milford CT Camera Club and current member of The Connecticut Association of Photographers, she competes and is featured in numerous expos, art shows, and photography competitions. Monica lives in North Branford, CT with her husband and cat, and is the proud mother of a daughter, Lindsay.

Debra Lynn Alt is a singer-songwriter originally from New York City and has been in a variety of music bands, most notably the Rolling Stone Magazine house band in 1979. Her songwriting has been called “cause and just-because music,” as she has produced songs for such causes as Autism Awareness, MADD, and Habitat for Humanity. Debra lives in Lyme, CT with her husband and daughter.

Are you a writer? Here’s how to know for sure

These days, it seems that everywhere you look, people are wanting to become writers.

Maybe they think that a life of mumbling to yourself, sighing a lot, and staring out the window sounds like something they’d like to get into. Or maybe all those stories about folks cranking out novels on their CELL PHONES and then getting multi-zillion dollar book and movie deals (hello, E. L. James) has them convinced that lightning does strike twice (or a thousand times) and they’d like to take their chances at that, too.

Or maybe they just want to tell the story that’s been rattling around in their heads for years, or they wake up in the middle of the night thinking that someone has just whispered something in their ear, and they need to get up and write it down before they forget.

Does that happen to you?

A long time ago I asked a bunch of writers to share how they KNEW they were writers.

And here are some of those answers:

You know you’re a writer if looking out the window is part of the job.

Andy Thibault

You know you’re a writer if:

you make notes right after sex
you stutter when asked what you do
you edit others conversations in your head while listening to them
you always carry a note book
you go to bed too late and get up too early
you are constantly saying…I should write that down
Joel Fried

You know you’re a writer if you get cranky when you don’t have time to write.

Pat Aust

You know you’re a writer if you check your email twelve times an hour when you’re supposed to be working on your computer. No, actually it could be more than that.

Nora Baskin

You know you’re a writer if you’ve done everything you possibly can in life to avoid writing but still find yourself needing to.

Marc Wortman

You know you’re a writer if you have constant bags under your eyes, your purse is stuffed with at least five pens and random pieces of paper napkins on which you’ve made notes for the next chapter of your novel, you are constantly on a caffeine high, you never back up your material, you wake up nightly with cold sweats from a free-floating anxiety wondering if anyone is going to buy your book.  The only thought that keeps you relatively sane is: if all else fails, you can always run away, never to be heard from again.

Judith Marks-White

You know you’re a writer if your friend tells you a heartbreaking story and your first reaction is – wow, that would make an incredible plot for a novel. You know you’re a smart writer if you manage to keep that reaction to yourself.

MJ Rose

You know you’re a writer when you are not writing with pen to paper or with fingers to keys, you are writing twenty-four /seven in your brain because everything around you becomes a story.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

You know you’re a writer if you are still in your jammies at five o’clock, the dog hasn’t gone out since the sun rose and your kids are wondering if someone has paid you a hundred thousand dollar advance that they don’t know about.

Linda Merlino

You know you’re a writer if the poetry book on your kitchen table was a pile of napkins last week.

Brian Trent

You know you’re a writer if (like me at this very moment) you are wakened at 2:37 am, a character whispering (shouting perhaps?) in your ear, urging you, no, commanding you, to fire up your laptop, cup of tea in hand, and write the next chapter, in which she insists on taking you places you never intended to go!

Madeleine Parish

You know you’re a writer if your work clothes are mostly sweat pants and pajamas.
Kathryn Smith

You know you’re a writer if:
…you burn through more ink cartridges than Kleenex in the winter
…you see the next story line while arguing with your lover and leave to “get it down” before forgetting it
…on good days there’s a lingering smell of burnt plastic coming from your keyboard
…the dogs would rather float away, whimpering, than interrupt you at the key board to take them outside
…there are oxygen lines, intravenous feeding tubes, and large Starbucks syringes attached to your desk, and nobody in the family notices any of this anymore.

Daniel Holden

You know you are a writer if everyone has told you that you’ll never get published and you keep writing.

Julian Padowicz

You know you’re a writer if you can’t remember some of the plot details of the book you just released because you’re so engrossed in writing the next one.

Chris Knopf

You know you are a writer if every overheard remark becomes a beginning of a story, if  what you glimpse from the corner of your eye triggers a vignette, if you awake in the morning wondering what the characters in your novel are going to do today, if something you read  evokes a memory you can use in your writing, if all of life is about making connections that help you understand who you are, well then, indeed you are a writer! Claire Vreeland

You know you’re a writer when you walk around in the zone, open to believing that every person is a potential character, and every object suggests a metaphor.

Pegi Deitz Shea

You know you’re a writer if everyone around you is totally engrossed in watching James Bond extricate himself from his latest cliff hanger escapade and you are sitting with pencil in hand making notes about the couple in front of you.


You know you’re a writer if you’re still in your pajamas at 5 pm and yet you’ve been working all day!
Roberta Isleib

You know you’re a writer when every moment of every day you turn whatever you are facing at the moment into a short spurt of prose or poetry in your head, including your dreams, and it has become so commonplace that you have stopped writing things down and bemoan the loss of them later as the story or poem idea that would have wowed your readership, as if you had a readership because you are, after all, a writer.

Faith Vicinanza

You know you’re a writer if writing about something makes it real.

Patricia D’Ascoli


“When We Argued All Night”–Alice Mattison’s new novel

Full disclosure: Alice Mattison and I have been friends since I moved to New Haven 30-something years ago. In fact, she was the first person I met when I (guiltily) enrolled my little toddler into a cooperative daycare. We became fast friends when she said to me, “There’s nothing better than coming BACK to your child!” (I had just gotten out of the car from a cross-country trip with my 15-month old. And lovely as he was, I was so looking forward to being somewhere else, so that I COULD come back to him.)

Turns out that Alice was wise in many ways, not just about daycare centers being okay places for children. In the years I’ve known her, she has wowed me with her humor, wisdom and writing–publishing poems, then short stories in the New Yorker, and then novels and collections of short stories. She still lives in New Haven, and she teaches fiction in the graduate writing program at Bennington College in Vermont.

Now I’m so thrilled to welcome her to the Books New Haven blog, talking about When We Argued All Night, her sixth novel, just published by Harper Perennial.  Visit her at her website, 

Tell us about your new book.

When We Argued All Night is a novel about two friends from Brooklyn, Artie Saltzman and Harold Abramovitz. It begins in 1936, when they are young men scrambling to hold onto jobs in the Great Depression and hoping to meet women. The book follows them, their children, and their grandchildren through the second World War, the McCarthy era, and on into the twenty-first century, ending in 2004, as Artie’s daughter Brenda (the third main character) watches Barack Obama give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on television. The book is about how we manage to live in families and endure the people we love, and how we find a way to live private lives despite what history throws at us.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

Some years ago I wrote a novel called Hilda and Pearl, in which a New York City schoolteacher loses his job during the McCarthy era because of his past ties to Communism. I wrote the chapters about his job from the viewpoint of his young daughter, who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on, and ever since then I have wanted to take the next step and write about schoolteachers during the McCarthy era from their own viewpoint. As a child I was dimly aware of the rage and terror of teachers who were unjustly accused, and I knew one man who did lose his job.

Since my father’s death, in 2001, I’ve also wanted to write a novel about a father and daughter, not him and me, but some father and some daughter. Eventually I realized they would be in the same novel, but I kept putting it off—it was a big project, spanning much of the twentieth century, and other books seemed easier. But finally there was no other book in my head, so I wrote it.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

It took plenty of research and reading, and, as I’ve said, years of thinking about it, but once I started writing it came fairly easily. I had lived it in my mind for so long. And the characters were vocal, eager to have me tell their story, impatient. Sometimes characters are like that, and at other times it feels as if they don’t even know about the book. Parts of the book needed a good deal of revision—it was hard to see how to write about such long periods of time. But this was one book I felt good about all along—I don’t think this ever happened before, and it’s my sixth novel.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

I think about a book for months before I begin, but don’t know everything about it. I write most weekdays, trying to feel my way to and through the next scene, then the one after that. I write on a computer. I expect it to take a long time. When I’m stuck I make lists of what I know about the next thing. All my best work seems to be done in the afternoons, never in the morning no matter how hard I try. I get business out of the way in the morning—emails and so forth—and write in the afternoons.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

Something in between. It’s as if I know I’m traveling from Boston to New York—well, probably New York, maybe someplace out on Long Island. . . . And maybe I know the basic route, but I don’t know where I’ll have lunch, or whether I’ll take a side road part way along and explore, or where I’ll stop and spend some time. That is to say, I usually know approximately how the book will end, and also what the part of the book I’m writing ends with, what event will propel the characters into the section after that, but I often don’t know exactly how the story will take them to that event. I write with one eye on the characters, feeling my way, and one eye on the intermediate outcome I know about—maybe the fact that somewhere in the next fifty pages or so, somebody will decide to get married, or somewhere soon, somebody will lose a job. I usually know when my characters did what they did—dates, that is, real ones—and I often check old newspaper stories to find out what they would be thinking about. Sometimes, what I discover makes the next event happen.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

I’m not sure I ever feel inspired. I rarely feel sure I’m doing something great and I rarely write fast, but I do keep writing, quite happily. It’s what I do and I don’t question it. Often what I’m writing seems boring. Sometimes it turns out that it was boring, and I change it, but sometimes it wasn’t. I never doubt that the book or story is there waiting to be written. Sometimes I’m stuck, which is painful. Reading poetry helps, looking at art, sometimes taking a break to work outside in the yard, pulling weeds or mowing, or shoveling snow, if that’s the season.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I was thirteen. My English teacher said I had style. I think I’d assumed until then that everyone liked to write, but she made me know it was particularly true of me—as if you always knew you liked to sing and were good at it, but didn’t decide to become a professional singer until you realized that other people didn’t need it or love it the way you did.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I always wanted to be both a writer and teacher, and I am. I taught English in community colleges and four-year colleges. Now I teach fiction writing in the MFA program in writing at Bennington College, and at writer’s conferences. If I hadn’t had this life, I’m pretty sure I’d have been a high school English teacher. Sometimes I think a piece of me lived that other life somewhere, as if maybe there are two of me. I don’t know what I’d have done if I didn’t write or teach—I’ve never thought about it. I can’t really imagine it.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

I love what I do, all of it. The first draft is more exciting because there was nothing and then there is something, but revision is easier, just because there’s something to work with. I do like the secrecy of making up a story, the months when I’m walking around trying to sense the basic facts, the vague outline of what happens, what the people are like—and nobody else knows a thing about it.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I have a group of five or six friends I think of as my “board of directors,” and it changes slightly as people are more or less willing to read a manuscript—it’s a lot to ask, handing someone a 400 page typescript. I don’t show them anything until about the third draft. I’m compulsively secretive about what I’m writing until then. Nobody knows anything about it, not the subject, sometimes not even that I’m doing it. After I show the book to my friends, I rewrite extensively, using their suggestions. Until then, I keep reading and reworking it on my own.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

I hate that, and yes, it does happen. It’s especially difficult when a book (like this one) uses bits of my life. Brenda in this book, one of the three main characters, takes a job I once had—teaching English in a community college in the Central Valley in California. But nothing else about her is true of me. It’s impossible to make this claim and be believed, I think because so many books and movies that are notoriously based on something true have disclaimers saying that nothing in them is true. So readers smile knowingly when you say something is not autobiographical, especially if it’s about sex. Maybe they don’t believe it’s possible to make things up, but it is, it is. And sex is the easiest thing to make up. What’s hard to make up is procedure. If a novel includes a detailed account of removing wallpaper or bathing a dog, you can suspect autobiography, but if it includes an affair, that doesn’t mean much.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

Not a whole scene, but I often have thoughts that I have to write down, and sometimes in the night, yes.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

I have had many happy experiences but here’s the best. A novel I wrote, Hilda and Pearl, takes place largely in the nineteen thirties. When the galleys arrived and I had to check them over one last time, I asked my mother to read them, to see if I’d made any errors about the era in which she had been young. Sure enough, she found a couple of things, and also a mistake both the copy-editor and I had missed, one of those details that drives every novelist crazy—people putting on coats they had already put on two pages earlier, something like that. But she didn’t say she liked the book, so I thought maybe she didn’t.

When Hilda and Pearl finally came out, I gave my parents a copy, and a few days later, my mother told me she’d taken the book with her when she went down to her basement to do laundry. It was hard for her to run up and down, so she’d do all the washing and drying at once, reading until it was finished. She said she hadn’t really read the book before: she was working so hard to find mistakes that she didn’t take in the story. This time, she was so engrossed that she didn’t notice that the washing machine had overflowed until the water was up to her ankles. I love thinking of that.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I tell them it’s hard. Sometimes they think that because it’s hard for them, that means they are no good, but it’s hard for everyone. I tell them the difference between amateur writers and professionals is that amateurs think their first drafts should be perfect but professionals expect to revise. I tell them to read all they can, including poetry and literary magazines and the writing of the past, not just the books they wish they had written but the ones that challenge them. And I tell them that success depends on who you know—which does not mean famous, important people but the people you actually know in your real life. Find other writers, others trying to learn—in a class, a writers’ conference, or among people you already know. Sharing writing and books will be good for both of you. Support your writing friends with praise if you possibly can, and buy their books when they publish—and they will support you. It’s easier to write as part of a community of people who hope for one another’s success than as a loner in competition with other writers.

Luanne Rice reads from her 30th novel at R. J. Julia

Luanne Rice was once in an abusive relationship--and now in her thirtieth novel (yes, that's 3-0), Little Night, she writes about a character who needs to be saved from abuse.

Here's the starred review from Publisher's Weekly:
After bludgeoning her sister’s abusive husband with a burnt log, Clare Burke is whisked away to jail in the dramatic opening of Rice’s 30th novel (after Secrets of Paris). Based on Anne’s false testimony in defense of her husband, Clare serves two years for assault, the sisters become estranged, and the story picks up 18 years later in 2011 in New York City, where Clare is a blogger and birdwatcher. Though she’s never fully recovered from the trauma of her sister’s betrayal, Clare desperately wants to reconnect with Anne, who has since cut all ties with her family at the behest of her manipulative husband. But when Anne’s 21-year-old daughter, Grit, shows up on Clare’s doorstep seeking a family that loves her, Clare and her niece bond, though the subject of their common tie—Anne—is never far from either of their minds. The two support one another as they attempt to create a relationship and reconnect with the woman who hurt them. Poetic and stirring, Rice’s latest beautifully combines her love of nature and the power of family.

Want to meet Luanne Rice and hear her read from her book? Don't miss this chance to talk to one of Connecticut's most beloved and prolific writers.

She'll be at R. J. Julia TONIGHT (Friday, June 8) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, but can be put toward the purchase of the book. Call (203) 245-3959 to reserve your seat.

Is poetry too hard? Amy Nawrocki, Hamden poet, gives a resounding NO and explains why

Amy Nawrocki in Paris

Why are people so afraid of poetry?

That’s a question that’s been plaguing poet Amy Nawrocki, of Hamden. Now, with her new collection, Lune de Miel, being released in August, she talks about what people are missing when they dismiss poetry out of hand.

Lune de Miel,which means “honeymoon” in French, has been released to critical acclaim.

As Joseph Conlin, editor of the SNReview writes, “From the first stanza of the first poem in this amazing collection, you know Amy Nawrocki is ready to transport you through the magic of her poems to some exotic, crazy, and unimaginable place, a lover’s Paris. Her descriptions of Parisian paintings and monuments blend with the story of two lovers honeymooning in the City of Light to create a sensuous tapestry that draws you in like the great paintings by Gauguin, Chagall, and Monet she writes about. These poems are lush and human.John Guzlowski, author of Lightning and Ashes and The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald. With the poems in Lune de Miel, Amy Nawrocki walks us through a Paris of now and yore, opening our eyes, anew, to a city and ourselves. They create succulent
moments found sitting in a café to the tensions of love and hurt found tucked behind the brush strokes of the city’s immortal guests. With each word, line,and stanza, a reader swears that he again tastes the moon’s honey so needed to sweeten life’s bitters.”

Lune de Miel

Nawrocki, who grew up in Newtown, earned a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an master of fine arts from the University of Arkansas. Her poetry has won numerous awards, and her chapbook, Potato Eaters, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her work has been featured in SNReview, Gastronomica, The Newtowner, Verdad Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, and Connecticut Food and Wine. She is also the author of Nomad’s End, published in 2010 by Finishing Line Pres, and two works of non-fiction, co-authored with Eric D. Lehman: A History of Connecticut Wine: Vineyard in Your Backyard and A History of Connecticut Food.
She lives in Hamden with her husband and their two cats.

Here’s what she has to say in defense of poetry:

Some thoughts on Poetry

I write poetry because I love language. I love how ideas spring from the simplest entity. For me, there’s poetry everywhere, and my job is just to harness it for a moment, before, like a tuft of dandelion seedlings blown off the stem, it disperses into the ether. Of course I want others to equally relish the small moments and the large abstractions, and hopefully, my poems will draw out some connection, even if it’s only curiosity rather than understanding.

I recently spoke about my poetry on Practical Talk Time, a cable broadcast out of Danbury, CT. I was promoting my latest collection Lune de Miel and fulfilling a promise to the host Sandy Wroebel, who picked up my first book Potato Eaters about a year ago. As we were chatting before the show, she mentioned that she “doesn’t really like poetry” a lasting influence from her school days when poetry was introduced as “difficult” and “out there.” Luckily, she was drawn to a poem titled “Babka” and we talked about the poem’s subject, baking bread, which lead to a connection about our mothers, to our Polish heritage, to the meaning of memory.

It surprises me how long-lasting these early perceptions can be, shaping the way adults view poetry. I forget sometimes that not everyone is agog by word combinations or by trains cooing in the far distance, the chatter of feet dancing on a parquet floor, a leaf’s fossil left on the sidewalk after the rain.  People (older generations usually) are still surprised, and maybe a little put off, by poetry that doesn’t rhyme, and I know that most readers are not going to seek poetry out casually, which is too bad. I’m still a little heartbroken when a family member or friend reads my poem and tells me, “I don’t really get it.”

On the one hand, such comments make me appreciate teaching poetry. Granted, most of my students have broader perspective (these are college students), and most have open minds, but there always seems to be the prevailing idea the poetry will be “difficult,” that poets are “too obtuse” and “beyond” them. On the other hand, I wish it didn’t take a semester to open readers’ eyes to a poem’s unfolding petals or to point them toward Archibald MacLeish’s notion that “a poem should not mean/ But be,” which I both agree and disagree with. A poem should both captivate intellectually but it can, and should, just exist as a thing of beauty. Sometimes the “meaning” is less important than the physical and emotional experience of living the poem.

In Lune de Miel, I tried to ground the poems in place and experience. I want the reader to be transported to Paris, to see, hear, and taste the city. But it’s not essential for me as the writer that readers absolutely comprehend every poem. Like the painters that I link to in the collection, an impression is what I want: to invite them to step into “amethyst pools, blur into/ the mirror of clouds reflected on cobalt” . . . where “all is reflection.” I hope readers will take many things from the poems, a desire to travel, to sample escargot, to fall in love. If one reader decides to live with open eyes and eager ears once the book is closed and relegated to the shelf, I will be very happy indeed.

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