Let Me Take You By the Hand; or, On Developing a Reader’s Guide

Friends and family have been extremely generous about supporting my poetry — buying each book as it has come out, sometimes buying an extra copy to give away, sometimes even reading them! Sometimes even reaching out to tell me about a poem that affected them in some way. But a few have said things like “I’m sorry, I don’t really understand the poems” or “I don’t like poetry” or “I don’t read poetry at all.” With them in mind, for my last book, Glass Factory, I created a short reader’s guide, thinking that I could provide some hand-holding to those who might enter the book with trepidation, or those who might not enter at all without some guidance.

It turned out to be quite a fun process for me (although I confess, I don’t know if anyone really used the guide — perhaps it was more fun for me than anyone else….)

I started thinking about some of the most important poems in the book in terms of theme, the most difficult poems in the book in terms of easy access by the reader to what was going on, some of the craft stuff I was doing in some of the poems, and the ideas or impetus behind some of the poems, some backstory, so to speak. Then I started writing up little paragraphs about some of the poems. Once I had a few of these, I started to see that I could break up the guide into what I termed “Inspiration,” “Craft,” and what I ended up calling “Obscure References and Inside Jokes.”

I also thought it was important to give readers some idea of who I was, and how these poems fit in the context of my life, so I created an “About Me” section. I also know people are also interested often in how people work, so I added a section about my process.

I did spend some time trying to think about questions for further thought that I thought might come out of the collection — but I only did that tedious task because all the other reader’s guides I’d looked at had done that.

What the process of creating the guide did for me is to help me step back and look at the individual poems and the collection in the way I had not before. Writing about the life context within which the poems were written gave me surprising insight about what had been going on for me in the years in which the poems were written. It made me enjoy the process of writing some of these poems in a way that I hadn’t been conscious of when I actually wrote them. It was such a useful process that I wonder if I should do it now for the full length collection I am sending around for publication at the moment, because it might give me some ways back into the collection to make it stronger.



Photopoemy things up at Queen Mob’s Teahouse

MISFIT DOC: Unlikely Things Are Growing Wings, 1 – 7


Reader’s Guide to Glass Factory and Shameless Self-Promotion

I had a fun time creating a reader’s guide to my new book of poems, Glass Factory. Have I mentioned I have a new book of poems out? Have I told you this before? It’s available at SPDBooks. org. Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the Reader’s Guide to Glass Factory:

Obscure References and Inside Jokes

Self-study” is the literal translation of the word autopsy, and the first line, “The body is a thing and such,” is a jokey reference to Kant’s philosophical phrase ding an sich, meaning a thing as it is in itself.

The man in a window and then just the window in “Prague” references “defenestration,” the throwing of someone out the window, as happened to seven city council members in the rebellion in Prague in 1419.

The phrase “My god. My god.” at the end of the second section of “Time Series” references Jesus’s cry from the cross, “Eli, eli, lama atta sabachtani“: My god, my god, why have you forsaken me.

Lakeshore Limited” is the name of a train that runs from Chicago to New York. It’s frequently late.

The last line of “Bell” are the first words ever spoken over the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was speaking to his assistant.