In 2007 I spent seven months living alone in a cabin completely off the grid, two hours down a dirt road from the nearest town, along the Rogue River in southern Oregon. It was bliss. Without internet or a phone, I wiled away my days reading through the boxes of books I’d carted in with me, dozing in the hammock with Rilke cracked open across my chest, nobody to interrupt my quiet contemplation of verse except for my dog. Not only was I free to read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, but there was no workshop or classroom or friendly coffee-time pal to tell me what to think of what I was reading either. For the first time in my life I was able to draw my own conclusions—both about what I read and what I wrote—completely free of even the most minor outside interference. And this was exactly what I needed: After two years in an MFA program, I was sick of other people’s voices making recommendations about their favorite authors or chiming in with their opinions on the latest new collections. I sat in that hammock and soaked up all the quiet I could.
But seven months later it was a different story. When I returned to civilization, my appetite for conversation and debate had returned, and I was starved for all those yammering voices I’d sworn off months ago. I wanted to be introduced to poets I’d never heard of, to be pushed towards work I might not be drawn to on my own—I wanted my tastes and opinions to be challenged by other readers and writers, and so I returned happily to the world of writing groups and poetry book clubs, of blogs and online reviews, and, most especially, the world of literary magazines big and small, print or online. Here were the voices I’d been missing: those of editors, reviewers, and enthusiastic readers. Again and again they directed me towards work I never would have come across on my own. I read everything I’d been missing out on, and then came the best part of all: I sat down with friends to talk about what I’d read, and to hear what they had to share, as well.
The poets whose work you’ll read in this guest edited column on Connotation Press came to me in the way I enjoy best: indirectly and by surprise. One poet is also an editor, and I came to discover her work first by submitting mine for her perusal. Another poet took first place in a competition where I came in second, and I was lucky enough to experience her work for the first time in person at an awards ceremony. Another poet handed me her book at AWP free of charge, simply because she wanted to share it with me. And another I met through my broker in San Francisco when I was searching for an apartment to rent: “You’re a poet?” the broker said. “I have another client who’s a poet! I’ll have to introduce you.” I rolled my eyes then, but not later when I had the chance to read this poet’s work. And, of course, social media has brought many poets I hadn’t yet read to my attention: I was gifted with the work of another poet here because a friend of mine posted one of her poems on my Facebook page with a note saying it reminded him of me. These were all gifts—of luck, of recommendation, of fabulous coincidence.
As much as I loved my time in the woods, the silence there was sometimes deafening. Without the enthusiasm of the readers and writers around us, it can be difficult to step into the work of a poet we’ve never encountered before or whose poems don’t fit the type we’re usually drawn to. I’ve spent the last year serving as the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, and I’ve loved the job—excited students, generous colleagues, and a strange little town where my neighbor mows his lawn in his Union soldier uniform. But it’s been quiet here, too. When I arrived last August, I didn’t have a soul with whom I could discuss poetry, and I spent the fall feeling strangely isolated in my reading. As usual, my dog wasn’t interested in being the other half of the conversation. But in the spring three of my colleagues and I formed a poetry book club, and I began again to read poems that surprised me—the sort I never would have come across on my own. And that is what I hope the following selection of poems does for you: I am grateful that chance brought the work of these eight poets into my life, and I know that you, too, will delight in the ringing of their voices today.