COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: 6 Days (Juggling Genres)
Written by
Sandra Beasley
March 2010
Written by
Sandra Beasley
March 2010
My second poetry collection, I Was the Jukebox, won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize (selected by Joy Harjo) and will be launched into the world on April 5, 2010 by W. W. Norton. Less than a week to go! I should be getting a haircut. Stocking up on champagne. Hanging the streamers. Except that instead of focusing on an exciting debut, I'm pondering a looming deadline. The next portion of my memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, happens to be due to my editor at Crown on...April 5. When it rains, it pours. I never planned to become a nonfiction writer. Poetry is my first love. But I proposed Don't Kill the Birthday Girl because, with every year, more people's lives are shaped by food allergies. I've made it to adulthood despite severe allergies since birth (milk, egg, soy, tree nuts, mango, cucumber, beef, shrimp, and the list goes on). If I were a lawyer, I'd be an advocate in the courts. If I were a teacher, I'd be an advocate in the schools. I'm a writer. So if a literary conversation needs to be had about the facts, the challenges, and the cultural issues of food allergies, it's my job to start the conversation. As you can imagine, this is very different from my approach to poetry. I'll be honest: juggling genres is hard. For example, I'm a midnight-hour poet. I like to move through a day, tumbling a line or phrase over and over in my head like a pebble in a rock polisher, enjoying the secret of it. Only after the rest of the world has gone to bed do I sit down, with glass of scotch, and start writing. A nonfiction session usually consists of waking up, bolting for the laptop--no making the bed, no getting dressed, no checking my email--and jumping in before the to-do list gets a hold of my day. If I remember to make a cup of coffee, it'll probably go cold before I remember to take a sip. I'm not some poetic sea nymph, coaxing a pearl from a grain of sand; I'm an architect, building a house. I have notes. I have sources. I have outlines. I have word counts. If you've figured out a way to be both a night owl and an early bird, will you let me know? Meanwhile, those to-do list items continue waving their fingers at me: a plane ticket to book, an AWP booksigning to promote, two phone calls to return. With a poetry book on the way this, too, is all part of being a writer. This doesn't even begin to broach the philosophical intricacies of moving from poetry to prose: forging a new style of sentence, a different pacing of narrative, a standard for what is journalistically "true" versus what is emotionally honest. Sometimes I worry that I'm harvesting so many memories for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl that I'll pick the oyster bed clean, leaving no seeds for next year's growth. What if no one likes it? What if I've spent years developing my credibility as a poet, only to fumble it on a third book that labels me a mediocre prose writer? You'd think this would be a time of holding my head high, but the truth is that I'm deep in the trenches. April 5, April 5, April 5. The march continues. April 6? Okay. Maybe on April 6, there will be some dancing.

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  • Gerry Miller

    So glad I discovered you here! I'm a poet with food sensitivities (causing migraine but not deadly) and am eager for your book to be available. Food limitations certainly do effect our social lives. I'm delighted to read about your successful writing career!

  • Victoria Mixon

    Sandra, thank you for all your advice and insight. You've been so generous. Good luck with your memoir!

  • Sandra Beasley

    What a helpful and encouraging comment, Lisa! Much appreciated.

  • Lisa Rivero

    What an exciting time for you! I know what you mean about mixing genres. Most of my writing has been non-fiction, and I'm currently learning to switch to marketing a work of children's fiction and also dipping into creative non-fiction. I'm an early bird, not a night owl, and I'm finding that I need to do the creative non-fiction and fiction first thing in the morning. I can fit the other work in later in the day, but I never seem to get back to the more creative work if I don't do it right away.

    In terms of picking the oyster bed clean, I read some advice awhile ago that changed my approach to writing forever: Whatever you are writing, give it all you've got. Writing begets writing, and the more we reach into those depths, the deeper our well and the more paths we discover that we otherwise would not have found. Now I give all I have to everything I write without holding back (well, most of the time), and somehow there is always more there for tomorrow.

    P.S. Make time for a little dancing today. You deserve it.