We interrupt our regularly scheduled stream of illustrated haiku for a special message:
UnSong, my collection of illustrated poems (which does contain some haiku but also has free verse, sonnets, etc.), will be published on Friday, April 30! I’ve already seen a hard copy proof and it’s pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.
And I don’t totally have to say so myself. I’ve been lucky enough to get some glowing advance reviews for UnSong from poets and writers I respect a great deal. Of course, I’m going to smash all of them onto the back cover (I already have and I’m hoping the type will be big enough to read…) But I also wanted to take some moments to brag a little and explain why each of these advance reviews means so much to me. So this week, I’ll be putting up early reviews from these wonderful, talented people so you’ll feel more confident when you go to buy UnSong.
Here’s one from the best poet you may never have heard of but should:
UnSong by Michelle Garren Flye is a wicked-smart mash up of verse and graphic art. Early in the book, an elegy to Ruth Bader Ginsberg is paired with a portrait of a woman in a black dress, seen from behind, her arms raised as if to enthrall an unseen crowd. Later, a brilliant untitled haiku takes as its subject our “Covid Days.” My favorite work in the book is a piece called River Bones: “… water rolls back to caress and cover the river’s bones with the touch of a lover …” Illustrated poetry books are hard to get right. UnSong nails it, the book rising above any limitations of the format. Buy this book!
—Dennis Mahagin, author of Grand Mal, and Longshot & Ghazal
I’ve “known” Dennis for several years. We’re both what I consider graduates of an online writers group called Zoetrope. Dennis was one of the first poets I knew in real/online life that I became a fan of. His poems are edgy and true, with a sprinkling of genius in some of the ways he uses words that I have never been able to capture in my own work. So he was one of the first people I approached with a request for a blurb. When he responded with the above paragraph, I felt a little like I’d won a prize or hit the best-seller list or…something pretty awesome.
If you want to check out some of Dennis’s work (and I do encourage it), Google him for some of his many online publishing credits, but you can also find his collection Grand Mal on Amazon, and he has a tumbler blog.
Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating by writing, but not just writing. I’m writing whatever I want. I’m also going back and reading some of what I’ve written in the past. If that sounds like self-gratification, keep in mind that I write what I want to read. It’s the main reason I enjoy it so much.
But I wanted to share another little bit from UnSong. I’m still working hard on the illustrations, and I’ve done most of the easy ones (and by that, I mean the ones that lend themselves to illustration more easily—they have a definite image. Poetry being poetry, not all of the poems in my volume do…or the image they have is a bit difficult for a novice artist like me to put on the page.
My point is, I’m getting there. The book is taking definite shape now. And I’m using Scrivener to build it, so I’m kind of proud of that, too.
Whatever else 2020 has done for me—to me?—it’s definitely forced me to take a serious look at what I’m doing with my creative life. Do I really want to continue writing romantic fluff for the rest of my life?
I’ve got something much fluffier in mind.
Actually, it’s not. That’s the other thing I’ve discovered. I used to adore comic books. During my teenage and college years, I devoured Micronauts. When I was a kid, Richie Rich was the bomb. If I wasn’t reading them, I was rummaging around my older brother’s room looking for his most recent purchases. I stole them quite often and returned them much the worse for wear.
Well, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my daughter recently returned me to this world rather forcefully by introducing me to My Hero Academia, the anime. Binge-watching all four seasons of that (and even writing a fanfiction or two in that universe) not being enough, I also picked up the manga. And something clicked.
Why not do my own graphic novel?
Oh indeed. Why not? Why not paint the Mona Lisa or sculpt Michelangelo’s David? Why not build a suspension bridge or a skyscraper?
For one thing, I’m not an artist. But my daughter is. Hey, daughter, want to draw a couple hundred pics for a graphic novel I’m going to self-publish and probably not make any money off of? For FREEE?
Yeah. That was her answer.
But the itch wouldn’t go away. I have the concept. I wrote the story (which, as a bonus includes some of my poetry). And guess what? I’m now drawing. It’s interesting to say the least. I’m using my photographs, some basic drawing techniques and making a lot of mistakes. My daughter taught me how to use Ibis Paint and is serving as my “Art Director”.
And, as luck would have it, a lovely and talented watercolor artist Barb Williams (http://www.findjoywithwatercolorpainting.com) came into my store shortly after I conceived of the idea. We started talking and she wound up painting the cover illustration for my soon?-to-be graphic novel. I sent that illustration on to my cover designer, the delightful and multitalented Farah Evers (http://faraheversdesigns.com) and I now have this to announce:
Like many I fell for a Facebook trend recently which consisted of posting your senior photo in support of this year’s graduating class. I don’t actually have my senior photo anymore because it was a few years ago, but I do have my old yearbook, so I pulled it out and took a pic of my old photo. And posted it with some encouraging words for this year’s seniors who are basically missing out on a pretty fun part of their lives while we take our corona break.
But I started thinking. Was that post more about me than it was the seniors? Probably. I mean, I looked good at 18. We all looked better than we do now, let’s be honest. I got a lot of nice comments on the photo, too, and those are always good. But how in the hell was it supposed to make today’s seniors feel better?
So, as an act of contrition, I wrote a poem, and not just any poem, either. An Italian sonnet, which is widely regarded as a difficult form. Here goes:
A walk after rain is often enlightening. A walk after rain in the spring never fails to bring to mind e.e. cummings. A walk after rain while thinking of e.e. cummings will either bring inspiration…or make you feel like a dullard. I’ve had it both ways, but I still like to try.
April 9, 2020
Inspiration After the Storm
By Michelle Garren Flye
This is my favorite part.
After the storm,
When the world comes back to life.
The birds sing their
I walk quiet
Through the mud-
Cummings warned me about.
Careful. Feel it?
For the words
For the waiting photo
But all I see is the mess after the storm.
Leaves and branches
My dog stops to watch as a bird bathes in a puddle—
In April 2017, I began writing poetry. As in writing a poem a day for all thirty days of National Poetry Month. I don’t even know why. I had never thought of myself as a poet. I’m not a classically trained one, anyway. My degrees are in journalism and library science. The only things I know about rhyme and rhythm and meter are the little bit I remember from high school—and what I feel in my heart.
Since April 2017, which I now realize was almost three years ago, I have written poetry often, usually to vent something, political or personal. I’ve taught a few elementary poetry classes to kids because I still remember the first time I read e.e. cummings’s “in just—” and I wanted to share that with them. I’ve read and written poetry for more than one voice, which is not something I learned in school. I’ve played with rhyming and not rhyming, sometimes in the same poem. I’ve written prose poetry and limericks and haiku. (Haiku, done properly, is much harder than you might think.)
Last year, I published a little booklet of my poetry because a friend had passed away and I wanted to dedicate something beautiful to her memory. I chose fourteen of my favorite poems, formatted them with some of my photography and sent them off to a printer. I have given away more of those booklets than I’ve sold (it’s only available at my bookstore).
And that’s what poetry is to me, really. It’s meant to share. I’m more than happy to charge you $9 for one of my romances, but poetry, to me, is something different. Most of what I write goes on my blog, if I think it’s any good. I’ve only ever tried to submit it to poetry magazines or contests once or twice, more because I wanted to share with a wider audience than anything.
So, you might imagine my surprised delight when I was notified yesterday that I am a finalist for the title of 2020 Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate. This means I have the opportunity to present my poetry and my view of poetry to an audience at the historic Turnage Theatre in less than a month. I’m thrilled, rattled, uncertain, ecstatic and pretty sure the selection committee sent the email to the wrong person, but at the same time, I’m gonna go for it. This is a huge honor for me, as well as the opportunity to express my love for this art form.