The Poetry Collection

So, I have this poetry collection coming out?

You can hear the hesitation with which I write that. I trained myself, over many years, to take compliments well. When someone said “You look beautiful,” I learned to say “Thank you.” (I didn’t train myself to believe it, but I did train myself not to say something like, “Oh, but I looked dreadful this morning, you should see me when I first wake up.”) I think I need to train myself to talk about my poetry in the same way, so I can say “I have a poetry collection coming out” as though it were a normal thing, as though I didn’t worry about it terribly.

Why do I worry about it? Because I’ve never in my life had confidence in myself as a poet. No, wait, I did have confidence once, when I was in high school. Back then, I wrote poetry constantly and confidently. I published some of it in the school poetry magazine. It was college that created problems for me, specifically the poetry classes I took at the University of Virginia. UVA has a famous creative writing program, with famous poets teaching in it. And, I’m sure without intending it or perhaps even realizing it, they convinced me that what I wrote was not worth writing.

Here, by the way, is the poetry collection, and I can tell you that I’m very proud of it. It’s forthcoming from the wonderful Papaveria Press.

Songs for Ophelia-Tangerine-lilac.indd

In my literature classes, we studied poetry from all eras. But in creative writing classes, we were expected to read modern poetry, and to appreciate modern poets specifically. A lot of what we were reading, I simply did not like, but I got the distinct sense that I was supposed to write that sort of thing. (I should say, here, that there is a great deal of modern poetry I love, if by modern we mean 20th century. But we were reading the poetry of the 1970s and 80s, and I had a difficult time getting excited about any of it. Contemporary poetry feels more spacious now than it did back then.)

The last poetry class I took was with a famousish poet, the kind of poet who gets into all the anthologies. My first poem was about a woman who has dragons moving into her house — small ones, that get “tangled in her hangers.” I remember those words from the poem. When we critiqued it, my classmates couldn’t understand what I was trying to do — why dragons? They were, of course, a metaphor — but I wasn’t treating them as a metaphor in an obvious way, just writing about what a pain it was to have dragons (small ones) in your house.

That class didn’t stop me from writing poetry. I kept writing and even publishing poetry, all through law school. (I published poetry before I published prose.) But I didn’t talk about it, as though poetry were some sort of disease it was best not to discuss too much. I was surprised when people liked my poems — it’s been a surprise to me, over the last few years, that they’ve been reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and that editors like Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow ask me for poems. The greatest surprise was when, with great trepidation, I posted some poems on Facebook and people told me how much they liked them — shared them with friends, commented.

And now I have this poetry collection coming out, so I’m determined to talk about it.

It’s not polite to write about poetry without including some, so here is a poem that should be appropriate for the season:

Autumn, the Fool

The leaves float on the water like patches of motley.
Autumn, the fool, has dropped them into the lake,
where they rival the costume, not of the staid brown duck,
but the splendid drake.

He capers down the lanes in his ragged garments,
a comical figure shedding last year’s leaves,
but as he passes the crickets begin their wailing
and the chipmunk grieves.

The willow bends down to watch herself in the water
and shivers at the sight of her yellow hair.
Autumn the fool has passed her, and soon her branches
will be bare.

By the way, if you’re interested in the collection, it’s meant as a companion to my short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting, which is being reissued by Papaveria Press in a beautiful new edition:

Forest of Forgetting

It’s going to be available in paperback and is already available for the Kindle and in epub and mobi versions.

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18 Responses to The Poetry Collection

  1. David Dorais says:

    I prefer haiku, especially that rythmes in English…Also, If we ever meet in person, I would prefer the “oh, but I…” retort since I am a follower of Radical Honesty (tp book; Brad Blanton, PhD., 1996, Dell Trade). I’ve seen photos of you with and without cosmetics and frankly prefer the un-made-up face–its way more attractive (and in keeping with radical honesty, more real)…

    • Jessica Hilt says:

      Does Radical Honesty mean “act like an ass”? Your unsolicited opinion on someone’s face and what you find more attractive is hardly “honest”. It’s self-centered and inappropriate.

    • David, please stop commenting on my blog. I blocked you on Facebook because your personal comments on my appearance were inappropriate. They’re just as inappropriate here, and I would prefer it if you did not comment here anymore. You need to go focus your attention somewhere else.

  2. Best wishes for a successful launch of this book. Great cover: it goes well with the great cover of the short story collection which I noted here in my blog:


  3. Danny Adams says:

    I’d say your prose is plenty poetic as well.

  4. Carina Bissett says:

    Autumn: the Fool is absolutely stunning. You are a beautiful poet. I look forward to reading your collection.

  5. Freyalynf says:

    that poem is lovely. And I am adoring ‘Forests of Forgetting’…

  6. I am always in a way, the little girl who fell in love with poetry and fiercely wanted to
    know, “How do they do that?” A lifetime and I’m still not sure, but it doesn’t matter
    very much. I have no idea how you compose these alluring poems; I just love them.

  7. Dana says:

    Glad you persevered beyond your poetry “lessons.” I had the same experience just critiquing poetry, so gave up reading OR writing it for 40+ years. I read and write for my own pleasure now. Congratulations to you.

  8. I appreciated reading how you struggled to balance the relationship between your poetry and your professional authorship. I started out writing haiku as a joke and it was only later, upon reflection, that I began to appreciate how writing poetry made me feel: how it could give me a moment of peace and mindfulness: But it’s taken me a long time to discover that through my poetry I can find ways to blur the lines between my personal and professional lives and acknowledge my authorship as something real: something I value: Regardless of whether others value it too.

  9. Phoenix says:

    I’m really happy you continue to write poetry, despite any reservations you might feel (from past school experiences and the like). It gives me hope as a young writer who dabbles in poetry every now and then and feels rather unsure about her attempts as well. I love your poem “The Bear’s Daughter” in particular, it has a very visceral feel to the language.

    I’ve always wanted a copy of “In The Forest of Forgetting,” but have had a frustrating time trying to find a copy at the local bookstores. This new edition looks wonderful, I can’t wait to get a copy of both the short story collection and your poetry collection. Are the cover illustrations to those books by Viriginia Lee, by chance?

  10. Joel LeBlanc says:

    When I studied creative writing at University I noticed the same thing — what I wrote was not considered “literary” enough, and the teachers didn’t see the point of speculative fiction or poetry. Luckily the writer in residence at that time was a fantasy author herself (Gemmell award-winner, Helen Lowe) and she was very supportive of what I wanted to write about. In the end I just decided that those teachers who weren’t supportive of me, weren’t my target audience.

    I for one would love to read the poem about the dragons. What a delightful image! The idea of them tangled in the hangers really made me smile.

    • I don’t even know where it is, and I’m sure it’s not at the level I would want to write and publish now. 🙂 But I have a sneaking fondness for it, partly because it bothered people so much . . .

  11. CE says:

    I really like the illustrations. Who is the artist?

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