Behind the Scenes: Publishing an Anthology
Stepping Outside Our Comfort Zone with COVID Spring: Granite State Pandemic Poems
When we teamed up with New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary to publish the first volume of COVID Spring, we had no idea what to expect. The project made sense in theory—something monumental was happening in April of 2020, and it seemed likely that people would turn to writing as a way of confronting and coping with the pandemic. What we didn't know—and what kept me up at night before the submissions started rolling in—was whether the unease and unpredictability of everything going on in those first few weeks would deter people from submitting.
Though we've published many poetry books over the years (including fourteen volumes of our Granite State Poetry Series), poetry anthologies are somewhat new to us. We did publish Poet Showcase in 2015, but that project was a little different—instead of putting out a call for submissions, editors Alice B. Fogel and Sidney Hall Jr. drew from poems already selected by past NH Poets Laureate Patricia Fargnoli and Walter Butts. The project was complex (we were working with 117 poets in total), but we couldn't have been more thrilled with the finished book.
Hobblebush Books is a small company, and we only have the bandwidth to put out a few titles each year. This means that the books we select are rigorously scrutinized to make sure they're a good fit for our catalog and publishing plans. Almost all of the books we publish come to us as fully formed manuscripts. With an anthology like this, that isn't the case.
Which led to another lingering question: what if all the poems we received were "doom and gloom," so to speak? It would be reasonable, of course; optimism was hard to come by in April of 2020. But surely there were positive things happening in the world as well. How could we present the full picture to readers if we only received half of it?
I'm not saying these what-ifs kept me up at night. Alex's idea of documenting what was happening in New Hampshire at the beginning of the pandemic was spot on, and I was honored that she wanted to partner with Hobblebush to bring this book to life; I'm not sure I could've said "YES" any faster. But when you take on a new project in such uncertain times, there are bound to be a few lingering worries.
When the submission period ended and we began reading, my concerns melted away. We received submissions from over 100 Granite State writers, many of whom were dipping their toes into poetry for the very first time. And while some poems spoke of loneliness and loss, others sang of hope, grace, and levity. Take this excerpt from Dan Szczesny's poem, "These Times":
Later, fresh bread crackles
my daughter leans down, her ear
an inch from the singing brown crust.
That's just 'cause it's hot, Daddy
but she smiles, and the evening slides
again into another day together.
And I think that maybe
she'll remember this all as something
important, maybe it will be her best time.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and yet, outside the kitchen window
the air itself continues to rage.
The poems Alex selected for publication painted a unique, nuanced picture of what was happening in New Hampshire at the time. I was thrilled that Hobblebush could help bring the project to life, and I'm excited to be partnering with Alex once again for the second volume of COVID Spring.
When I originally mentioned the follow-up book to friends and family, I was met with a question—Don't you think people are tired of writing about the pandemic? Maybe. We're tired of social distancing, of masks, fear, and daily case numbers. But I think we're writing for another reason—one that US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo pinpointed:
". . . when I began to listen to poetry, it's when I began to listen to the stones, and I began to listen to what the clouds had to say, and I began to listen to others. And I think most importantly for all of us, then you begin to learn to listen to the soul, the soul of yourself in here, which is also the soul of everyone else."
Whatever your reason for writing—whether your poems are rooted in hope, healing, or loss—I hope you'll submit to volume II of COVID Spring. Help us paint another picture of New Hampshire during these strange times.
The deadline is June 15—hope to hear from you soon.