THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “YETI,” BY RICHARD EDDE AND “SICILIAN LOVES,” BY BENEDICT J. DiSALVO, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.
THE BOOK: Year of the Poets.
PUBLISHED IN: 2014
THE AUTHOR: Jon Ballard.
THE EDITOR: Jessica Knauss & Jan Holmes Frost.
THE PUBLISHER: Loose Leaves Publishing. From their website: “An independent publisher of quality fiction and non-fiction books, founded in 2012, and based in Tucson, Arizona.”
SUMMARY: From the back cover:
It’s the bicentennial year of 1976 at the Davenport Summer Retreat for Artists, and fifty-nine-year-old Arthur Honeyman—lothario, vagabond, carpenter and, above all, renowned versifier—has his hands full: carrying on simultaneous affairs with two poetesses, composing his first new manuscript of poems in years, and vacillating between making contact with his estranged adult son, Pablo, or just letting him be. Along the way, Honeyman’s conviction that there are two kinds of people—“those who hold onto things, and those who get on with things”—will be put to the test, and he’ll finally have to decide which kind of person he wants to be.
Inhabited by restless, searching people, Year of the Poets segues between northern Michigan, Mexico City, and points beyond. Set in the not-so-distant past of Cold War politics, typewriters, rotary phones, and handwritten missives, it’s a story about the push and pull of kith and kin, as well as the burdens of sentimentality, memory, and denial that weigh upon us all.
THE BACK STORY: I decided to write what eventually became Year of the Poets while sitting beside a neighborhood pool, watching my two young girls frolic in ankle-deep water one scorching afternoon. I’d brought my laptop and a notepad, fussing over rough character sketches, lacking anything like a cohesive idea for a story. I only knew the main characters would be poets, nothing about the world they would inhabit. Suddenly the setting for the novel—an artist’s retreat—came to me. This quickly became the organizing principle of my would-be manuscript, and in that moment, with my daughters’ shouts and giggles and splashes like musical accompaniment, I began drafting. From that sudden beginning, the drafting process came in fits and starts over a two-year period. Much of that work was accomplished at coffee shops in Fort Mill, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina. I always seemed to be searching for some combination of free Wi-Fi, a good cup of coffee, and my muse.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Year of the Poets came to me at the beginning of the drafting process—shortly after that day at the pool. There really never was another “working title” for the manuscript. Having the title in hand so early on not only helped to clarify my intentions, it established a literal time-line for the narrative.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? This question is hard for me to wrap my head around. It may seem counterintuitive, but while composing a work intended to be read by others, I can’t say I ever gave them a thought; I didn’t consciously consider the “reader,” only my own interests and intentions. (To be fair, just trying to imagine my manuscript getting published was enough heavy freight to bear, let alone presuming flesh-and-blood readers and what they might want!) In the end, you could say I wrote the sort of novel I would want to read: one that privileges the human element over plot theatrics, that explores the sideways nature of love and desire, and that ultimately (and hopefully) feels like a worthy use of time you’re never going to get back again. REVIEW COMMENTS: A review of Year of the Poets can be found at Kirkus Reviews via the following link: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jon-ballard/year-of-the-poets/
AUTHOR PROFILE: Here’s a poem I published in Cimarron Review a few years back that does as good a job as any of explaining who I am and where I come from:
FRESH AIR, 1971.
Monster’s heinous stride, thunder tracked us then.
Nerve, appetite, we braved raucous blocks, brown-
bagged salami and cheese heavy as rucksacks.
Slickers and black buckle-boots the lot. Rain
we tasted foundry in. Later, lunch scraps lured
crows our rocks scarcely hit. Windows could still open:
boys stuck their heads through to spit
whenever teachers stepped out of rooms. Gours
that school loved us. We pledged. Map of Michigan our mitten,
we pointed where we came from.
No money trees, adults chided, but the foundry
lasted fifty years and kept lunch pails in white
bread, pickled baloney, spam if men could bear it.
Good grades would get us in, or else a foreman
someone’s father’s uncle knew. Recess, we
watched those stacks spew what we’d tongue
later walking home. Our mothers barked weekends
to go outside and get fresh air: we hung on clotheslines,
hiked without permission to the old
asylum. Glad to gasp some danger. Lungful.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Thematically, I was interested in the borderline between self-delusion and self-discovery, as well as the damage nostalgia and selective memory can inflict on our ability to navigate the here and now. I decided I’d try to consider these ideas through a particular breed of flawed souls: poets. I also thought it important to set the story in a time (1976) untouched by cellphones and texting, when letter-writing was still an essential tool of communication. More importantly for the story, it was a time when women were still far more shackled by convention than they are today. I was also interested in exploring different modes of love: the familial love between father/son and brothers; romantic love, straight and gay/bi; and the less obvious but vital love between friends. It’s not all intended to be deadly serious, and I hope a sense of humor comes through in the reading throughout. Good intentions….
SAMPLE CHAPTER: The prologue and most of the first two chapters of Year of the Poets can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Year-Poets-Novel-Jon-Ballard-ebook/dp/B00KJO2D9I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526157062&sr=8-1&keywords=year+of+the+poets+Jon+ballard
LOCAL OUTLETS: Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan continues to carry Year of the Poets on their shelves. It may very well be the only bookstore in America that does… (It’s a great independent bookshop in a great American town!) If anyone out there reading this decides to give my novel a chance, please consider purchasing from Brilliant Books specifically, or through IndieBound in general, in support of independent booksellers.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: On-line at Amazon, Barnes & noble, and various independent bookstores through IndieBound.org.
PRICE: Brilliant Books: $18.95; IndieBound: $19.95; Amazon: $19.95 (trade), $0.99 (Kindle).
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Please feel free to contact me through my website, jpballard.com, via the contact page.”