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from Oxford University Press

how the light

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Pat's poem, Barry Moser's illustration. Proceeds to AWA outreach. For the text of the poem, click here.

To hear Pat read the poem, click here.

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I am thinking these days about publishing, and my current mentor is “The Little Red Hen.” Listen up, girls and boys. You never get too old to have new understandings.  I’ll be 83 in a couple of weeks (how did this happen!!??), and so I know whereof I speak.  The Little Red Hen is teaching me something important.  For those of you too young to know her, she is the star of an old English or Russian folk tale, first published as a “Golden Book” on October 1, 1942, when I was eight years old.  I think she has always been important to me, but my clearest memories of her are of reading her story to my children. The Little Red Hen is quite elderly now.  No telling when she was born into folklore!  More about her later.

I have just finished a manuscript of a new book of poems – my sixth, all five before this one published in the small press that I founded, Amherst Writers & Artists Press.  I didn’t intend to found a press, but there was a young poet in one of my writing workshops who was writing amazing, brilliant poems, but very great trouble was going on in her life and I feared that she might kill herself.  I watched her sit in my rocking chair writing to the rhythm of her rocking, and I was frightened for her.  One evening when she was absent, I asked in the workshop if any of the participants knew where I could get money enough to publish a book of her poems, thinking maybe that would balance all the troubles she was facing, and help her want to live.  One of the women gave me enough money to do two chapbooks, and so we published chapbooks by two women, and voila! Amherst Writers & Artists Press was born. (And the rocking chair poet is alive and well!) Now, all these years later, we have published forty books, and have more waiting publication.  Five of those have been my own books.

As I was putting last touches on my new manuscript, The Weight of Love, getting it ready to send off to a large publisher in New York City, I realized that I have never done this before.  I’ve sent poems to journals and magazines, I’ve even entered a few contests, but I’ve never, ever, sent a book manuscript to anyone.  Why? I asked myself.  Instantly I knew the answer:  all my life, since I wrote my first poems at age ten, what I have wanted to be was a poet.  I didn’t dream of being a teacher, or an editor, or a writer of books to help others write.  I wanted to be a poet. I endured (and still do!) the inevitable fifteen or more rejections for every acceptance by journals and magazines, but I was afraid that the poet in me would not survive the rejection of a whole book of my poems. So I never tried.

Now I have finished a new book, poems that I believe are the best I’ve ever written, and in waddles The Little Red Hen.  She doesn’t look a day older than when I first met her seventy some years ago.  Same perky tail feathers, same bright eye.  She finds a grain of wheat and goes asking other animals in the barnyard who will help her plant the seed, grow the harvest, grind the flour to make a cake, bake it, frost it and decorate it.  The answer to each question, by each animal, is “Not I.”  And each time, The Little Red Hen says, “I will, then.”  Finally the cake is done.  It is beautiful.  It is a masterpiece.  And she asks who would like to help her eat it.  They all volunteer their help.  And she says, “I will.” And she does.

I have sent off my book.  I have done my homework.  I have been rejected and accepted by journals, I have published five books of my own poems, and now I am a mentee of The Little Red Hen.  I am asking, “Who will publish my book?”  If they all say “No,”  I will say, “I will do it, then.”  And I will.

The moral of the story is obvious.  For all the things we mourn about publishing these days (the loss of local bookstores, “fake news” of the death of books, etc., etc.) there are a few good things.  Self-publishing is no longer considered bad taste.  We can do this; it is good for us to have our work honored by our friends and neighbors, good for us to do it ourselves.  It is good for us and for others when small groups of writers form their own presses and publish one another’s work.  The old system that claimed being a writer depended upon publication by an established press – is dead.  Publication is available; by shopping around, one can individually have book excellently, beautifully published  — only a few copies, or a great number, at very modest cost.  Send your manuscript off and ask, but don’t stop there.  When you get tired of the answer, “Not I,” perk up your feathers, put the gleam back in your eye, and say, “I will do it then.”

5 Responses to Lessons from The Little Red Hen

  • Helen Sears says:

    When this book is accepted and published, which it will be, please let us know so we can purchase copies. Most of us know our own “rocking chair poets” in need of Pat Schneider encouragement and tangible proof that the “truth that lies between the feet of the dragon” can dared to be put not only into words, but poetic lines.

    • Pat Schneider says:

      Hi Helen, Thanks for responding, and for the kind and encouraging agreement with me that “it will be” (by self if not by others!!) Seven of the poems in the new book were published in the January 2017 issue of “The Sun” — a portion of a longer poem in the book. Happy summertime!

  • Laurie Baron says:

    Pat, your words come at a perfect time for me. I have a stack of poems that I’m determined will be published soon, and this summer is my time to research the options. Thanks to you and the Little Red Hen for these encouraging, empowering words!

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Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.