1973. I needed to do this first one, BAD! I had some 40 poems I wanted to share with the world and it was a new adventure for me. I’d only been writing since 1970 while listening nights to Neil Diamond while freelancing from home as an illustrator after doing the same at SERL days (Sanitary Engineering
Research Lab, at the University of California Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station) after our kids Cathy and Christopher had gone to bed.
I designed the book in my self-employed Graphics & Design office in Walnut Creek, contracted with a local printer and printed 1,000 copies; saddle-stitched, all Strathmore paper with Palatino text. I did it to fit an accompanying A-6 envelope so it was maybe 4”x 6.” I also invited brother Tómas to shoot the cover photo as well as some internal shots. I was Sunday Service Chair person at Unity Center on Geary Road in Walnut Creek, so being known there helped sell maybe 250 copies through their bookstore. I contacted all the little shops and boutiques in Walnut Creek, Danville, and Alamo and sold it for $5 on a 60-40 split, 40 percent to the shop. I also made display stands of aged barn wood to elevate the books above the flat sea of other books on shop tables. After six months of this adventure, I returned to my self-employed day job having sold a few copies, had a review by Maggie Crum of the Contra Costa Times, and having done a one-hour evening reading at Unity Center. Far wiser now but gave away the rest of the printed quantity over the next several years. BUT…still wanted to do it all again the following year when my poetry writing continued to gallop forward.
1982. Other things in life intervened, so the second chapbook took awhile to see the light of day. So I did it as a class project in my Book Design class at UC Extension Berkeley in pursuit of their Graphic Design Certificate. Great fun! These were pre-computer years, so all the work was done with conventional techniques, tissue overlays, spec’d and waxed type, Amberlith photo windows, etc (Received an A in the class!) Wiser to sales now, I printed only 500 quantity and when I landed in Benicia to live in 1983, I made sure the City Library got a copy as did the very progressive then-Mayor Marilyn Citron O’Rourke. I did not give a Hoot about selling copies but gave them freely to friends and family and other poets I’d met. In time, they were all gone.
2008. Our poetry pioneer and mentor in Benicia, the late Joel Fallon had offered his poetry website to us, the Benicia First Tuesday Poets, and eagerly we emailed our poems to Joel and he uploaded them. Yippee! By this time, we were also swarming with poetry activity in Benicia, largely conceived of by Joel, and it was all a HOOT: Poets’ Picnic in the City Park, Love Poetry Contest at the Camel Barn, and Joel had become our first Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2008. By this time, I had also survived or escaped the corporate world and the 3-year period of sewer-cleaning roots from three Bay Area counties and was amassing a heady bunch of work poems at Joel’s website. One day Joel emailed me: “Peter, you really ought to do a chapbook on your work poems. There’s some fine stuff here!” I responded with, “Thanks, Joel, been there, done that twice, but I’ve found No Pot of Gold with chapbooks, so it ain’t gonna happen.”
But he persisted. Joel was a Sweetheart to the end. He started laying out a book for me on his computer and sending me poem pages to proof… “Oh, Joel…it ain’t gonna happen…” OK, OK, so I cranked up my then-home Macintosh System 9.3-something, complete with scanner and HP black and white printer, bought some specialty paper stock at a local paper house, and did the multipage layout myself, with tasteful front and back matter, drove out 20 or 30 copies from my home printer. Yes, I also got a long-arm stapler per Joel’s advice, and had 100 or so copies of a cover printed locally and then hand-stapled 20 to 30 copies to distribute locally. Dedicated inside to my pal, Joel Fallon. I distributed them to friends and family. The Earth did not shake or revolve any differently that I noticed in the next few years.
Some years later Joel treated me to my second chapbook that he bought from a Library BASEMENT Sale. I did not ask him what he paid for it, but I’m guessing 10-25 cents! “You mean the LIBRARY DOESN’T WANT MY EARLY STUFF?”
Peter Bray lives, writes, and works in Benicia
and has written this column since 2008.