The AWP Conference was in Minneapolis in April of 2015. Per usual, I drove to the event carrying books and displays for the Main Street Rag booth. I stopped at the North American Review table to talk to Jeremy Schraffenberger. I proposed a panel that was accepted for the North American Review Conference in June of that year. It occurred to me that many of the books I would bring for that event would be in my truck as I left the AWP. Going through Cedar Falls only added an hour to my drive, and Jeremy let me stop at his house and leave several boxes. This left the door open for adventure, the opportunity to take a long motorcycle ride from Charlotte, NC to the event in Cedar Falls.
The poem the editors of North American Review chose to publish, “When You Think of Hannibal, MO,” captures a scene from that ride. In fact, that ride became the foundation for my most recent poetry book, Just Passing Through, which was published by Paycock Press and released earlier this year.
Including that ride, I logged about 14K miles riding through the Midwest. You can’t really keep a notebook in your lap or on the seat beside you when you’re operating a motorcycle, but there’s tons of time to think, to lean inward with your thoughts. I played lines and phrases over and over in my head until I had a chance to take a break and write them down. You have to get off the bike every two hours or so for fuel anyway.
As a publisher and an editor, I spend most of my time working on other writers’ work. When I’m at conferences, I’m the guy at the table entertaining the masses and don’t get to take in many panels or workshops when I’m at these events. In 2016 I made time to participate in two conferences and a retreat—as a writer. The bulk of JUST PASSING THROUGH was written at a three-day retreat in Northfield, IL from snippets of images, phrases, and vignettes I’d scribbled in a notebook over the course of my travels the previous year or committed to memory in between pit stops while riding the motorcycle. I spent the past year polishing and editing. That’s my process: get it down, clean it up later.
I was very pleased that North American Review found something they liked among the work I sent. My only regret is that some of the other work wasn’t polished enough at the time of the submission—but that’s the way it goes sometimes.