Baring the Soul: First-time author releases book of poems from micro-press New Books

May 6 • EXTRA! EXTRA!, Feature, FEATURE MAINNo Comments on Baring the Soul: First-time author releases book of poems from micro-press New Books

susan Harris

Susan Harris will release her first collection of poems in ‘Beer and Books,” this Sunday at 4 p.m. Photo by Christian Podgaysky

Ever since Gwenyfar Rohler  took over the downtown bookstore, Old Books on Front St., she dreamt of starting a publishing imprint, New Books on Front St., as an independent micro-press for writers who wish to specialize in small print runs of their work. Her dream manifested from the famed City Lights Books out of San Francisco, most well-known for publishing “Howl and Other Poems” by Allen Ginsberg in 1956, which resulted in a famed obscenity trial and political dialogue about banning literature. Though we’ve come quite a long way in 2014, there is always further to push (hence the attempt at banning “The Color Purple” in Brunswick County schools last year). Rohler wants New Books to be Wilmington’s answer to City Lights.

This Sunday, the bookstore will welcome one of its very own retail clerks-turned-author Susan Harris, as she unveils the release of 69 poems written in a collection titled “Beer and Books.” The creative output stems from Harris’ recent divorce and submersion back into the dating field. “Beer and Books” follows the span of a new relationship’s electric spark to its quick fizzle.

Its title was borne of Old Books’ outdoor signage that Rohler updated when she got the store’s ABC permits last summer: “Beer and Books, a match made in heaven.” Harris assures the book’s moniker is no coincidence.

“[It] is a love story that begins in a bookstore,” Harris explains. “Sixty-nine poems document the progression from a couple’s first meeting to the final goodbye—a voyeuristic look into the private life of two strangers, almost as if the reader/listener is eavesdropping.”

“She describes events and emotions so evocatively that a couple times I had to put down, because I just am not old enough to read them,” Rohler quips. “It is a very sexy book.”

Harris began writing poetry at a young age. Her first memory comes from her upbringing in Knoxville, Tennessee, when she wrote a poem for her mom in the second grade. It’s been ingrained in her to write ever since.

“I have always been a storyteller and history-keeper,” she says. “I grew up in a family with four very strong personalities; I learned early on I could get the last word in by writing my response down. Often I was the only person to know I had won.”

She kept journals throughout her life since high school, and always wrote her own thoughts and poetry, along with the work of other’s whom inspired her. Then she’d scribe the details of what really happened, too.  “Perspective changes once you fix the idea on paper,” Harris notes.

“Beer and Books” features one poem per page to chronicle her 70-day relationship. The center spread is the only poem that looks differently. It’s appropriately titled “Together.”

“It was important when we were laying out the book to have that poem as a two-page spread that faced each other,” Rohler says. “Where it comes in the flow of the work, the larger narrative, is also really important.”

Harris’ favorite poem in the collection is “Exposed.” She says it’s part of the risk one takes in any relationship; it also serves greater meaning in that it’s the release of her first book and first collection ever. “Now this book is part of a relationship I’m sharing with the reader/listener,” she says.

Though self-taught, the feedback Harris garnered throughout the years as a poet helped propel her writing. Rohler remains on the list of people Harris approached  about her work. She submitted in record-timing.

“I knew Susan was on a huge creative binge,” Rohler explains. “Her voice is crystal clear. She had been bringing in poetry from this exciting relationship. I saw a lot of it ‘in process,’ but when she walked in with a finished product, it was a different conversation.”

Rohler first wanted to give creative and constructive criticism. “She uses line breaks and structure to her advantage,” the bookstore owner explains, “and her sense of rhythm overtakes you while you are reading it.”

Rohler also had the greater intent of helping Harris find a place to submit the works. Yet, once Rohler read “Beer and Books” fully, she was impressed beyond belief.

“Taken as a whole—not the trickle-in of a few poems—I was stunned at how well it fit together and created a cohesive narrative structure,” she explains. “We talked a little about what Susan wanted to do with it, and I asked if she would consider it for the New Books imprint. She knew this was an idea I had in mind. We had a straightforward discussion about economics and reached an agreement.’

The store and Harris will split profit from the book sale fifty-fifty—after costs of printing. This percentage is more than most signed authors get from other publishing houses. Plus, the books are couture, so to speak.

“Each book is hand-built by the staff at Old Books as signed, numbered limited editions,” Rohler clarifies. “We are creating collectors’ items. I hope that it will allow us to work with some talented folks, and also expand our relationship with the publishing process.”

New Books already printed an anthology of various authors a few years ago and printed two “Vicious Valentines” books as well. This will technically be Rohler’s fourth New Books project but only the second one for sale—and the first one to feature a singular author. Her next two projects are already in the works. She has invited Gary Gulikson to do a book, as well as Minna Kuuskoski’s troll stories —born from her troll store off of Market Street.

“What better way to celebrate [the release of ‘Beer and Books’] than beer and books and birthday cake?” Harris asks. Sunday, May 11th, not only happens to be Mother’s Day but Harris’ birthday, too.

“My daughter Riley is 16,” Harris says, “which is an awkward age to have a mother with a life, much less one exposed in a book. She has read a couple of the poems, to her general embarrassment, but I want her to see the importance of expressing herself—even if not necessarily in the same ways I choose.”

Beer and Books
Poetry book release party 
with author Susan Harris
Sunday, May 11th, 4 p.m. 
Old Books on Front
249 N Front St
(910) 762-6657

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