Rebecca Kai Dotlich, poet and workshop leader, tells the story of her first book of poetry.
As the moon unwinds its silver thread
And sleepy children climb in bed,
Sweet dreams are stirring in the air
As wild ones sleep—
do you know where?
—From Sweet Dreams of the Wild
Looking through an old journal the other day, I was reminded of my long journey with poetry and publishing. I felt a sense of wonder, really, about the struggles, the joys, and the dips and dives that a life takes. I had a passion for poetry and a huge amount of determination, but finding my place in poetry and establishing a publishing career didn’t come easy.
I probably wrote my first poem at the age of ten or eleven and began to get serious about reading and writing poetry in high school and even more so in college. By my early twenties, I was working in a public relations office. I spent most of my time writing poems on the office typewriter and taking poetry classes after work. For years I read books of poetry, scribbled poems on pieces of paper, anywhere, anyplace, and began submitting poems after buying a huge book called the Writer’s Market. I bought a new edition each year. I highlighted names, scrawled notes around the edges, and began the work of steeling myself against rejection—and there was a lot of it.
I began by submitting to magazines and was rejected time and time again—for years. Finally, children’s magazines began publishing my poems. I wrote many, many poems for different magazines. At some point, I put together a collection of poems and sent it to Boyds Mills Press. I had read they were beginning a poetry imprint called Wordsong. Bernice Cullinan and my first editor, Lisa Bahlinger, pulled Sweet Dreams of the Wild from the slush pile and stamped me with the seal of author. Sweet Dreams of the Wild was my first book, and I will never forget the day Kent Brown called to offer me a contract.
Since that time, I’ve published many poems and many books. I’ve been honored to have my poems included in beautiful anthologies. I’ve become friends with Lee Bennett Hopkins. I have an agent who is my friend and supporter. I work with editors whom I admire, learn from, and call my friends. I still work every day at becoming a better writer. And I love every minute of it. Even though I teach poetry workshops, I always learn something too. I believe you never stop learning.
It’s been a long, good road, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Crafting and playing with words is a great life. I feel truly inspired and fortunate to keep putting words on paper.