I love books. I know that makes me a geek but here is a secret for you: I could not give two hoots. One of my favorite parts about reading a book is knowing that the author spent days, hours, months, and even years picking out the right words or making sure the plot fits together just so. Seeing an author’s dedication printed on the page is utterly heartwarming. Giving me insight on the author’s perspective when building a book is Professor Robert Strong, Bates’ very own English lecturer, fellowship advisor, and author of recently published novel, Bright Advent.
For many people, poetry is a daunting, aloof genre of literature that they are only subject to in high school English classes. But Strong has a new take on the genre. Instead of painstakingly cramming syllables together in a forced rhyme and meter scheme he let the words direct his writing.
Strong explains in an interview that “[t]he poetry movements in Bright Advent are chasing things in and around language, spirit, and violence that are beyond my reach with regular ol’ prose sentences. The prose chunks come when action breaks out or explication is needed. Poetry drills down; prose moves forward—at least for this book.”
His tone meets at the intersection between prose and poetry. He can accomplish different moods or pose different questions in his varied forms of writing. Switching between those two also serves to keep the readers on their toes; they never know what the next page will look like.
Finding the inspiration for putting those lyrical works on the page is not always easy and can come from the strangest of places. While researching his book at the Massachusetts Historical Society, he stumbled across an interesting collection of letters by the Puritan minister, John Eliot. Strong remarks that though Eliot was, “[w]riting from the cold muck of 17th-century Massachusetts and essentially abetting a campaign of genocide against the local Native Americans, Eliot was nonetheless writing stunning, heartfelt letters pleading for aid in saving the lives and, he believed, souls of these people. . . Language problems, people slogging hard, souls writhing and lifting, blood on everything—yes, I found this inspiring”. Finding light in the darkness – in this case, Eliot’s perseverance in the face of a genocide scale near-extinction of the Native American population provides excellent fodder for writing compelling pieces.
But being an author with his heart set on publishing is not all epiphanies and breakthroughs. There are challenges that come with the territory. Having support and pushing the envelop of a genre is exciting, but Strong remarks that it can get a bit overwhelming. Strong had many people helping him think about his book: two editors, a publisher, a historian, and some very helpful readers. However with each new layer of support and guidance there also came opinions. From the onset, Strong and his helpers knew he was generating a completely new concept because, as the author notes, “Bright Advent directly samples a good deal of 17th-century archival material, imagines its way across the archive’s many gaps, and wears a trans-genre wardrobe.”
Strong had to navigate these new waters, testing what worked in an avant garde way and what simply did not belong. To that end Strong reflects that “[n]egotiating the wide variety of opinions about what a poet is ‘allowed’ to do with history, imagination, and genre was an unexpected challenge.” Though it was a new experience, that didn’t preclude Strong from enjoying every moment.
Writing is hard. I know that was not the most eloquent sentence, but it is a true one. Writing and especially putting yourself out there into the world of publishing is daunting and arduous. But Strong has a remedy that may help the burgeoning writer along. He says, “[w]rite every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Send your work out endlessly. Learn to be spurred onward by rejection. (Bright Advent was rejected at many places, including once previously at the press that finally published it.) And, of course, meet [him] in the Den for coffee to talk about it!”