My first poetry collection, titled Dragonfly (1994), came about because I was a member of a creative writing listserv called CREWRT-L during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I made many friends in that close-knit writing community, some of whom I'm still in touch with today, mostly through the social network Facebook.
One of those stalwart friends was (and is) Dr. H. Palmer Hall, founder and editor of Pecan Grove Press (PGP), a publisher of fine literature (mainly poetry), based at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. In late 1993, after we had gotten to know each other quite well online, Palmer asked me if I would be interested in publishing a poetry collection with PGP. I was indeed interested, and this publication would end up to be a boon for both of us because my book would be the first national publication by PGP. Since then, Pecan Grove Press has become one of the nation's premier poetry publishers.
At that time, I was quite aggressively sending a manuscript titled Pacific Crossing to various presses (mainly through prize competitions) and had a book in progress titled Heirloom. I thought of the PGP book as a kind of teaser, a longish trailer, for these two collections and so mined poems out of both of them. The PGP collection, Dragonfly, I planned then as a large chapbook that would be just a couple pages shy of the minimum book-length total page count of the time: 48 pages. As it turns out, Pacific Crossing has yet to find a publisher although it has been a finalist at various competitions over the years. Ditto with Heirloom. Any publishers out there seeking poetry books? Or do you, O gentle reader, know any publishers? (You just never know!)
Once I had assembled the manuscript of Dragonfly and Palmer and I had agreed on its final form, sequence, etc., I asked him if my wife Mary Ann could design the cover, and Palmer agreed. This was quite generous on his part because most publishers don't allow the writer to have any say about either design or art. So thanks for that, Palmer!
Mary Ann spent an entire summer studying dragonflies; fortunately, we lived in northern California on the coast near Oregon (Redwood country), and dragonflies were in great abundance. At one point, she needed to see one up close and I caught one for her in exactly the way I describe in the book's title poem "Miraculous Dragonfly" (she had always thought that the method of dragonfly-catching I described was imaginary!). Nonetheless, she had done sketch after sketch and none of them pleased her.
Because the pen-and-inks and pencil renderings were not working out, Mary Ann decided one day to tear a dragonfly out of white construction paper. The finished cut-out didn't feel right, so she laid it down on another piece of paper and painted it black. When Mary Ann picked up the dragonfly, she discovered that the black paint had seeped underneath and the black outline you see in the completed cover above was on the paper below. To finish the cover art, she simply added the turquoise highlights. The rest of the cover design followed in short order, resulting in just a marvelous cover, I think. Though it's possible I may be just a little biased!
While Mary Ann was working on the cover, I secured an introduction from Yusef Komunyakaa, who had been my poetry writing professor at Indiana University, as well as blurbs from two fine poets (and friends): Jessica Hagedorn and Walt MacDonald. Here are those two blurbs since they are impossible to read in the reproduction above of the back cover.
Dragonfly is a welcome collection of poems by Vince Gotera. In a simple, straightforward style, Gotera begins by writing about a father's tender love for his son. Poem by poem, and ever mindful of the big picture, Gotera goes on to explore the painful contradictions of cultural identity with dark humor, wisdom, and compassion.
— Jessica Hagedorn
Vince Gotera’s Dragonfly has exciting images, like fine photography packed into a chapbook. These are spirited poems about legends exposed, or missed and forgiven — and about ordinary people accepted and honored for what they are. Gotera is amazed not so much by the gold of their bodies or fortunes but of their hearts. As if he wields a camera, Gotera captures the breathless moment, writes of the flesh made flesh, but often holy: the old woman who walked on her knees from Jerusalem to Calvary; the Chaplain who said Mass daily in a POW camp, who had for wine only "a raisin soaked in water, / then squeezed into a thimble." In a signature poem, a herald of more good books to come, Gotera catches the daring of his son skating a ramp — "A flawless slide down plywood," then "free, free" at the top of the ramp for a second, stealing a glance "over right shoulder, scouting new country."
— Walt McDonald
The photograph on the back cover is of me and my infant daughter Melina (now 15 years old). I intended that particular shot to be a tribute of sorts to Jessica Hagedorn, whose photo in an anthology where we both appeared, Garrett Hongo's The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America, portrays her and one of her daughters. Thanks for all your help over the years, Jessica. And many thanks to you as well, Walt, for your help and for your fine body of poetic work that I was honored to study and interpret in my book of literary criticism Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans (1994).
Dragonfly is now out of print after going through three printings, though it is still occasionally available from rare and vintage book dealers. In fact, not long ago, a signed copy of Dragonfly was being sold in either Oregon or Washington State for something like $150.00; isn't that simply incredible? Who'd a-thunk it?
In any case, now that Dragonfly has become quite difficult to find, I am pleased to be able to present it here in the blog in serial form. I hope you enjoy it, O my faithful readers. Stay tuned to this poetry channel!
|P.S. I should have said above that, while Pacific Crossing and Heirloom have not yet been published, two other poetry collections have come out since Dragonfly: Ghost Wars (2003) and Fighting Kite (2007). Ghost Wars won the 2004 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry|