Posted by: Viola | July 20, 2010

Book Reviewer, Editor

Since February of 2009, I’ve been working as a freelance book reviewer for a monthly publication, the Sacramento Book Review (SBR), that provides reviews of (mostly) just-published books. I don’t get paid for reviewing a book, but I get to read and keep the book. It goes on my shelf, especially if it is a poetry collection. Thanks to my work as a book reviewer, I now own poetry books by Derek Walcott, Edward Hirsch, Erica Jong, Rita Dove, Pat Mora, Jim Powell, Mahmoud Darwish, Rumi, and Neruda. I am so proud of my growing collection. I can’t wait to add to it. This is the kind of thing that excites me. You can read my book reviews here. In March of this year, I began working as a freelance copy editor for SBR. This is my first job as a copy editor. I love editing. I love the way one small change–like taking a word out, or switching the position of a clause–can alter the way a sentence reads. About two weeks ago, my boss asked me to provide my biography for the SBR staff page. Here’s what I wrote:

My educational background is in psychology and anthropology, but I have been a poet for many years. I started writing poems when I was about twelve years old. At the time, my family lived in a small town a few miles away from one of the oldest rainforests in the world, the Korup Rainforest. We were living in the southwestern part of the Republic of Cameroon (Central Africa). It rained there; it rained a lot. I remember the rain, the rivulets of rainwater making quick work of slicing up the mud roads, the wide puddles and large, strange-looking insects that scurried in the puddles and over them. I was at once fascinated and disturbed by rhinoceros beetles, and the fact that, at night, someone was poking around our yard and stealing clothes from the laundry lines on our veranda.

It was there, in the fresh place and time of my early adolescence, that I became interested in taking apart my feelings and writing out lines of words that rhymed. I wanted to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. Nothing much came of it, but I kept writing poems throughout my teenage years. In college, I wrote poems sporadically, and I often felt dissatisfied with what I wrote. In graduate school, I abandoned writing poems, until I found myself lost, stranded in an academic world and unable to write. I started writing essays about my childhood in Cameroon. I began to look at writing as art and joy. After leaving graduate school and seeking out ways to improve my writing, I began creating poems again. The poetry workshops I completed at American River College brought my poems to life; the faculty there have been an incredible source of encouragement to me.

I love and believe in poetry, in its power to transform and uplift humanity. I celebrate the fact that poetry is a craft that is affordable and accessible to all. If you have a pen and a piece of paper, or a stick and an area of smooth sand, and if you can write, then poetry is yours. If you can’t write, but you can speak, then your words are songs, truthful poems spoken in your own voice, be they in your adopted language or in your native tongue.

Being a book reviewer and copy editor for SBR/SFBR keeps my reading, writing, and editing skills fresh. Being around books makes me excited about my own projects. It is such a thrill to review a poetry collection, or find authors who inspire me to think and write even more creatively. I dream constantly of being able to live my life as a writer, poet, and editor. Whenever I write a review or edit one, I feel that I am living a piece of this dream. When I am not writing, I am studying to become a yoga instructor. Yoga and poetry fit perfectly together, because they ask us to slow down and be still, to take time to notice ourselves and the world around us, and to remember to celebrate and honor life, in all its myriad forms.

After reading this, my boss wrote back to me to say that my story is an inspiring one. Her words made my day. I think a lot about my story, not just the part of my story that tells how I tried for many years to be someone I could not be. I think about the part of my story since I began working on being a writer/poet. It is a new story I am creating. It is not perfect, and it is never easy, but it is my story. I dream of being an artist and a yoga instructor. I want to make my dreams come true. And I am so grateful to the mentors, friends, and family I have. I am thankful to them for supporting me and my dreams, thankful for their love. I am especially thankful to my mother, for the way she lets me know that what I am doing is good and right and wonderful. It takes courage to try for something, to create a life one can be proud of. What makes the whole idea possible and real (not just a dream), is having at least one person who says: Go ahead and do what calls to you. And I am here. Let me know how I can help you.

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