Thanks to the judges at the Colorado Authors League for choosing Under Sleep’s New Moon for the 2022 Book Award for poetry. Very exciting! And more than a little surprising, given the puzzlement some folks have registered upon reading the title. More than one person has asked me a simple question: “What does it mean?”—my somewhat mysterious title.
I get it. Titling any book isn’t easy, but it can be especially tough with poetry, which usually has no narrative to hang its hat on, so most poetry collections don’t have titles like On the Road or Murder on the Orient Express. Poetry collections also don’t tend to feature a dominant character like Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, or The Old Man and the Sea.
Poetry titles tend to be … well, poetic. They usually point toward some central image that acquires meaning as the reader within the context of the collection: a touchstone image that embodies a central feeling or idea that resonates throughout the book. Think Leaves of Grass, or The Speed of Darkness, or The Light Around the Body.
Or Under Sleep’s New Moon! You can begin to approach by asking yourself, “What is a new moon?” The new moon is simply the first lunar phase during which the moon is not visible to the naked eye. But it’s there: a new beginning. That’s the core sense of my book’s title—a book about beginnings.
These are poems, after all, mostly left unfinished in notebooks or sometimes even in print, back when I was too green to figure out how to discover their true shapes. But they were poems I returned to often over the years, poking and prodding, tinkering and testing, trying to rediscover them.
Then came the pandemic. I was working remotely and fell into the habit of screen-time. With few distractions, I began to work seriously on what I expected would be a chapbook, maybe 25 to 32 pages long. But over time more and more poems stepped up for a makeover. I ended up with a book a bit over 100 pages long with poems from my first 20 years of writing. Those years were full of the typical anxious questions all young poets ask: Am I any good? Am I being honest? Am I getting any better? And the question famously asked by Dana Gioia, “Can poetry matter?” (The answers, in order, were: Maybe. Hopefully. Possibly. And, “Of course!”) All that matters now is whether or not they matter to readers. And that answer only time will tell….
As for the poem from which the title was drawn, readers will find it on page 100: