Local poet James Morehead recently self-published his first book of poetry.
The Dublin resident has been telling stories in verse for more than 40 years and finally decided to take the plunge on his first book, dubbed “Canvas.”
“I’ve always wanted to write a book,” said Morehead. “The pandemic and working from home provided the space I needed to focus. It also made me want something, a distraction, and publishing a book has been a really powerful distraction.”
Morehead completed extensive research and familiarized himself with book design, art, formatting and copyediting. He hired experts to help him obtain his goal of a clean, professional product he could leave as his legacy. Looking at the advance print copies in his home, he feels he has reached that goal.
When asked why he went to all the trouble of a printed book, rather than maintaining his habit of publishing his poetry on his website, he said he had three reasons: permanence, beauty and reaching a new audience.
“People say when you put something on the internet, it’s there forever,” he said. “But really, it’s only there as long as I’m paying the bills to host it on the web, and then it will vanish in a cloud of digital smoke. A physical book has a much greater probability of living on in someone’s bookshelf, getting passed around, and being in libraries, so that was one of my motivators.”
Making his poetry visually pleasing was another motivator. According to Morehead, web pages are poorly suited to poetic layouts, as their goal is to be formatted for whatever screen happens upon them. In his book, Morehead can lay pages out to his exact specifications. He can also spread his wings beyond his internet following.
“People aren’t searching for poems on the web, and it’s not a good vehicle for getting your poetry out there,” he said.
During his publishing journey over the past year, Morehead has shared the knowledge he gained about in blogposts on his website in response to many questions he received about the publishing process. He was happy to share his experience with others.
One of the experts Morehead went to was Kari Byron of “Mythbusters,” a network television show documenting a team’s efforts to test myths and urban legends. Byron is also an artist and Morehead already owned two of her pieces. He asked her to create the cover art for his book, and she came through in a unique way.
“She uses the black powder technique, where she makes a painting, then covers part of it with clay,” Morehead said. “She then ignites gun powder on top of the art, then scrapes away the clay to reveal the painting, and you have this sort of pattern of black soot from the gunpowder that creates these patterns and color textures that are really neat.”
Morehead said his poetry has a universality to it that appeals to all ages and backgrounds. He noted that he writes his verses to be approachable, at least on the first layer. While other poetry books might require a dictionary to accompany them, Morehead said that won’t be necessary with “Canvas.” Many of the poems are autobiographical or inspired by everyday objects. He often connects with his audience through his verses of similar shared experiences.
Brittany Smail is a professional copyeditor in San Francisco, and it was her expertise Morehead turned to for a final clean-up of his text. Smail, who loves to dig into a text to find little details to polish, found working on a book of poems to be fun and refreshing.
“I am normally copyediting mostly nonfiction, but my degree is in poetry, so it was fun as a poet to be able to copyedit,” Smail said. “It’s a different sort of copyediting than you would do for say, nonfiction prose. In prose, I’m looking for punctuation and grammar and things that are standard, but poets play with those things — poets play with punctuation, poets play with grammar — so it was fun to understand his poetic voice and his choices as a poet and to edit with that in mind.”
Though the book is only available for preorder right now, Morehead has shared it with some critics and received positive feedback.
“James Morehead’s ‘Canvas’ opens itself to the poetry of everyday life, where stanzas are etched in sand, and poems end in sunset,” said Tom Mitchell, senior editor of Critical Inquiry and Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Services Professor of the University of Chicago. “Combining micro-narratives of Boston bullies cornering a young boy, with minute descriptions of time in quarantine, it draws us into moving tableaus of tenacious attention to what went down, what might come up, and where we might find ourselves.”