IRVINGTON, NJ — When it comes to Craig Garner and his poems, everything old is new again. With that in mind, he is releasing his 10th book, “A Poetic Journey,” an anthology of some of his previously published poems, plus a few new ones.
In the book’s introduction, the Irvington resident explains, “I have also added a few new ones, just for the sake of saying that the book isn’t filled with all former poems.”
In an interview Monday, Dec. 17, Garner said, “The thing that made me do this was, many people mentioned the look that a mother gives her kids when they’re doing something wrong and I thought, I wrote a poem about that in my first book. And I said, ‘You know, I need to grab some of these pieces … and lump them in, so they can all be in one place.’ I always loved reading anthologies as a kid, and I realized I could do my own. I have nine books.”
Garner has been writing and publishing his poetry for the past 35 years. He said in the introduction of his latest book that his poems were originally intended as a therapeutic method of dealing with his surroundings and issues of his lifetime, but as he matured, it became a way to share his insights with the world.
“I can’t believe I’ve written all these books,” he said. “I decided I would do a book which has something from all of them. Now that I have ‘A Poetic Journey,’ I can read a little from everything I’ve written.”’
Not surprisingly, the poet has personal favorites, poems that really appeal to him, each for their own unique reasons.
“‘Poverty’s Pain’ is one of my favorite pieces,” said Garner wistfully. “It’s really apropos for right now. When I wrote it, it just flowed. I didn’t have to do anything.”
In this poem, he opines, “Look fear in the eye and cast him aside/Pick up some courage along the way and go for a free ride/Hold off pain and anguish with a stiff upper lip/Hold on to your precious life with a solid death grip.”
Much of Garner’s poetry is inspired by real events. Although they aren’t always the most pleasant memories, the words they lead him to create carry a message.
“I did a piece called ‘Animal?’ I was in a fire department, helping this lady fix her computer, and these kids were just released from school, making all this noise as they walked in front of the building, and this woman called them animals,” Garner said. “I couldn’t believe she was categorizing them because they were making a lot of noise. I think there’s still a lot of people who think that way.”
That poem begins: “They called my son an animal and it cut me to the bone/It hurt so bad I hate to say that he never had a home/The child they think they see is not a child but a man disguised as such/For the life he’s had to live so far really hasn’t been worth much.”
“I told this woman I was a substitute teacher and she said she didn’t know how I went into those schools with those kids,” he reflected. “And I said they weren’t that unruly. They’re boisterous, but they’re not unruly.”
“A Poetic Journey” begins with poems from Garner’s first book, working forward to his most recent publication. Assembling his work allowed him the opportunity to examine his poetry’s development through the years.
“I saw the growth there,” he said. “I had a long conversation with my publisher (Tom Costello of Word Association Publishers) about that. You can see the growth of my writing style as it progressed. He really liked it.”
Times have definitely changed though and, as he has gotten older, Garner finds the number of books he has printed for sale has changed, too.
“I used to get 500 to 1,000, but now that I’m retired, I don’t want to have all these books hanging around, so I now get around 250,” he said. “My biggest problem in writing poetry is marketing it. I used to go out and read. I’d visit book stores in Harlem, in the New York market, in East Orange, reading. We’d come every week to read and I had a lot of venues to read at. Now, I don’t really go to as many venues as I used to. I don’t have as much gusto.”
And, Garner confides, “My health hadn’t been that good, which is why I retired, so I basically stay local, which has hurt my sales. I have back problems. I’m still interested in getting the word out, getting my stories out there. When I left work, I had high blood pressure and sleep apnea, but I’m getting better, my breathing is getting better.”
The future is another story, however, and Garner is making plans. “I’m going to step it up in 2019. I’m just going to do a better job of marketing my books. You have to get visible and push it.”
But none of this undermines the reason he started writing poems in the first place: “I write them because I have something to say.”
Garner is already making plans for the future. “I just accepted a request to read at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Day in January. That will be a nice kick off for this new book.
“I’m still the poet laureate, according to the mayor,” he continued. “I’m looking into other venues to do a podcast. And live discussions, too.”
As for ways to reach his audience, Garner is even looking toward social media to expand his audience.
“Everybody’s on Twitter and I’m not but I’m thinking of doing a little bit of that to be more heard. My last two books have been audio books, but I don’t think that’s done as well. They were on amazon.com.”
Perhaps one of his earliest poems, “Thank You to Our African Elders,” with which his latest collection begins, expresses how he feels best, when it says: “Thanks to you our African elders for showing us the way/Thanks to you our African elders and the price that you still pay” and concludes with “May inner peace always be with you for you have earned it all so much/But most of all I truly hope that we will always stay in touch.”
Garner concluded his interview by explaining again his mindset for writing poetry, and his desire to start selling more copies of his work to reach more readers: “I’m more interested in getting whatever’s in my head out on paper than selling it, but I’ve got to shift my mentality. Now that I’m retired, I really have no excuse.”