Beth McDermott, an assistant professor of English and foreign languages at the University of St. Francis (USF), has always wanted to write a book. In fact, it has been a dream she has held since third grade. On May 1, McDermott’s first full-length collection of poetry, Figure 1, will be released.
In Figure 1, McDermott is deeply invested in the ekphrastic tradition of writing poetry after works of visual art by artists that range from Degas to Audubon to Stieglitz, while also narrativizing a still life and arguing on behalf of a story or perspective beyond the frame.
“I’ve been studying ekphrastic poetry since graduate school, and I’ve had the chance to teach a “Poets Look at Paintings” poetry writing workshop at USF twice now; having the chance to read literature and criticism related to the types of poetry I like to write proved very resourceful in writing the book,” McDermott said.
While Figure 1 will be McDermott’s first full-length release, it is not her first publication. In 2015 (the year she came to USF), McDermott published How to Leave a Farmhouse, a chapbook inspired by the Rural Historic Structural Survey of New Lenox Township. However, even with that publication under her belt, McDermott continued to eye a larger poetry-based project.
“As exciting as it was to have a chapbook, or a booklet of poetry under 40 pages in length, I really wanted to publish a full-length collection of poetry. I’ve been working towards this goal in my years on the tenure track at USF, writing poems that I published in literary magazines and hoped to arrange as a collection,” McDermott said.
While publishing a book helps McDermott achieve a dream she’s had since childhood, she credits the journey to this point for reinforcing something in which she firmly believes: writing is hard work, and it doesn’t happen in complete isolation.
“I had the chance to work with USF student Eve Odum on a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant Eve received to produce a podcast about book publishing. Eve’s podcast is called Book Publishing from Beginning to End, and each episode features an interview with a local author of young adult novels and children’s books. Interviewing award-winning writers such as Ruth Behar reinforced to me that writing a book is a lot of drafting and revising, a lot of sharing with friends for feedback. Sometimes you have to hire an editor, and rejection is common. But persistence is really the key, and it helps to have people around who you can talk to who are knowledgeable about the process,” McDermott explained.
Figure 1 will be available on Amazon.com and through Pine Row Press on May 1.