Professor Joyce Thomas has just published her third book and her second book of poetry called “Washing Birds.” Main Street Rags published the book after she submitted it in one of their contests and was chosen as a semi-finalist. This contest was not Thomas’s first try, though.
It took about 20 tries to get there, according to Thomas.
“For years I have submitted my poems to what tend to be small press publishers who sponsor a yearly contest and of course you have to expect to be rejected over and over again because you’re in competition with usually about a thousand people who would be submitting to any given contest,” Thomas said.
She explained that it is very hard to get any kind of literature published because, for the most part, publishers are only out to make money.
“Poetry is hard because it’s not a huge market. People don’t just run out and buy copies of poems and you don’t have agents for poetry. Most agents won’t represent poetry because there’s not a market for it,” she said.
Because of that, writing comes with a lot of rejection, she said.
“It can be devastating at times. You always have to be able to just accept it. Have low expectations and a lot of people say this, I did not do this, but you should always have the next submission in mind so you get the rejection, you say ‘oh okay’ and send the next one on to someone else. You do kind of have to have a real faith in your own work otherwise it’s very discouraging,” Thomas said.
Even so, there was something about “Washing Birds” that made Thomas keep submitting it.
“My craft is better. I can see it. I’ve matured as a writer and I’m proud of the book and I like the poems. It’s like stepping-stones. It’s the next level,” explained Thomas.
One poem in the book really sticks out to Thomas and it’s the very first one, “Mary.”
“Partly because it’s something different in terms of topic than I have done before. Partly because it came to me very quickly. I mean, one always revises and revises, but the overall theme came very quickly and it still, when I read it, moves me,” Thomas said.
Her colleagues aren’t surprised by her success.
“Professor Thomas’ book of poems, “Washing Birds,” is a fascinating collection of thought-provoking poems. Joyce provides sometimes clear and sometimes inscrutable, sometimes enjoyable and sometimes painful treatments of some very weighty topics, ranging from humans’ (mis)treatment of animals, especially elephants, to the poet’s serious heart troubles. As this range suggests, her poems are both personal and universal,” said English department chair, professor Andrew Alexander.
The poem that Thomas favors, “Mary,” is the one about the elephant that Alexander was speaking of. It is about the lynching of an elephant that killed its trainer in the 1900s.
The next step for Thomas is doing readings from the book to get it more exposure and to get more readers.
English professor Dennis Shramek said, “she’s a very skilled poet and reader” and called her work “quite enlightening” after hearing her read excerpts from it at a faculty “Share You Work Dinner” event last semester.
He also said that she is a great reader of her poetry and she has a number of readings set up. One is at the Castleton Free Library, one is in the works in Brandon, she hopes to have one at Castleton in the spring, and another is planned at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, which she said is hard to get because they want named people.
Alexander said that they are going to try and have a celebration and formal reading for Thomas on campus in the spring.