As I write, while looking out at the bold, barren, beautiful and rainy Icelandic landscape beyond this window of a cabin here at Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn where I’m at a writer’s retreat while on sabbatical—I’m so, so thrilled to announce: my sixth manuscript that I’ve been working on the last few years, and that I spent several late nights and early mornings compiling and whittling here in Iceland, is very near to completion. And my hair is a good deal grayer on account of it. The working title is ALL WE ARE GIVEN WE CANNOT HOLD.

There is much fine tuning to do—a handful of poems will most likely be nudged out by newer work in the coming weeks, and I now will be focusing on very minute, line-by-line editing of individual poems; however, the huge bulk of work—the great lava spill of 90 poems I brought with me to Iceland—has now hardened somewhat into crust: a table of contents, a working title, a manuscript with a solid cover on it.

It’s messy still, and has its imperfections (which I like)—and the order might not be totally precise—but I’m feeling a good blend of cohesion and volatility now, poem to poem, a bubbling and flow and a force behind it. Though it’s long from seeing the world still—because the hardest part is finding a publisher—it is the bravest collection of poems I’ve completed, with personal poems interrogating sexuality, repression, identity, the body, and desire.

I’m thankful to Central Michigan University, for providing me time to complete this work on sabbatical, thankful to the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Iceland for providing me the space—and mountains and volcanoes and geysers and waterfalls and city culture and elves—to complete this work. But most of all—I’m thankful to my wife, for supporting this journey, all my journeys, and for holding the fort down while I’ve been gone.

In between hiking mountains and streams and swimming in geothermal pools, I’ve been hard at work—and now I have something to hold in my hands—this book-to-be—this little piece of baby volcanic rock, which I’ll continue to mold and shape, as I now turn my attention to my seventh manuscript—a book of poems that I’m halfway into, and some brand, brand new work I’m playing with here, inspired by the Icelandic language.

My fifth manuscript, CAGE, a book I spent seven years writing, is still out at a few publishers—fingers crossed a publisher will say yes to that one. I’m weird about the chronological order of manuscripts, wanting them published in the order they’re written. However, if CAGE isn’t for the world—I’m weirdly OK with that, too. I’m rather excited at the idea of an unpublished book that can be unearthed after I’m worm food.

Anyway, speaking of worm food, it’s raining here this September 12 morning in Iceland and I want to go walk on the dirty mountain trails. So now let me put down the manuscript and pen, and don the anorak and hiking pack!

4 thoughts on “Of Lava and Magma

  1. Wonderful news, Robert, and what a great experience you’re having in what appears to be a spacious room and a breathtaking landscape and cityscape. I wish you the best of success with finding publishers, and may we next summer have another opportunity to read in the Garden.

  2. Absolutely beautiful, Robert! I cannot wait to see into this manuscript as we continue to adventure with you through photos and words of Iceland!

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