This week marked the launch of the second annual edition of The People's Book, a collection of literary works and visual art created by New Hampshire writers and artists.
The book is edited by Concord resident Kelsie Collins. She, along with poet Brianna Coykendall, have been working to build a community of writers who collaborate, edit, and inspire each other. Coykendall is the founder of The Central New Hampshire Writer's Circle, which played a hand in the editorial process for The People's Book. I spoke to both of them about their work.
NHPR: You're working together on a couple of different but intertwined literary projects in the Concord area. I wnated to get to know you first a little bit. Tell us a little bit about how you met and started to work together on things like this.
Brianna Coykendall: We met at Plymouth State. We had a poetry, I think it was a creative writing class together, and kind of hit it off and started hanging out more outside of class. I was the senior editor for PSU's poets and writers group, so we did open mics as well there and Kels would come to every single one of them and she submitted and we all worked together on that.
How did the idea for The People's Poetry book get started?
Kelsie Collins: In 2016 I graduated from Plymouth State with my English degree and after graduating, I started looking for places to submit my work, events to attend, and I came up short. I wasn't able to find a ton within my area that wasn't directly related to the university and so I started reaching out to other small communities in Plymouth, in Laconia, in Lincoln and north of the Notch in Franconia. They were all enthusiastic and had expressed that there was a need for people to submit their work, and I wanted to give people that opportunity. So The People's Book really came out of a need for people in rural communities to be able to express themselves and submit to the book.
What were you looking for when you were soliciting writers from New Hampshire. Pretty much just from New Hampshire, right?
KC: Right, New Hampshire.
So what were you looking for?
KC: I really just wanted to put together a collection of New Hampshire's writers and artists and the specific and very special stories of the people who live here and experience life in New Hampshire.
I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to pick favorites. You know some of the people published in this book. But is there anything you think listeners would be particularly interested in knowing about or reading about in this book? Something that might stand out?
BC: One of my favorite parts of this book is that it's not just writing. There's photography. There's paintings. We had jewelry in there, too, and there was a—
BC: A hairstylist, too. It's the people's book. Anything that somebody thinks is beautiful, any work that they do, whether it's styling hair or making jewelry or writing poetry or short stories or plays or anything like that. This book is welcome to it.
And what about you Kelsie?
KC: Man. [Laughs] I can't pick a favorite. It's just not in me. What I love most about this version of the book is just the variety of tone, language, the different ways people are able to express the same feeling or emotion, and seeing how people put that on paper is just beautiful to me. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that the people that submit to my book are psychic because every single time, you know, this is the second time that I've had submissions, but everything came together perfectly.
The pieces of art that were submitted complimented the poetry and short stories so well, I couldn't have imagined it. To not have to curate that art and have it submitted to me in such a way is just beautiful. From John Plummer's hilarious sense of humor to Dan Boscoe's amazing ability to express the complicated feelings that come along with moving and picking up your life and re-rooting to Anonymous's very, very [laughs] angry letter to an ex-lover. I'm just very proud of the people who submitted. I'm proud of the artists and writers who were published in this book. It comes down to the creativity and the time and the effort that was put into it.
BC: You talk about the actual building of the book, the physical book, but what I think you do an amazing job of is, you say all the submissions mend really well together, but you place them in the book in an order that makes it flow so beautifully from the first page to the last page. That in itself is a really beautiful way to create, you know? You say that you haven't done a ton of writing, but that in itself is a piece of art. Just building and understanding how to sort all of those, and I think you should be really proud of yourself for that. It's a really awesome accomplishment.
KC: Thanks, Bri.
BC: You're welcome, darlin'.
So, more of these books to come, then? One a year or so?
KC: Oh yeah, every year.
Brianna Coykendall's Top Five Reading Recommendations:
1. The Oblivion, Ha-Ha by James Tate.
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
3. Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins.
4. The Best Day the Worst Day by Donald Hall.
5. String Too Short to Be Saved by Donald Hall.
Kelsie Collins's Top Five Reading Recommendations:
1. The Life of Images by Charles Simic.
2. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
3. How Long it Takes for Trees to Grow by Dan Bosco
4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
5. Beating the Bounds by Liz Ahl.