TIFTON — Although Jeff Newberry and Justin Evans have never met in person, they will release a collaborative book of poetry this year.
Newberry, an English professor at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, came in contact with Evans, who lives in Colorado, back around 2007 when the two both had blogs about being a poet.
The book, entitled “Cross Country,” started as a writing exercise for the two several years ago.
“Part of being a writer is trying to keep yourself writing, and we were looking for things to write about,” Newberry said.
The two shared a love of writing about places, and Evans came up with the idea of sending each other names of places from their respective states to use as the title of poems.
The only rule was they couldn’t Google the place they were sent.
“The idea was to just use whatever that (place) name suggested to you,” Newberry said.
But the project quickly morphed and grew. Both knew that they were writing to the other, so the poems took on a letter-like feel. They were also writing to each other during the campaign and election of President Trump, and so some of the poems took on a political slant.
Newberry also inserted many things going on in his life at the time, like his young daughter’s spina bifida and all the traveling he was doing after the release of his novel, “A Stairway to the Sea.”
“The poems quickly became really personal, and they were about America,” Newberry said. “They were about what it meant to be a man and an American in the 21st century, and so they became narrative.”
At the high point of their writing to each other, they wrote three or four times a week.
Early into the project, when they both realized how much work they had, Newberry said he thought they might have enough work for a chapbook, a small booklet — usually of poetry — of around 30 or so pages.
“One day (Justin) emailed me and said, ‘I think we have a book, not a chapbook,’” Newberry said. “I printed all the poems out at my house, and there were a lot.”
Newberry said he took all the printed poems and literally laid them on the floor in a large room, walking around and looking at them, putting them into different piles based on their themes and common threads.
“We shaved a bunch of poems off,” Newberry said. “We cut it down to about 80 pages because it was huge.”
They had several of the poems published in different journals and were finalists in a few contests.
WordTech Editions, a publishing company, picked up the manuscript, and it will be published this year.
Newberry previously published a chapbook of poetry, a poetry collection, a novel and edited a poetry collection.
While it might seem difficult to edit and put together a book with another person, especially one living across the country whom you’ve never met before, Newberry said he felt that the experience was actually helpful.
They Skyped, talked over the phone and emailed edits back and forth, so the power of technology helped in the process. But more than that, Newberry said the editing process was actually much easier on this collection than his previous books.
“I think having another person’s voice in there helped me to be simultaneously more objective and also a little more respectful of the work,” he said.
“Cross Country” can be pre-ordered at www.jeffnewberry.com/cross-country.