Happy Life

How This Book Got Made

The blog of author David Budbill



The last installment of this blog, if you want to call it that, was on June 16, 2011, and was titled ADVANCED COPIES HERE! Since then the book has been published and is making its way out into the world, and doing very well.


The actual publication date was sometime August. The first review, in the Los Angeles Times was on August 1st. To read that review go to: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/08/the-reading-life-mountain-hermit-poems.html  Other reviews, blog posts, interviews, articles and quotes are available from me at: david@davidbudbill.com.


My haiku poet friend, Steve Sanfield, out in northern California let me know that HAPPY LIFE was on the Poetry Foundation best seller list, otherwise I’d never have known. I was shocked, incredulous. It started in September with HAPPY LIFE at #3, then over the weeks since then it dropped to #10, #17, #22, then back up to #21 and now it’s at #12.


Being on the poetry bestseller list means, you understand, that you sold maybe 3 copies of the book that week. This is, after all, poetry. It’s fun though to watch it jump around. To view the list, go to: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/books/contemporary


My friend Jane Hirshfield, who was just ahead of me on the best seller list with her new book—COME, THIEF—in September said, in a note, “Are you running around doing readings, as I am, or is your book sauntering into readers hands all on its own (with a little help from Garrison Keillor)? If the latter—kudos! If the former—sympathy!” The comment of a true introverted poet.


I’ve never done fewer readings from a new book. Bookstores just aren’t asking me to come read and other venues aren’t either. I’ve done a few bookstores here in Vermont and one festival and William Parker, my avant garde jazz bassist and multi-instrumentalist friend, and I just completed a mini-tour on which I read poems from HAPPY LIFE, but other than those things, I’ve never read so little from a new book.


One of the answers to Jane’s question is Garrison Keillor and THE WRITER’S ALMANAC. Keillor has read three poems from HAPPY LIFE since September 26th, thus proving what I’ve always said that THE WRITER’S ALMNAC is THE POOR POET’S OPRAH. Every time I’m on there my sales go up for a few days.


The other answer to Jane’s question is—I think, although I’ve got no way to prove it—I joined Facebook and Twitter about this time last year. I’m in touch, therefore, with a whole new audience. Facebook and Twitter must account for some of the increase in sales of this book. 


Also, my publisher, Copper Canyon Press, has available on Kindle now all three of my books of poems. I’ll not know how many books were sold electronically until I get a royalty statement next May or June.


The flurry of first publication is over. I’m home and hunkered down for the winter and off to work on other projects, like a new book for a year from now called PARK SONGS.


HAPPY LIFE is going to have to make its way on its own for a while.


David Budbill

18 November 2011








 Yesterday’s mail brought me two advanced copies of my new book of poems, HAPPY LIFE. It’s gorgeous, both inside and out. Valerie Brewster, the book designer, ought to get an award for this one.

Even though it is only mid-June, the publication date for the book, so far at least, remains September first. Once the books are packed for shipping at the printers, they have to go out to the distributor, Consortium, and then to bookstores around the country plus plenty to Copper Canyon Press to fill individual orders. All this will take at least six weeks, so the September first pub date is not that far ahead of schedule.

On the other hand, I think this may be the first time since Gutenberg invented the printing press that a book is actually off the presses early.

Now the hustle begins to sell this thing that now exists in the world.

As I said the last time, stay tuned.

David Budbill

16 June 2011


The back cover is now completed and added to the front cover and the entire book has been shipped, electronically, to the printers. Here’s the cover, front and back:

Here’s the text for the back cover:


David Budbill continues a wry, joyful examination of life on his semi-metaphorical Judevine Mountain, writing about the New England seasons, fame and fortune, self-reliance, aging, and the engaged cre- ative life. Profoundly simple and immediate, Budbill’s poems radiate a dialogue with nature through absolute clarity of expression.


                  Yet and still every day the sun rises,

                  white clouds roll across the sky,

                  vegetables get planted and grow,

                  and late in the afternoon

                  someone sits quietly with a cup of tea.


“His poetry is as accessible as a parking lot and as plain as a pair of Levi’s.”



“A recognizable immediacy and honesty, accompanied by an endearing wit… Budbill’s economical, brush-stroke approach… evinces a hard-won clarity, a pure, human tone.”

         —Library Journal


“One of the most readable American poets ever.”



At this point, the book is supposed to ship from the printer to the distributor on June 23rd, which is about a month ahead of the original schedule.


Stay tuned!


David Budbill

May 27, 2011


The last set of page proofs for HAPPY LIFE arrived here electronically—a practically instantaneous way of sending something—on April 22nd. Sending page proofs electronically, albeit swift, as opposed to snailmail, presents a particular difficulty for someone like me with an old printer. I, being an old fashioned kinda guy, wanted to sit at my desk and read the pages on paper as opposed to a computer screen. But when I went to print out the proofs from the attachment, I got gobbledygook, because my printer couldn’t handle the fonts the manuscript was in. I was forced to read the book this last time on-screen, which I did but didn’t much like. The moral of this story is: keep up to date or you will be, like me, lost.
Because of numerous other obligations facing me when the proofs arrived—I had to smoke a leg of lamb on Easter Sunday (I smoke with apple wood), the second part of my interview on Amanda Hoving’s blog MY WRINKLED PAGES went up on the internet on Monday, the 25th, (Part II is at: http://t.co/5qxY3tV, Part I is at: http://t.co/nDB0ql4) which meant writing numerous responses to readers, plus a day’s worth of meetings on the 26th and a phone interview with a poetry class at University of the South, in Sewanee, TN, on the 27th—all of which meant I had to proof the last set of proofs willy-nilly, in the cracks between all those other things, plus trying to spend some time outside getting gravel back in the drive and replacing snowplow divots. But I did it, and I sent the proofs back Thursday morning, April 28th.
In this last round of proofs almost everything is as it was during the set of proofs before this one, at least that’s what you hope for. New to this set was the CIP, Cataloguing in Publication Data from the Library of Congress, and the acknowledgements for Lois Eby’s artwork on the cover. At this point the back matter gets added: the “About the Author” page, a page acknowledging the various major contributors to Copper Canyon Press, and the colophon.
A colophon is the press mark—for Copper Canyon Press it’s the Chinese character for poetry—plus a paragraph saying with what fonts the book was composed, giving a little history of those fonts, and also telling who designed the book, in this case Valerie Brewster, (http://www.olympus.net/personal/brewster/scribe.html),
Here’s the colophon for HAPPY LIFE:

This book is set in Minion, designed for digital composition by Robert Slimbach in 1989. Minion is a neohumanist face, a contemporary typeface retaining elements of the pen-drawn letterforms developed during the Renaissance. Display type is set in Woodland, designed by Akira Kobayashi. Book design and composition by Valerie Brewster, Scribe Typography. Printed on archival-quality paper at McNaughton & Gunn, Inc.

 Barring any unforeseen difficulties, the page proofs are now off to the printer and before long this thing that’s been in the works now for almost a year and a half will be a book.

 Now, I, as the author, move away from those who work in composition and design and over to the publicity department and I get ready to do my part in promoting the book, trying to get it noticed among all the tens of thousands of other books that will be published this fall.

 Until next time … Sincerely,

David Budbill

April 28, 2011


The First Set of Page Proofs

The first set of page proofs for HAPPY LIFE arrived here via a FedEx truck on the afternoon of Friday, April 1st. I had to leave on a short poetry performance trip on Monday afternoon, which meant I had less than three days to get them back in the mail to Port Townsend. It’s like Duke Ellington said, the greatest boon to creativity is a deadline.

I set to work on them immediately Friday afternoon. What came in the package from Copper Canyon Press was David Caligiuri’s copy-edited manuscript and the first set of page proofs, meaning that for the first time I saw the book set in the type that was going to be used for the book and also how the poems would be laid out on the page. The font for this book is Minion for the body of the text and Woodland for display. Display is the term for headlines, titles and so forth; in this case for the titles of the poems.

Each page is still 8.5 by 11 inches, but it has little marks at the four corners showing the limits of the page top and bottom, left and right. The size for HAPPY LIFE will be 5.5 by 9 inches in order to make it consistent with the previous two books, MOMENT TO MOMENT: POEMS OF A MOUNTAIN RECLUSE and WHILE WE’VE STILL GOT FEET. The three books will make a matched set.

Page proofs give everyone involved a chance to compare the copy-edited manuscript to the actual layout of the book to see what the typesetters may have missed. There is almost always nothing—the typesetters are very good at what they do—but also almost always something. This time around there was in one poem a place where the typesetters had not hit the carriage return and two lines were run together as one.

And there was one place where I found a mistake no one else had caught. On p. 12: the last letter in Po Chu-I—sorry I can’t make the umlaut in Chu—is supposed to be lower case, as per David Caligiuri’s note on the copy-edited manuscript and as per elsewhere in the manuscript.  In other words: Po Chu-i not Po Chu-I.

Other than those two obvious errors, there was little else except in one poem, “Three Days in New York”—the longest poem in the book and the longest lined poem in the book also—a number of the lines were too wide for this particular design and they had to be run over and indented. I like to custom make my poems for the design of the book so that there are none of those too-wide line run-overs. It’s no great tragedy that this one poem will have run over lines, but it is something I like to avoid and I should have asked about it long before now when it is too late.

The only things missing now are the artist’s credits, the cataloguing in publication data for the acknowledgments page and the text and layout for the back cover.

In short, I went over the page proofs four times, carefully comparing the type-set proofs to the copy-edited manuscript, packed both page proofs and copy-edited manuscript up and had them back in the mail to Copper Canyon Press by Monday afternoon on my way to southern New Hampshire for a couple of days of poetry performances.

The Story of the Cover and Cover Art for HAPPY LIFE


One of the great things about working with Copper Canyon Press is that they want the author involved in choosing cover art. They want the author to be happy with the cover. This is not always the case. I published two books, a long time ago, with a large New York house. The first one had drawings in it. I wrote to my editor and asked if I could see the drawings to confirm that they accurately portrayed what the stories in the book said. I was told that they would be happy for me to review the art, all I needed to do was come to New York—a seven hour drive—during the three days the art would be in the offices and I could have a look. This tough-guy attitude, I am happy to say, is not the way Copper Canyon Press does business.

While we were still going back and forth about what would be in the manuscript, my editor, Michael Wiegers, asked me to send in some ideas for cover art. Early in November 2010 I sent him 21 possibilities. They included numerous ancient Chinese landscape paintings; here are just two, the first by Hsia Kuei (c. 1190-1230), the second by Chang Feng (1645-1673).  



I also sent numerous ensos painted by my wife, Lois Eby, one example of which is:


And I sent some of Lois’ more improvisatory paintings, such as


These paintings are 5 of the 21 I originally sent. Michael asked me to narrow it down to half a dozen, which I did, choosing only the ancient Chinese landscapes and a number of Lois’ ensos.

After a few weeks we got back 6 possible covers, all of them, much to our surprise, using Lois’ improvisatory paintings, the ones I’d eliminated in cutting down to 6.

On February 8th Copper Canyon Press sent 5 choices of designed covers combining art with text. Here are 2 of the 5.


We went back and forth over the 5 choices, then settled on the one below. After we’d decided on a design there was still some adjustment to background color, type faces and font size for the type and then: done.


As soon as this was completed, the designer. Valerie Brewster (http://www.olympus.net/personal/brewster/scribe.html), set to designing the interior of the book.

More about that and what comes next, next time.

David Budbill

 March 20, 2011

Working on the copy edit of my manuscript

I’ve been working on David Caligiuri’s copy edit of my manuscript for HAPPY LIFE.

Is it going to be hard-hat or hard hat? How do you spell caddis fly (sp)? Where do we use a one-n dash and where a one-m dash? What words get hyphenated? Do we use a different font for the epigraphs? Do we spell it 1200 or twelve-hundred and if the answer is 1200, then is it 1200 or 1,200? And so forth and so forth and so forth. Every page of the copy-edited manuscript is covered with red ink.

Here are a few of paragraphs from my cover letter to Valerie Brewster (http://www.olympus.net/personal/brewster/scribe.html), the book’s designer and guide through the labyrinth from manuscript to book:

In two cases, p. 23 & 23A and p. 47 & 47A, I needed to rebreak lines because of edits/changes. Thus on p. 23A find stanza two from p. 23, as the lines should now run. And on p. 47A find the entire poem from p. 47 with the lines rebroken and corrections made. All other changes are on the pages themselves.

I have a question about the colon and the word that follows a colon. Is that word, the word that follows a colon, always capitalized, sometimes capitalized, what? What’s the rule? Is there a rule? On page 40 I’m hoping we can make all three of those Japanese words lower case. If you will go to pages 56, 62 and 64 you will find uses of the colon followed by a word whose initial letter is lower case. Do we need to be absolutely consistent? If not, then I hope we can on p.40, stanza 3, change Shu to shu. (Or leave all three, Shu, Ha and Ri: capitalized.)

A question on p. 72: why is Northern California capitalized but not northern Vermont.

A question about Oh and O: On page 64, David Caligiuri—the copy editor, about whom I wrote on December 7th—suggests O in place of Oh; yet on pages 27 (x7), 36, 43, 44 (x2), 59 and possibly elsewhere, it’s Oh. Is this an inconsistency?

And on and on.

If you don’t love these kinds of questions, maybe you don’t love being a writer.

So the manuscript—one of a kind—is in the hopefully capable hands of FedEx and on it’s way from the mountains of northern Vermont to Copper Canyon Press, located in Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, Washington, literally the furthest west place on the west coast of the United States.

Next comes the page proofs and the last chance to make any substantial, but not too substantial, changes. At the same time that this is going on, the actual book is being designed. What’s the widest line in the book? The answer to that question will determine the point size for the font which also has to be chosen.

I hope by this point I’ve made sure that all the poems in the manuscript will fit on a single page without any run-over lines. There are some exceptions to this for a few, but only a few, multi-page poems. If there are some lines that do run over, then I will go back and rebreak all the lines in that poem and hope, hope, hope the new way they are broken still fits on the page.

And what will the cover look like? Months ago I sent in some suggestions for cover art. (see entry for December 7, 2010) Will the designers use one of my suggestions? Probably they will. Copper Canyon Press likes its authors to be in on and active in the whole design process.

How will the cover art fit with the type on the cover? What style or styles of fonts will be used on the cover? What colors will the cover have? What will the back cover have for text? What quotes will there be from famous authors about Budbill’s work? Will there be a blurb about the book’s contents, a teaser to make you want to look inside.

Cover design is critically important because as every book designer knows—all the rest of us know too—you CAN judge a book by it’s cover, or at least the cover is the first impression anyone will ever have of your book.

The questions are nearly endless, but they are not endless. Eventually all the questions will be answered and there will really be a book in the world with a publication date of early September 2011.

And in the end—which makes me think of the Beatles line- -and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. It’s true for making a book as well.

More about all this when the page proofs arrive here. In the meantime, stay tuned for something about the cover and cover art which is up next.

The Manuscript Is In

December 7, 2010


I’m about to send off the manuscript for my new book of poems, HAPPY LIFE, which will be published by Copper Canyon Press in September of next year. I hope I’m done with it this week. My editor and I have settled on the poems that will be in the book and in what order and now all I’ve got to do is write the front matter—the half-title page, other works by David Budbill page, title page, copyright page, epigraph page (I’ve got two for this book, one by a Taoist hermit in China whose name is Hsu-tung and the other by the 18th century Japanese poet and tea maker, Baisao), The acknowledgements page, dedication page, and table of contents. Then at the very end of the book there’s a short “about the author page,” which is a short biography of sorts. After all that front and back matter is in place and I’ve gone through the poems for the umpteenth time, I’ll send the manuscript off to my editor, both electronically and a hardcopy, so that the design and production process can begin.

I’ve already sent off a number of possibilities for cover art for the book. I picked about a dozen possibilities, with a great deal of help from my wife,  Lois Eby, who is a painter. Some of the possibilities are abstract, ensos and so forth, and some are landscapes from ancient Chinese painters. It’ll be interesting to see what the designer comes up with. It’s important to give the designer free reign because she’s the one who knows what image will go best with the kind of type and layout the cover of the book will have 

And while the book is being designed—Copper Canyon Press, in my opinion, by the way, has the best book designers in the business.—the manuscript itself will be shipped out to the greatest copy editor of all time, David Caligiuri. David will go through my manuscript with a kind of attention to detail it’s impossible for ordinary mortals to imagine. He’ll track down every reference; check all the grammar and syntax, make sure all the spelling and capitalization are consistent throughout the book. Nothing escapes David Caligiuri’s eye for the minutest detail. I’ve been lucky enough to have my manuscripts go through the Caligiuri baptism by fire before and I can tell you, when a manuscript comes out of his sweat lodge you know it’s cleansed.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for more than a year. It took me more than six years to make the poems. Up until now this has been pretty much my book, then it became the creation of my editor and me as we decided which poems would get cut, which poems stay and in what order. We began with almost 200 pages of poems; we are now down to just a little over 100 pages of poems.

Now the number people working on this book enlarges from two of us to many: book designers, copy editor, sales staff, shipping clerks and so on. And all this so that a new book called HAPPY LIFE can be available for purchase by September 2011

Sincerely, David