Happy Pub Day, Jeanne-Marie Osterman!

Shellback is officially released today! Congratulations, Jeanne-Marie Osterman!

Jeanne-Marie is also this week’s featured author in Sapling, Black Lawrence Press’ curated weekly e-newsletter. Read the excerpt below:

Sapling: What was your experience with the editing of the manuscript? Did you have an opportunity to make revisions either at your own suggestion or at the suggestion of your editor? How involved were you in the design aspects of the book’s production (cover image, design, etc.)?

JMO: My manuscript was edited—and re-edited— before it was accepted, so once I signed the contract there were virtually no changes. Many of the poems had gone through the gauntlet of a workshop. Once I felt that “a collection” was taking shape, I worked for about a year-and-a-half fleshing it out, sometimes emailing poems to my poetry teacher for feedback. When I had about sixty pages of poems, I sent him the whole bundle. He cut several poems, suggested I retitle some, and helped me with sequencing. Most important, he told me I was closer than I thought to a finished manuscript, and not to give up! I made the changes he suggested, and submitted to about 50 publishers, over six months, with nary a nibble. Six months isn’t a lot of time, but feeling “there’s always room for improvement,” I quit submitting and took a long hard look at my work. Rather, I took a listen! I sat down and read the entire thing into a voice recorder and heard myself read it back. Was this the best I could do? What if I was asked to do a reading? Would I be proud of every poem…every word? This prompted me to replace two poems with new ones, and make a change in sequencing which made the flow less expected. Last, I changed my title from something long and cumbersome to “Shellback,” an unusual word which I hoped might spark interest. I started submitting again and within a few months, Shellback was a finalist or semi-finalist in no less than six contests. Soon after that, I had four acceptances! I turned down the first one because the publisher indicated I’d have no say on the cover. And, he’d only allow it to be sold on his own website which meant limited exposure. The second publisher wanted two-and-a half years until release time. I really agonized over this one because that’s not entirely unreasonable. But I just couldn’t see myself waiting that long! And I’d been getting to the semi-finals and finals with others so I decided to walk away and keep trying. It paid off because a month later, Paloma Press said “yes,” and wanted to publish within a year. I accepted immediately, and before I had time to withdraw all my other manuscripts—actually the next day—Shellback won a contest—first place!—from a small press in New Mexico. I was positively over the moon. But back to your question—a poem is never finished really, so it’s likely we may wish to revise after acceptance. If you need to make a change, ask! Study your production schedule and determine when it may be too late, or costly, or just too much trouble for that hard-working small press…

Sapling # 584, edited by Yvonne Garrett

Gratitude to those who joined our pre-launch readings: on January 24th, with Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Janice N. Harrington & Christopher X. Shade, and on January 29th, with Frederick O. Foote, MD, CAPT, MC, USN (Ret.).

SHELLBACK is available from Ingram (wholesale), Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


“A not-untroubled tribute and a difficult elegy, Shellback traces the attachment of a daughter to her father from her childhood days of trying “to be his boy” to the grown-up’s task to be his caregiver in his last years. Including horrific details from the father’s WWII Navy service in the Pacific, which the poet memorializes in blunt, terse lines, alongside the harrowing specifics of his decline, Osterman limns a portrait of a complex relationship. Marked by candor and clear-sightedness, these poems resist soothing resolutions and easy solace, which is why they are sure to ring true to readers.”
—Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Letters from Limbo

Shellback is an elegy for a man who taught his youngest daughter how to “stretch a buck, drive a truck, / anchor a screw, win at gin rummy.” Jeanne-Marie Osterman toggles between nightmarish scenes her father witnessed during World War II and the smaller but no less affecting traumas of his final months in a nursing home. Her language is spare and colloquial, with moments of irony and deadpan wit that illuminate every detail. The arduous work of losing and grieving is beautifully preserved in these poems, which in their vividness function like a series of photographs. Or a time capsule. Or amber—something tough, primordial, and nearly clear. Osterman conveys, impeccably and with unflappable grace, the hard-earned knowledge that “no one is only / their sins.”
—Mark Bibbins, 13th Balloon

The beautifully sequenced poems in Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s Shellback yield a searing portrait of the poet’s father as a Depression-era boy and a Navy World War II veteran, given to emotional coldness and barely repressed anger. Their poignancy resides in the poet’s filial devotion, her wish to understand him and care for him in his old age. As Osterman writes in “Forgive:” “I let memories I can’t erase / rest in peace, / knowing no one is only their sins.” With often haunting imagery and carefully clipped lines, she memorably portrays a man, his era, and a daughter’s unstinting love.
—Gardner McFall, On the Line

Jeanne-Marie Osterman is the author of There’s a Hum (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in Borderlands, Cathexis Northwest, 45th Parallel Magazine, The Madison Review, and elsewhere. A finalist for the 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Award and 2017 Levis Prize in Poetry, she is poetry editor for Cagibi, a journal of prose and poetry.

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