First, the link: a tribute to the acknowledgements page — which tells “the story behind the story”. Second, me bitching: I have complicated feelings about acknowledgements pages, and have come to dislike them. They can get pretty egregious. Like handing the mike to a grandparent at a wedding. When will it end? Who AREN’T they thanking? Well, old Grampa Zeke has the mic now and we just have to wait this one out.
Worse-still are the super-name-droppy ones wherein the author tries to head criticism off at the pass by tying themselves to powerful people, etc. It’s like kissing your imaginary cross and holding it up and saying, “first I’d like to thank Jesus, my lord and saviour” at an awards ceremony, except with Margaret Atwood in the place of Christ.
In fact, I have come to largely dislike a lot of the meta bits of books: dedications, bios, author photos, etc. etc. And for my last four books, I’ve really tried to keep that stuff to a minimum: brief dedication, if one at all; no head shot; no blurbs; brief bio; and an acknowledgements page that lists a few journals, some grants (we’re actually obligated to note these as part of the conditions of receiving our grants), and the people who actually worked on the poems within. If I can get it all into one paragraph, I’m happy. I mean, no one cares who I hang out with, nor does anyone want to watch me age via headshot, anyway — least of all me. It’d be like time-lapse of a head of cabbage rotting in the crisper.
That said, for this next book, a selected poems covering 25 years of work, I went with most of these things at the encouragement of my publisher: headshot, dedication, blurbs from writers I admire, 2 page acknowledgements, etc. Listen, it was covering six previous books as well as some new stuff. And that means six or seven books of people and publications to cite. Sue me. I broke my own rule. At least I have left Jesus and Peggy out of it.
The acknowledgments remind me of a playwright’s list of characters that come before the first act, a glance into the cast of a life and how a book is made. There are lovers, chosen families and birth families, friendships cascading from childhood into adulthood. There are teachers and classmates, the traces of the classroom where books sometimes begin. The agents and publishers and editors who have ushered forth the words between the covers. There are the institutions and residencies that, stitched together, create a map of where the book was written. And of course, there are the fellow artists, the writing groups, the people a writer thinks alongside, the strange blending of heroes become friends, of friends who are our teachers and most honest critics. The ones who saw the early scaffolding of a book and coaxed it along, staking it up like a tomato plant. In the white space around the black ink, I see the fury and exhaustion and hunger and mourning and delight of comradery in the process of making a book.