It’s hard to define “success” in the publishing world these days. As major publishing firms struggle to turn a profit, it’s more difficult than ever to get a traditional contract. Meanwhile, self-publishing companies – which let anyone print their work, for a fee – are rapidly expanding. But the books they publish sometimes reach just dozens of readers – as opposed to, say, a million.
Flagler Assistant Professor of English Liz Robbins is finding success somewhere in between those two extremes. Her first full-length book of poetry, “Hope, As The World Is A Scorpion Fish,” was published by small, Nebraska-based The Backwaters Press in 2008 and has sold more than 1,000 copies.
One of the poems, “Studio,” was even selected by Garrison Keillor – the famed American author and radio personality best known for his Minnesota Public Radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” – for national radio broadcast on “The Writer’s Almanac.”
Robbins’ book also received praise from David Bottoms — poet laureate of Georgia and editor of the literary magazine “Five Points” — who describes Robbins’ poems as exploring with “unflinching courage the human need for love and meaning. They are born out of that mysterious and painful tension between the hopeful heart and the world it must confront.”
For Robbins, success has more to do with creating, improving and sharing her work than with fame or money. She nurtures a similar approach in her creative writing classes at Flagler.
“I knew I wanted to teach, and I knew if I wanted to teach writing, publishing in a traditional way would be connected to that,” she said. “But I think also there’s so much rejection in sending out your work … that you absolutely have to be driven and passionate about it.
“I think different poets have different reasons and have different ways of writing … For me, it’s always starting with a puzzle of one kind or another … I think that we could benefit collectively from more contemplative thinking and inwardness, reflection. And I think actually all of literature plays that role; whenever we read a short story or a poem, no matter what, we’re getting some insight into the human condition and seeing ourselves and the people we know reflected back to us.”
The “Scorpion Fish” collection is hardly Robbins’ first literary accomplishment; she has received the First Coast Writers’ Poetry Award, judged by Robert Bly, and has been nominated for Best New Poets and a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in “Calyx,” “The Chattahoochee Review,” “The National Poetry Review,” “Natural Bridge,” “Potomac Review,” “Puerto del Sol” and other literary journals.
As an instructor, Robbins said she feels privileged to learn about students’ personal lives and points of view through their creative writing.
“I’ve taught at different universities,” she said. “The students at Flagler, as a group, tend to be compassionate, sweet, self-motivated, modest … Just getting to know them is very rewarding.” Robbins said she sometimes has difficulty making time for both teaching and writing, but she thinks the tasks complement each other.
“I read a statistic somewhere that there are like 200 writers in the United States who make a living off of their writing,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a single poet I know of that doesn’t also teach, and that’s including the ones at the top of the heap.
“But teaching writing helps you become a better writer … and the best teaching requires a profound creativity.”