Setting up for the book signing event at Paddiwhack Gallery in Gainesville.

Setting up for the book signing event at Paddiwhack Gallery in Gainesville.

Paddiwhack Gallery hosted a wonderful book-launch/signing party for me on August 21. We had more than three dozen people show up during the day and I have to say the event was magical.

In addition to many friends from work and from the local writing community, two of my former classmates from Tallahassee and Florida High, otherwise known as the demonstration school, were there, including Margie Phifer Tullos, who drove all the way from Valdosta with her husband, Stan.

I will never forget how I felt when I turned around during the end of one of my two readings and saw that Margie had entered the room. Our families go back many years, and I had no clue she was coming. Our other classmate, Cassandra Evans McRay, lives right here in Gainesville, but we never see each other, so the three of us managed to get in a good visit and vowed to stay in better touch.

With Margie Phifer Tullos, left, and Cassandra Evans McRay.

With Margie Phifer Tullos, left, and Cassandra Evans McRay.

My very special stepdaughter, Krystal, and granddaughter, Marley, made the effort to drive up from Palm Harbor, and my husband gets points for being the best-ever personal assistant (refilling my punch cup and bringing over my pen to sign books when I’d get distracted talking to people, among other important duties he handled with aplomb). Overall, so many people made an effort to come out and show their support on a bright, sunny day during which they could have done a lot of other things.

Most people brought their pre-ordered copies for me to sign, but several additional copies sold as well, which was a nice surprise from the standpoint of getting more poems out there in the world.

I was (and am) truly humbled by the turnout, the warm atmosphere and the generosity of Chuck Sapp, who owns the gallery, and Linda Blondheim, a wonderful painter and longtime friend who has her studio at the gallery (and made the most excellent brownies I’ve ever had to highlight the refreshment spread) in hosting this gathering.

My good friend, the amazing poet Lola Haskins, came and even brought flowers.

My good friend, the amazing poet Lola Haskins, came and even brought flowers.

I had the opportunity to read twice during the 1-5 p.m. event, and to talk about some of the poems in The Heart Contracts. Very much on short notice, I’d written down a few things about certain poems so that I could talk about them in context if asked. It’s been many years since I’ve given a reading — I’m thinking the last time was in Tampa in the late 1980s, also at a small gallery, and with a group I belonged to at the time, known as the Tampa Bay Poets. But it felt very natural and could not have taken place in a more welcoming environment.

There is something about giving voice, literally, to one’s work that seems to embody it with a fullness that it lacks just staring at you printed on the page. And reading aloud to a group of friends is an experience there really are no words for; it’s that rewarding.

Chatting with friends during a break in the reading.

Chatting with friends during a break in the reading.

I hope I’ll have other opportunities to read my work, but this celebration in honor of my first book was something special, for so many reasons.

I also hope the people who showed up for his event have some idea what their presence and support means to me.