Dr. Jeff Newberry has found success yet again in his craft, securing a publishing deal for his third book of poetry, “How to Talk About the Dead,” his fifth publishing book overall.
The inspiration behind the book’s title and the poems it contains within was inspired by a trip he made to a graveyard that held the final resting place of distant relatives he had never met.
Dr. Newberry described having an epiphany as he stood in the burial ground: “It just struck me that I didn’t know any of these people… and I wrote a sonnet about the experience that went something like, ‘I had never felt closer to my family, but they’re dead.’”
That single sonnet would evolve into the collection of poems that makes up “How to Talk About the Dead,” with each poem evoking the contentedly somber theme of their inspiration.
As ABAC’s residential poet, Dr. Newberry uses his work to keep an old literary tradition alive by reinventing it through a modern lens.
“I write the kind of stuff I want to read,” he said, stressing his desire to create poems that are approachable to the modern reader.
“Poetry as a genre has a bad habit of blowing pipe smoke in reader’s faces,” he added, “of being pretentious and elevated just for the sake of it… [whereas] mine has one foot on grounded terrain.”
He first began publishing his work in 2010 with a small bundle of poems, followed by his first poetry collection in 2013.
A few years later, he successfully published a novel titled “Stairway to the Sea” before releasing a second volume of poetry that unfortunately saw lower exposure during the pandemic.
Despite this, Dr. Newberry wasn’t deterred by the experience nor by the several publishing rejections he’d faced up to that point; rather, he found satisfaction in the work itself.
Dr. Newberry cautioned publishing newcomers to adopt a similar mindset, saying, “Publication cannot be the reward, the work has to be the reward, the writing has to be the reward.”
He also advised aspiring poets to start with more accessible, modern works, providing the example of Tom Hunley’s “The State that Springfield is In,” a book of poems written in the voices of characters from “The Simpsons.”
When discussing the impact ABAC has had on his creative process, Dr. Newberry praised the school for the immense support the school has given him over the years.
“ABAC has constantly encouraged me, welcomed me, and made me feel like this place is home,” he said, adding that the school has largely given him the freedom to read what how wants and to write what he wants.
In his closing words, Dr. Newberry expressed the gratitude he feels towards the ABAC community: “The biggest thing I would like to say is thank you to ABAC for supporting me in what I do.”