Junior health administration and policy major Calista Ogburn began writing poetry over five years ago and has not stopped since. She is currently the president of Retriever Poets, a club that meets weekly where students write and share their poetry, and a coach for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s CUPSI team — a group of slam poets who perform yearly at a national conference. Outside of campus, she submits poems to a variety of publications, such as the Baltimore journal “Charm City Stories.” This year, she wrote a poetry book titled “a splash of yellow.”
The book is actually Ogburn’s fifth. She created the first four books on her own using a paper cutter and an industrial stapler, then sold them to friends and family. More information about these books is available on her website, calistaogburn.weebly.com. What sets “a splash of yellow” apart was Ogburn’s decision to self-publish it through Amazon. She wanted more people to be able to hear about her experiences by accessing her poetry and felt that “Amazon was the best way to connect with people around the world” without having to go through a traditional publishing company.
The process of publication was complicated. After writing more than 50 poems and deciding on about 30 that would be in the book, Ogburn faced many difficulties and setbacks. She labored over formatting her documents exactly right for weeks and often became emotional with frustration.
While composing her poems, Ogburn fought with the idea of authenticity. She writes a poetry book each year, and each book reflects her real-life experiences from that year. Two of the main themes that developed in “a splash of yellow” are, as described after the dedication, “heartbreak and the oppression of Asian women.” Ogburn hesitated to include certain stories about how stereotypes were used against her in fear of upsetting readers who have done the behaviors she condemned, but she eventually decided to stay true to her experience and hopes that those people might realize how their actions have impacted others.
Despite this, she wouldn’t change anything about her experience given the chance, and asked herself, “if I don’t struggle with this Amazon book, how am I supposed to be proud of it?”
She was not completely alone in this journey. The book’s editor, Morgan Mullings, and illustrator, Tess McRae, provided tons of support. Mullings, with whom Ogburn shares “the same kind of poetry heart,” provided valuable insight into her style, advising her to “let the real words that have impact take control” of each poem. Mullings also wrote the book’s foreword, which Ogburn says perfectly captures the essence of the book. McRae’s illustrations bring to life the metaphor of a museum used throughout the book.
Ogburn advises other poets who might be seeking publication to network and find people who can help and support them in their writing, to consider their audience when writing and, most importantly, to write outside of their comfort zones. She says that she used to struggle with self-doubt about her poetry, as do many other poets, but is now very confident in her work. She does not have a favorite poem in “a splash of yellow,” she says, because she loves every single one. She notes that writing the book “wasn’t easy,” but that she thinks “anyone else could do it” and that poets should be proud of what they do.
Ogburn persevered through difficult times while writing her poems and working to publish “a splash of yellow.” She emphasizes that her book is “for everyone to read,” and hopes that they can reflect on or relate to the stories she tells. Most of all, she wants to bring a little splash of color into her readers’ lives.