By Sonali Das
It has been a busy few weeks at the UI Press since the name Miller Williams drew national attention this January.
Demand for the author's work dramatically increased after President Clinton picked him to deliver the inaugural poem.
"As soon as people knew he was the inaugural poet, the demand increased tremendously," said Stephanie Smith, publicity manager for the UI press, Williams' publisher.
After he became the inaugural poet, 5,000 special edition hardcover copies of Williams' book, "The Ways We Touch," were printed with the inaugural poem tipped in. (Williams' inaugural poem could not be released until after the ceremonies. UI Press printed the rest of the book prior to the event and then the poem was bound in to the back of the book just before shipping.) Those copies have been completely sold out to bookstores around the country. Another 5,000 copies are scheduled to come off the press this month, this time with the poem printed in the book.
It's a new spotlight for the 66-year-old author and director of the University of Arkansas Press. Williams has written 10 books and been well-received by the poetry community, but he said he was surprised to receive the call from the inaugural committee inviting him to speak.
And although much of the country wondered, "Miller who?" the selection was quite deliberate. Williams is from Arkansas and is what he calls a "cordial acquaintance" of the president.
And, Clinton reads and admires Williams' poetry, which is plainspoken in style. Williams said he is inspired by emotions, an image or a striking turn of phrase. To help himself compose the inaugural poem, "Of History and Hope," he relied on the help of his John Coltrane CD, which he said he had playing on his stereo.
"I guess I went through two yellow legal pads of drafts and fiddling," he told a Washington Post reporter. "It was pretty straightforward." He wanted it just right if it was going to be delivered to an audience of as many as 200 million people.
"I saw more people than I could have imagined standing as politely as possible -- but waiting for the poem to pass, he recalled after delivering his poem. "Then in the middle of the poem, I saw them looking up and by the end, I felt they were leaning toward me a little as if they heard what I was saying."
Although the writing community has been listening to Williams for years, the UI Press hopes more of the public will be interested in his work because of the inauguration. That's something the poet hopes for, too.
"I don't write poems to keep them secret," he said.