Student publishes book of poetry inspired by loss

Hardinsburg junior Leta Summers had her book of poems, “Jumping Anyway”, published in July. During the writing process, Summers would burn pages as a way to ease negativity. 

Lauren Lorance

The flick of a lighter illuminates the world around her, a letter in her hand. The paper meets the flame, its quavering blue-white light spreading across one line, now two, the letter withering away before her eyes. Her words, now completely engulfed in fire, disappear into nothingness, now a memory. Suddenly, the flame is expelled, the only remnants of the letter’s existence are the gray ash floating atop the air, the charred specks of paper piling at the bottom of the sink basin.

On the days when ridding herself of bad thoughts was nearly impossible, junior Leta Summers jotted her thoughts down in letters as an emotional outlet. Burning them was an added release.

“I would take them to the sink and light them on fire and then put it out,” Summers said. “It was my way of physically relieving myself of that and physically getting rid of that negativity.”

Summers would need this solace, as tragedy shook her family.

“When I was in high school, in between my junior year, my grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer,” Summers said. “She had been battling for awhile, and I would help take care of her, along with my mom and my aunts and uncles.”

Cancer. A frightening possibility to those unaffected by it, a horrifying reality for those who have faced it.

And even more devastating news followed. Not long after her grandmother died, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“Writing poetry kind of got my thoughts and emotions out,” Summers said. “That way, I could stay positive and be there for them.”

As she watched both women struggle, their health deteriorating, their bodies becoming weaker, Summers would channel those feelings into a collection of poetry that she chose to save instead of burn.

At 23 years old, the English for Secondary Teachers major is a published author. Her debut book, “Jumping Anyway,” compiled between 2007 and 2012, was published with Itoh Press earlier this year.

The book, consisting of 95 poems, is a remembrance to her lost loved ones, including her mother, who, after a year in remission, died in 2011.

“The first section is actually about my mom,” Summers said. “It’s dedicated to her memory, and what I was experiencing during her death, and when she was diagnosed with cancer and when it came back.”

Other sections include dealing with loss and the transition toward acceptance.

“I had a friend that committed suicide, and there was a poem in there about it, and it was, like, nightmares and dreams,” Summers said. “Then it started transitioning into nature, to where I started finding peace and just comfort and trying to be a comfort to other people as well.”

The serenity she found surrounding her would prove to be an inspiration.

“Whenever it comes to nature, I’ll just see something that kind of just, like, sparks my attention,” Summers said. “There was one about autumn and the leaves, and I just noticed the colors changing, and then it just kind of got me thinking about life itself and how much time passes and the changes and what all those changes mean to me as a person.”

Lisa Maine, an editor at Itoh Press, can remember her first time reading Summers’ collection.

“Her work struck me as very emotional, a personal journey through a difficult time in Leta’s life,” Maine said. “I was able to empathize with her, feel her pain and her joy.”

To Summers, if her words can ring helpful for someone, it was well worth writing.

“I’ve had a few people that have actually read it come up to me and talk to me about how much they can relate to it,” Summers said. “Being able to share in their experience and them to be able to relate to it means everything to me.”

Carol Itoh, CEO and owner of Itoh Press, took a chance on Summers’ ability to connect with an audience, though she is not a fan of poetry.

“Carol absolutely hates poetry, but she read some of mine and thought it was good enough to publish,” Summers said. “Pretty honored by that.”

Itoh said her company valued the significance of Summers’ writing.

“It is true I do not read poetry for entertainment, however, I have a submissions editor who approves every manuscript we accept,” Itoh said. “We assess a work based on its quality and not by our personal taste.

“Leta’s book was accepted based upon the fact her work was good and not on whether I like poetry or not.”

Summers says she hopes the book will help people going through their own struggles.

“The whole reason why I had even considered it being ever published was because I wanted people to understand that they’re not alone,” Summers said. “I know somewhere out there, someone’s going through the same thing I did.”

And if readers, cast into their own pits of darkness, can spark their own glimmering light, then she’s done her job.

“I wanted them to know that they’re not alone and that they’ll eventually be happy,” Summers said. “You just have to get through the hurdle of what’s going on now.”