Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Suggested Blog Topic -- What is your process for putting together a manuscript, and how has your process changed the second time around?

J suggested a great blog topic (sorry Ashberry, one more day...) on

What is your process for putting together a manuscript, and how has your process changed the second time around?

Book one, Book two--

My first manuscript was put together in sections because that's how I saw it unfolding, a conversation of what stops us in our lives--death, love, and illness. Honestly, sections make putting a manuscript much easier. It's like three little chapbooks all woven together with ribbon, or three friends talking.

It's good for the reader to, they're led along with signposts. Here we may see sadness. Here we may faith. It's short walks with a guide. It's Hi Friend I Want to Show You a Few Things.

My second manuscript the one I'm considering "done" (though honestly, I think of that quote-- Poetry is never finished, just abandoned--is more applicable as I could honestly pull a Whitman and revise this the rest of my life) has been much harder to organize because there are (insert heroic horn-blowing here) no sections.

I am asking the reader to trust me the whole way through. I am saying, we've got a long walk ahead of us and when we finish together, you'll be glad you came. I think it makes it harder to satisfy the reader, there may be places where the reader if I know where I'm going, if there's going to be a payoff in the end. I hope so. That's the goal of it, to say, trust me here and this will turn out okay.

That has been the challenge of this manuscript, my belief that I can create a strong book without sections. I may be wrong--I hope not--but I could be terribly wrong. But I guess that is how things have changed with book two, I'm challenging myself and the reader a little more. I don't want someone to pick up my book and think they know what to expect. I don't want to a caricature of myself either. I want to show I've grown, changed, and there's still more to say.


The Organizational Element

I do believe there needs to be an underlining organization quality to every manuscript, whether it be a narrative arc, sections, images from one poem leading to another, alphabetized by the first word of every poem-- there needs to be something the poet is aware of at play. The reader does not need to necessarily be aware of this, the reader should just be able to read it (& enjoy it) without knowing the Cliff Notes on the book, but I believe the poet needs to know these things.


Fears or The Monkey House--

Ever since I watched that episode of Project Runway where Chris was working on his garments and decided to use human hair as an accessory and Thom Gunn said to him:

"When you first enter into the monkey house in the zoo, you think, 'Oh my god, this place stinks!' And after you're there for 20 minutes, you think, 'It's not so bad.' And after you're there for an hour, it doesn't smell at all! But anybody else coming into the monkey house freshly thinks, 'Oh my god, this stinks!' You've been living in the monkey house."

I sometimes fear that I'm living in the monkey house because I have become so focused on this. My decisions, I doubt. Then I worry what I believe is a beautiful poem, actually stinks. Thankfully, many (or most) of these poems have been published --and by people who aren't my friends--so I'm hoping I am not in the monkey house. But I do think about that, especially late at night when I get incredible ideas to retitle my poems through the Abstract Art Title Generator and in the morning have to go back and fix all that I broke.

Because of this, I no longer revise my manuscript at night as that is when I'm at my most creative and in fact, am not the poet or the editor, but the madwoman adding human hair to her poems and calling it a fur coat.



Mostly with a book, I have a bigger idea. I've never been one to write poems from Date X to Date X, organize them, and send them off. I am always thinking about a great conversation, about what exactly is this book trying to say. This is not because of marketing, because I want the publisher to say, "Here's a great book of poems about ______________," but because I see the book as a bigger work of art. The poems are only sections to a bigger poem, the book. Someone more famous said this better than I just did, (I think I just quoted it recently too.)

Anyway, my process is to write with an idea for the book. When I finish a poem that I feel is strong enough, I ask myself if this poem deserves to be in the conversation (aka "the manuscript"). If it does, I wait a bit (to make sure I'm not just loving it because it's my new baby) then add it in. Later, I reread the manuscript remove anything I feel is no longer working. It's the hard part, I hope I'm making it better, but worry sometimes, and occasionally, have had to returned to the manuscript when I've removed too much.


There are a million ways to put together a book of poem. This is just one way.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, the monkey house?!? Trust me, you don't live there. Not even in the same ZIP code! I can't wait to read your next collection--good luck with it.

    I liked your thoughts on the narrative arc, asking the reader to trust you and come along on the journey. Manuscripts are so personal; I understand your anxieties about it. But I'm sure they're unfounded and can only serve to shape the book.

    And, I couldn't resist answering the question myself--a little self-exploration on Thursday morning.


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