Predator’s Tongue/Poetry Book Contests

After just having a discussion with a poetry buddy about how I was thinking about waiting a month or so to work on putting the final touches on Predator’s Tongue before submitting it to contests, I woke up this morning with a zealousness for editing I haven’t felt…ever.

During my thesis defense, I received the suggestion of front-loading my manuscript more. Particularly, I needed to add some of my myth poems to the front of the manuscript, so the reader is prepared when he/she encounters more of these later. It was also suggested that I change the order a bit to let the reader “breathe.” Some of my poems are really dark, and when there are several in close succession, there should be some lighter poems to help break up that intensity a little bit.

With all of the above in mind, I set about reorganizing my whole manuscript and was excited to find new connections between poems. I ended up removing several and adding in others (like “Maidens Bound to Rocks“), as well as doing little line edits. I’m still not committed to the title and the way I’ve broken up the manuscript into sections, but I think I will stick with it for now and see what happens after I’ve heard back from the first couple contests I submit to.

I’m going to spend the next couple of days (which will also be dedicated to packing and panicking over my trip to Spain that I’m leaving for in a few short days!) reading over it a little bit more, and then I plan on submitting it to the FIELD Poetry Prize.  Not only is it a prize I respect, but I’m interested in seeing what happens, putting this little manuscript out into the universe and seeing if it gets rejected immediately (and thus needs some more work) or maybe getting to be a finalist. Either way, I’m interested to see what happens and I’d like to submit to one or two right now just to stick my toe in the water (and so I’m not dumping a lot of money at once).

I’ve been reading up on how other poets have chosen to handle this. 32 Poems has a good blog post up from a year ago about exactly this sort of thing. Just like submitting, winning a contest is a numbers game. You have to get your book out there. The luck comes in when you’re selected as a finalist by the readers and then THE judge selects your book over others. Sometimes you are a finalist, and you didn’t have THAT judge. That’s when you know you’re walking the hard road of a poet.

Rebecca Hazelton, winner of The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Book Award, talks about her thoughts and tribulations about the process here. The thing I pulled from this interview was, “…make your book look like a book, your formatting easy on the eyes, your table of contents in reasonable shape.” From my experience reading for a literary journal, I know that presentation goes a long way. Even if a poem is wonderful, if it’s written in some ridiculous font or has some glaring grammatical error, it’s going to put me off and make me less willing to fall in love with it. We have to remove all of those silly things that can become tallies against us to readers when they are reading several manuscripts at a time. Help them envision your book AS a book.

Another thing Hazelton says is “..don’t give up. The day before I got the news I told my husband that I was going to shelve the book. I’d threatened to do so before, but this time I was serious. I felt like it was just going to be a finalist forever, and I was starting to feel sick about it.” A lot of poets say this, and it’s so true. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.

Sometimes I just need to be reminded that it’s hard to be a poet. We’re a dying breed, and we’ve got to hold tight and fight hard to stay afloat. I feel like it’s good to stay grounded before sending my book off into the universe; to know in advance, that hey, not many books get picked up the first time they’re sent out. A lot of people usually spend 5-8 years with their manuscripts before they get published. That’s a hard sock to the punching bag that is our egos if I’ve ever heard one.

If you finally got your poetry book published, how did you go about it? Do you have any advice you wish you would have known before you started sending it out?

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2 thoughts on “Predator’s Tongue/Poetry Book Contests

  1. I drove myself crazy over the order of my chapbook. Like in a writing workshop, sometimes it just helps to have a fresh pair of eyes look at it and help you re-arrange. But my adviser suggested putting more of the “strong” poems in the beginning as well, so I’d say that was good advice. She also suggested skimming through the lines of each poem in the collection to find a title that “fit.” I did, and retitled the chapbook after I was dead set on another title. FWIW, I do like “Predator’s Tongue,” but if you’re still not sure, your title might be hiding in the manuscript somewhere.

    I’d love to read this when its ready. Good luck, I’ve got my fingers crossed for you!

    1. What an awesome idea! I’d love to read yours and vice-versa. Might be helpful since all of the people who have read it thus far worked with me on every poem every step of the way…

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