I just submitted Predator’s Tongue to its very first First Book Award. It feels like I put it on its very first bus to kindergarten and that I hope it’ll make friends and see more of the world. It also feels really, really weird, like, “I just did that? Wasn’t I freaking out about doing that like three days ago?”
In any case, my manuscript needed an overhaul and somehow, magically, the time and the right ideas came together.
After going back and forth for a few hours, I finally decided to cut my section-break headings. Keep the pages with the italicized quotes, but leave off the names (“Animal,” “Child,” “Adult”). Really, I felt like the “titles” were too constricting. It was suggested to me to put my best work in the front of the manuscript, as well as work that hints at what comes later, so I needed some dark farm, some confessional, some myth, and I needed that to all go together and create a harmony. It wouldn’t make such sense with the “Animal” heading shadowing everything.
Then, I moved onto re-ordering, which is quite possibly the most fun and least fun part of dealing with a collection.
I started with re-ordering the first section. Most of the poems in this one haven’t moved around much, but I wanted to add in another poem and re-order some to help foster this new one. What I look for when I order is things that ring off each other: similar subjects, similar ideas, words, lines, images, etc. For example, I have poem that is the story of a woman who loses a pet lamb that she had that was sort of like a baby to her. I then follow it with a poem called “The Sheep Child.” Some are less obvious than that. One poem ends with the line “becomes young again,” and the poem following it is about a speaker reflecting on themselves as a baby.
I also choose the placement of certain poems based on whether they’ll create interesting incongruities. For example, having one poem about a really awful marriage followed by a poem about a speaker talking about her husband. Because the reader has this idea of the “awful marriage” already in his or her head, it shadows the meaning of the marriage poem that follows it. I’m always really interested in how to create different shades of meaning and how to form narratives from placement.
In terms of re-ordering, I’m also thinking about arc: does this section or whole book lead to something? I had the biggest trouble with the second section. While I really liked the order and progression of it, the stronger poems were really at the end, and I needed to have some at the beginning of the section. I tried moving the stronger poems to the beginning, but then, that left the not-as-strong poems just at the end of the section, which I didn’t want either. So, I started folding them in. Maybe one or two strong poems, with a not-as-strong poem after it.
I also decided I wanted to take two poems from the third section and put it in this section. These two poems were more “cross-over” poems. Originally, my second section was just poems about children or parent/child relationships, and my third section was about adult relationships. The two poems I wanted to put in the second section were obviously written by an adult speaker about the adult’s present, but the focus was on their parent relationships, so I wanted those to be included in the no-longer-titled-but-loosely-defined “child” section instead. Once I did that, I had a real clear sense of the arc. I still had the strong poems at the front, a clear progression, and some fun turns I discovered, as well as two poems that could end the section and clearly facilitate a transition into the next one. Wowza.
Lastly, I worked on the third section. I added a poem back in I had recently deleted, and added in two new poems that had pretty clear places to go. I re-checked how this section progressed and was really pleased with it.
Before sending it off, I then did one last read-through of the whole manuscript, paying attention to cutting any words, and checking that the order felt solid and made sense. There are some places that I felt were a little shaky. For one, there are a couple of poems that I chose not to revise. I’ve been thinking about revisions for them, but nothing has really come up, and I wanted to focus on the work I could picture changes for. Also, some of the pieces in the second section did still feel a little out of place, which could be because they’ve been in the same place for a long time, or because they haven’t found their fit yet. If my book doesn’t win its very first First Book Award, this is a section I think I’ll come back to. It may require replacing some poems, but we’ll see how time weighs out on that matter.
Thanks to all of you that talked me down on my last post! I’m really excited about letting my book out into the world for the first time. Who knows what might happen?
Happy writing (and editing and submitting and editing and submitting…)!