Manuscript Redux, Part 2

I tackled the MAJOR revisions and re-ordering of what is looking to now be called Swallow Tongue. The original first and second sections have been flipped and now transition into one another. Some of my strongest work leads the first section and poems that can work as dialogue pieces resolve the third section.

Since I’ve never worked so exhaustively on this manuscript (at least 6 days thinking about it, editing, re-ordering it, re-writing it), I’ve never experienced the roller coaster of emotions around the process. Sometimes, I had a major breakthrough on revising a poem that I hadn’t been able to figure out for years. Some perfect line, perfect ending, major cut would come to me. I’d text my husband, “I FIGURED OUT AN ENDING TO THIS ONE POEM AND IT’S AWESOME NOW!” But then, an hour or a day later, I’d re-read that edit and be like, “What the hell was I thinking?” Or, I’d realize these two or three poems talked to one another in a really cool way, so I ‘d place them near one another, and then, I’d be screaming (in my head) “OMG! POETRY IS AWESOME! ORDER YAYYYYYYY!” Then, the next day, I’d sit down to translate that re-order change from paper to the document on my computer, and I’d lose that sense of it being the right order and I’d be down again. Or, I’d be on a high of reading my own work and feeling proud of it, and then turning to some of my favorite poets to get an idea for an ending for a poem I’m revising, and then get so startled by a beautiful poem they wrote that seems so utterly perfect, like it was never revised ever, like it just came out on the page straight from the mind of a poetry god, and I want to give up the manuscript totally because, I tell myself, “How could I ever writing something like that?” 

It’s been several days of talking myself off the ledge, but thankfully, with all of the major revisions done, all that’s left is the nit-picking and order-checking. I need to make sure the order shakes out, so I need to be evaluating if some things really fit where they are now. I also cut five poems while I was going through it, so I need to make sure if those are poems that could be re-worked to be put back in, or if they should be gone forever.

I also need to work on titles. I have a lot of poems that have titles that finger-point at the myth they were derived from. If I could come up with another title for those poems, the poem itself wouldn’t scream myth and would fit a little easier with the rest of the poems. For example, “Daphne as a Housewife” (up at PANK) could be titled “Portrait of a Housewife” and work fine. Other titles are going to be harder, just as titles always are. I’ve also realized as I’ve worked through this that I have way too many one-word titles. I probably want to go and vary that up.

Speaking of variance, I’m looking at form a lot too, trying to make sure there’s not a huge clump of poems with the same form near one another, and, if so, changing up the form of one of them, or changing up the order a little. At places, poems with the same form works. Others, it’s just too much.

Swallow Tongue is shaking out to be very different from the version of Predator’s Tongue I sent out in July. Only another…80 million hours of work on it to go!

6 thoughts on “Manuscript Redux, Part 2

  1. Just curious. What’s the ratio in your book between published (or accepted) poems and poems that haven’t found a home in a mag or journal? For me, until at least one other person (an editor) accepts my poem, I have a hard time calling it done. Or even knowing whether it has the effect I’m looking for. With my unpublished poems, I go through EXACTLY the same back and forth that you described between confidence and doubt. I find I can leave published poems alone and be content with them (few though they may be!).

    1. That’s an interesting question. Nineteen published; twenty-eight unpublished. I have actually majorly edited most, if not all, of the published poems. I try not to get stuck thinking the poem is “perfect” just because it’s been published. A poem might have been good enough to get published, but it could always be better!

      1. Yeah, I guess I’m talking more about feeling confident about what goes into the book in the first place, not whether a poem is ever really done or not. When you have the objective confirmation of others, it helps.

  2. You know, when reading a poem by someone else, I, too, fall into the “oh, wow, that is perfect” moment and never think about all the revision that might have made that happen. Good to remember!

  3. I agree with TM,

    Just because it’s published doesn’t mean it’s done. More often than not I see that the versions of poems in a poet’s book are different than those found in the magazines they first found a home.

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