The Nature of Editing a Poetry Collection

Sometimes you’re at a book festival and it’s one you’ve only stopped in at because by random chance perusing through the schedule you realized a friend of yours was reading and you wanted to love and support them by sitting in the audience and being ready to shoo out/spear any texters/hecklers/etc. Sometimes when you go to see that friend before that reading, you meet their poet friend, and they are a poet you have admired, and not only have you now met them, but they’re really pretty and exceptionally nice, and it makes you want to buy their book and get them to sign it, and you do, and you crack their little book open while your husband is driving you back to your hotel and suddenly you realize you are holding something that provides you with all of these ideas for what you could do with your own little book and it is like everything is right with the world.

That poet was TJ Jarrett, and her book, Ain’t No Grave, is fabulous. Really. Please read it.

Here are some of the things that seemed relevant in thinking about my own book:

  • Her book has five sections, each named. The first and third sections have 10 poems. The second and fourth sections have 7, and the last has 15.
  • Form and length are pretty diverse. No two poems next to one another look the same and a terse two stanza poem might be next to a two-pager.

Here are thoughts I’ve had in response:

  1. Should I add one or more new section breaks?
  2. Should I title all of the section breaks?
  3. Should I play with form more?

Things I’ve done:

  1. Played with form pretty drastically and done some re-ordering so several poems of similar form aren’t all clumped together.
  2. Considered new organizing structures. I really like the sections as they are, but there are some poems that could definitely be moved as they are a little more open. I also like the idea of splitting apart my “meatier” middle section so it doesn’t get so bogged down and gets up the momentum.

I wish I could say this manuscript was “finished” and that I’ve moved onto other projects, but it’s not and I haven’t. Thankfully, several contests have deadlines coming up to help me push ahead:

American Poetry Review /Honickman First Book Prize (Deadline: 10/31)

Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize (Deadline: 10/31)

Perugia Press Prize (Deadline: 11/15)

The Yale Series of Younger Poets (Deadline: 11/15)

Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Book Prize (Deadline: 11/15)

Walt Whitman Award (Deadline: 11/15)

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Awards (Deadline: 11/18)

A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize (Deadline: 11/30)

If you are submitting your own manuscript, good luck! We certainly all need it.

Happy writing or revising or submitting or reading. 🙂


One thought on “The Nature of Editing a Poetry Collection

  1. Your persistence, or your not completely tiring of working with that manuscript, or whatever quality I’m trying to name and probably not succeeding, is inspiring. Obviously it’s paying off, too. Hooray!

    (Also, we’re long overdue for a coffee/brunch/thing. Let’s do that soon!)

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