The reason why an MFA program is so helpful is once I’m able to figure out what’s not quite right with someone else’s work, I start to see it in my own. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything akin to critiquing someone else’s work, so when a poet friend of mine asked to read my manuscript (Swallow Tongue) not only did I take him up on it, I asked to read his as well.
This weekend amid lesson planning, Memphis Madness, a wedding, and a great local production of Young Frankenstein, I went through it for the first round and made organizational suggestions. They were suggestions I needed to hear myself, and I need to go back through it again to look more at it poem by poem.
For my own manuscript, I’m feeling resistant to plowing through it right now. I came up with plenty else I could do this weekend instead of working on it, and then last night I got an e-mail back from an independent press I had queried and then asked for my full:, “Your submission made it to our final round of reading, but unfortunately we have limited resources & cannot accept everything we enjoy. There was a lot to admire about your work, but not enough within this particular iteration of the manuscript hit us just right to warrant publication at this time.”
Of course, that’s never good news to get, but as Traci Brimhall says in her essay, “Notes from the Slush Pile: Advice on Book Contests and Some Confessions,” sometimes we send a book out before it’s ready. Though ST got a semifinalist nod from Crab Orchard Series First Book Poetry Award and now this “close, but not quite” e-mail from an independent press, it’s obviously got potential, but it does need some work.
What is good about this news is that I can start editing (any day now) and feel no hesitation about sending my manuscript out to a couple of the contests with upcoming deadlines.
This morning, instead of revising, I looked up general information about revising and re-ordering and found a couple of helpful essays:
April Ossman’s “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript”
Jeffrey Levine’s “On Making the Poetry Manuscript”
I remember reading plenty of posts from Sandy Longhorn about her reading her own manuscript with an editor’s eye, really taking a step back and pulling out and putting in poems. Her hard work paid off and her second book is now in print.
I’m having some trouble letting go enough to be the editor for my manuscript, so I’m actually hopeful that my po friend who I exchanged manuscripts with can help me out. I know if I really want to push this manuscript, I’m going to do what everyone suggests: read each poem, assess its strengths and weaknesses, think more about themes and ordering. Right now, I’m just in the whining/struggling phase. Give me a day or so and hopefully I’ll snap out of it.
Hope you are faring better on your writing adventures!