My poetry collection needs to be completely edited and then sent off by November 15th, but I haven’t touched it much since I had my surgery on the 30th. I made some changes before the surgery that I really, really liked, and I figured I’d go back and do many more before the deadline.

Unfortunately, I doubt that’s going to happen because two days ago, I came up with an idea for a Young Adult novel with the help of my husband, I started writing it, joined NaNoWriMo, and now I’m 22 pages in with no desire to slow down anytime soon.

This might be a sign that I’m done with the collection because I’ve finally moved onto another project. I’ve been floundering for a while now, thinking maybe I’d write another collection, maybe a memoir, but nothing held me for very long, and some were just scraps of ideas that were too right or too big when I tried them on for size.

I hope I have the creative energy and time to give my collection one last run through before I send her off, but I’m okay today if I don’t too. Maybe she’s ready to be let go because I’ve got a new baby to focus on.

Happy writing!

Just like repairing drywall

Today while I was getting everything ready to be off from work for three days recovering from surgery, I took some time out to look over my manuscript again. I tweaked some lines, did some minor shuffling, and then I re-read the first section a few times.

I realized that with some minor changes, I could make the whole section sound like it’s from the same child speaker. I loved that idea. I made the changes. I read the manuscript from start to finish to see how that change would go along with the rest, and I loved it. It felt perfect.

Now, I’m not so worried about taking some time off from the manuscript before the November 15th deadline. I need to let it dry before I come back, sand it down, and spackle it.

I can rest easy. ūüôā

The home stretch?

A friend of mine read through my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue,¬†and gave me some good minor and major feedback. I’m so grateful to have writer friends in my life who will go through a manuscript for me and see what’s necessary for me to see.

Her biggest suggestion is that maybe I shouldn’t have the incest poems appear first (Explanation: I have written¬†two poems, one based on a Greek myth where a girl beds her father in the dark without him knowing it’s her and another where it’s strongly implied that something weird is going on between father and daughter. I like them because their weirdness than shades all of the poems in that section as a little weird despite the fact that most of them are humdrum child/parent poems.). Her feedback stems from the fact that they are pretty dark or disturbing poems, and the first section of a poetry manuscript¬†must set up the rest. The rest of the manuscript isn’t that dark or disturbing, so there’s a lot of set up that never goes anywhere.

Seems like good feedback, right? But now, what to¬†do¬†with the incest poems? The first section of my manuscript is a “child” one, the second is a “wife/lover” one, and then I’ve got a “mother” one. I can’t ¬†just pull the incest poems out and stick them in another section because it wouldn’t work thematically. I could delete them both, but then, I feel, I’d be losing two strong poems and not have anything to replace them with.

This could be an example of needing to throw out the baby with the bath water or kill my darlings. The former means I’m getting rid of what’s essential along with what’s inessential, and the latter means I’m letting go of the things I love maybe too much out of personal attachment instead of whether it’s actually good for the manuscript. Am I loving my incest poems too much?

For the time being, I’ve¬†removed one and moved the other to nearly the end of the first section. There’s still more to be done, though. The first section must be THE section, the wham-bam-thank-ya-m’am section, and I think the other two sections are much stronger. It also doesn’t make sense to arrange it, since don’t you go from child to wife to mother? Right??

I have a path, though, and the end is nigh!!

When is it time to breakup? (with a poetry manuscript)

I recently finished a manuscript overhaul¬†and submitted to a couple of contests, and now I am trying to figure out if Swallow Tongue is done and it’s time to finally move onto a newer project.

It’s a hard question, especially because I’ve returned to this poetry collection so many times to tweak individual poems, re-think the order, change the narrative, add in newer poems, take out weaker ones.

After this revision, it feels very done, like I’ve done raised it and now it’s time for it to get a job and an apartment in the city. It’s time for it to¬†get out.¬†But, is it really?

I then came across this interview with Traci Brimhall in 2011 after her second manuscript won a contest.

How did you know your manuscripts were ready to go out?
Part of it is knowing when you’re ready to break up with the work. With¬†Rookery, I felt ready to move on, but I kept coming back to the manuscript to tweak poems or reorder. So I broke up with the manuscript a section at a time. I looked at the poems in each section and then wrote breakup poems where I tried to have it out with my obsessions so I could be done with them once and for all. Of course obsessions follow you wherever your work goes, but I did feel like I put my obsessions’ belongings on the lawn and told them to get lost. Each breakup poem became the final poem in each section of the book…

While I don’t feel the need to write individual breakup poems for each section of Swallow Tongue, a breakup poem is a great idea to letting me think about and move on from the obsessions that held me in this manuscript.

S.T.¬†is really loss heavy. Every character is dragging around the weight of someone or something that has left them, so I decided to try to write a poem in which the speaker leaves something and it frees him/her instead. I also decided to parody some of the mythic stuff, so it’d be easy to leave it behind (at least for this manuscript…).

I started with making fun of Zeus’s aegis and swallowing hearts, and ended up with the leaving. All prose form, and currently a sloppy mess, but I did like this line:

“To vacate a body is to leave everything,¬†to not hover in the base above your sternum, to not mouth something in the air that sounds like crying.”

In the interview above, I was comforted that Brimhall’s¬†Rookery was submitted to¬†seventeen contests before being selected.

Swallow Tongue‘s stats are as follows:

9 contests (currently at 3)

4 independent presses (currently at 2)


Reader, when did you know your little manuscript was done?

The Nature of Revising and Revising and Revising

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!

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. ūüôā


The Nature of Revision

I read this article on revision yesterday and found the concept fascinating. To boil it down, Craig Fehrman argues that our idea of revision–making large changes–is a modern invention, brought on by first the use of the typewriter and made even easier by the invention of the computer. He argues that writers centuries ago rarely made¬†huge changes. They might make small line or word adjustments here or there, but the gist of what they originally threw down was the same. He explains that this might have been because paper was a luxury, an expensive commodity, hence measly writers couldn’t really afford to make wholesale changes, especially when it would mean handwriting it all!

Once the typewriter was invented, the cost of paper was also less and writers such as Hemingway would often hand-write their drafts and then type them up. Adding that step made it much easier to make changes and helped make the writer (as explained by W.H. Auden) more aware of glaring defects they might not have seen on the page. Today, revision is a slightly different beast. He says our use of computers means we often don’t save or have printed-out copies of drafts, so we might just have one “living document.”

Talking about this with a poet-friend yesterday, it made me realize that I hadn’t looked at an older version of my manuscript, Swallow Tongue,¬†since…well…it was the current version. Thankfully, Submittable keeps records of all the files we’ve ever submitted, so I simply clicked the “Declined” tab and searched through the list to look at the .pdf of the manuscript I submitted last year to the¬†Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award¬†(btw, the deadline for this year’s contest is July 8th!). I had trouble finding it at first, but then I remembered that I actually submitted it under the title “Predator’s Tongue.”

Going through that old manuscript, a version very similar to the one I submitted as my thesis and defended, made me hyper-aware and¬†glad of most of the changes I had made since. Plenty of the poems in that first version have been changed dramatically, placed in another section of the manuscript, and/or been cut. I also found a couple of poems that, while they didn’t work in a previous draft, I could easily add them into my newest version.

Reading that old version made me dive back in to another round of edits on its current incarnation. I found myself wishing I could just make tiny changes like the pre-Modernist poets and call it a day, but we writers today all seem to fall in line with the mantra: “good writing comes from good revision!” By the end of the evening, I had re-framed¬†another version. I wish I could say what number draft this is, but I haven’t kept a record!

Changes made this go-around:

A suggestion I received from a reader was that I consider making all of the poems in the first section (a section strongly centered on daughter/parent relationships)¬†seem to be spoken by the same speaker. She said it sort of felt like whiplash going between first and third person and when the speaker changed as well. Sometimes, the parent was the speaker; sometimes the daughter was. Traci Brimhall’s¬†Rookery¬†seems to have a cohesive speaker throughout each section, so I used her book as an inspiration. I changed nearly all of the poems to the first person point of view¬†and switched the p.o.v to all being that of a female speaker.

I also moved a couple of poems that no longer fit to another section and brought in a few others than I then changed to fit. For example, “The Swamp Wife” was currently in my second section. This is a poem I really like for its language and sort of surreal qualities. I needed a poem that had those aspects in it in my first section, so I brought it in and changed the title to “The Swamp Daughter” and changed the husband in the poem to the father instead. Since this poem ends up following one about a daughter and father, it works well in expanding the idea of the relationship set up in the one before it.

The second section is pretty similar to what it was before, excluding some poems from it were moved elsewhere and two more were added in. There’s lots of whiplash going on, but I think it works better here than it did in the first section. I also played with the order some more to sort of make it more tense and dark. It is also currently the longest section, so I really wanted the energy to have a clear rise, plateau, and then fall in preparation for the softer third section.The last section also did not change much, with just one or two added additions.

I also played with using “and” vs. “&.” Whether using ampersands really does much has been a running debate in the writing world, and I myself refused to use them for the longest time. I’m now trying it with some of my poems because I do¬†think it changes how a line is viewed, whether if it’s with irritation as the critic Alfred Corn says or with a change in meaning. Visually, I find them appealing, this “different” character on the page. My eyes run over it much more quickly than an “and,” to the point that it seems that I combine the words before and after it more strongly than if they were joined with an “and.” “Tea & honey” seems much more linked to me than “tea and honey.” I like the idea of using them when I desire a more¬†muscular or tenacious connection. I want the ampersand, at least in my manuscript, to do more than just appeal visually.¬†

With this round done, I think it’s time to send it out again.

Oh writing friends, how do you revise?