The end of the editing?

Editing my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, has been going wonderfully. I’ve cut at least 12 poems (so down from 60 pages to 48), and then added in 4 (so up to 52).

I’m shaking the dust off. This manuscript has been two+ long years in the making, and some poems I’d been hanging onto because they seemed to work thematically, but really bored me otherwise. If they bore me, I can imagine how they must bore a reader, so I cut them. All of them. All of the dusty old poems that weren’t holding up, gone.

And my writing has been off to the races. Ten months no writing, and now, I’ve written four poems! Four poems I really, really like! They easily fit into one section, and now the first three (as they’re currently divided, which may change) seem really firm. The poems and order make sense.

The last section, which I moved several poems from and cut others, is now the weakest, and something needs to be done about that. I think I may need to keep writing. The last section is about abandonment, so I need to do more along those lines. I’m going to try to mine some of the poems I cut for ideas and search for models to help.

I’m also sending this manuscript off to a friend to help get her thoughts on the structure. Currently, there are two framing poems with four sections sandwiched in between. Four sections seems like a lot, but thematically, each section is very obvious. The sections are also untitled, but could be I’m thinking, maybe, “Child,” “Wife,” “Mother.” The last section doesn’t clearly have a title like the above, so now I’m wondering if I could put the abandoned lover poems into the “wife” section and just have the three sections, so the work would be ending on the mother section…Hmm…SO MANY IDEAS!

The contest deadlines that I want to enter is November 15th, so I’ve got some time!

Manuscript Update

I’ve talked about on here how I hurriedly edited my manuscript at the end of July, sent it off to its very first book contest, and then have been waiting to hear back before figuring out what the heck to do with it.

Well, I heard back. Form rejection. Not a finalist of any kind.

While I was sad (of course), I am taking the news with a grain of salt: I only submitted it to one contest, so I can’t really view that one contest as a clear judge of the character of my book. I also knew when I sent it off that there was some work to be done on it. I think I need to reorder it more (will the re-ordering EVER end?). I think I need to cut several poems and add some more in. I think I need to increase the length, overall. I think I need a clearer focus, and I really need to think more about editing the poems in each section to really stick with one another.

That said, I’m not thinking about tackling that project just yet. I’m anticipating going back over it after I’ve saved some money, and maybe sending it out to several places next year, but with my husband and I buying a house and all, now isn’t the time to be sending it out to all four corners of the earth.

I’m also finding that my writing and editing process has really slowed down. I used to write a poem, edit it maybe a week or two later, and then send it off with a packet of older, more polished poems. I was constantly writing, editing, and submitting work. Now, I just don’t have the industry. I am still submitting, but I’m sitting with my newer work longer. I’m also choosing to take care of other responsibilities over drafting right now. In a way, it’s the most loving thing I can do for myself  since I’m still adjusting to being back at work full time and all of the paperwork and stress that comes with purchasing a home and then moving into it. 

I am excited at this point to be reading and editing the manuscripts of two poets. For me, it’s helpful to sit back and see how someone else in my spot (a “no book” poet) is walking the (what I’m discovering) very hard road of putting together and editing a poetry manuscript.

I’m also reading Roots of the Olive Tree by fellow University of Memphis MFA program alum, Courtney Miller Santo. I’m only on the fourth or fifth chapter, and I’m so engaged by its lyricism. She does a fantastic job of creating a magical and evocative stamp of earth. I’m blessed on this absolutely gorgeous day to have little to do but go to the grocery store and read. 🙂

Hope you all have fine weather and a good book today!

Keeping in Touch: Revising “Home Run”

Around the holidays, I generally don’t do much; I do the family thing. I watch re-runs of television shows. I experiment with how long I can go without taking a shower. But then I usually wonder why the end of the holiday season rolls around and I’ve written or revised nothing.

Today, in the hour or two I had before having to go do the family thing, I revised some poems. Tillinghast calls this “keeping in touch.” I’m keeping in touch with my poetry by even just revising the poems.

At the first of the month, I wrote a sex poem called “Home Run.” The first year and a half in my MFA program, my workshop peers brought in a lot of sex poems: sex with octopuses, sex with Hitler. I would read the poems for workshop and sigh and then call someone and complain, “All they do is write sex poems! MY GOD!” But, earlier this month, I was going to sleep when the line, “They’re doing it and it’s something” came into my head.” The poem really isn’t so much about the sex as it is what the two people are thinking about during it. The man is thinking about baseball cards, and one in particular he cried over because it got ruined:

“the color bled, Stan’s teeth cardinal red.
The man says, So wet.
The woman thinks about her mother
bent over the sink, saying, I wet myself.”

Sex poems can be playful. I had fun incorporating specifically sex things into the poem and then riffing off them to something else. The sex isn’t graphic, but I enjoyed bringing in the awareness of what’s going on in the background. In my first draft, the man’s imaginings are more interesting than the woman’s. He is thinking about these specific cards and that specific moment when one gets ruined, while she thinks about insulation and, another time, about the mortality of her mother. In workshop, it was suggested to me that the woman be thinking about baseball players to get to a result that the husband is thinking of the baseball cards to postpone. I’m having trouble with making that happen at the moment. Right now, there’s a vulnerability in both of the characters that I really like: losing that card as a boy, realizing the mortality of the woman’s mother that I would want to stay.

Do you write sex poems or sex scenes in your fiction? How do you tackle it?