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?