September 13, 2007

Book-age

A year ago I was in upstate New York at the Millay Colony. I would wake around 10 or 11 (I worked until 3 or 4 AM). During the day I would drive into Chatham or Hudson and walk around, look at antique shops and art galleries, have a beer and snap photographs of colorful window-shutters. By 6 I'd be back at the big house, sharing a huge salad with the other fellows, chatting about the one copy of the Sunday New York Times that we all shared. Every night I was drafting a poem, and whittling away at a longer, older manuscrpt (The Reveal) that would become Theories of Falling. My studio wall fluttered with pushpinned poems, which I moved around to create different orders and sections, alternating with photographs xeroxed from a Diane Arbus book I'd found in the Millay library.

There was a nervous energy to the month: this will matter. I found one local artist whose surreal photocollages I loved, and struck up a conversation with the gallery owner. When she asked what I was looking for I said "oh, I need cover art for my book," and though it was an *utter* bluff at that moment, it all seemed possible: there would be a book. It would need a cover.

At the end of the month, I came home and immediately sent the MS off to 2 places where I'd been a finalist before--the May Swenson Prize and the New Issues Poetry Prize, and Sarabande's open reading. A month passed. I found sloppy lines drafted in September's 2 AM haste. Sarabande rejected me based on the new poems. I reread older pages that I'd cut, and some were like workhorses: hefty, well-crafted, good magazine credits. I felt guilty for cutting them. I returned to my old title. All that nervous energy...faded. And right up until April of this year I was sending out a balanced, polished manuscript. But it was the MS I'd sent out early last October, with all of its newborn flaws and urgency, that would count.

Now, in the aftermath of April and August, it's another September. I'm on page 45 of another manuscript--drafting and scrapping and cutting and shuffling. There's no goldenrod here in DC, and no butterflies drifting over Edna's tennis court. These poems are strange and incantatory, populated by minotaurs and battlefields and orchids and hippogriffs. They are not personal, though they are human-hearted. But perhaps this work will matter. I hope this will matter.

3 comments:

aimee said...

as someone who read (and loved) your first book: trust me-it WILL matter!

Oliver de la Paz said...

If you capture wonder as you did during our August poem-a-day, you have nothing to worry about.

Sandra said...

Thanks, guys....today, especially, I needed that.