June 04, 2012

View from My Desk


As bloggers go, I'm a regular reader guilty of lurking--in part because so many times I've sunk 10 minutes into composing a comment, only to have the text disappear into the ether because of an errant key click. But I want to mention that C. Dale Young is retiring "Avoiding the Muse," and this makes me both sad (on a selfish level) and happy that he can devote that much more time to new projects. C. Dale, you were one of the most consistent and articulate voices when all these blogs started up; thank you. 


Although blogs have fallen by the wayside for many, they offer a unique mode of casual conversation; not as coherent as a personal essay, but far more developed than Tweet. It's hard to imagine a post as heartbreaking as the current one on Jehanne Dubrow's "Notes from the Gefilte Review..." in the harsh glare of a Facebook page. What would a "Like" thumb even signify? Much like a diary, blogs are useful not only to readers but their writers. When the day comes for Steve Rogers to write his great American novel, his "Looking Toward Portugal" site will be an invaluable cache of sensory detail. CDP might do the same for me should I write a travel memoir.


In the blogsphere, another favorite--Eduardo C. Corral of "Lorcaloca"--is spreading the word about the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Prize, which includes publication with Seven Kitchens Press. They do good books; check it out. Deadline is June 15. 


Speaking of books, I'm at that painful stage of knocking down a manuscript so I can build it up again. This mirrors a stage of my poem process: I take a reasonably polished draft and remove all the line breaks so it becomes a prose paragraph. Next I edit it in that form for syntax and flow, which ensures I don't have excess language in there simply for visual rhythm (e.g., writing toward a median line length). Only then do a I re-break the poem again, rethinking all line and stanza options. If it ends up as before, lovely. But often it does not. And sometimes I have to come to terms with what's missing, and dive back in to revise on a content level.  


I can easily claim Count the Waves is being close to finished. Each of the sestinas will galley up to two pages, so I've got the literal cumulative length; I have a well of poems to draw from that have good pub credits attached. Two of those poems can be found in the new summer Tin House, which is gorgeous; I'm beyond honored to be in the same TOC as Sherman Alexie and Adrienne Rich. 


But you can't declare a book done just because you've met page count. In re-reading over the past few weeks, I've realized that certain poems that stand perfectly well alone become redundant piled up one on top of the other. All poets, especially in mid-stage careers, have to police themselves so that they don't get lazy--relying on images, dramatic tensions, and rhetorical devices that they return to so often as to border on self-parody. (Mike Young and Elisa Gabbert stirred this hornet's nest when they published "Moves in Contemporary Poetry" back in 2010 over at HTMLGIANT). What intrigues me about this manuscript is that it is centered on love. What I have to resist about this manuscript is that it is centered on love. 


So I'm taking out poems. A lot of poems. Some because they're filler, some because they're echoes of stronger poems, some because they belong in (gulp) the next collection, whatever that is. It's really really really hard to sit down for an afternoon of manuscripting, feel like you got something accomplished, and yet leave the desk with a shorter book than before. That said, when things truly click into place, you know. Plus it's a source of generative motivation: nature abhors a vacuum. Holes in my third section, look out. I'm coming for ya. 

5 comments:

Khara House said...

I read this earlier today and have been trying since then to wrap my head about all I could say about it. In a word: awesome. In eight words: This is just what I needed to hear.

I am always hungry for these insights into the lives of writers, particularly writers who I admire. I love this glimpse into your writing/collection-ing process. It's more inspirational than I can say. Thank you.

~Khara

Matthew Thorburn said...

Sandra, thanks so much for sharing your experience and thoughts about putting together your new manuscript. I am in pretty much the same boat with my own stack of poems that don't quite fit together, and it's very helpful (and encouraging) to read your thoughts.

Sandra said...

Thanks so much for the comments, guys! Khara, I hope we meet sometime in person.

mrcvndrhlst said...

this is awesome. leaving out poems, i don't know.. pls put out a collection of b-sides ;)

SolariC said...

I admire your ability to take apart your poetry manuscript and reassemble it. I write poetry, but editing it is still a mystery to me. My primary form of writing is fictional prose, and there I am perfectly capable of taking apart in order to build back up, but recreating that process for poetry still daunts me. Somehow poetry seems more fragile than prose!

Your comments about the honesty needed in order to improve a poetry collection is very helpful though! Thank you for posting.