September 14, 2006
In the Soup
Last week one of the fellows made a pot of chicken soup. Not a pot--a vat. We'd had two roast chickens the night before and in they went, bones and all. The resultant broth threatened to flood the main house. When a woman makes that much soup you know her emotions are doing the cooking. If you ever find yourself bombarded with soup, pies, and brownies you might want to ask the cook what's going on. Odds are that someone's heart is about to be broken.
A draft a day, damn it. Titles: The Fish, Of Mothers, The Birches, The Field, Holiday, The Angels, My Los Alamos, The Ring, The Green Flash, Theories of Falling. There was an eleventh, but it was a poor stillborn thing...what seemed rich with rural detail turned out to be smug. But overall there are patterns and cohesions, sparks in the lines; I'm having fun. I finally used the phrase "the reveal" in a poem--that is the title my book has had for months--but immediately realized the poem was not Title Poem material. So the search for a platonic form of the book continues.
A big thing I'm trying to do is give myself permission to leave certain poems out. Not because they are lacking, but because they don't fit. They'll go in the next book, whatever that is. This is harder than it sounds--the poems that have appeared in high-profile magazines or anthologies are a kind of security blanket that I want to wrap around the manuscript, as if to prove "this is your worth your time--just look at all these other editors who said so."
Okay, back to work. Neruda calls, and I never resist a Chilean man.
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Leaving poems that have been published in great places has to be very hard. I don't know if I have the confidence to do that with my manuscript. But, I also am very skeptical of the whole idea that people have of a "book": that it has to be thematically cohesive or a "concept boo" about someone's illness, a celebrity, etc. Why not just your best stuff?
A draft a day? Oh my.
Good luck with the hunt for a title. But, I'm not sure I would pull away from the title because of the poem. If it works for you for the whole, why not stay with it --
Neruda for you, Stein for me.
Thanks for the post.
I agree with Don's point.
The cult of "collectionism" in publishing is deleterious to quality. It may take some boldness on the part of a publisher, though, to reverse this trend. Trying to compete with novels and nonfiction in having a certain arc does justice to none of the three genres.
I also never knew soup was so complicated.
I don't think a book has to be thematically cohesive, but I think the strongest books tend to be *stylistically* cohesive. Something the Tupelo Press editor said that stuck with me: each book should make an implicit argument for what that poet values in poetry.
That aesthetic glue is what I'm going for, rather than 50 cat poems or the voyages of Hernando de Soto in sequence. = )
I agree with you guys...themed books are a personal turnoff. I get bored with them. On Sandra's point regarding stylistic cohesion, what is the disadvantage to inviting multiple styles into one book? Does it make for a jarring read? I ask this supposing the poet values two or three wildly varying aesthetics.
As a reader, I find that when wildly divergent styles are crammed togehter in a single book, I tend to pay less attention to the nuances in any one of the forms. Sometimes it just reads like showing off (i.e. the ubiquitous "MFA-assigned villanelle" that shows up in many first book manuscripts).
Frankly, if the number of publishable poems you have exceeds the reasonable length of a book manuscript, one has to find *some* way to subdivide. I don't think "here are my top 50" is the strongest argument for a book--especially one that is intended to be part of a long career--but it is a subjective call based on individual work.
The contemporary books that have meant the most to me--Nick Flynn's Some Ether, Li Young Lee's Rose, maybe Sarah Manguso's The Captain Lands in Paradise--do tend to have an implicit cohesion in voice. I don't think that's the same as "theme," which tends to be blatant and less interesting, though of those Some Ether (with the continuing thread of a mother's suicide) comes closest.
Ah, so it is distraction in a sense...
You are the second person to recommend Nick Flynn!
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