2.14.2006

this seems to be a more arguable section, but again, I think it is exceptionally common right now to think of mss this way, no matter the aestetic or practice --

5) When organizing the manuscript, you are attempting to create nothing less than a work of art. You want to think about what your book is “about,” and include poems that carry that theme or themes, that are somehow related, that “speak” to each other. Also, I find that it’s a good idea to bring poems together that are written more or less in the same creative period, less they sound as though written by different poets – a different you. By this, I don’t mean to suggest that a book need be written in any particular timeframe, but rather that the book include poems written during a period (a year, two years, five years, whatever) when you are writing in a particular way. Every time we write a poem we announce to the world what we think a poem is. The poems you write when urging – wittingly or unconsciously – a particular aesthetic are the ones that belong in the same book. Spread all of your poems out on the floor, a floor that does not need to be disturbed, and look at them. Read them. Live with them. See what relationships seem to be developing between the poems. Which poem wants to talk to that poem? Where do you see common images developing, or growing out of each other? In what directions do your various threads lead? What seem to be your concerns as a poet during this period of creativity, and how do they seem to want to group. The process of inclusion and ordering is organic, calculated, thoughtful, instinctual, unconscious, and a somewhat Zen. You need time to permit all of those matters and anti-matters to work upon you, and upon your poems.

6) Continue to think about each poem according to: mood / tone; dominant images, characters / speaker, setting/season; chronology, and whatever other categories you deem important to your own work. However you organize your collection, keep in mind that you are creating a book, and you cannot really know how the poems interact with each other unless you've done this work. Make multiple copies of each poem, try different orders with duplicate books, and live with them for awhile.

7) Make sure the poems that begin your collection establish the voice and credibility of the manuscript. They should introduce the questions, issues, characters, images, and sources of conflict/tension, etc., that concern you and that will be explored in the book. Think about the trajectory of the manuscript: you want to set the reader off on a journey, a path toward some (even if undisclosed) destination, but forget about “arc.” The notion of “arc” is, in my opinion, too willful to be successful in any artistic undertaking. Make the book work, and then let others talk about your “arc.”

8) Just because a poem has been previously published does not mean that you are required to leave it alone. Rethink, re-enter, and if possible, re-vision each poem as if the Paris Review had never taken it.

9) Find an effective title: from the title of a significant poem in your collection, or from a line in one of your poems, or from one of your epigraphs, or something that may not appear verbatim in your collection at all, but some how signifies, or shapes the manuscript. That said, create about a dozen different titles and live with each for a while. Print out a title page for each possibility, tack them to a bulletin board or the refrigerator, and look at them early and often. Obviously, you'll have ample opportunity to re-title your work after it's accepted by a publisher, but so many titles (of even terrific manuscripts) are so ill-thought out or just plain bad (meaning awful) that I find I have to get over that initial reaction in order to give a collection its due.

10) Once you have created an order that you love, think about dividing the book into separate sections. You may or not elect to go with distinct sections, but this process will encourage you to think even more deeply about your order, and about what makes a book a book. When you see patterns emerging, you might want to go back and think yet again about revision, about further opening up the channels that permit the pomes to talk to each other. Yes this is hard work. We’re poets. This is what we do. This is why it’s harder than the work of being mortal.

11) Weak poems. You know which ones. Don’t “hide” them inside the manuscript. Don’t’ include them. Period.

12) Other considerations:

a) Don't send in a photocopy that's been copied so many, many times that it has inherited smudges or the type has faded;
b) Try to keep your manuscript in the area of 62-68 pages;
c) Proofread for spelling and for grammar;
d) Proofread for big abstractions (“infinity”);
e) Proofread for small abstractions (“dark”);
f) Proofread for adverbs (“carefully”);
g) Proofread for mannerisms (i.e., have you use the word “pale” 20 times? do you tend to sew up your poems with something plangent and orphic? do you tend to begin your poems with a line or two of throat clearing?);

h) Number only the pages of actual poetry, beginning with the first page of poetry;

i) Do send a cover letter if you like, but never a c.v., and if you do send a cover letter, make sure it's addressed to the intended press and not some other press (you'd be surprised), and don't address your cover letter to the contest judge (you'd be surprised), and don't say you're in the process of a complete revision and will be sending the revised manuscript in a week or two (you'd be surprised);

j) Don't included dedications and thanks on a contest manuscript—there will be plenty of time for that later;

k) Be judicious about epigraphs—they're just so much hardware unless a poem clearly addresses or plays off of the epigraph;

l) Beware the epigraphs that you choose to begin the book or to announce different sections. Ask yourself whether they’re really important. Do you really want your own language to follow Rilke’s or Bishop’s language?

these as a reviewer have been important keys into certain ms., but often they seem snobby and random -- though this brings up two things

the quotes which are part of the mss. in a stronger sense -- not just lead ins -- tend to get lumped into the idea of "epigraphs"

and the division, not across formal lines, but between more standard or academicised poetry (even that from Iowa, for example, which tends to be very swensen-sourced or graham-rooted in a specific philosophy) and COPIOUS NOTES and more experimental poetry and THEY'LL FIGURE IT OUT

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