Friday, September 11, 2009

How Do You Make a Book of Poetry?

I'm a few days behind the hoopla, but I saved Joel Brouwer's post on Harriet for this morning because I knew it was going to take some time to read and digest both the post and the comments. The post asks questions about how poets perceive the process of creating a book of poetry. Is it a project with a predetermined theme (and therefore with poems written directly for that theme), or is it a collection of what you've written recently and then an attempt to develop an arc by ordering? (Brouwer says it better than this.)

The post is definitely worth reading; however, it was this comment posted by Lydia that jumped out at me the most:
This question haunts my work. Or rather it aggravates and instigates it into feeling inadequate because it is not conceived of “as book” in the process. I am not someone who tends toward thematics. In fact, I deeply distrust them. When I’m writing my attention is singular and dedicated to what’s at hand. This feels to me like an honest reaction to the world. To force myself to consider a larger project feels false, distracting, and misguiding.

The only time it occurs me to do this is when I consider the publication of my manuscript and notice that a vast majority of work coming out today is explicitly thematicized. Others have written of this, but the first book as miscellani is dead which is to suggest that our singular perspectives and voices are not enough connective tissue to hold together a book, that it is necessary to wrap it in further “projecthood”.

Brouwer's question and Lydia's reply certainly resonate with me, especially as I examine the new manuscript with a reader's eye.


Before I allowed myself to read the various and sundry blogs I follow, I did dig into some really good revision work on current drafts. I'm now feeling like three new drafts are almost ready to go out into the world. Also, after re-reading Malinda Markham's Ninety-Five Nights of Listening (one of my favorite books), I realized that one of the things I like about her work is that she doesn't overuse her adjectives (a fault of which I'm sorely guilty). With that insight in mind, I went back to an older poem that has troubled me and I found oh-so-many adjectives. After a serious paring down, I'm MUCH happier with the poem. (If only I could convince my creative writing students that this is just one of the benefits of reading!)


Paul Gibbons said...

Thanks for the link to the Brouwer shin-dig. Interesting.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Glad to hear from you again, Paul!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for calling my attention to the Harriet article--I always find it too overwhelming to stop there regularly.

I found your blog via ReadWritePoem--really enjoy reading about your process!

word ver: mists

Sandy Longhorn said...

Marie, so glad you found me. I've been a reader of your blog for awhile now. Can't quite remember how I found you, but happy to "meet" you here.