Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gift of a Manuscript Exchange in Progress

76º ~ stormy skies, the smell of heat and a coming rain on the air, windows open despite the humidity

Usually, I like to use Mondays to post on what I've been reading.  This morning I can't do that because what I've been reading is a gift, an unpublished (as yet) manuscript by another poet.  Through the wonders of the internet, blogging and Facebook, I've been lucky enough to become friends with Stephanie Kartalopoulos, who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri Columbia and a poetry editor for Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts.  Earlier this month, Steph agreed to do a manuscript swap with me as we gear up for the big autumn submission race.

Sylvia Plath draft of "Bees" from the Modern American Poetry website.  Click image for link.
I'm not going to write about Steph's amazing manuscript, but I do want to write about the process and how lucky I feel to be a part of it.  This morning was my second read of the book, a time when I could sink more fully into the poems and underlying themes.   I had two major thoughts in doing this: 

1) I should be reading more books for second and third times fairly close together in time, rather than the months or years that sometimes lapse between my readings of favorite books.  A good book of poetry is the proverbial onion needing to be peeled to reveal the inner heart.  I wonder what I've missed by not doing this as much as I could have done.  I wonder how much the hectic pace of this 21st century life has trained me to not re-read.  We are a product based culture, a gold-star-in-the-box for each task community, and that isn't how poetry works, or it isn't how poetry should work.  However, I'm guilty of this.  There's nothing I love more than to check another book off my to-read list.  This leads me to wonder again about those folks who claim literature, and poetry especially, is dying or dead.  The groaning bookshelf to my right begs to differ.  I feel the pressure of that stack of books in my bones, that feeling that even if I read a book a day I'd never read through all that is being published this year, let alone last year or over the last decade, let alone all those brilliant writers from centuries past.

2) In my creative writing workshops I have to convince my students first of the idea that reading their peers' drafts will improve their own writing by default.  Reading through Steph's manuscript brought this home to me again.  As I read in awe of her subtle ways of stitching themes together and her often stunning images, I also found places the book could be strengthened, small moments to shore up.  And with this, I also thought of my own book, somewhere in the recess of my mind, and what might be needing a bit more work within it.  This is the gift, the being willing to invest in another person's work and being willing to open myself to hear where my own can be improved.  I know both of these books will be the stronger for.

Many thanks to Steph for going on this journey with me. 


Jessie Carty said...

I start peer review with my comp students next week and I am looking forward to it because you really do learn a lot from putting a careful eye to the writing of another. You are just much more objective about someone else's writing than your own.

You bring up a really good point about reading books you love closer together. I'm also trying to tackle a new book reading pile but I've been trying to work in books that I love regularly. I've had some terrific visits with old poetry book friends :)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Jessie, peer review is usually a tough sell to comp students at the beginning of the semester, I've found, but by the end of the semester I think they've learned a lot from it. Good luck with yours!

Also, congrats on making the bestseller list! :)