Sunday, March 30, 2008

Working the Manuscript

Instead of doing actual work this weekend, after a long week and fulfilling my semester requirements for both the MFA and the MA programs, I decided to put in a bit of time on my full-length manuscript, which is taking shape quite well. I'm having a tough time finding a thread that runs through the pieces - I rarely write on one theme exclusively (I'd bore myself to tears), though I have discovered that seasons and place (mostly Kentucky and Long Island) get mentioned quite often.

As of right now, I am tentatively titling the collection "A Stranger in Tornado Country." I don't know why, but I like the ring of it, and I like the poem it comes from, so for now, that's the winner. I hate sending things off half-cocked, and there's nothing worse than a collection with a lackluster title, especially with all the volumes of poetry being written. I don't want editors and judges bored before they get past the table of contents.

I've culled the collection to only polished pieces, and pieces I'm very fond of. Right now that puts me at fifty, with my new poem "Summer Sings," though there are about five or six I may take out because they're weak and/or obviously don't fit the rest of the tone of the collection. For instance, I happen to be in love with my new poem "Love Letter from a White Woman," but it's jarringly different in both tone and style, and relies more on rhythm than most of my other pieces do. I want it to be as strong as possible, but I also don't want to wait until the end of the MFA program (November 2009) to start submitting the manuscript.

My goal is to submit the full length manuscript to at least 4 competitions this year, as well as to some open reading periods at places like Tupelo Press, where the editor sends a handwritten note and critique for their open reading period. For poets, a full length manuscript is generally between 48 and 100 pages. Chapbook competitions are markedly shorter than that, requesting manuscripts of about 16 to 30 pages (and often shorter than that). There are tons of competitions, but it gets rather expensive after awhile, since most are about $20 a pop, with the full length competitions running closer to $25. Then again, I need to remember to ask if I can write those off...

My next daunting task, after writing a few more pieces that will round out the manuscript, will be to figure out what order they should be in. I haven't found a decent software program to do this (I've heard Scrivener is great, but I don't work on a Mac), so I'm seriously considering doing it with index cards and a giant corkboard. Any other ideas or suggestions are, as always, welcome and encouraged.

Does anyone have much experience putting together a successful poetry manuscript? What say ye?

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