Friday, October 27, 2006

A Blessing

I rejoice in the poems not written:
the cruelly discarded: the crippled,
the asthmatic, the anemic: the poem

about a photograph: about what love
is like: about how strangely I
felt that day: about something about me,

noticed. Bless you, go on the ash-heap,
that fine compost from muscle, blood, bone,
which fuels surely the green slick stalk.

--Josephine Jacobsen


Is life not a hundred times too short for us to stifle ourselves?

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You have to tell the truth in poetry. You have to be willing to say what you think, and be wrong, and fall on your face, and have jaded sophisticates laugh at your naïveté, and have cool populists laugh at your pompous elitism. Whatever, dude. You have to respect the deep seriousness of the act of writing a poem and be willing to stand behind what you have written....

--Campbell McGrath

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I have a thing about finding form rather than imposing it. I want to find correspondences and relationships which are there but hidden, and I think one of the things the artist does is to reveal.

--Denise Levertov

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Assembling a Poetry Collection

Below are some notes I took in North Carolina about assembling a poetry manuscript. Most of these ideas came from the following essay: "Dynamic Design: The Structure of Books of Poems" by Natasha Saje, The Iowa Review, Fall 2005. Mary Biddinger: Thanks for pointing me to this essay a few months ago.

Ways to Organize a Poetry Collection

· A narrative arc/sequence
· Autobiographical: narrative of a speaker or the poet’s life
· Mood arc/feeling arc: order for contrasting mood or feeling from one poem to the next
· How one poem ends and the next begins
· The space in between the poems becomes part of the sequence
· Groups 3 or 4 poems together because they have a common theme or subject matter
· Organize by the order in which they were written: as poet grows & changes, so do the poems
· Establish what are the 3 to 6 main themes, make a pile of poems for each theme, order manuscript by picking one poem from each pile and thereby weave the themes throughout the book
· Pay special attention to the first and last few poems
· Picking possible first and last poems for the collection can illuminate possible ways to organize the poems in between
· First poem usually a shorter poem, an appetizer
· Beginning of a book tells the reader a great deal about what will follow: welcoming gestures, strategies, getting the reader’s attention, creating mystery or anticipation, introducing themes
· Begin book with a prayer or invocation
· Start book with an Ars Poetica
· Start book with a poem about another art form
· Start book with a poem about language
· First poem heralds the theme of the collection, something I’m setting out to prove
· Last poem in a book underscores the book’s meaning emphatically
· Whatever tone the book adopts, the last poem must conclude
· Some books use a period of time as a container
· Some books return to some aspect of the opening gestures as a way of creating wholeness in the book, a “bookends” approach
· Balance and contrast
· Dynamic energy
· Surprise
· Breathing space/white space
· Dialogue between intent & serendipity or tension & inevitability
· A reductive process: omit poems that don’t get along well with others. The chosen poems form some sort of association, fit together organically or adhere.
· Book should have distinct openings and closings
· Use the conventions of film: jump cuts, flashbacks, develop a character, panoramic, extreme close-ups
· Move from the specific to the general or the general to the specific. Microscope to telescope or telescope to microscope. Ex: Personal/family concerns material to globalizing these concerns
· By place
· The way the end of one poem slides into or contradicts with the beginning of the next creates an associational order. Transitions of: sequence, time, comparison, contrast, example, cause & effect, place, concession, summary, repetition
· Abecedaraius: poems arranged alphabetically by title
· Randomly
· Poem groupings/divisions by them, form, tone, subject, place
· Can title poem groupings/divisions but does the section title highlight something that might be overlooked or needs to be added? Dividing a book into sections should make the experience more artful, not merely more clear.

Poetry Manuscript Organization Questions

· How does the book carry itself?
· How does the book move the reader?
· How does the organization provide a richer, more “writerly” experience for the reader?
· What about “contexture”? The contextuality provided for each poem by the larger frame within which it is placed, the intertextuality among poems so placed, an the resultant texture of resonance and meaning?
· How does the collection make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text?
· Experience readers want poems to make them work harder, equating the worth with bliss. How does the collection do that?
· What is the book’s trajectory? How does the ending connect to the beginning?
· Does the book click shut, hang in the air, dissolve, fly away?
· Include explanatory/bibliographic notes in manuscript? Poets who trust their readers make their book’s structure a partnership, and invitation to find bliss.
· Book organization: Author interpretation, author intentions. Ex: Plath’s organization of Ariel to emphasize outrage at Hughes’ infidelity versus Hughes’ organization emphasizing madness.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I dreamed this morning about a wasp that flew around the house that turned into a lobster crawling on the floor that turned into a kitten looking up at me and bathing itself.

Earlier this week on I received a rejection from Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back from My Writing Retreat

I don’t really feel like blogging today but since I’ve not posted anything for some time…. Anyway, below is a paragraph I took from a recent e-mail about how my writing retreat in North Carolina went. I do feel that I returned from the writing retreat with a clearer vision of my work and where I need to go from here.

The week has been okay. Not as productive as I had hoped. I finished drafts on two new poems and started a third. I arranged a chapbook manuscript I’m excited about (9 poems, about 21 pages). It became pretty clear early on that I need around 10 more poems before I can really think about assembling a first book manuscript, so I still have a lot of revising and writing of new stuff ahead of me. I did work on trying to assemble a book despite knowing that I don't have enough poems that meet the "bar of quality" I have in mind. Doing that gave me some ideas as to how the book might be arranged in the future. The most helpful thing was to think about possible first and last poems. If I thought about what poem I might start with and what poem I might end with, things this gave me some direction about how the poems in between might best be arranged.


What is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding? It is the deepest part of autobiography.

--Robert Penn Warren

Friday, October 06, 2006

Quick Update

Tomorrow I begin my week long writing retreat. I hope to get tons of things done.

I received a kind rejection from Puerto del Sol yesterday. The Assistant Editor took the time to compliment a couple of lines and the ending of my poem “Abandoned Texaco Station,” but she felt the rest of the lines didn’t live up to what was praiseworthy. I’ll look at the poem (yet again!) and consider revising it with her comments in mind. Puerto del Sol keeps commenting positively on what I send them, but they have yet to accept anything.


After one had abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.

--Wallace Stevens

I became almost intoxicated by the idea of the line break. It seemed as if I were writing just to get to this point, this decision. But, although the line break is very important to me, I don’t really understand how I know when it is supposed to happen.

--John Ashbery

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating it by being at work. Actually, I chose not to take the day off because next week I will be in North Carolina working on my manuscript. With the holidays fast approaching, I need to conserve my vacation time. I did open up my gifts from my wife before work this morning (great gifts: some clothes, a gym bag, a watch, and a bookcase for my stacked books on the floor in the study), and we did go to breakfast at Aunt Sarah’s before work so that I could get my chocolate chip pancake fix. I may try to cut out of work early today if the boss allows it.

Haven’t been doing much writing. I think that I’m conserving my energies for the concentrated effort of next week. I have been reading though: Alison Stine’s chapbook Lot of My Sister, David Lehman’s Evening Sun & When a Woman Loves a Man, and I just received my copy of Ashley Capps debut book called Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields.

In other news, I received a prompt rejection from Pleiades yesterday. I mailed the submission to them around the middle of September.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Being a poet can help you to face some of your demons. But it doesn't mean that the writing is politically correct—or the life.

--Toi Derricotte, AWP's The Writer's Chronicle, Sept. 2006

Many young writers haven't learned to submit to their obsessions.

--Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town