Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 44: Thoughts on "Best Foot Forward: Arranging a Poetry Manuscript" by Bonnie Jacobson


This essay weaves together different collection structures and interweaves them with Bonnie Jacobson's experience of making the collection, "In Joanna's House."  The essay is separated in V parts.  However, the most relevant part of the essay was Part III.

But to get to part III, first the author goes through the structural techniques of six collections and how they are structured in Part I:


  1. Mary Oliver -- Twelve Moons (The structuring device revolving around "moon poems")
  2. Peter Kappert -- The Idiot Princess of the Last Dynasty (A 205 dramatic monologue)
  3. John Ashbery --  Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (34 poems of build up about "artifice, experience, and time" which leads to the centerpiece poem "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" which comments on all of them)
  4. William Stafford -- A Glace Face in the Rain (divided into five sections -- each section named and placed accordingly to order)
  5. John Donoghue -- Precipice (irregular sonnets in five sections)
  6. Sharon Old -- The Father (narrative about the death of the father and the aftermath)
Then in Part II, the speaker talks about finding a voice -- maybe through publication, maybe through lot's of work.  Or "listening ten years to a narrator and characters who won't leave you alone).  There's no firm stance on creating "your own voice" but there's one thing that's for certain, "take it all to a friend whose editorial judgement, like Pound's, is without peer and mercy."

What interests me about Part III is the connection between the speaker and her editor, Robert Wallace.  Part III is a narrative on how Robert Wallace decided to change the original placement of the end poem of "In Joanna's House" about her death to the beginning, the prologue:

Think about it, Bob said, If in the prologue you present the terrible finality of Joanna, then doesn't every one of her poems argue against that finality?  Isn't Joanna's life--and by extension anyone's life--a unique and irreplaceable influence?

then from this:

Bob found the mega-poem for Joanna in less than an hour, if you leave out my fretting.  How did he do it?  How does anyone do it?

Why does this interest me?  Objectivity.  This essay does explain this idea further, but it's the idea that, no matter what, the author is not able to directly find the strongest "mega-poem" is terrifying and a relief.  Terrifying since I would like to believe that I can work out my weaknesses, but, honestly, how would I know my weaknesses if they aren't tested.  A relief since there are plenty of people out there willing to state what I'm weak at -- hopefully.

Part IV talks about the process and how poets never intend to write a book, just poems.  Jacobson quotes and Olds interview, "I don't write books.  I just write poems.  And then I put together books."  Sure, process is more subjective and based on individual style.

Part V is about titles -- write something that entices but doesn't trap.  Here another anecdote between Jacobson and Wallace who recommend the title be The Joanna Poems, "this cannonization fell oddly pretentious, unJoannalike.  In Joanna's House seemed to me a better description of her situation."

Ultimately, the search cannot be directed as implied by the post script.  A poem shouldn't be written with "the planning stages" in mind, rather, just write poems and collect them when things feel right.  Have someone read them after you believe you've done as much as you can.  There could be better insights.  There could be no insights, but more questions.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 43: Thoughts on the introduction of "Ordering the Storm"


This book was recommended to me when by Alan Soldofsky when I was ordering my collection in grad school.  I didn't get the book back then because I wanted to see for myself how I created a collection and how I felt about the process.

And yes, I did finish the collection for grad school.  But, I didn't trust the praise of my advisers.  Why?

I'm always a person who believes there will always be something to improve on, and all I heard from my advisers were praise about my work.  When I asked on what to improve on there was silence.  I took this as a bad sign.

A year later (after I graduated), my suspicion were affirmed.  One of my advisers never returned my mss or doesn't want to talk to me about it.  Furthermore, another one of my advisers asked me if I sent my collection out, and I said no.  The response was. "Well first collections are not good anyways."  And I took their actions and silence as the real critique and put my collection aside until I either would decided to quit writing or was in a position to come back and question myself as objectively as possible about a collection.

Unfortunately, the quitting option would sound so nice right now, but I see myself growing as a writer, so I feel I have nothing to lose by trying.  So here I am three years later reading this book recommended to me, a collection of essays, to help me out.

The "Introduction" by Susan Grimm tells about how this book came to formation through questioning.  When the local literary center in Cleveland opened up, Ms. Susan Grimm asked for workshop or panel ideas.  The idea of "how to put together a book of poems" came about.  This was the first idea from the author because of her own frustrations creating a collection.

What's important to note here are the list of questions that the author comes up with that the panel would address.  But these question are running through my mind for this second round:


  1. What should the first poem do? Establish voice, authority, a certain level of seriousness? What are the different ways to invite the reader in?
  2. What about the last poems?
  3. How long is too long (how many poems of poetry is too long)?
  4. In what ways can poems interlock?
  5. Are we committed to resolution as fiction is? Does the ordering have to do with a kind of narrative? Or are there other ordering principles--emotional change, change of approach, change of intensity (mounting?), change of style? Should we offer the best first like the Marriage Feast at Cana or save it for last like dessert? Myst there be a direction and change during the course of the book?
  6. If a poem is radically different in style, should it be taken out?
  7. Which is the more useful question--How do the poems fit together? or What is the whole trying to do?
  8. Should the poet think about the reader more when putting together a book than when writing the poem?  The reader's commitment will be longer.  Does he need more direction?  Should we imagine her picking it off the shelf?  Buying after a reading?  Has he seen isolated poems in anthologies or journals?
  9. How do people read? How do we want them to read?
  10. What about the title? If we use the title of a poem, how important should the poem be?

The "Introduction" ends with the author asking other poets what they though, and the book is a collection about their process, highs, pitfalls, and careers.

I'm rereading this book a second time, and I want to put down my thoughts on each essay.  My plan at the end of my thoughts on this book is to then work on my collection and come back, and, hopefully, answer these ten questions based on my collection.  If I cannot, then I won't send my collection out since it would seem that I and my collection are not ready yet.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 42: All the Typing is Done


Well.  It's been a while, but I've been focusing on typing up the poems on the legal pads which was a good exercise.  Changed some stuff, looked over other things.  Here are my numbers currently:

Tier 1 -- Should be still the same with 32
Tier 2 -- 106 -> 149  (43 change)
Tier 3 -- 177 -> 257 (80 change)

This would mean I wrote 123 poems throughout the 2012 - 2014 year.  The majority of these poems were responses to the "if" questions that I posted every day on Facebook.

That some interesting data.


At times like these, I wonder what drives me.

Support, well, it's hard to figure out what that means to me.  I haven't had anyone read over my work for a while.  Even though I ask from time to time, either people don't respond or a brief discussion and we go our separate ways.  Life happens.

But I know people are rooting for me as far as congratulating publications and what not.

I think I'm awkward when it comes to poetry.

I mean, I do care a lot about poems and poetry, but if I don't get feedback or have anyone read my work except for publishers, I'm okay with that because I've trained myself to be okay with that.  But I know I will need feedback soon.

But I placed a white-board next to myself to support me.  It's kind of weird to think about, me supporting me basically, but I guess when I think when times a rough, I look at the board and read something from a past version of me who believes there's a goal I can attain.

I find that comforting.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day 15: Searching for Places; Sitting Still


Every beginning of the month (or now first day off of the month) I got through Duotrope listings of what's open now.  Today was 367 listings with open deadlines or upcoming deadlines.

I started at 7:00 a.m.and ended just about now.  I did eat, and then take a nap, a play a little bit of League of Legends,  I think I could've went through the all 367 listings in eight hours, but it's my day off.

But wait the number says there's 298 listings.  That is correct.  I recently decided to use the "ignore" function on Duotrope.  Since I do this every month, there are places I know I'm not sending too.  Here's the list:

  • Only "X" group of people should send to this magazine where "X" equals one or more of the following: of certain gender, race, location, sexuality, spirituality, environmental awareness, loves dogs, loves cats, loves meter, hates meter, has read our magazine since our inception last year, ten years ago, since 1889.
  • We moved up the deadline is today, you have 6 hours to prepare something.
  • We received a lot of great submissions so we closed the deadline early.
  • Great we're past our first issue and we're looking for new submissions (2010).
  • Great we're on our 16th issue, but now we're moving on to theme issues.  This years theme is "Delectable Monkey Parts."
  • Error, website not found.
  • Our Magazine is located in: Canada, China, Bangladesh, India, U.K., Mexico, Portugal, Spain -- please mail with correct international postage, and for your SASE please put international postage. 
  • This magazine looks nice, but wait, I burned bridges with this magazine because of "X" where "X" equals one or more of the following: addressed the magazine as a different magazine, e-mailed the magazine too many times about when I would hear from them, didn't e-mail the magazine when a piece of mine was already accepted, I met the editor and she personally hates me -- no really she does, I sent in poems and didn't know it was themed, didn't know the deadline, didn't know it didn't accept simultaneous submissions.

The list above isn't a reflection of the quality of work within magazine -- but sometimes we don't fit.  I realize the the list above is probably really facetious, but I've done this too many times to know problems occur when I try to adjust too much for a magazine.  

And I make sure too, reading poems listed on their website, or looking up the published poets in the most recent magazine to see if we have a similar style.  

I don't think this is a shotgun approach, well sort of.  Yes, I send out to many places a month, but I make sure the places I send to would probably accept a poem of mine and I would be proud to be in the magazine.

And I do have standards, the magazine should have one of these two qualities:

  • University backed magazine with at least 2+ issues under their belt.
  • Independent publisher with at least 5+ issues under their belt.
Then I go to Duotrope's listing for more details:

  • Acceptance rate 10% or below.
  • Response rate is reasonable (4-6 months the latest).
  • I'm more inclined for print publication, but there are some really good online lit mags like Tri-Quarterly.


Why these standards?  As stated before, I learned the hard way about not having set standards or a system -- saves me time, embarrassment, and money in the long run.

In the end of it all, overall I ignored 87 listings, found 43 places to send, and left the rest to mull over for next month when some magazines open up to submit so the calculations are never done.