You Are Here: On The Road to A Finished Collection

2 Nov

indeed...

I submitted my last round of entries for first book prizes this past month, with version 3 of Harvest (as it is currently titled) and immediately began rewrites. Such is my revision process. Unless I’m totally sick of a thing or I think it’s hit the glory spot (very rare), I’m constantly revising poems. And also manuscripts.

There was one last set of contests whose deadlines were Oct. 31st or Nov. 1st and I thought I could push through and get one more revision out, but it was not to be. On deadline days, I was (and still am) up to my elbows in versions of versions, cutting poems, putting others back in, changing poem order, moving lines around. One of the things I loved about seeing Sharon Olds read recently (other than her sheer awesomeness) was her announcement that she’d just been revising the sheaf of papers in her hand…on the subway ride over. I thought, wow, that is hard-core, I need to be that hard-core.

With the holidays coming up, I’m focusing on revisions, no submissions, tooling and retooling my great sheaf of papers, so I thought now was as good a time to reflect on a year’s (plus) hard work, mental tomfoolery, and the awesomeness of CityBoy’s workhorse printer.

In the past year (starting in January 2010), I sent my manuscript, in various forms, to eight book contests:

Colorado Prize for Poetry
Kundiman Poetry Prize
Main Street Rag Annual Poetry Book Award

Barrow Street Press 2010 Book Contest
Crab Orchard 2010 First Book Award
Pearl Poetry Prize

Kinereth Gensler Awards / Alice James Books
Philip Levine Prize in Poetry

…spending just under $200 in reading fees, and probably another $50 in postage and copying charges, and churning through at least three reams of paper.

I’m still waiting to hear from Barrow Street and the last three, since I just sent those in in September. I did not win any of the others (no big surprise), or come very close, though I did get a very nice mention in my Crab Orchard rejection that I was a semifinalist. Out of how many semifinalists, I don’t know. But knowing that someone liked the poems, even just a tiny bit, was heartening.

Oh, and I did get a few subscriptions to journals and the odd book or two from some of the presses, which was quite nice and much appreciated. I always love getting a thick envelope in the mail. I think it goes back to college admissions days, when a big fat envelope meant that all your dreams were going to be answered (you can figure out what a skinny form letter did -and does- to one’s ego).

There is another batch of four to six contests I may add to my rotation next year (I missed a couple of key deadlines) but I do feel like I’m getting the hang of this part of the po’ biz. Here’s a couple of things I learned over the course of the year:

1. You’re going to need a lot of paper. A lot, a lot, a lot.

2. And a very patient partner who doesn’t mind coming home to stacks of paper spread all over his very tiny living space which he can’t move or touch or even look at, under pain of death (did I mention CityBoy and I share a 500-odd square foot studio?). CityBoy is a good man, a prince among men.

3. And a lot of patience for yourself. There will be days when you hate everything you’ve ever written and, picking up the other beautifully published and much admired works you possess in your poetry library, lament the fact that you’re even trying to do this thing. Are you really as good as Dorianne Laux? Mark Doty? Marie Howe?

4. The answer is always “yes” or “I will be.”

5. You’re also going to need friends. Good, poetry-reading friends who don’t mind being sent some weighty tome of words and hounded for their feedback. Because they will see things you can’t. Or echo that niggling bit of yourself saying, yeah, this poem doesn’t really work, even though I like this line or that image. They will ask the dreaded question:  “so what?”

6. And something else to do or see or taste or feel on those days when it’s not coming easily, the poem or the rewrite or the poem order. You’re going to need to walk your neighborhood, see movies, look at art, ride the subway, go to the grocery store, eat that big salty bowl of ramen at your favorite place with the go-go dancer waiters. Because that’s where the next poem, the next image, the next “holy shit” moment is waiting. Right there.

7. And then you’re going to have to get right back to work. Sit your ass in the chair and think and imagine and form words and dream. I know, I said it, dream. But that’s really all this is. You distilling your best self into these dreamed-up words, these lines and images that make you smile and do the fist pump dance and make you love language again and again and again. Because, in spite of what you do to pay the bills, this is who you are and this is what you do.

So, I am here…with one manuscript in progress, currently 62 pages (with some creative margining), 46 poems, 3 sections. Even now, flipping through the pages to tally them up, I’m making mental changes (That poem’s still in there? Really?) (Three sections? Hmm…), but that’s part of the joy of being in charge. You make the calls, you say what goes.

Rock on, peeps, and wish me the luck of the wolf.

– Jho

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2 Responses to “You Are Here: On The Road to A Finished Collection”

  1. Ja'net November 2, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Keep at it, Jhoanna! You’re my hero!

    • jhointhecity November 2, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

      Thanks, lady. I’m waiting for you to crank out some poems.

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