Friday, July 31, 2009


I love when writers talk about process, and though I don't know if there's anything specific here, I keep thinking I should get this stuff down.

I mentioned briefly in an earlier post how I had that kind of epiphanic moment on the plane. Well, I've written six poem drafts in the last two days.

From what I've read on blogs over the years, it seems like this may be some kind of transient phenomenon: poems literally making themselves apparent almost more quickly than you can try and write them down, usually before some big life change. Ours seems to be the move, since I really wasn't writing a lot the few weeks before we got married. And the slingshot effect does tend to happen with me more often than not, for better or for worse, though it's always exciting and bizarre when it does.

I need five pages or so to have a full 48-page second manuscript. Poems will eventually be cut for new ones. Poems will eventually be rearranged. Sections may happen eventually. I've changed the title, and I've lost "Nocturne" from every title except one, the one where it's an integral part of the title. But things are finally happening with this. Legitimately. And editors have been supportive in accepting poems for publication, many that I've still been tinkering with post-publication, something I didn't do a lot of with the poems in Ghost Lights, for whatever reason.

I've noticed also that right now there are only a handful of poems that go beyond the one-page mark. I had a fear that Ghost Lights, or About Ravishment in its first series of drafts, was getting ignored in part (a very, very small part, because there were many reasons folks were ignoring it in its early stages) because there are so many longer poems in the book, though none that go over two pages I don't think. It's tough to write a good longer poem that holds someone's interest: it's as simple as that.

But I've noticed I haven't felt the need to write and write and go on and go on as much, as if some of the poems make themselves apparent, say what they need to say, hopefully make an impact, then linger, though fairly quickly this time around, meaning to the point where the poems do linger. If that makes sense. I don't need thirty to fifty lines to execute successfully with these poems, or at least they seem to be finishing themselves well before I stray off the path.

I think this is a good thing, but then there's the question of a shorter poem really having to do more with every word, every verb, every adjective, enjambment, and line. There's no room to stray or have anything extraneous in a shorter poem, where sometimes in a longer poem that can be overlooked somewhat to a certain degree.

The manuscript, admittedly, is a mess right now, but my goal is to get five more pages of new work to integrate temporarily into it so I have a full 48 before we move to New York. That's a goal I'm pretty sure I can reach in two weeks. A lot of ideas are still floating around in my head.

My other goal: to have this manuscript accepted for publication before I turn thirty, which is two years and four months away, almost to the day. Too ambitious, I know, and if it doesn't happen that's fine with me. But I'd like to start something completely new in New York, a third manuscript that will eventually become my dissertation, a collection I can work four years on and have it be something I pour myself into for the entire time I'm there... This second manuscript, though it certainly feels like it will become a manuscript soon enough that I can send out (hopefully by next summer at the latest), doesn't feel like the one I need to be working on in New York, yet it feels like it's becoming a true book I can eventually be proud of.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the other advice, not quoted verbatim, that's been kicking around in my head for a while too: "A first book needs to have X very good poems to be successful, and all the others remain in existence around them." Many people have quoted that in different ways. I think this is great advice, but is there ever a book—second, third, fourth, etc.—that needs to be comprised of solely great poems, or attempted, if such a thing is possible, excluding a Selected or Collected?

There's just that weird gap between finally settling and never settling, and it seems if one doesn't make up their mind about one or the other, they're destined to cling to the latter, and nothing ever comes of that purgatorial sense of paralysis.

So I guess this all has to deal with the second manuscript. Folks with first books out or coming out, how have you dealt with these questions in compiling what will hopefully become your second book?

For me, if I stop questioning, I stop being passionate. And we all know what happens then.