Thursday, February 11, 2010


I'm not sure I've talked about this before, but if I have, and you actually read this blog, and you've seen this before, well, then that's too bad.

But I wanted to get some feedback from some poets who've dealt with these issues before.

Most poetry book contests (and open reading periods) say that they want usually 48-80 pages. Sometimes 48-64. Sometimes 50-70. Sometimes 50-80. But usually it's within the 48-80 range.

Some specify that they want 48 pages of actual poetry. Some don't specify.

I suppose we can assume that if the minimum is 48 pages, however, and your last poem is on 48, with your first poem after the front matter starting somewhere around page 5 or 6, that you're going to have, quite possibly, about 40 pages of poetry, which in some camps is chapbook length.

Let's start by talking .doc files. I've seen many over the last few months. I've traded with many talented and willing poets. We've given comments back and forth. I've seen manuscripts change a lot over months where we're busy and don't end up getting to talk about them until, well, months later. And all of it has been helpful. Sometimes it's more helpful than anything else.

The final Ghost Lights .doc file, as far as poetry goes, starts on page 5 and ends on page 59, with two section breaks and three sections. So that equals, I think, 52 total pages of poetry, which is just above the minimum of 48 for contest (and open reading period) length.

I always wondered when I was sending it out, "So is this way too short if I'm right above the minimum?" I'm starting to think now, however, that that's the length you want to shoot for, or if anything, it's the length I'm going to try and shoot for as far as future manuscripts go. I guess that equals about 50-60 pages of actual poetry.

I say this because right now, the third proof for Ghost Lights, including all front and back matter, is 80 pages. Though there certainly are exceptions, I'm pretty adamant about the fact that a single collection of poetry should not be around 100 pages. But I'd love to hear a different side to this.

However, that just seems way too damn long to me, like The Thin Red Line or Paris, Texas equivalent of a collection, and I'm not sure a collection that long really needs be that long. After all, let's face it, there are few poets writing who are the poetic equivalent to Terrence Malick or Wim Wenders.

Does it not eventually have to do with being resourceful, cutting things you might love that don't fit, leaving someone with wanting more instead of possibly trudging through the last 20 pages, or wondering, "Why is this so long?" or "I'm not sure this section even needed to be here."

I guess I'd rather cut too much than too little, in the end, and keep writing toward a better collection.

It seems that with every post I get fewer and fewer comments, which is fine, but I'd love to know what some folks think about this. Am I nuts? Am I thinking about it too much? Am I restricting myself too much when I try to put a collection together by thinking about all these factors?