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Sunday, October 31, 2010

manuscript blues (bits)

yesterday, i sent off my ms to a contest. i'm sending it off again tomorrow. and a few more times in mid-november.
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david welch: you are my favorite hipster of the corn. thank you once again.
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today i found an interview with carl phillips via c. dale young's blog. in the interview mr. phillips talks about his upcoming yale judging duties, unbiased readings, what he expects in a collection. but the last paragraph of the interview really caught my eye:

...I believe the biggest problem with the majority of manuscripts that are sent out is that the writers themselves know they have not yet put together a manuscript of work that they entirely believe in. They have often been convinced by many of their teachers that they should put the best work up front, hide the lesser work in the middle, then close with a bang. But why submit a manuscript where you feel any of the work is lesser? I recently spoke with a poet who was pleased to have read a book in which five of the poems were wonderful. That isn’t enough, for me. I want everything to be wonderful. There are many who would say I’m expecting too much. But lower expectations are, to my mind, the reason why there are so many unsatisfying books of poems in the world.

poet after poet, teachers and peers, have told me to put the good poems upfront, to put the so-so poems in the middle, and close with more good poems. i've always thought this was crazy and stupid advice: i don't want so-so or weak poems in my ms. that's one reason it took me so long to put a ms together. i kept tossing out the weaker poems, the poems that didnt' fit. which meant that i had to write new poems. and i'm a slow writer, people. slow, slow, slow.
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the ms i sent out is pretty slim: 51 pages, and i've organized it like this:

1st section: 23 pages
2nd section: 9 pages
3rd section: 19 pages

the middle section is my code-switching poem, my best (I think) and most "difficult" poem. a poem full of spanish slang, of references to mexican history and narco culture, a poem that steals language from robert hayden and border corridos. i did not place my lesser work in the middle. gosh, that sounds so grandiose! but i believe it.
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i still can't believe i sent out my ms. i got real nervous when i handed it over to the clerk at the post office. i almost yanked it out of the clerk's hands. but instead, i closed my eyes until i heard the package drop into a bin. yes, i'm that pathetic.
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are you reading sandy longhorn's blog? i am really enjoying her posts.
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godspeed, my little poems.

8 comments:

Sandy Longhorn said...

Eduardo, thanks so much for the link. I've been reading and enjoying your posts for quite a while now, just shy of commenting.

I'm quite slow at putting together a ms. as well. Good luck with yours and I concur with you, and Carl Phillips. No mushy middles please.

Jeannine said...

Good luck, Eduardo!
I just discovered Sandy's blog too - it's really good!

Leslie said...

Eduardo! Wahoooo! I'm so excited you are sending a ms out!

And I agree with Carl Phillips. I feel like if there are poems that are not as strong in the ms, for whatever reason, putting them all in a bunch is a bad, bad idea.

But I also feel like there are very, very few books that can be amazing front to back. Almost none. Even my favorite books have, not stinkers exactly, but poems that aren't home-runs. Sometimes you need a base hit.

I'm totally excited to see your book soon!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Well, shoot, now I'm blushing again. Thanks, Jeannine! Big love to you and Eduardo, whose blogs I've long read and admired.

Matthew Thorburn said...

Hey Eduardo, I'm happy to hear your ms. is in the mail now. Good luck!

My new-ish manuscript I'm sending out has a longer poem in the middle like that too. I like that structure. (I put two copies in the mail today myself.)

The only book of poems I've read that is killer basically all the way through like that is Geography III -- and by our contemporary standards, it might technically be considered a chapbook, I guess.

I think everything else I've read has some degree of modulation. Not that anyone should knowingly include weak poems. But in any group of 20-40 poems, even if they're all very good, aren't some always going to be stronger than others?

Matthew Thorburn said...

P.S. Sandy's blog is excellent. And so is her book!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Matthew, and let me return the compliment!

I also agree with you that not all of the poems in a book can be 'killer.' It's just the books that visibly sag in the middle that I worry about. I don't want that to be me!

Tracy said...

Just "putting yourself out there," as they say, is worthy of a hearty congratulations!