I had intended to make a new book-length manuscript of poems. I took piles of poems with me on our recent trip to the mountains. I knew that I would have some time to work while my husband was at his meetings. Steel Toe Books has an open submission time until the end of the month, and I intended to come back with a manuscript.
Once upon a time, I divided my poems into nuclear/apocalypse poems and spiritual poems. I had a manuscript of each. More recently, I've been writing poems about modern life, particularly work. And I've been noticing monastic themes swirling through some of those poems, a kind of contrast to the type of modern life that most of us live.
Do I want to create a manuscript that does a lot more with that comparing and contrasting? Or do I want to think about apocalypse in terms of Holocene extinctions and economic collapse? Some manuscript that incorporates it all? How many book-length collections of poems am I likely to publish, after all? It's feeling very late in my book-length poetry publishing trajectory, although I realize those feelings may be false.
I sorted through poems and realized that I wanted more time than I would have to put a book-length manuscript together. I wanted time to put poems together in one way and see how they vibrated and then put them together in a different way. I decided to wait.
In the meantime, my world of connected short stories continues to speak to me. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Civil War reenactors and wondering whether or not we'll still be replaying the Civil War in 100 years. Will we move on to reenact different wars? I wondered about Afghanistan War reenactors. And then, I got an idea for a short story with a character whom I had assumed was going to be a minor actor.
Later in the morning, I walked the labyrinth and thought about linked short stories. I've been planning to stop writing these stories and start thinking about the larger collection. As I walked around the loops of the labyrinth, I realized I might have enough for two volumes. I thought about Louise Erdrich and how when I first read Love Medicine in grad school, I thought, I want to do this. And now, in a way, I am. Like Erdrich, I've created stories that weave through multiple generations. Characters who are minor in one story move to center stage in another. When I go back to revise, I'll try to do more with setting in terms of place.
Walking the labyrinth also led me to the realization about not putting together a new poetry manuscript. I thought about the time it would take to do the physical act of cutting and pasting to create the document. I thought about needing to look up the publication information for the poems that have appeared elsewhere.
I also thought about my last insight that came to me at Lutheridge, which I wrote about here, the insight that I needed to work on my memoir. I am in that space where I'm carefully evaluating my use of time. If I work on a new poetry manuscript, that's time I don't have for other projects.
I try not to think in terms of what projects might have more monetary potential, but lately, my thinking has shifted. Should my current job end in the next few years, what I'd really like is to have a way to make writing move to the center. To put it bluntly, I'd like to have enough writing success to pay my bills.
Clearly, unless the literary landscape changes quickly and dramatically, a poetry manuscript is less likely to help in that goal.
But more important, I feel like my memoir has something to say that isn't being said widely right now. I see a need. I think that there are plenty of readers out there who would devour a book about trying to live an integrated and honest life in the office especially when one has a spiritual life that isn't always in sync with one's colleagues.
So yesterday, I returned to my blogs, looking for posts that can lead to essays that will be part of my memoir. My goal is to have those chosen by the first week-end in November, when I have a chunk of time carved out for writing. The goal is in sight--and it wouldn't be, if I was trying to assemble a poetry manuscript.
Best Essay Collections of 2017 by Women Authors
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