Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Manuscript Musings

Long ago, when I first started thinking about putting a first book manuscript together, I thought that a good chunk of my first book would consist of poems that had been in a chapbook.  For awhile, it seemed that most first books I analyzed were constructed that way.

But as it became apparent that I'd be awhile between book-length (and I include chapbooks as book-length) publications, I started thinking about it differently.  I started thinking about the people who would buy my books.  I thought about myself as reader and purchaser.

As a book purchaser, I'm willing to buy both a chapbook and a book with a spine.  Thus, I don't want a book that contains poems that were in a chapbook--unless that chapbook is no longer available.  That was my thinking 12 years ago.  These days, when book publishing is cheap, if my chapbook went out of print, it would be much easier to make new copies myself, if I found myself with sudden demand for them.

Throughout the past decade and a half of book constructing, I've been careful to have only a few poems that could be found in a chapbook as I created book-length manuscripts.  In February of 2014, I put together longer manuscript, a book with a spine.  I've only sent it to a few places; I plan to send it out more aggressively in the coming months.

But in the meantime, back in November, I took 18 of the poems that are in the longer manuscript and created a chapbook which I'm calling "Life in the Holocene Extinction."  That chapbook won First Runner-Up in the Concrete Wolf Publishers annual chapbook contest.  I've entered the contest several years and never had a manuscript place so well.  So I sent the manuscript to the Finishing Line Press New Women's Voices competition.  Judging is underway.

I've entered that contest before, and while I didn't win, my chapbook I Stand Here Shredding Documents was chosen for publication.  So I'm hopeful for my current manuscript.

This morning I looked at poems written/revised after I put the longer manuscript together.  I'm thinking of taking those 19 poems that are part of both manuscripts out of the longer one.

Those are the stronger poems of course.  I have other strong poems to use in their place.  But then, some part of my brain thinks, why not revise the whole manuscript?

And that thinking sent me spiraling down a hole thinking of all the poems I've written, poems I once thought of as my best, which are now no longer part of any manuscript.  Stronger ones came along to replace them.

I also think of something that Eavan Boland said about our current time, an article which I can't find, but do remember. She said that we're losing the first book because it's so hard to get first books published.  By the time we get a "first book" from a poet, it's what would have been their second or third book, had they had a publishing career that was more common to the 20th century.

Of course, many voices that are published today would have been lost then--never published at all.

I'll keep mulling all my choices and trying not to get too bogged down by these details.

1 comment:

Terry Lucas said...

Good thoughts. I lean toward feeling good about including "best" poems from chapbooks in full-length manuscripts for multiple reasons. 1) The poems take on new meaning(s) in the context of the additional poems and in a different order; 2) The poems are usually revised between publications; 3) Many times the publishers of chapbooks allow the chapbooks to go out of print, or the press goes out of business; 4) One's first full-length manuscript is now what used to be the first "selected works" manuscript, due to the cost of publication and how few poetry presses there are compared with good poets. I have my first full-length manuscript coming out next year, with a significant number of poems from a previous chapbook. My intention is to sell the chapbooks for cost, once the full-length manuscript is out. Thanks for exploring these ideas. Best, Terry Lucas