The last few days, I’ve been shuffling poems, shuffling lines in poems, and have finally come up with a new manuscript to send out into the world. A while back, I posed some questions about my body of work and how that work might form itself into a book (or two). Some interesting things have happened.
First, there are no personae in this new manuscript. No Stella, no Donny. The only named people are real people and I think there are only two of those (my sister, Carla, and a friend, Anthony, whose name ended up in a poem accidentally). Second, I realized that I’ve worked out some of my obsessions pretty completely. They’re ready to be out in the world. Third, of the 46 pg manuscript (with slightly fewer poems–maybe 10 are 2 pages), only 17 are published. That means it’s a largely new collection, as I’ve been slacking on the submission front this past year or two.
Yesterday, I took the poems over to a friend’s apartment. She’s on vacation and I’m getting her mail and using her washer and dryer (laundry without quarters! It’s revolutionary!). So, while I was waiting for the laundry, I spread the poems out on her hardwood floors. (So much better than mine, which are tiny and have a cat running around.)
So, I’m at my friend’s place, and I start to shuffle the poems into groups. And I end up with this:
It was clear right away that the new manuscript was going to be in 3 sections. (I have a hard time imagining any other configuration, actually, as I don’t like even numbers and five seems too many.) But I didn’t like the looks of this because the section on my right was so much longer than the other two. I spent some time hanging out with those poems and figured out that group two and group three were bleeding into each other because I hadn’t clearly defined them yet. So I fixed that, and then started sequencing the poems in each section.
The first section I sequenced I was thinking of as “poems about girls.” Mostly poems about sisters, sibling rivalry, and identity, this is the section was the easiest to put together, and I think it’s my favorite. I ordered the poems how I usually do, by finding riffs between poems, shared images, etc., but I started by looking at each poem’s title and first line (or first couplet). At this point, I wasn’t sure which section would come first in the manuscript, so I wanted to make sure whatever the first poem was, that it would grab someone right away. This section begins “That was the year paint / peeled from the ceiling.” I did the same with the last poem, making sure that if it was the last poem of the book, it would leave readers with the right mood or image.
The next section I sequenced is poems about boys. I’ve titled this section Trouble Lust (which was the big secret title of the last manuscript, but I don’t think it’s right anymore) and it is about unhealthy relationships and boys from the wrong side of the tracks. These are the oldest poems in the book, and have the most in common with my earliest versions of the manuscript (as far back as my MFA thesis). This is one of the obsessions I think I’m done with — not that I won’t write about unhealthy relationships anymore, but that I think I’m done writing about ex boyfriends from way back. This section starts “You triggered my trouble lust, Anthony,” and ends with “Your breath will drown out the wind.”
The third section is about the city. There are a lot of boys in the city, which is why it was difficult to figure out which poems belonged in this section and which belonged in the section before it. But ultimately, the poems in this section rely on an urban landscape to tell their stories. This section begins “Give me a map” and ends “When I returned, the kitchen was filled with fruit flies but there was no fruit.”
Once I had the sections sequenced, it was time to decide which order the sections belonged in. My first instinct was to present them just as I have here: girls, boys, city. A kind of chronology (though there are brand new poems in the girls section, and though the poems themselves don’t stick to a linear progression) that made me uncomfortable. So, I spent some time thinking about how the sections spoke to each other and realized that a) the poems about boys set the tone and the tension in the manuscript, b) the city poems talk a lot about going back home, and c) the poems about girls do in a sense go back home, and that section had the most satisfactory ending — not quite closure, but a sense of something being finished. I don’t know if that makes sense. Anyway, the final product looks like this:
I’m really, really excited about this new manuscript. I think it’s doing justice to where I came from and where I’m going. It’s got some of my favorite poems and some poems that have gotten the most love from readers and editors. It’s got poems about my past and poems about my present. It doesn’t mess around with narrative or character development, so there’s nothing to worry about there. There’s just one problem…I have no idea what to call it.
Here are a few possibilities:
Glass, Brick, Bone
Dead Man’s Float
Safely on their Knees
Not a Harvest
I don’t know how I feel about any of these. There are two that I like more than the rest, but I am not really sure I like them enough. What do you think, dear reader? Won’t you tell me in the comments?