Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Have an Editing Problem

I have been in many, many workshops over the years, and while I am quite comfortable editing my own poems and deciding where I need more and where I need less, the whole concept of editing a book is very difficult for me. Mind you, I have put together two books of poetry in the past, one for my thesis for my MFA and the other for my dissertation for my PhD. Also, I edited down the former to a chapbook I am fairly confident is good and whole. But when I look at the pile of poems I've written in the past 14 or so years, I don't see how they come together into a project that is whole.

One of the weaknesses of book from a thesis or a dissertation is that it tends to be a collection of everything one wrote while enrolled in the program. In putting together a book now, I don't have the luxury of making a book that is like raking up a pile of leaves. The poems sitting next to each other in the book need to have some kind of relationship to one another, need to come from a similar worldview or at least have a similar style and voice. And if I am looking at my work honestly, I don't know if I even like the style that many of the poems from my diss were written in. I certainly am not writing in that style now.

Yesterday I went through the poems I had and tried to categorize them. For the most part, my poems fell into one of three categories: communication, family history, and dream imagery. The communication poems were mostly the ones from my diss, and it's hard for me to decide what to do with them. I do see poems like them in magazines, though I don't often like them.

I have about 50 poems and fragments from the last couple years that land in the family history pile, so that is clearly what I am writing the most of these days. While I am attracted to the voice and humor in these, I think individually they are some of the weakest, or perhaps need the most work. In this category are the postcard poems, so many are very short, and I don't know if they fill out the world enough.

The poems with dream images are the ones I like the most, I think. They are closest to the poems I like that I see in magazines, though I'm not sure how marketable they are. They are also closest to the poems in the chapbook I put together, though I am not sure if publishing poems in a chapbook means they cannot go in a full book. I don't know if perhaps I should not worry about that at all, and pile all of these dream sequences in a single book. Or maybe I should continue to set aside the chapbook, and gather up the dream poems from scratch.

My lack of organization of everything I've written in the past worries me. I've lost poems that I've written and liked, just because I haven't organized or backed things up the way I should. I am torn between setting aside everything I've done in the past and not wanting to lose pieces I like that seem fairly strong. Whichever way I go, I am certain I need a focal poem, and I don't know that I've found it yet. I think my strategy going forward should be to write about ten new poems and see how they fit in with everything else. Maybe they won't fit in with everything and they will be the start of something new.

As a tack-on, I do need to write a post soon about my February writing challenge books. I read and enjoyed Radi Os by Ronald Johnson, though it deserves more than a single sentence here. I'm still working through Songs and Stories of the Kojiki by Yoko Danno. I blame February's only having 28 days for my not having finished it yet.

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