Thursday, August 8, 2013

Putting Together Your First Poetry Book Manuscript

Last week I had the privilege of joining Iris Dunkle, Professor of English at Napa Valley College, in leading a salon for thirty-some poets at the Napa Valley Writers Conference. Below is the first of three handouts I gave them on "Putting Together Your First Poetry Book Manuscript."

Do’s and Don’ts

1. Do combine chapbooks into a larger work. “Chapbooks are your friends.” —Dan Albergotti.

2. Don’t flesh out your manuscript at the last minute because you (or someone) thinks it needs more poems in a section or on a certain topic.

3. Do revise your poems right up until the last minute, getting feedback from writers you trust.

4. Don’t change your poems or make them sound like someone else because you think it will please the judge(s).

5. Do write a cover letter if the guidelines call for one, and pay attention to what the editors say should be in it.

6. Don’t explain your poems in the cover letter. If any poems benefit from a brief (sentence-long) explanation, write an appealing epigraph. If they require a longer explanation, they shouldn’t be in your manuscript.

7. Do have a poet or select group of poets read your manuscript and give you their comments (even if you have to pay them to do it). Pay attention to them, but

8. Don’t pay more attention to their comments than they deserve.

9. Do read your manuscript to clean it of all redundancies.

10. Don’t be afraid of repeating themes.

11. Do cull your manuscript of great poems if they do not belong.

12. “Don’t be in collusion with your own poems” —Dorianne Laux (from Jack Gilbert in a dream.)

13. “And don’t write sissy poems.” —Dorianne Laux (from the same dream.)

14. Do put your best poems up front—you can always change the order when the book is accepted.

15. Don’t waste your time sending your manuscript to contests with judges whose work you do not like (they probably won’t like yours either).

I will publish on this blog the remaining handouts, as well, under their topics.