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.
was born in the Midwest, grew up in New Mexico, and has lived in the San Francisco bay area for two decades. Terry has published in numerous literary journals, including Best New Poets 2012, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Great River Review, New Millennium Writings, and The Comstock Review. His work has garnered six Pushcart Prize nominations. He is the winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Review Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. His chapbook, Altar Call, was a winner in the the 2013 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival, and appears in the Anthology, Diesel. His chapbook, If They Have Ears to Hear, won the 2012 Copperdome Poetry Chapbook Contest, and is available from Southeast Missouri State University Press. His first full-length collection of poems, In This Room (CW Books, 2016), is now available, and his second, Dharma Rain, was released by Saint Julian Press in October of 2016. Terry is a 2008 poetry MFA graduate of New England College, and a free-lance poetry consultant. For more information about him and his work see www.terrylucas.com