The Publishing Process - Reading, Learning, Editing, Cutting

Fast forward to the middle of June.

The publisher said he could go ahead with the manuscript as it was and it would have been alright. However, there was potential to make it something really impressive if I was willing to continue working on it. He gave the collection to an experienced poet who's been publishing and editing since the 1970s in order to get more detailed feedback. Plenty of encouragement to begin with. Out of the 49 pieces in the manuscript there were 21 that needed no revisions. Another 9 needed only minor changes (capital letters, missing words, commas, etc).

The other 19 were a mixed bag of challenges. It was an interesting exercise to see if I could keep my rhyming schemes in certain poems while still improving on imagery and word choices. And of course there were some suggestions that I just wanted to ignore altogether!

For example, there was an adjective flagged in one poem because it can be argued that it's not true in 100% of cases. I think it works nicely, particularly when the poem is read aloud. Maybe I'm too much under the influence of spoken word poetry as opposed to purely written work?

Some of the poems were written over a decade ago, including two that I wrote when I was in Transition Year. I'm reluctant to change those two because I felt they captured things perfectly at the time they were written, but I might have to make concessions anyway. I was told to take another early one (from just before the Leaving Cert) and effectively cut it in half, removing the final four verses altogether. Even the first piece that I ever got published in the White House Revival Journal needed its first stanza cut. I'd rather make changes to it and see if the core idea can be kept in some way. We shall have to wait and see.

A few of them are going to require some real philosophical considerations. Who exactly is the speaking voice in the piece? And to whom exactly are they speaking?

There were two poems that I put at the end because I felt they were atmospheric enough to close out the book properly. I thought they captured certain feelings, but I need to put more effort into dealing with themes as well.

These are the kinds of ideas I was hoping to get feedback about. I missed out on a few years worth of conversations with other writers, so I'm glad to communicate with people who have the kind of expertise that I still need to learn. I know I don't necessarily have to go with every recommendation. Some of them will open up some fascinating conversations all the same.

I was lucky to be able to meet with the expert (if such a thing exists in poetry) at the start of July. He gave me some good advice on the manuscript, and some interesting material to read on my own. We had a good long chat about the writing process, trends and styles in contemporary poetry, the importance of reading, finding one's own voice, and especially the philosophy that a poem needs to be true rather than accurate.

I've always written very autobiographical poetry. Almost everything is based on experience, rather than imagination. The risk is that the poems might mean a lot to me, but mean nothing to a reader who doesn't know me. I need to come to terms with the idea that sometimes the details can be changed or embellished to make the poem more effective, so long as the truth behind the poem remains. The book "How To Be A Poet" by Jo Bell and Jane Commane was recommended, as well as some other supplementary texts, and I dug up my old copy of Stephen Fry's "The Ode Less Travelled" for more ideas. I also went straight into the Granary Library and read "Distance", the debut collection by poet Ron Carey.

Two weeks later I was ready to print off an edited draft of the manuscript. The poems are divided into themed sections now. 6 poems have undergone major re-writes. 3 have been cut altogether. I added 5 others that I think fit in better. The collection now has a working title which those new poems reflect in their own different ways. I've re-named 3 other poems, in the hope that (with 2 of them at least) the new titles will clarify the effect that I was aiming to achieve. There was a certain ambiguity about one of them in particular that I hope I've been able to resolve without having to re-write the poem itself.

I think I've made a few big steps towards my goal. There's probably still plenty of work to do, beyond the suggestions made in the initial review. Hopefully the editor will appreciate the approach I've taken to his early advice, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I might be able to learn from him.

In the mean time I've been writing some new poems and submitting them to various journals. It's been nice to be able to focus on re-drafting those and taking a break from the big project for a few weeks. I've had to remove some poems from the blog here, but I have them all archived now in one large file so I can access them again whenever I need to. I have 270 completed pieces (of which 32, I believe, are written as Gaeilge) and, unlike the early work, some of these have never been shown to anyone. With any luck I'll be able to post links to material published on-line over the coming months, so long as I don't get 15 rejection emails back from Submittable!

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