Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Manuscript Draft #6

I'm elbow deep in manuscript revision right now. I finally have a whole week to myself to write. And this is turning out to be a lot of fun. I'm finishing this book in a completely different way than the last one. I am writing poems specifically for this book--to solidify motifs, to fill narrative holes, etc. It's a really interesting way to work.

When I was at AWP we talked a lot about how to avoid "filler poems" (i.e. weaker poems there simply to complete a narrative or fulfill some other purpose) and this has been something I've really been wrestling with. There are a few poems I feel need to be in to give shape and meaning to the book, but some of them are not as strong as other poems. The advice given by a few writers at the conference was to slash and burn--don't let any poem in the door if it's not a great poem (or as close to great as we can get). At first blush, I agree--every poem in the book should be a "good" poem. But on the other hand, I'm starting to really believe in the idea of "poem conversations" and how poems really do shape and affect those on either side. So if a poem significantly changes and enhances a poem next to it, isn't that enough justification to stay in the book? It's doing its work, isn't it?

I had a great moment this week when I sent two poems to a writer friend asking her which I should put in. They are both about Eve and naming the animals. One was just published in Cirque (which is a really terrific new journal, btw), but I really wasn't sure it was done so I wrote a new version. Robyn, my friend, suggested I put both in--why not have several Eve poems? she asked. This was like a little explosion of light for me. I could do an Eve sequence in the book, which would help tie all the major motifs of the book together. It's so awesome to have good poet friends. Thank you Robyn!

Here's the Eve poem published in Cirque.

Eve, Becoming

As I flip through the Sibley Guide,
looking up a duck who arrives
with a splash,
I wonder about Eve—

did she learn from Adam
the name Northern Pintail?
Was she taking notes
as he said Mallard, Blackbird?

Or did the birds tell her
(as Adam checked them off
his life list), winging over her
look at me, my loose
bones of flight

their names just opening
on the wet tongue of her heart—

and suddenly she knew them
like she knew everything—

this is a goose,
this quiet place by the river Tigris
is mine, and my name is Eve.
Recognize me.

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