Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Strays and Straying

A few folks have sent me messages, backchannel, about my manuscript organizing principles. I have a few general ideas that guide me through the assembly of the process, but for the most part I use my gut.

One of the main principles I think about, though, is the tone of the overall manuscript once poems are placed side by side by side. For me, it's great to have a uniform tone because it helps me recognize whether a set of poems belongs to one manuscript or is what I'd consider a stray or something for another book.

However, the uniformity of tone can also be a problem. If you've got a whole bunch of poems that are basically doing the same thing, then the inertia of the book isn't going to take the reader forward. Hell, if I read a book of poems where the tone of the book is "one note," then I know I'll be bored and I'll put the thing down.

Therein lies the problem with my third manuscript. I'm at the juncture where I've identified that I indeed have enough poems for a third book. I am, however, aware of the fact that the poems I've currently got are all in the "minor keys." While I can see this as an opportunity to generate newer and perhaps more tonally diverse poems, I'm already weary of the process it took to generate work.

Another principle I think about is point of view, which ties in fairly closely with my idea about tone. Currently, the point of view of the manuscript is 1st person with an occasional foray into 3rd limited. The 3rd limited moments are to be understood as the same character as the 1st person pov. At no time does the manuscript's pov waiver from the subject which, I believe, is creating some problems--the character is not advancing the narrative because he is not changing. A big F'ing problem, since as I stated earlier, the narrative's loosely biographical. So perhaps I should take up skydiving, bungee jumping, or take up water polo.

As for my principles on a narrative--while it worked to have a fairly traditional/linear organization for Names that ain't gonna work for this new project. And you could also argue that Furious Lullaby had a linear narrative. The first section of Furious Lullaby built up to the middle section which was a "dark night of the soul" section, followed by a section of clarity (not resolution). So what's the narrative of book three? Maybe this is the problem. I don't know. Here's what I do know: when I started the poems for this manuscript my life had undergone some major changes. I got a new job. I moved. I got married. I got cancer (minor cancer, mind you, but still), and I had a child. Somewhere in the chaos of my life change, there's a story I as writer have a responsibility to craft.

And speaking of responsibility, my baby's sleeping close to my stomach under my hoodie sweatshirt. Fatherhood has added urgency to my art.


It's the end of the quarter and my students are spent. I am spent. I taught two very unique classes--one on short prose (prose poems, short-shorts, and lyric essays), and one on traditional forms.

This past quarter was quite taxing on me as a reader because on the one hand, I taught a class which asked the writer to eschew the principle of the line (but not the sentence) as musical, temporal, visual, and narrative guide, and on the other hand, the other class celebrated lineation as a musical, temporal, visual, and narrative guide.

So I was of two brains when I commented on student work and found myself quite tired after marathon sessions of commentary.


The moving of my parents is in full effect. I got the keys to their house and checked it out. It's a cute little rambler. It's all one level with, perhaps, a step or two up from the garage. Nothing that would cause my parents' knees to give out. The former owners have left a lovely cedar play fortress in the backyard. The backyard still needs to be fenced off because there's a wee drop off into a green zone.

Lovely place for L. to spend his days, though. The house is in a clean, quiet neighborhood close to my work place and my gym.

Ah! Convenience! My parents are going to save my sanity and my pocketbook (no babysitter fees!).

Current Spin: Laura Marling--"Failure"

Current Read: Still reading Chang Rae Lee's Native Speaker

Current Xbox Game: Fallout 3 (I am an unapologetic gamer).


Meredith JOsey said...

Yeay for the grandparents!!

Oliver de la Paz said...


I wrote that entire passage with L. under my hoodie sweatshirt sleeping. My back hurts from trying to stay semi-level for him.

Luke said...

Really interesting stuff about the manuscript making. Especially the bit about striking the same note. Seems like you've established a healthy distance between the making of individual poems and the process of putting them together. I have a hard time recognizing when different poems are doing the same work which has, needless to say, become a problem.

Happy to find this blog, though!

Oliver de la Paz said...

Howdy, Luke!

The bit about the "one note," I can't claim as my own discovery. When I was submitting book #2 around, that was the criticism I kept getting when it was catching "finalist disease." One particular editor quite accurately pointed out that I had several poems that were duplicating points in the narrative. I couldn't see it myself at the time and she helped me realize this. Sometimes a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th pair of eyes helps.


Elissa Minor Rust said...

This was so interesting for me to read--as a fiction writer, I can't even fathom how difficult it would be to place/organize poems into a manuscript. And I love that your little guy was sleeping under your sweatshirt the whole time you typed that. My entire short story collection was written with my infant son strapped to my body--when I look at the book, I still think of his little baby head under my chin. :)

Sandra said...

Always fun to visit your blog, Oliver!

I wonder if the book could be waiting for the anchor of a longer poem/sequence? Maybe some of the "minor" poems actually share thematic elements that want to be poached, conflated, or otherwise combined into something Major. Which would then be complemented by the already-written work.

And now, for something completely different: could you backchannel me on one or two end-of-year XBox titles you are excited about? I am Christmas shopping for a fellow gamer. = ) In July he got pulled in by Grand Theft Auto; he's since plowed through Mass Effect, Star Wars, Fallout 3, and now Portal...

Oliver de la Paz said...

Wazzap, Beasley?!

You know, I was planning on blogging about placing a long poem to anchor the collection. Ha! Great minds, girl. Great minds.

Concerning XBox 360 titles, will definitely toss you some suggestions. As I stated, I'm currently into Fallout 3, which is engrossing, cinematic, and *gasp* well-written! Your gamer sounds like he has the same tastes as me in gaming.