Sunday, June 20, 2010

Editing a chapbook. Oh dear.

I've been beating my head against the wall trying to pull this chapbook together for months now. I had what I thought was my basic manuscript before CUPSI hit (in this metaphor, CUPSI is a tropical storm), bringing 30/30 with it (30/30 is the rebuilding effort after the storm). After that, about a third of what I thought would be my chapbook went to the graveyard, and a handful of 30/30 poems were put in their place.

Here's the thing: I hate editing. I love to edit as I write, tweak metaphors, whatever, but going back to months-old poems is incredibly hard for me. I have this tendency to want to let the poem just be what it is-- a representation of where I was, mentally, emotionally, and poetically. Which is why it's so hard to hear that a poem I thought of as done doesn't actually communicate as well as I thought. Eric's editing eye is frustratingly useful in this regard. If there's a hole in phrasing, metaphor, or message, he'll find it. Kim also has been very brave in terms of giving edits on what are often first or second draft poems.

After Eric sent me his edits, I told myself I had to wait for Kim's edits before incorporating or discarding them, to get a second opinion. But now that I have all of Kim's edits, it's really hard to actually sort through this manuscript poem by poem. I feel suddenly unequipped to decide what these poems "should" be about at all. I think that comes from by background in the visual arts; there's this sense encouraged especially by the more recent visual art movements that the audience brings its own meaning to the piece, and that a multitude of meanings or interpretations is not only okay, but important.

Beyond that, what this process asks of you as a writer is to face up against all the flaws and missteps in your work. That's difficult, even for the most humble among us, and I'm really bad at it. Even on academic papers, reading the professor's comments terrifies me. More often than not, I just glance at the grade, fold it in half, and put it in my backpack.

Of course, that's not really an option this time around. A week from today, I'm flying home to participate in VOLUME Summer Institute, a week of workshops with fly Ann Arbor poets, not to mention Roger Bonair-Agard, Scott Beal, Kevin Coval, and Patricia Smith (PATRICIA SMITH!!!!!!!!!!)... many of whom are next on the list to write comments in the margins. So I need to think hard about what kind of poet I am. What kinds of poems these are-- each individually, and as a group. All 23 of them, squabbling family that they are. In the next week.

I had a conversation with Chris a few months ago in which he described the chapbook editing process as grueling months of work. At the time, I dismissed this as hyperbole. My mistake.


Eric Rosenbaum said...

Amen to that. I haven't been working on my chapbook as long as you have, but I've gone back to each poem about ten times now. I changed the order for the third or fourth time last night. Thanks for all your help making the process a lot easier

(P.S. I got rid of Woods, and also Small Talk)

Lauren said...

You're a much more diligent editor than I am. I think I've only gone back to each poem two or three times so far. but I still haven't gotten edits from Aimee or Fiona Chamness or Roger, so there's a lot of work ahead of me. I think those are smart cuts. I'm cutting the succubus poem, but considering throwing in another 30/30 poem if I can make it work. What's the fate of the cafe poem?