I love school. Which is why these back-to-school commercials unnerve me. I’m not going back in the fall to the (wonderfully) structured stress of the MFA.
However, I’m excited about figuring out my own writing schedule again and reconnecting with my writing communities outside of UCR, namely the MMIX writers (formerly known as the PEN USA Emerging Voices 2009). We met last week after a long break in our bimonthly meetings, and it was great to check-in with everyone and their writing. And of course, there was fruit and samosas and wine galore! It was also very exciting to see how far long folks were with the manuscripts they just began writing or had just proposed during the PEN fellowship. A few of us have chapbooks from the work we’ve done, others are finishing their novels.
As far as my manuscript is going (tenatively titled, The Gossip Tree), I’ve finished revisions back in June and spent most of this summer submitting it to various open submissions and first book contests. Some poems from my chapbook, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood, appear in the full-length MS. How do folks feel back that? I read an interview with J.P. Dancing Bear who mentions that it’s unfair for writers and their readers who buy both chapbook and full-length. I’m reminded by Kate Durbin’s work. A section from her book The Ravenous Audience, entitled Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot, was published as a chapbook by Dancing Girl Press. The section as chapbook definitely worked independently from the book itself but added to the choral of voices and stages in the full-length.
I suppose this brings me back to the question of the chapbook form. I know some poets use it as a “mix-tape” of sorts; a preview before the album drops. Others prefer the chapbook for the contained space that the short form provides.
In thinking about my own chapbook, I was interested in the “self-portrait” poems as mirrors. The poems, “Self-Portrait as Rumor” and “Self-Portrait as Blood” bookend the chapbook. Mirrors, and reflections they fleetingly hold. The ones they cannot. The voices that bounce between them. Perhaps, a nightmare funhouse of family, colonialism, and violence. When two mirrors face each other, you see yourself and multitudes of yourself waving back. Unnerving. You hear gossip, but cannot see the women. You can see the bat wings, but don’t know for sure where they belong. The mother telling you that you’re too dark. She wants to keep you but flushes you out. You’re unraveling silences in front of both mirrors.
I’m wondering if I’ve accomplished that with the chapbook.
So, with The Gossip Tree. There is more humor. Imelda Marcos throws shoes at your head. She snaps Minnie Mouse ears in half. There is also a collective of voices, speaking through the remittance message. The limit of 25 words per message. I’m hoping to do what Durbin does in her collection. Have the voices rage at each other. Support each other. Betray.
I’m trying not to pick at the MS , or rub that dirt spot off with my saliva. During the submission process, do folks continually revise, providing a different form of the MS to each press? What are your best strategies for leaving it alone?
I suppose my best strategy is continuing to write new stuff. I’ve just started a poetry correspondence over email with a friend from UCR. We write everyday, borrowing words, ideas and lines from each other’s poems to create new ones. We send them to encourage our accountability. I hope to continue this practice.
So, that’s just a quick update on where things are progressing. Since I’m no longer in the space of structured stress, I’m going to hash out more writing stuff here. To be continued…