Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Butterfly Effects

The title refers, of course, to metaphorical butterflies, and the one so rudely interrupted in its metamorphosing (or something) in my poem this evening which I read to the gathered crowd of thirty or so students. Ironically, that was the poem I liked best, and it was the one I didn't get a comment on, lol. Live and learn, I guess. Isn't that always the way it goes?

I did get Judy Blunt's signature in my book finally. All who are left on the faculty here so far? Ellen Bass and Marvin Bell. I hope I can corner Ellen after workshop day after tomorrow. I'll have to see about Marvin. All the faculty have been kind of hanging out in a tight knot at lunches and before and after events. Tonight would have been the night to do it since he gave a reading, but I had to go over to the student reading and the faculty reading got out a bit late, so I sort of had to book it on over. pun intended.

I'm in my room a little early tonight. The goal is to be asleep before one. (That's one a.m. OREGON time. I'm gonna be so messed up when I get home, you have no idea...).

There was an event at the bookstore this evening. Wine, appetizers, and a 10% discount. I held off and getting my Boxer gear until tonight. Yes, I said Boxer. The team is the Pacific University Boxers. No jokes please, I'm sure I'll hear them all from Chad when I get home. I bought a sweatshirt with the Pacific Logo and 'Boxers' in large red letters across the front of the shirt. I was going to get one of the other sweatshirts, but barring the ones which also included Football, it was the only one with the team name. I figure, if you're going to be absurd, go all the way, right? technology seems to be having issues today. I got up and the laptop was disconnected to the internet. Had to restart it. The iPod disconnects every four minutes or less. Pretty much every time I turn the screen off. The cell phone is adamant that it will not be hooked up to the laptop to charge, so we have rather heated discussions about that in the wee hours of the morning. It's not pretty. Then I went over to make sure my alarm was on, and it seems my satellite alarm clock is not receiving from the satellite, which rather explains why it still hasn't switched over to pacific time. I popped out the batteries in order to make it shut off....and it didn't shut off. It just kept counting the seconds with a full digital display. Now, I must point out that this clock can be plugged in, but I didn't bring that cord with me. So there was no possible way for it to have still been running when the batteries were removed. Unless the clock maker put some creepy feature in the clock to avoid that. Anyways, I made it turn off, turned it back on, and had it sitting up on the desk so it would connect...annnnd it just gave up trying. Nice. Maybe the alarm hasn't been going off in the morning. That would explain why it isn't waking me up. But I digress.

Today there was only one craft talk, one class, two faculty readings, one grad reading, and the student reading. So, it was really just kind of a day for readings, lol. Tomorrow will be even shorter, event wise. There's a talk in the morning, workshop, and then from lunchtime until after dinner we're free as those in charge work out advisor/student pairings. The one thing they didn't really make room for much was actual meetings with advisors, so it's sort of a 'grab time when you can' free for all. That part doesn't make a lot of sense. There are two hour long slots set aside for student-instructor conferences, but each advisor is going to have at least three students, and it really seems like that's not a whole heck of a lot of time for a detailed going-over of study plans and making comments, suggestions, etc.

On to the intellectual fodder for the day:

1st Talk

 The Hidden Architecture of the Poem - Dorianne Laux

This talk was a bit more difficult to take notes on, since most of the work was shown to us on a handout with three poems. Dorianne read through each once and then began to point out the structure of each poem and how it worked. She was focused mostly on the simplicity and straightforwardness of the techniques and language the poet used. The talk became about imitation, and I was encouraged by that because, although I've done imitations before, I get a bit nervous thinking that I'm ripping off someone else's work. Dorianne actually confessed to us that she had copied the exact architectural structure of a poem by Mark Doty, 'A Green Crab's Shell'. She read us her copy, and then told us that she had felt sort of bad about just ripping off his design, so she sent it to Doty. He wrote her back, told her it was wonderful, and gave her some slight revision suggestiong. Doty said that he might have had a problem with it had she stolen his lines, but the materials of the poem are just as open to anyone else.

Here are the notes I took from the talk:

You gain a reader's trust through the words, lines, and syntax of a poem. Short lines ensure that every word comes across as important.
We worry that if we imitate other writers, we're stealing from them. And we are. But we're only stealing the map of their poem. We learn best through imitation. Try it. Don't be afraid.
We can understand these poems have structure and form, even if it doesn't seem like it (referring to 'At eighty-three she lives Alone' by Ruth Stone).
Set a task for yourself: start with a word and try to come to it's opposite by the end of the poem. Make a leap from one word to another while still retaining a connection.

Rhetorical/Structural devices. Use them to continue pushing the poem forward.
*Write for twenty minutes, then come back and write more beginning with 'What I meant to say'.
*You can decide ahead of time what the material or materials are going to be. Pick some characters and some themes, phrases, or random objects and try to put them all together in a poem.

The language as the first element guides the poem and the reader.
Just follow the map in the poems using free verse structure.


The Architecture of the Book - Kwame Dawes
(I took about five pages of notes here. Let me see if I can parse them down a bit for you.)

Things to think about when compiling a book-length manuscript
Know your audience
  • Contest judges will begin by looking at about the first five or, if they're generous, ten poems in a book.
    • If those don't seem like they'll make a great book, that manuscript is rejected
    • Solution? Front load it with good poems
    • Make sure the first poems and first lines are good ones. Very important
  • Know the judge (if you can), the journal, the publication
    • Read up on what is normally published, what the judge has written etc.
  • More important than knowing the judge, if he or she has a judging track record you can find, look that up and arrange your manuscript accordingly
  • Put five to ten great poems in the beginning, three or so in the middle, and three or so at the end. These are the places contest judges tend to look for good stuff.
  • How can you follow this advice and organize the manuscript seriously? Well, you can't. So yeah.
  • Each poem needs to be a substantial poem. You can't just take your poems and hide them somewhere in the manuscript if they're not that good.
  • For short stories, judges will read the opening lines and first stanzas or so. Make sure they're snappy, new, not all alike.
The book must look like a book. Look like it's done. It must be conceived of as a book. Think of how contests are judged and plan accordingly. Make sure to include your best work.
The MFA thesis, especially from here, doesn't end up long enough to be a book of poems. If you send it out to publishers, don't let them know it's your thesis. That's setting yourself up for automatic rejection. Sometimes, however, instead of a thesis you're just itching to get on the market, you just have a crap ton of work lying around (pardon the language. It's less colorful than his sometimes, however ;] ).
When you complete your MFA you should know how to write poems and add them to your collection. There are about 40-60 poems in a decent length manuscript, so you want about 150 or so to start with. You'll need a buffer.
For short stories, figure out how many stories you want in your collection, then double it. That's how many stories you'll need in order to choose the best ones. You want a big enough pool of work to figure it out with.
  • What do you do to organize it?
    • Several methods:
      • Collection of linked stories. Narrative as a structure.
      • For poems, you become a judge like the contest judges. Pile up your poems and go through them being detached and distant, choosing the best poems instead of the ones which have the most emotional impact for you.
        • Pile 1: I don't know what I was thinking
        • Pile 2: I may be able to fix this
        • Pile 3: Minor fixes needed. This is a contender for the manuscript
        • Pile 4: This just HAS to be in there - includes work previously published. You will want this on the acknowledgement page. It carries weight.
    • Be Ruthless! Don't panic at the thinness of the 'maybe' piles.
    • Be careful and judicious. Don't let your self-loathing reign over your choices.
    • The interesting pile is number 2. Once you've fixed those poems, you have a working pool. If you wind up with thirty poems altogether in the final pool, you're going to have to write thirty more and do it some more. You can start molding and directing your writing toward what the manuscript needs.
    • Short stories are much the same. Make the piles. When you pool these, ask what is there, missing, overdone, if you've written the same story over and over, and if you have which one is the best version? (so much for parsing this down....) You may need to write more stuff to add in. You want variety and range.
  • Don't start counting
    • Don't judge yourself by how much work you have amassed, or how much you still have to do. That places unnecessary pressure on you and the manuscript. Set it aside until you have enough poems to round it out.
  • Chapbooks
    • These are about 18-20 pages. These little fellows will let you frame your ideas while you're waiting to finish your manuscript.
    • If you do publish a chapbook, watch out for how you react to the success. Sometimes it can make a writer complacent and they stop getting any work done.
  • Do submissions while you're writing
    • While you're amassing your work, send stuff out. It's good for the practice, for publications, and it looks darn good on the acknowledgements page.
    • It is acceptable to re-edit things which have already been published.
  • Acknowledgements
    • It's good to have about eight of these, as prestigious as possible. If it's a high school journal or some sort of self-publish thing, it's less impressive.
Thematic Organization
    Piles: What do I have and what am I dealing with? Try and make sense of it.
  • Break the work into categories of what you have first. Say, formal lines, sonnets, persona poems, prose poems, etc. to see what you have
  • Then organize the work thematically. What patterns do you see emerging which make sense to you?
  • You may have a poem which just doesn't seem to relate to anything. It may be good for a prologue or an epilogue, or it may need you to write it up some buddies, or it may be an orphan.
  • When organizing a manuscript, you're making a book to be published, to be bought, to be read. So you're organizing it to be read.
    • Most people who buy the books are not reading it because they have to for school or something, they buy it because they want to.
    • Think about the relationship between yourself and the reader. You are inviting them into your space, sort of like into your house. Leave anything awkward for later when you know them better. Right now, you just want to show them around and let them see the gist of the work.
    • People don't usually read poetry from beginning to end, so consider that in your organization. Add variety, from subject matter to length, to appearance. Give your reader a break.
      • Try to avoid using the same ol' rhetorical structure over and over
All the little things being to matter. Read for the collection as a whole. Variety and variation are good things. Build the trust of the reader. Even if you don't have a narrative arc, you may have an emotional arc where all the stories come together.

You usually want to look for the frame inside the collection, but sometimes you look at an outside frame. Like North, South, East, West for your section titles if you have any, or are looking for another organizational strategy. The poems aren't usually written with the structure in mind, the structure just sort of gets superimposed over the top of the collection.

Making your book fancy.
  • Titles: how do you find a title poem?
    • A line or a title of a poem. But don't use a poem which isn't really fantastic, because once you publish it, that one poem becomes a little rock star whether it really deserved to have the whole book named after it or not.
  • Short stories can employ the ol' "Man with a golden shoe and other stories." Though that's less popular these days.
    • You can title short stories along a common theme, or if they all sort of focus around the same place, etc.
  • Do your title early. It can help with selection and revision.
  • Always look impressive and smart, even in a foreign language. However, sometimes they're just kinda stupid, so be careful.
  • Give a different perception of the collection
  • Can put in information which doesn't fit in the poem but is necessary for clarity
  • They help to frame sections.
    • Sections don't always need to be titled. That can demand those poems get read a certain way. Sometimes you can just label it with numbers or whatever you want to do.
Try to avoid footnotes unless absolutely necessary.

That's all for the smart stuff for the night. I saw a spider making a pretty fantastic web. I might try writing a poem about him tomorrow while we're on free time for half the day. I may also try and nap. We'll see.

God Bless, All!

~Hannah Mae

No comments:

Post a Comment