Ponderings by Henri Bensussen, MCWC board member and
Mendocino Quill's editor, a.k.a. The Maven
Henri serves on the board of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She worries endlessly, fruitlessly, and in between writes tragic poetry and comical short stories.
“Lots of action and movement,” her partner says after perusing the Maven’s latest draft of a full-length poetry manuscript. “I thought poetry had to rhyme, though—the first two lines and the second two lines. That’s what we learned in grammar school.” She looks out the window. “I think that was the last time I read a poem.”
The Maven’s poems have internal rhymes, rather than end rhymes. A word echoes some other word within a stanza. Sometimes it echoes a word two stanzas back; other times she can’t find the echo’s source though she hears it. It’s like being eight cents off when doing her bank statement, and she wonders why not just accept it. Discovery does have its own reward, called “satisfaction.” Is the hidden source of an echo an error? She could write a poem about that mystery, she thinks, and looks around for a piece of scrap paper to write a note on.
The editor of Tupelo Press, Jeffrey Levine, sent out a series of blog posts on how to construct a poetry manuscript (click on his name to read his blog). Describe what it’s about, he advises, in one sentence, one paragraph, and one page. Does it explore a question? View life in terms of a repeating image, a motif? Have an arc, like a piece of fiction? Taking Levine’s advice, the Maven considers the latest rendition of the manuscript that she is preparing to submit to another round of contests. There seems to be an arc in terms of time and events, and a motif of sorts, broadly speaking. A snappy title could help. Levine once advised that the secret to an editor’s heart is a Table of Contents full of intriguing titles. She could explore the idea of intrigue, and let the readers solve the puzzle of arc. She grabs another scrap of paper.
Her partner turns back to the pile of pages in front of her. “I could never get my words to rhyme,” she says. “I guess it’s okay, since yours don’t rhyme either.” The Maven nods her head and looks out the window in turn: what did her partner see out there, other than a very fruitful apple tree and a dead lawn? Would it make a poem, and if so what title would she give it?