Indigo Moor is a poet, playwright, and author currently residing in Sacramento, CA. His second book of poetry, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, won Northwestern University Press’s Cave Canem prize. His first book, Tap-Root, was published as part of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series.
Three of his short plays, Harvest, Shuffling, and The Red and Yellow Quartet debuted at the 60 Million Plus Theatre's Spring Playwright’s festival. His full-length stageplay,Live! at the Excelsior, was a finalist for the Images Theatre Playwright Award and has been optioned for a full length film.
A graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program—where he studied poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting—Indigo is a board member for the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, a graduate member of the Artist's Residency Institute for Teaching Artists, and former Vice President of the Sacramento Poetry Center. www.indigomoor.org
i.e., I like your brother better than you and this is why
—by Indigo Moor
Unless you have a practiced (read RUTHLESS) eye, choosing the poems for your manuscript can be a giant slog. You have some hard questions to ask yourself. Why do you love the poems you think you love?
Like all parents, we have a predilection for the children who say something good about us as parents, the children we believe are most like us. That doesn’t mean these children are good. Serial killers, rapists, and murderers have parents. And at some point, a lot of those parents ignored something awful they should not have. Don’t let your loving parent’s eye prevent you from noticing your child pulling the wings off of flies.
No matter how much you like the subject matter, or a great line you are just dying for the public to see, you have to be objective. If it’s not a good poem, kill it. Throw it in a waste basket. At the very least, get it out of sight of this manuscript. Put it in a drawer to prevent the temptation of putting it back in the mix. All over the country, poets are preparing manuscripts and being ruthless about what they put in. These are the same people you are competing with for publication
You have to ask yourself:
1. Is this really a good poem?
2. Does it flow? How does it read out loud?
3. How does it present itself on the page?
4. Does it begin strong? Does it end strong?
5. And, my two favorites:
a. Does it have an unnecessary preamble?
b. Did I overshoot the ending trying to make a point?
If you feel comfortable with answering these questions positively, it’s probably a good poem. Go through the same process with the poems you like and the poems you don’t like.
Why, you might ask, would you bother with the poems you don’t like? Because not liking them doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good poems. If the reason you don’t like them is because they look and read like they came from the mind of a deranged monkey, go ahead and toss them. We have a long way to go in this process and ibuprofen can get expensive when bought by the barrel load.
But, If the reason you don’t like it is because it reveals something you would rather not see the light of day or the style is very different from what you normally like (at this point you should be starting to dislike the word like as much as I obviously do), keep it. When preparing a manuscript, what you are supposed to like is a poem that’s good by poetic standards and works for the manuscript. Period. End of story. Ad infinitum. Forever and ever, Amen. You’re writing for you, but ultimately, for communication with others.
The poets who don’t cull their manuscripts don’t get published. Notice the space above this line. It is for emphasis. If you want the biggest lesson of this article, here it is: NEVER put a poem in (solely) for any of the following reasons:
1. It serves as connective tissue between one section and the next
2. It serves as connective tissue between one poem and the next
3. It’s a favorite for personal reasons
4. You need one more poem, because the manuscript is too light
5. Any other reason except the poem is really good
Recently, a good friend of mine, after many rejections, got a manuscript accepted. In the first round of “maybe we will publish your manuscript, maybe we won’t,” the publishers suggested the removal of a particular poem. Interestingly enough, this was a poem that the author and I had both agreed was weak and should not be included in any submission. Why did the author include a poem that she had little faith in? Refer back to one of the don’ts above. You might argue that, in the end, the manuscript got accepted, so no big deal, right?
Wrong. Editors and publishers tend to be well read. And constantly reading. You may not agree with their choices for publication, but trying to slip bad poems past them, ones you don’t have faith in, will get your work in the circular file. Fast.
Your manuscript is also your first calling card to entering a long partnership with a publisher. There will be an editing phase, publicity, readings, etc. A billion chances for both sides to butt heads on some potentially testy subjects. Knowing that you are professional and seasoned enough to eliminate obviously bad poems speaks to your ability to hold up your end of the bargain.
Publishers look at hundreds of manuscripts per year. After seeing one bad poem, one that is obviously included for all the wrong reasons, they may not keep reading. Remember, you can’t hold them hostage in your living room showing them slide after slide of your children learning to walk, learning to ride a bike. You send them the pictures. The first ugly kid they run across, they may stop looking.
The question this author now asks herself: how many times did the manuscript get bypassed because of the need to coddle this one kid? Just as importantly, how much money was wasted on contest fees?
Trust me. Linear (obvious) forced connections scream amateur. On the positive (sociopathic) side, culling your work won’t always be this hard. Like being a Lannister, ruthlessness gets easier the more you do it. By your second and third manuscript, you’ll be tossing children out windows, left and right. I promise. In most cases you won’t even remember their names. The warning for all your poems must be, “Pull your weight or hit the road.”
Speaking of theme….
(Part 3 of 4) Selecting Theme will be my next post.
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