Thursday, September 17, 2009

Editing a book of poems: structuring a manuscript

For those who are interested, I'll be getting a sound file of the half-hour radio program on which my poetry manuscript was discussed by Bryan Roth, a professional book editor of poetry and prose. When I get it, I will post the sound file here, so if you want you can listen at your leisure.

Following the experience of hiring a professional editor, I'm thinking a lot about this process. I have another manuscript in development, and am evaluating what I learned from the editing of Gods of Water and Air. One of the big questions we considered was the structure of the book. I've considered two basic ideas for structure: grouping sections around themes or interweaving all themes into every section and using a different organizing principle than thematic for sections (formal or technical dimensions, chronological sequence, etc.)

The suggestion I resonated with the most was the idea of thematic grouping. It's immediately clear to the reader, a tried-and-true structural device. While it might be tempting to try a more subtle approach, when you have to make it past harried screeners to even be a contest finalist, subtle structural approaches might not be your best gambit.

Within each thematic section, getting the poems to talk to each other, relate in some sort of fluid sequence, was then the challenge. An outside editorial eye can be invaluable for this, by spotting abrupt shifts that break the flow, suggesting rearrangements, deletions, even places where new material might be beneficial. I actually wrote some new poems to expand one section because it wasn't quite large enough to be a section, but the theme was a strong one.

More fine-tuning remains to be done on this aspect of my manuscript. And how that relates to the question of titles. Stay tuned for talk of titles.