Monday, January 22, 2007

Writing in a series, or not

It's chapbook time again, and deadlines are coming up. The chapbook is such a nice length for exploring one or two subjects, for developing a series of poems—and I feel most comfortable when I'm working on—working my way through—a series.

Usually, I try to start a year beforehand—or, at the latest, in September. The kids go back to school and I begin to think seriously about a chapbook. (I used to be a little more haphazard, but I remember standing on my front porch one warm and luxurious July evening when Greg Hischak turned to me and said, "So, have you thought about your next chapbook submission for the Floating Bridge Press contest?" Or something to that effect.)

I like the idea of exploring one idea, or a couple of related concepts, in a group of poems. I like the way they hang together and, I hope, flow from one to another. I like to try to dig into different textures and emotions and events. And this past year, I have not had a series in sight. At least, not any work that spans more than four or five poems.

What do you do when you have a lot of separate poems? Or maybe short stories? How do you bring them into the same room in a congenial way, as though for cookies and tea?

I've heard of linking them together by the titles (discarding whatever titles you had before and creating a theme or even a narrative in the new titles). That sounds cool. That even sounds adventurous, as though inviting a new person in to inhabit your stanzas. I haven't tried it yet. I guess that I sweat so much over trying to find a title in the first place that I'm reluctant to let it go.

I've also thought about trying to pull out some cohesive idea, but sometimes they are just too random. It might be too much of a stretch.

I guess that's a pretty good sign that those poems don't belong together. But as I said, it's chapbook time again, and the deadlines are coming up—and even though contest entries are a long shot, they are also a ritual.

Do you ever have trouble getting your different poems into a collection? Do you have any advice to offer or tricks to share?

1 comment:

bevjackson said...

This is my year for submitting for the contests, and I've got "random" poems to pull together. I had a friend read them all, and she said, "well, they're all about loss, aren't they?" I had never seen them in that way before. So my groupings started to make more sense then, and I'm refining it still.

Nice to know that others write with a theme in mind! It would not have occurred to me to do that. Thanks!