Production Log: Darkness Cuts Itself a Body & How to Escape From a Hotel on Fire

If you know anything about me, you know that the above are the titles to two poetry manuscripts I’ve been working on over the last five years.

If you don’t know this, then clearly you don’t know me at all.  And that means you’re strangers.

Strangers!  Reading this record of my most personal thoughts and desires!

Oh God, who are you people?!


On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t have asked.

On third thought, there are these two manuscripts, and on the advice of a trusted mentor I blended them together last year into a whole that was meant to be more than the sum of its parts.  This version consisted of three parts and took the best from both books and created a monster worthy of Frankenstein that, just like his creation, could neither love nor reproduce.

Which is to say that, after a year of sending the manuscript out to contests, I was forced to realize that I didn’t like it very much.

Something was off.  The poems, all smiles and tans, didn’t go well together.  They were a supergroup, a dream team, a collection that doesn’t exist in the real world.

So back to squares two and three (where I’m tossing the stone and hoping to hop my way to heaven):  the original versions of the manuscripts.

There was something key in both versions that I loved and still love, a formal arrangement (for lack of better self-understanding) that intrigues me.  What I’ve been doing over the past few weeks is revising poems (many of which have languished in revision limbo for years) and inserting the new versions into the old manucripts.  I haven’t yet begun the process of pruning, even though I know there are poems that need to be removed, because I want to experience, as close as possible, reading the old forms with the new content to see if they’ll work.  If they’ll work with some work of course, but still I should be able to get an idea of the labor involved and whether it’ll bear fruit or just a covey of dead branches.

If everything works out in the next two days, I’ll be sending two manuscripts out to contests and publishers this year.  I’m sort of excited about that prospect, as well, even though I know that the process will be expensive, and I’ll be running the risk of having two books accepted by two different presses, both books then being published within the same year or, god forbid, months of each other.

Oh, the terror!

ALSO, I’ve been reading that passel of poetry books that Brendan sent to me and just finished up with Aleksandr Skidan’s Red Shifting.  It’s Russian poetry in translation, a collection from a number of his books published in Russia (at least, as far as I can tell from the back of the book), and though all of it is interesting, only a few poems did I find myself liking.  For example, the most minimal of the bunch, an untitled poem that finishes out the book:


stale bread

as if no one could hear
anyone else

standing in rows

knives <and people>

It’s really that last clarification that gets me, though I’m not sure why.

And it’s when I’m revising my own work that I feel the strongest need to delve into the poetry of others.  It’s that confusion I feel at the poem above, and other confusions like it, that push me to see my own poems in new ways.

Confusing, I know.  But I like it.

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