From Not Entering any Chapbook Contests, to Two in One Month …

… in zero easy steps.

A funny thing happened today while contemplating sealing the deal on a travel-themed chapbook (entries are due June 15 — yikes, I just rediscovered that fact yesterday). Well, the first funny thing is that I don’t at all consider myself to be a writer of travel poetry … but when I sifted through the 60-some poems I wrote in April, I found that many of my favorites were about travel in general or about specific locations.

But what happened today is that I found myself reaching back to a previous idea, which was a chapbook of persona poems. I entered it in one contest last fall, it didn’t win, and I promptly shelved it. But I love persona poems and the energy of writing as someone else for a while. By now, a lot of those poems feel a little stale, and I’ve since written other persona poems that I like better — and that I was sorry to cut because they didn’t fit my travel theme.

Sooooo … now I’m planning to do the one that’s due June 15 and another that’s due June 30. Two things: 1) I believe this gives me a handy carte blanche not to write anything new for a while, other than for Open Link Night, which I enjoy each Tuesday, and 2) I am going to have to speed up my usual process considerably.

What’s my usual process? 1) Print everything — everything — out. 2) Sift through it many, many times to choose the best ones. 3) Look for a theme and regretfully pull out any that don’t fit. 4) Find an order that makes sense. 5) Put the pages together in “spread” fashion — facing each other, that is — so I can see how they might pair in book form. 6) Carry the pages around with me for days on end, rereading, making tiny changes, reprinting, rereading — until I’m so sick of the whole thing that I have to get it out of my house … now.

For my travel-themed one, I added a little something extra to step 6, which was to set aside the whole thing for a few days, only to come back to it and find that my order was all messed up and I had a mixed pile of drafts from various stages. And … this was right before I’d planned to consolidate the whole thing from many files into one. So the order only existed in that hard copy. The good news is, I’m quite sure I didn’t duplicate the previous order — but I actually like the new one better.

What remains for the travel chapbook, which (blessedly) seems to fit the June 15 contest better than the June 30 one, is to pull out two poems that I don’t think work very well and put back in a two-pager that I think is very strong but also very personal and perhaps dangerously honest. I *mostly* think that’s a good decision — and it’s a type of decision I find myself making more and more often.

As for the persona poem one, I suspect I might be surprised by how much work remains. I think there’s a lot that will need to come out — and a lot of new ones to put in. 

So, the travel one is tooth-wigglingly close (my daughter turned 7 yesterday, so this metaphor is very relevant these days), and I have to get it out of my house … if not now, then pretty close to now.

There goes my June … What are you up to?


4 thoughts on “From Not Entering any Chapbook Contests, to Two in One Month …

  1. Oh, Marilyn, once again I am nodding and laughing in agreement and recognition. This is SO much how I go about this process, too–right down to the “I have to get it out of my house … now” conclusion.

    I’m delighted to hear you’ve discovered travel and persona manuscripts among your poems. Best of luck with both of those contests!

  2. So interesting and helpful to read about your process. I’ve been thinking for quite a while about entering a chapbook contest. I’ve been lucky to be published in a few lit zines and now I’m ready for a different challenge!

    • That’s where I am, too .. trying to make that jump. I’ve entered a few of these before, which is why I said, “Never again,” but you do reach a point where you feel like you need to do something else in addition to submitting individual poems.

      It’s kind of satisfying to go through your individual ones, looking for patterns.

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