That’s the title of the poetry manuscript I submitted to a book contest one day before the January 31st deadline. On the one hand, assembling the manuscript was exactly like organizing the creative thesis for my MFA program—printing out every poem, creating piles of poems with a similar theme, ordering the poems in each themed pile, putting the themes in the order they should be read. That part was easy.
The hard part was changing my mindset from a “hoop-to-jump-through-in-grad-school” to a “poetry-collection-someone-might-read-one-day.” Making that switch meant I had to treat the manuscript as if it were already a published book. These days, many poetry and prose books have sections break up the reading and the poems or chapters that follow. Some are as simple as Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars—One, Two, Three, Four. Others provide more information about the poems or chapters that follow. For example in Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling uses quotes from the Local Administration Manual to give a clue to what to expect in the next set of chapters. Having just finished that book on my Kindle Fire, I looked for something to help me tie the sections and the book together.
Then I remembered the book, Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women Struggle for Professional Identity. I read this book about 10 years ago, and then again in 2011, in my critical thesis semester. Flipping through it, I realized the chapter titles could organize the themes of my collection, and then, chose quotes from the book that connected to the poems:
- Fitting In (“I feel like a guest in somebody’s house.”)
- Work Isn’t Everything (“The thing that’s on every single black women’s mind is the whole issue of relationships.”)
- Their Father’s Daughters (“My life is different from my mother’s and father’s; theirs was a different time.”)
- The Racialized Self (“I experience myself as being exotic and mysterious to most white people.”)
No matter what happens with the contest, I’m satisfied with how my first poetry collection turned out.