Yesterday, I attended the Colrain One-Day Informational Retreat on the poetry manuscript. The workshop leaders, Fred Marchant and Joan Houlihan, touched on all the topics they cover in their four-day retreats. Each participant brought a packet of six poems they thought represented their manuscript. Fred and Joan guided the discussion of the packet by asking us: Is the voice consistent? Do the poems feel like they represent the manuscript in style and tone? Throughout the day, we considered the emotional content holding the poems together and whether the chronology of the poems supported or detracted from the overall feeling the manuscript established for the reader. The latter third of the day, we discussed the specifics of creating a manuscript: length (15-30 pages for a chapbook; typically 60-70 pages for a full-length collection); finding publications and contests for manuscripts and individual poems; and establishing your presence in the poetry world. At the end, we did an exercise where we searched for good titles within our poems, and closed the day by reading some of our work.
The specific feedback for my poems made me feel good about the progress I’ve made since I took Kwoya Maples‘ advice to create a document and title it “manuscript.” The manuscript’s working title, “Dear Husband,” is a series of poems with the same title. I thought I needed to keep the set together, but Joan & Fred suggested that I use each “Dear Husband” poem as a structural device, and possibly as section dividers that provide the reader with emotional markers throughout the manuscript. This advice is probably going to be easier said than done. It did get me to think differently about the themes each “Dear Husband” poem addressed and the other poems that could amplify that theme. Overall, the workshop made me realize I needed to be more intentional about the order of poems, their themes, the variations on that theme, and taking opportunities to swerve and surprise the reader.
I’m about a third of the way to a full-length collection, and after this workshop, I feel more confident about where it is going. There’s a lot more writing ahead and a lot more brunches needed to support the work.