How to Make a Manuscript - part #3

~Be strong. The poems, they don't spring from heads like Athena, not usually. If someone's indelicate with them and your handling of them, they aren't going to be helpful. Be assured of this. Then do what it takes to feel SURE of yourself. They can't come, the poems, in their best form if they can't trust that you'll listen to them. That you'll tune into their needs and desires, their hopes and dreams for themselves. If you're doubting, hesitant, they won't come. You don't need to be comfortable. This shouldn't necessarily be easy. Often times it's very difficult. Often times it's awkward. That's what makes you, the vessel, feel so alive, enlivened, from the process of making a manuscript.

~Give over to a higher power/be open to a different plane of existence. This doesn't mean a religious thing, though it can be if you'd like. This doesn't mean a spiritual thing, eitehr, though it can be that if you like. It's just that people seem to zone in, or go outward, or rise upward or soem form of concentrated otherness when they're in their element.

I asked lots of people what it felt like when they were making poems. I got responses like, "I see things differently," "My brain makes connections it wouldn't normally," "Certain visions appear," "Some things are clearer, others fade," "I see inside myself."

My sister is not a poet but is a really good athlete. When tending goal in soccer, it's an impressive show. How she can move so easily in such strange ways to block seemingly unblockable trajectories of the ball, I will never know. But she says when she's doing it, she sort of blacks out and let's everythign just happen. Before that, while the ball is not in play for her, yet she's on the field anticipating it, she says she makes up her own language, to help her stay alert and to concentrate.

The thing in common is everyone seemed to give over to some "other" ness. for me, I hear a buzz. Sort of like a June Bug buzz but less piercing. It's very calming. And any background noise is very much in the background, whether there's a lot of it or hardly any. And then time seems to go by very fast and I've done tons of work--whether revising or writing or editing--and then I come out of the spell to find that lots of time has passed.

~ A good manuscript comes from when you think about the potential readers' experience. By experience, I mean are they hearing it they way it should be heard? Seeing it the way it should be seen? Feeling what is meant to be felt? Are you conveying everything that is meant to be conveyed? Think about sounds, rhythm, context, content, meaning, purpose, spirit, energy. How the eye receives the line and how that effects the brain's reception of the poem. How the sounds effect the mood. All of those layers, are they thought about on behalf of potential readers? It doesn't have to be analytical, checking a list and diagraming a line. Just make sure it gives everything out there that's meant to be given. For the sake of the poem, think of its readers' experience of it.

Conversely, poor manscripts come from concern over potential readers' reception of the book. Any sort of foolhardy effort, whether concious or subconcious, of sentiments like, "this will win an award," "I will publish this for certain," this fills a niche market in poetry," "my MFA professors will approve of this version," makes for a stinky manuscript, often stiff and lifeless because it is trying too hard. Those are the things that make a manuscript, "as stale as a box of year old cookies," as one friend described his graduate thesis.

One version of a manuscript of mine was so hated because, as my graduate thesis, it was so forced and lifeless, it has long since become kindling in a fire pit, the ashes spread along the coast of Cape Cod. This was an act of liberation I perpetrated on the 4th of July. "Burn, baby, burn," I thought as the thick pile blackened, crinkled and disappeared. How despairing after toiling for so long on something. And how long it took me to revitalize myself and the poems. Resculpt them into something I love, I am proud of, I wish to show others. Now I finally belong to the manuscript and it finally belongs to me. But it took a long time to figure how to make a manuscript the right way.

~Finally, the most important thing is really obvious: just give yourself the time to create. I'm surrounded by Star Wars fans, so I'll sum it up like this, "Do or Do Not, there is no try," as Yoda says.

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