When I began writing again in the spring of 2011, the idea of pulling together a collection of poems the size of a full-length manuscript and then picking out a focused, chapbook-appropriate handful was beyond a dream to me. Who knew how many poems I even had in me; I was simply motivated by the willingness to grow, to peer beneath the clichés and half rhymes of my previous work and start anew.
Over two years later, I find myself not only at that stage, with over 40 poems sitting patiently for something to happen, but realizing that I’ve been putting off the next step for months. Organizing a chapbook to submit for publication is something I’ve never attempted. (Earlier this year I made a charity-based, small-run sampling but that doesn't count). In the past – before I had the good sense to submit my work, attend readings and immerse myself in the writings of others – I would wrap up a collection, pat myself on the back and wedge the pages somewhere deep in my closet. That won’t do anymore.
The first cull is easy enough: I separate poems that thematically stem like branches and twigs of my focus from the one-off poems written, and in some cases published, on the side. A natural fracture occurs in the process, isolating several poems that will be better served as part of a spiritual tome. I don’t get in the way. A few others I designate as being okay enough to self-publish – good blog content. Whichever lone selections are still giving me trouble, I take along for the next round.
Problem is, I still have 24 poems in the running. How many does the average chapbook contain, 10 to 12? Gah! No more chopping – it’s clear I’ll have to carefully prune for here on. I begin by listing “crucial” poems, those serving as foundational to my theme and otherwise favourite children. Categorizing by concrete place, by abstract memory and occasionally by whim, I dissect my theme into emotional strands with the hope of recompiling each nerve into some commanding, unflinching voice.
Possibilities beget possibilities. The next step appears to be tinkering and reshuffling in chase of the right sequence, one that’ll let the necessary poems breathe and the unnecessary ones shake loose. I'm cross-eyed by the task in front of me but excited to push forward. Pointers and strategies are welcome!