Amid other challenges and problems of late, I've been trying to figure out what makes a good manuscript, a good book. My MFA thesis manuscript was generally praised as well-organized, even ready as a book. But I'm not sure anymore. The problem with moving from an MFA thesis to a true manuscript is the challenge of moving from the best collection of poems from your MFA years toward something, well, something more 'coherent'? 'integrated'?
Do the poems in what I have write toward one another enough? Am I still missing some sense of theme or overall arc? Do the poems mean enough individually? Do my poems generally lack 'content' or 'philosophy'? I feel at sea again about what makes a book a book--and this doesn't bother me in a bad way at all. Rather, I think, I like the intellectual challenge.
I'm trying to figure out whether there should be more of a story or back story. Are the poems too disparate in style? Do the individual poems, any of them, harm one another by proximity--i.e., don't do harm with placement.
I worry that the first section is integrated relatively well, but is too flat thematically--too juvenile, maybe, not serious enough. The second section seems thicker, richer, but does it arc properly? Does it yield some sense of purpose. The third section I like, but I wonder if it should be more clearly focused on motherhood.
I keep remembering this bit of a poem by Sir John Suckling: "Of thee, kind boy, I ask no red or white." It's a poem addressed to Eros/Cupid. He's commenting on women's make-up--the 'red and white' face paint. Now I remember why I'm thinking color combinations: red and white, black and blue, because the poem runs like this: "There's no such thing as that we beauty call, / It is mere cozenage all; / for though some long ago / Lik'd certain colours mingled so and so, / That doth not tie me now from choosing new: / If I a fancy take / To black and blue, / That fancy doth it beauty make." The third stanza begins with one of my favorite lines: "'Tis not the meat, but 'tis the appetite / Makes eating a delight."
None of the above will make sense to anyone but me--but these interlaced themes of beauty and distortion, of love and duty and obligation facing off, of the will to change circumstance, to find beauty where it should not be, comfort in tragedy--I suppose these are themes of the manuscript--sex, desire, motherhood, erotic and platonic and maternal love all bound together, all different surfaces of the same object.
So what goes and what stays? How to sharpen those points without over sharpening?
I think the title should be: The Latest in a Series of Such Events.