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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: My First Poetry Chapbook Manuscript!

A few print magazines where my poems have found homes.

There came a moment this past weekend–late Saturday afternoon, to be more precise–when I saved a file on my computer and realized: I have a poetry chapbook manuscript here.

It was a pretty nifty moment for me. After attempting to write a few poems as a teenager, I’d pretty much abandoned my poetry practice and become a prose-focused gal. But about five years ago, I decided to give poetry another go. I enrolled in a number of online classes (taught by Matthew Lippman and Sage Cohen), and began incorporating more poetry into my reading practice, too.

Over these past few years, I’ve been encouraged by some positive feedback from poetry editors, and some deeply meaningful poetry publications. It’s been slow-going, however, and I wasn’t sure that I’d ever have a full chapbook (let alone a full collection) completed.

I was motivated to evaluate where my poetry stood by the impending deadline for a chapbook contest. I know that my chances of winning are minuscule. Beyond the possible merit (or lack thereof) of my manuscript, there’s the fact that I’ve already shared the contest guidelines with all of The Practicing Writer‘s readers (and have linked to them again in this post!), thereby doing my part to increase the competition (self-sabotage, anyone?). But this is a rare fee-free chapbook contest, and simply preparing the submission has been a useful learning experience for me. (Next weekend’s project: actually submitting the thing! A bit more proofreading–along with agonizing over sequencing–has to happen first.)

Sure, it’s likely that I’ll need to enter many more competitions before this manuscript becomes a published chapbook. But you know what they say about journeys–each one begins with a single step.

Any of you have experience with preparing poetry chapbooks? Any tips to share?

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12 Responses »

  1. The best advice I ever got was in a workshop on how to submit a winning chapbook. The advice was: put your best poem first. Then, put your best poem in the middle so when the book falls open to the middle, the judge will see your best poem. Next, put your best poem last so that the judge will remember it fondly. Then, lovingly place all your best poems in the book to fill it out.

    I found this advice helpful because for each poem, I had to ask myself, “is this my best poem?” and that forced me to cull the ones which, although I was in live with them, really weren’t my best ones (like “How to Grow a Cat,”–which was more about loving cats and quite silly versus being a really good poem).

    I followed this advice for “There’s Jews in Texas?” and won the 2012 Poetica Publishing chapbook contest. The main complaint for my book? It’s too short! See “put in your best poems, above. I, however, like to think I’m following my mother, of blessed memory’s advice, “leave them wanting more.” Best of luck, Erica!

  2. No advice about chapbooks, Erica, but I’d love to see a few of your poems. Any chance you can share them?

    Best of luck!

  3. Wow, Erika, way to go! As a fellow fiction writer who dabbles in poetry (and keeps it mostly to myself), I’m impressed and inspired.

  4. I have zero experience with writing chapbooks, but I’m here to be a cheerleader because you’re doing a new, different and exciting and so few of us have the courage to do that!

  5. Hey, thank you, everyone! And, everyone–check out Debra’s book, which is wonderful.

    David, you can find several of my poems at http://www.erikadreifus.com/publications/poetry/

    And Rebecca–playwriting is up next! 🙂

  6. No tips, but a hearty mazel tov! What a marvelous accomplishment, to finish a chapbook. And I’d like to think your sharing all the guidelines–for the chapbook contest in addition to the zillion other things you share with us–earns you some serious good karma. Wishing you luck!

  7. Hi Erika! What a great story. Sage Cohen is not only a close friend of mine but a neighbor and a colleague. I hope you’ll send her a note. She’ll be thrilled to hear this. With all my best, Gigi

  8. Thank you, Deborah and Gigi! Gigi, how lucky you are to have Sage as a neighbor. She is a true treasure. Yes, she knows about this and has been her reliably generous and enthusiastic self in reacting.

  9. Congratulations! Even though I’ve made my living as a writer for these many years, I’ve always felt it takes a certain kind of courage to put your poetry out there. Good luck with the contest, and thanks for the inspiration (again).

    So, how many poems/pages does it take to make a chapbook?

    • Thanks, Sally. This contest has a 20-page minimum, but some chapbook contests will consider mss as short as 16 pp. Others require 24 or 25, minimum.

  10. As always, a pleasure to read of your accomplishments, both personal and professional. Good luck with the chapbook and again loved reading your published pieces. It really is inspiring to have you share your forward progress as forays into new areas as well as the experience of getting there. All the best to you!

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