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This is what I have committed to completing by tomorrow. Mind you, this has been on my to-do list for something like six months now, and I have already spent hours and hours and hours over days and weeks and months on it.

Here's what I have figured out about it.

1. There's a certain amount of hubris to pulling together a chapbook. I mean, you have to assume that somebody might want to read it, right? And who am I to go about thinking I'm good enough to be read? (Hmm . . . maybe this should be there's a certain amount of self-loathing to pulling together a chapbook?) I feel like I'm constantly having to get past my own self in order to commence work on the project at all. Nevertheless, I push on.

2. I have to pick and choose among my own work. This is difficult, because, of course, on any given day I may like (or loathe) every single poem I've ever written. Also, on the one hand I am trying to select my best work, and on the other hand:

  I am thinking that the poems that I consider my BEST work that haven't been published yet ought to get submitted to journals first, where odds favor them being repeatedly rejected, but still, sometimes poems get accepted

  I am thinking that a chapbook made up entirely of poems that have already been published someplace wouldn't be that interesting

  I can't always figure out which are my best poems, although I have my suspicions

  I have poems that I am especially fond of, which may not actually be my "best" poems, that I kind of want to include

  poems that seem perfect one day and therefore must be included don't appeal to me after I've let the collection sit for a while

  my chapbook is supposed to be, say, around twenty pages, and I have only picked 12 poems for it; or, conversely, I have picked 37, and can't seem to decide which of those ought to go in the collection and which ones ought to go back in the file

  other stuff and bother

  some or all of the above.

3. Why bother? I might get rejected even after all this to-and-fro-ing. And I might not.

4. Once I have selected the poems that I think ought to be in the collection, I have to put them in some sort of order. Suddenly, I realize that I have 14 wry or humorous poems and four that are super-heavy, sad poems (or some other, similar conundrum) and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to intersperse things without seeming unhinged or, worse, creating an expectation that "this is what these poems are like", which turns out to be a false one, but it's too late, people already put the collection down and walked away. So I take some out and put some other ones in and start over. Or I put the whole thing down and slowly back away.

Or I figure out that some things go together, subject-matter wise or thematically or whatever, but not all of the poems work that way, and then I have to figure out what to do about it. At this point, I resort to pulling down various and sundry chapbooks from my bookshelf, to see how they were organized, and then I fall into reading the poems again, because they are there, and my, they are so very good - are mine anywhere near this good? - and then I start rocking quietly, wondering why it is that I thought this was a good idea anyhow?

5. There is no "right" answer. This is what I've finally figured out, after spending the past two months repeating the actions in the previous two paragraphs. Today, I'm resolved to push past/through it and arrive at an order. Then it's on to the next step . . .

6. A chapbook needs a title. Of course it does. And as many writers will tell you, coming up with titles is hard. Books should be written on the topic, but as far as I can tell, they haven't been. A common practice is to pick the title of one poem from the collection to stand as the title for the work. Even Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, and Mary Oliver do this. Probably I will do this, too. But did I mention that it's hard? Which one title speaks for the collection as a whole? Speaks for me as a poet? I guess eventually I will pick one that seems best (or least bad) and go with it.

7. As has already become evident to you if you've read this far, there's a lot of whining involved in the process. Maybe not for everyone. Maybe, once I have done this more than once, or more than more than once, I will get good at it. Perhaps it will be a speedier, simpler process. I will only find out if I finish this one and move on.

And now, I am off to sort and compile and shuffle and whatnot. But first, there will be tea. It can only help.

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( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2014 03:03 pm (UTC)
Most entertaining read. And very to the point of the creative process.

I wonder if non-creatives, those fortunate "normal" people read this and scratch their heads and go, "wow, she's weird."

But as I'm not one of them, I go, "she's weird and I get it."

Oh, and GOOD LUCK!
Jul. 24th, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you, dear friend. The poem I wrote for you is the concluding one in this proposed collection.
Jul. 24th, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
Well, THAT should cinch its success!

Jul. 24th, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
I have a collection of all my short stuff (poetry, short stories, and flash stuff) that I've written over the years. I don't have any real aspirations for any of it. I might put them all into a book and give it to my mom or something. But I do have a title--ready for it??

Tales from the Bog

Jul. 25th, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
Tales from the Bog is a perfect title. For serious. And you could certainly do your own chapbook -- there are sites that tell you how to set it up and print it, although you probably know how to do that stuff already!
Jul. 25th, 2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
I, for one, was excited to read this post. I feel like I have seen you come such a long way from the many years ago when I first started reading your livejournal.

Keep going! It will all fall together with persistence, and with your thoughtful, sensitive touch.
Jul. 25th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
You are so sweet, Sheela. And thank you!
BJ Lee
Jul. 25th, 2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
I Soooo relate to your post - not with a chapbook, but a poetry collection for children. It is SOoooo difficult. I agree with you on every point, especially the order. What a killer and a killjoy as well! With a chapbook, I don't think you have to worry so much that one of the titles needs to reflect the whole chapbook. Just pick an interesting title! Good luck!
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
It is a worthy, worthwhile project, but there are just so very many ways to second-guess yourself on what to leave out, what to keep in, and what order to use . . . I wish you great luck. (And I did, in fact, pick one of the poem titles that totally works for me!)
Donna Smith
Jul. 25th, 2014 07:11 pm (UTC)
Well, this sounds all too familiar. Did I write this? No? There are more of me out there - or more of you? Ok, it seems that is not only possible, it is true.
So, I challenge you to do this before I do. Or I challenge me to do this before you do. Whichever works for us.
Who is going to print it? Will you get an ISBN? Will it be available on Amazon and as an ebook?
See this is where I'm getting hung up, too, in addition to your above points.
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
LOL! Thanks, Donna, for the laugh! I managed to get mine together by Friday afternoon and off on submission to a local small press that publishes chapbooks. Now I have to wait to see whether they will accept it for publication or not.

Your points are decidedly valid ones, and apply more for self-publishing than having a collection published by a small press, which usually has its own way of marketing that may or may not include Amazon and ebooks. Some of them do (as in the case of my friend Anna Evans's brilliant collection, Sisters and Courtesans, and some of them don't. Her book has shiny covers and is perfect-bound, though in paperback format. The sort of chapbooks that the press I sent to does tend to have cardstock covers (although some are shiny), and to be stapled in the middle.

I wish you GOBS of luck in your decisions and endeavors!
Jul. 25th, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for shedding light on the process of putting something like this together. It sounds like quite an undertaking. Good luck!
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:33 pm (UTC)
It really is quite an undertaking. Makes me wonder how anthologists go about it - the wide amount of work available to them must be staggering, and to figure out what to include and what to decline and what order to put things in . . . YIKES!

Thanks for the luck!
Jul. 25th, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your process. I haven't put together a Chap Book but I may in the future. Your post will be a great resource when I get to that point. Good luck with the completion of this journey...and with publication! = )
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
Good luck to you when you get to that point, and thank you so much!!
Jul. 26th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
This is really fabulous news. So interesting, and so complicated, the process, the heart and the mind and all those decisions and shuffling. You express the dangers and thrills so well. Rooting for you!
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
Aww, thanks, Jeannine. I finally managed to get it together and send it off. Now it's fingers-crossed time!
Jul. 26th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
I found that choosing the title really helped with the rest of the process. :-)
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
I can see how that might be so in some cases. But I did choose a title from among the poems in the proposed chapbook, of which I am quite fond. (I am fond of the poem, too, but mostly fond of the title for the chapbook, which is "The Universe Comes Knocking".)
Carol Varsalona
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:47 am (UTC)
Poetry Friday Blog Post
Kelly, I enjoyed reading about your process for putting together a chapbook (not hubris-self-confidence, perseverance, and a touch of optimism). Continuing on your journey should bring clarity to how to faster get to the destination.
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Poetry Friday Blog Post
Thank you for that refinement. It does help to keep in mind that we are allowed to be at least a little proud of and confident in our own work! And I managed to finally get final selection and things in order and send it off (it's been a seven-month process). Thanks, Carol!
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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