Cut Ups To Manuscript – A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I submitted a manuscript for a poetry book to Potter’s Grove Press. The submissions panel had liked sent examples of my take on poetry and requested submission of a full manuscript for their consideration – this post relates how the manuscript came about.

Now, to start with, I’m not well organised. I have files in all sorts of places, vaguely titled, even more vaguely dated – by year mostly, and when by month by luck! Yet I’ve a kind of mind that can recall fragments of written words, be it a line alone, of a poem, of prose – if I wrote it I kind of know. Now where it is another matter, but with an approximation of when I wrote it I can usually figure one (or two) of several places I may have put it! And yes, I was like this as a scientist – it was the idea, the proof of concept that mattered, the recall of key detail, the ‘show and tell’ – its ever shifting balance, the ultimate story telling, be it live or by publication, that gave the buzz. And yes again, I maybe drove folk a little mad, but hey we got things done and it was hardly ever dull. And as with science, the same with writing, you get to know good people, it makes all the difference.

To cut a long story short, its what I did. I printed every file I had that had a poem in it then cut them up. Turned out I had over 200 poems, and the same again in lines, mostly ‘Six Words’ which I printed too and put their pages to one side. I kept the dining room windows shut as I displayed the individual poems on the fully extended table by size, removing duplicates (a few triplicates too) and those that looked as if they’d run on to a second published page – ‘Shorts’ was the title I’d long had in mind.

Now the shuffle begun, each poem moved, visually aligned to the contents of a page, a first take, a balanced view of text and white space. A flat top image arose of poems, one, two, three to a page, then a thought ‘what do I do with lines?’.

Well, I’d already done something – I’d blogged poems which were six word lines combined – they stared up from the table and labeled ‘Six Words into Verse’ – they gave me an idea – to add a stand alone yet related line to a poem, to create a one page ‘Poem and a line’ of which I’ve now blogged a few.

I cut lines out by instinct to staple to a poem – as if my mind recalling states of it when lines and poems came out. And in this frame I rearranged the table top – by feel, subconscious links placed poems into place – I couldn’t tell you how – beyond a rule of 5.

The scientists amongst you will know ‘The Rule of 5’ has a special meaning, if you check out ‘Lipinski’ you’ll see it in its simplicity – of molecules, of permeability, of barriers crossed, in a way, of things sinking in – it shaped a large part of my life as a scientist – and in my mind gave shape to my collective writing, there had to be structure somewhere, else free-form falls apart.

So to structure, the outline of a book – it’s pages, how it looks. I aimed for a 100 pages seamlessly laid out in 20 sets of 5, variable mixes of pages of these kinds:

One poem to a page (~15)

One poem and a line (~35)

Two poems to a page (~30)

Three poems to a page (~15)

Of which 10 are ‘Six-words into verse’

I ended up with 19 sets 5 – 95 poetic pages, just short of 160 poems in all, the multiples of 5 in brackets give a breakdown of each kind. As a guide, ‘Three poems to a page’ is usually the last page of a set – mind you things did get a little loose with sets towards the end as the options thinned. And yes, one poem broke free and took a second page ’ Called Your Name’ – I can live with that. Oh, and yes the introductory poem too ‘EDC Writing – A Take On Poetry’ – fair enough I say – it tells of where the words of ‘Shorts’ came from.