Mary K Gowdy
The Road Less Traveled: Writing My First Poetry Collection
Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Most poets organize their collections by writing a ton of poems and then picking out the ones that share a common theme.
I'm not like other poets (cliché and cringey, I know. I'm just such a special fucking snowflake :P)
But I did the complete opposite of the norm for my first poetry collection, and it's been intereeeesting.
It all started in the Fall of 2017 when I wrote a poem titled "A Question 'Bout the End We'll See". I won't share it here because it's really quite awful and needs to be revised extensively. But that one poem sparked an idea, one that had been brewing since 2015. This collection (going by the amazing, original name of Poetry Book #1) is intimately tied to my personal journey over the last five years though it also touches upon religion, politics, current events, and linguistics (my field of study at college).
I structured the collection a few months later by writing ideas for individual poems on note cards and grouped them together based on shared ideas. I had five segments titled Innocence, Love, Faith, Knowledge, and Language (later changed to Thought). I wrote many poems for it in the summer of 2018, but then got busy with school and writing and publishing The One-Sided Coin. I can be a neglectful mother to my poetry at times.
Since this idea still means so much to me, I've doubled down on it the last couple of months. No matter how desperately I've wanted to work on The One-Sided Coin's sequel, I've promised myself that I can't work on it till I've made significant process on Poetry Book #1. And that's helped SO much. I've written/revised over 15 poems in the last couple of months.
Most importantly, I've restructured the manuscript. The segments might have been beneficial for organizing my thoughts at first but they've become a hindrance because many of the poems don't fit into those five categories.
This collection is partially autobiographical. It spoke of the specific time from fall 2015 to summer 2018, but as more time has passed, I've wanted to include more recent events (and we all know that there's been a lot to talk about). My perspective on many things has changed so the focus of the collection has followed suit.
I've had to restructure the collection. Back to the note cards:
I wrote the title of every poem I had written so far onto its own note card since I don't own a printer that I can use to easily print out the poems themselves. I had the poems opened on my computer so I could look at them if I needed to. There were 48 poems in total.
I did away with the segments completely because that type of structure no longer works for this manuscript. I organized the poems that really spoke of a specific time in my life chronologically and structured the other poems around them based on their thematic connections. That wasn't great, so I reorganized them again. There is still a chronological order but it's not as tight. I threw some poems out and re-included some that I had taken out ages ago. I'm now at 47 poems for the manuscript.
I'm not fully satisfied with this order though it could possibly be because not all the poems have been written yet. There are definitely gaps in the manuscript. I have at least eight new poems I need to write from scratch along with many I need to revise.
Some days I want to traditionally publish this manuscript and other days I'm like "Nah, I'll self-publish". Ugh! I'm so conflicted. I don't know what to do!
I stopped submitting to literary magazines a couple of years ago for a variety of reasons: I kept getting rejections, it would take months for them to get back to me, and I wasn't able to share my poems any other way (like on Instagram) because they would be "published" and no literary magazine would want them. But now I'm thinking I should submit again. I'm a better poet, and I have some poems that I believe are publication-worthy quality. Even if I self-publish this collection, it may be beneficial to submit to magazines. Idk. There's so much I don't understand still.
I guess you were wanting concrete information rather than a rant, but that's all I have. If you have advice, please comment down below.
Thank you so much for reading! I'll be back soon with more updates :)
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