I read Kelli’s thoughtful answer, and felt … well … this is too good a topic to pass up. That usually happens with her topics.
In my case, my first book, Underlife, will be published in October 2009 by CavanKerry Press. I’m working on a second manuscript because, frankly, I needed a creative outlet to distract me from the fact that my book won’t be out for more than a year. I know a few other poets in the same situation—seems like a long gestation period is more the norm than I thought in the poetry publishing world.
Because I’ve participated in NaPoWriMo for the past two years, I had poems sitting on my hard drive waiting to be revised. So this past May I put the bulk of them together, but I’m careful not to call it a collection. What I have is a bunch of poems without any sort of theme or narrative arc. In Underlife, it took me 12 years to put each piece in its present order, so I find it hard to let these poems go, especially since they’ve not been tested—either by being published or though serious critiquing.
One thing I did do was send the first manuscript to a wide group of people, poets and trusted friends. I found that the edits I received were tremendous. I didn't take all of them but it the different perspectives helped to shape my work.
In this new book, I hope to write a series of 8-12 poems based on a central theme. Don’t want to speak about it in case I get into it and decide to go in another direction. My hope is to write the poems over the summer and revise in the fall. With any luck, I’ll have a manuscript ready by the end of the year.
(An aside: I wonder if poets put too much emphasis on a narrative arc. I mean, I think putting books in sections is the norm today, but feels like a more recent convention. What’s’ wrong with putting together a collection of poems that just live in the same house without talking to each other? And, for readers, do you read a book from start to finish, or do you pay attention to the story being told?)
As for process, it’s hard to say what it is since I’m in the middle of things.
Now, I’m conflicted about holding onto this second attempt for a while or sending it out in the world to take its lumps. Should I send it out for submission or live with the poems for a longer stretch? Again, the poems in this collection are no more than two years old. Should they “marinate” longer or be put on the fire. On the one hand, I feel there’s no better time to market a second collection that right on the heels of a first book—even before the first is published. But I don’t want to put out something that’s not ready.
Ultimately, I want to be faithful to the work. But overall, being in the position to create a second manuscript is a dream come true—a position I never thought I would get to when I was creating my first.