Archive for December, 2018

Rooted in place

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Alice will present as part of the Rooted in Place interdisciplinary conference at King’s University, in January 2019. She’ll be talking about “City and World”, the links between the local and the wider world of history, science and the environment.

The conference is open to members of the public.

Who’s talking? Thoughts on structuring a poetry manuscript

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Sometimes you’re trying to organize a pile of miscellaneous poems into a coherent manuscript that might catch the attention of a publisher, and it feels like you’re working with pastry that just won’t stick together. The whole thing just keeps falling apart.

Examples from my personal pie-making: The time when I was convinced that two long poem-sequences must surely belong in the same manuscript. After all, weren’t they both about myth-making and narrative? (No. They didn’t belong together. But it took me a few rejections to figure out why they were like raspberry and chicken, and didn’t belong in the same crust.*)

Over time, I’ve come to think that one of the most useful tools to use in this situation is what fiction writers use all the time – a careful awareness of voice. As poets we often assume that we’re speaking in ‘our own’ voice, but that’s actually a very complicated construction that varies from poem to poem. It’s not so much what the poems are about, but who is speaking them, that matters.

So, in a spirit of helpfulness, I’ve put together some thoughts on structuring a poetry manuscript that might be useful to others who are trying to get their own books to stick together. This isn’t meant to be a recipe, but from one cook to another…

(* In case you’re wondering, the two sequences in my examples ended up in two different books, after I finally realized that the voices came from completely different places. Behind the dramatic monologues by female saints in Some Bones and a Story was a sympathetic voice—I liked these women; sometimes they spoke like my female relatives. The imaginary mythologies in Tales for an Urban Sky come from a more distant, satiric voice.  Of course, that meant another couple of years of writing more material to flesh out both books.)

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