Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Book the Poet Wants

A publisher kept my friend's poetry-book manuscript for 14 months before finally rejecting it with the comment, "This needs to be cooked down."

In other words, condensed. Shortened.

The poet then for the umpteenth time changed and rearranged the ms. -- product of 11 years of effort -- and "cooked it down." It's not necessarily better. But it's thinner.

Publishers are free to reject any manuscript. Editors can and should pinpoint weak or oafish poems. But "cook down" a manuscript? Why? Is it too long? Too luxuriant? Why do poetry books have to be so thin? Will "cooking it down" better please the readership and generate profitable sales? Unlikely. The publisher won't market the book -- that's the author's job -- so it's not a matter of marketability, either.

A poet's manuscript is as carefully crafted as any poem. Selecting, sifting and arranging -- editing one's own poetry book -- is the work of months. Do editors know that? If so, they might respect it -- and the fact that no one can know better than the poet how a long a ms. should be or how it should go.

So what is this "cook it down" unless it's another needle to stick into the poet, whose soul is already bristling with needles and knife handles?


  1. I think that your title is the thing the poet needs to keep in mind, eh?

  2. Painful. CR, I found your blog tonight after getting my 3rd rejection of poems this week. I sure could use something good to happen. Dana