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On Structuring the Chapbook Poetry Manuscript: an Interview with Poet Lauren Davis

by Writing Workshops Staff

3 months ago


On Structuring the Chapbook Poetry Manuscript: an Interview with Poet Lauren Davis

by Writing Workshops Staff

3 months ago


For poets, crafting a chapbook is akin to composing a symphony of emotions, where each verse harmonizes with the next to create a mesmerizing composition. Arriving at the perfect arrangement can be tricky, which is why poet Lauren Davis has designed a new 6-week Zoom course titled Structuring the Chapbook Poetry Manuscript.

Lauren is the author of the forthcoming short story collection The Milk of Dead Mothers (YesYes Books) and the poetry collections Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press) and When I Drowned (Aldrich Press), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press), and The Missing Ones (Winter Texts).

With an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, Davis is ready to guide aspiring poets through the intricacies of structuring the chapbook poetry manuscript. Her upcoming 6-week workshop promises to be a transformative journey for poets with a burning desire to shape their manuscripts into submission-ready collections.

In this interview, we delve into the artistry and methodology that Lauren brings to her classroom. Discover the secrets behind the evolution of a chapbook, as Davis unveils the history, definition, and significance of this poetic form. Dive deep into the realm of manuscript formatting, where every punctuation mark carries meaning, and understand why it matters in the grand tapestry of your work.

With her expert guidance, participants are poised to appreciate the intricate interplay of words, explore the essence of manuscript formatting, receive invaluable feedback, and set forth on a path to fulfill their writing and publishing aspirations. If you've ever wondered how to breathe life into a collection of poems, Lauren Davis is ready to help you structure your chapbook poetry manuscript.

WW: Can you start by giving us an overview of what inspired you to create the "Structuring the Chapbook Poetry Manuscript" workshop? What gap did you see in existing resources or courses that you wanted to fill?

LD: I've published two chapbooks and two full-length poetry books, and each time finding the sequence for the poems has been extremely different. I had a couple of meltdowns when I was trying to discover the right order for "Home Beneath the Church." And my approach to "When I Drowned" changed the book so much that it's unrecognizable to what I had first envisioned. Each book has its own needs, wants, and way of communicating with me. I've learned to listen to the poems as a whole. I also see poets getting stuck on this step. But I want to see their work in the world. I want to hold their book. So let's talk about it, explore those questions, and find a way forward together.

WW: With your extensive experience in writing and publishing, including your latest collection, The Milk of Dead Mothers, how has your personal journey in poetry influenced the curriculum and approach of this workshop?

LD: I try to help students help themselves. I give them resources, ideas, and anecdotes so they can find their own way. Every student is different, and every manuscript is different.

WW: In your course description, you mention the importance of the order of poems in a manuscript. Can you expand on why sequencing is so crucial in a poetry chapbook, and perhaps provide an example from your own work?

LD: The way a poetry book is sequenced can completely change the book. A classic example is Sylvia Plath's "Ariel." Chapbooks, because of their length, often demand more focus, so the sequence can profoundly alter the manuscript's message and overall effect on the reader. When I put together "The Missing Ones," which is based on a true story, I resisted staying true to the strict chronology of events. The speaker of the poems, Blanch, tells the story of her death. I wanted to create the effect of eternity, and I think if I had stayed true to the chronology of what happened to her, some of that effect may have been diluted or lost.

WW: The workshop requires participants to come with 20-35 pages of poetry. What advice do you have for poets who are struggling to reach this threshold or to decide which poems to include in their manuscript?

LD: I encourage students to go through their paper and electronic files and look for those poems they've forgotten about or given up on. It's sort a joke between poets, but often what we think are our failed or misfit poems are the ones that are most intriguing to others. I also want to encourage poets to use the start date of the workshop to push themselves to write additional pieces. And for this workshop, if students have more than 35 poems, that's great! A major purpose of the workshop is to teach poets how to decide on what to include, so entering the workshop with that question is completely appropriate. We'll find a way to answer it together.

WW: Your course outline includes a week dedicated to the basic formatting of a manuscript. Why do you believe formatting is as important as the content of the poems themselves?

LD: I wouldn't say it's as important, because editors will assist poets once their work is accepted for publication. But we're dedicating an entire week to it for two major reasons. One, if a poet doesn't have a basic understanding of how to format their work, they can get stuck at this step, and they use it, consciously or subconsciously, as an excuse not to send their work out. Two, if a manuscript isn't formatted correctly, it can raise in editors unconscious bias against their work.

WW: Can you tell us more about the decision to include Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems by Susan Grimm in the curriculum? How does this book complement the lessons and objectives of your workshop?

LD: I love this book, and it's the first one I ever discovered that tackles the question of how to order a poetry manuscript. Grimm, the editor, does a beautiful job of including a wide range of voices and approaches to the process, and it helped me understand how to listen to what my book needs, instead of what I assume it needs.

WW: The workshop concludes with a focus on 'Looking Forward.' Could you elaborate on what this entails and how you equip your students to pursue their writing and publishing goals post-workshop?

LD: This is a place where writers can get stuck. They've found a order for their manuscript. They've formatted it. And then they lose that forward momentum. I want to help students keep that momentum going. "Now what?" is such a natural question, and though this workshop doesn't go over the submission process, I am including resources and lessons to help pave the way forward.

WW: Finally, for those who are considering enrolling in the workshop but might be hesitant, what would you say is the most valuable takeaway from this six-week journey?

LD: I encourage those considering taking the workshop to ask themselves a few questions. "Am I standing in my own way of completing a chapbook manuscript, and if I am, why? Am I intimidated by the process? Do I need more information and support to move forward? Will deadlines help me push through my self-doubt (which is often disguised as procrastination)?" The workshop is designed to help poets break past those common roadblocks and move forward with confidence in themselves and their work.

You can learn more about Lauren's upcoming Structuring the Chapbook Poetry Manuscript 6-Week Workshop and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for?  

Instructor Lauren Davis is the author of the forthcoming short story collection The Milk of Dead Mothers (YesYes Books) and the poetry collections Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press) and When I Drowned (Aldrich Press), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press), and The Missing Ones (Winter Texts). She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars.

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