Friday, August 21, 2009

bread loaf, louise gluck on the yale series of younger poets

Some of the notes I took from a Q & A by Louise Gluck to a sparse audience on the Yale Series of Younger Poets:

- wants to read the book cold--that first year, there were graduate student notes and names and acknowledgment pages, but she's done away with that
- some books she's seeing are polished out of existence (can often tell if it's an MFA student, even can pinpoint some universities)
- electricity--would rather an uneven book--works closely with writers on manuscript
- she's only doing this one more year
- any book that was a finalist goes straight to her the next year, some finalists go on to be winners in later years
- she's willing to work closely with those who were finalists, often inviting them to conference in person with her
- she is moved by the ones who try repeatedly--a kind of toughness, perseverance

Ellen Bryant Voigt, that hero of the shy, piped up from the back, asking what Gluck's process was in selecting the book.

There are people who screen and send on about one hundred manuscripts to Gluck, who then has three piles: the "probably not," where, after reading the first 10-15 poems and some of the end, she sees the manuscript won't hold; the "needs further study" which haven't yet been read closely but she feels require a second look; and the top pile, which can range anywhere from two to ten manuscripts, some are repeat finalists, others are those she finds stunning. She'll then re-read those that need "further study," and either promote or move into the "probably not" pile. She re-reads everything, but doesn't think she's moved any ms. from the bottom though she has moved them from the middle to the top. And then she reads until she has three or four, and she reads those over and over again and finds there is one she looks forward to--others may be masterful, but she will find that she's thinking "I don't want to," and the one that she looks forward to with more is read with more greed and the others might diminish in luster.

She gave a few examples of what she's seen--one woman who submitted a book of short poems--some gorgeous but not all of them--she "needs to find a new matrix," "something to balance."

She spoke of Arda Collins, the most recent winner, and her book It is Daylight, which has a distinctive narrative voice. The original manuscript had some very strong poems, but Gluck admitted that there was padding, and because Collins had a particular voice, she couldn't just drop it and have a second section with un-related poems, so she had to re-work. Gluck suggested poems that were formally different--try prose poems--to get at new aspects of persona, and at first they didn't work, but she kept going at it, and eventually produced this book that won an incredible award, and Gluck says she didn't break character.


Jessie Carty said...

This is excellent info to have as a poet and for my work as an editor :)

amanda said...

Nice notes, Molly - for some reason I thought Collins was Glück's last selection (& would be a killer note to leave on). It appears her standard is a manuscript must rigorously be a book ...