You can learn more from a critique than a compliment

And when in doubt, I return to the vatic words of Kanye West.

Before I start detailing the changes to my current manuscript, I have a question: Why is it that for every other art form folks can easily tell the difference between an amateur and a professional but refuse to do the same in poetry?  Case in point: I can’t sing.  Punto.  Now, if I went to tryout for American Idol, I’d probably end up on the blooper reel or that cruel episode where everyone makes fun of the fact that the people on the episode can’t hold a note to save their lives.

Meanwhile, back at the poetry ranch, folks write trite shit and it passes as Powerful or Creative Expression or Truly Moving.  Not that I’m saying folks need to be mean and dismissive (like say when poets from political situations write about–drum roll, please–political situations and it cast aside as being too ghetto) but I am saying you can learn more from a good editor than from a pack of cheerleaders.  Which is my remix of the Kanye quote with a little Saeed Jones added for good meaure.

All of this to say that thanks to Barb for looking over my manuscript and helping give it a new shine.  And how did this happen?  Easy, we took a big ax to it.

I say ax but what I really mean is scalpel cuz the cutting happening here is not some clunky chopping for chopping’s sake. No, it was time to cut through the fat and excess of the manuscript so that the truest intent of the work could shine through.  For that, you need not only a sharp instrument but a purpose behind said cutlery.  In this case, I had to remember the origins of my manuscript.

Anywhere Avenue is an exploration of the 70s era South Bronx through the lenses of migration, the early history of hip-hop and the politics of benign neglect; how these forces affected my family, relation to place and formation of language; and the effect city has on spirituality.

This is what I’ve spent the last three years of my poetic life putting together with a single-mindedness that feels like after three major revisions is only now starting to really come together.

The first version of the manuscript was still mostly chronological with the poems going in pretty much the order I wrote them.  The second version had some more variance but also had a lot of poems that weren’t quite ready, poems I was praising for their rawness but not for their artistry.  Or, I was just editing instead of revising.  (For a clear difference between the two, please peep Robert Vasquez’s excellent blog post.)

This latest version of the manuscript is the tightest yet, less poems (I’m just coming in at the bare minimum 48 pages) but clearer focus.  This focus is going to help me construct poems that address or expand the central theme without getting repetitive.

For the visual learner, you can take a peek at the last Table of Contents and compare it to the one here for a better look see:

  • I’m Jus Askin
  • Urban Relación
  • Tricking the Eye
  • The Story of How Pigeon Came to Live in City
  • The View from the Stoop
  • Skelsies
  • Mami’s Ghazal
  • Tumbaron Tres Torres
  • The Blackout
  • A Personal History and Reflection on Sixty Years in the City from the Reverend JT
  • B-Boy Primer
  • The Trouble with Poverty
  • After Working the Times Square Late Shift Again, Two Latinos Compose Separate Responses Concerning the Myth of Racism
  • Psalm for Public Housing
  • Nomenclature
  • The Pope Takes the #4 Train to Yankee Stadium
  • Orchard Beach: Section Four
  • Zuihitsu
  • How Much for the Building? Tenants Optional.
  • Getting Ronald Reagan to Visit the South Bronx
  • Is Congruent To
  • Sonnet for the Lexington Avenue Express—Mt Eden Ave Stop
  • Psalm for Anywhere Avenue
  • A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
  • In the City, You Can’t Help but Think of God
  • Both a Place and a Scare-Word
  • About B-Boys in the Boogie Down
  • Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness
  • Fire Escape
  • Sonnet for my B-Boys
  • The True Story of How Sneakers Got on Telephone Wires
  • Inventing the Remix
  • Make Me a City
  • Epistle Written at the #4 Train–Woodlawn Station, 4:30am
  • We, Spoken Here
  • Heaven Below
  • The Break

We’ll see where the next fork in the road takes us but for now I’m feeling good about the future of my work.  Word.

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  1. Wow, interesting. I was talking to a veteran poet the other day who mentioned she usually goes through 20-30 revisions on a poem, always referring back to the original to keep aware of her original purpose. This reminded me of that conversation.

    1. And that reminds me of a workshop I took with Albuquerque poet Danny Solis. Danny said the recipe for performance poetry was simple: Always go back to the impetus of your poem. The need you felt when you first wrote it down and share that on stage.

  2. Khalil Gibran wrote one of the most profound short stories I’ve ever read within 47 words. There’s few works I’ve run into that don’t become interesting halved, quartered, chopped. Not so chopped as to become a twitter, mind you, but there’s something for brevity and revision.

    To mangle a Chris Rock remark, a poem isn’t you or its topic. It’s the ambassador of that topic. Don’t create diplomatic incidents then, unless you’re prepared to go to war. ;)

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