Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Poetry Survivor?

Tonight we meet to choose the winner of this year's Floating Bridge Press chapbook award. The editor's committee is a group of seven people, with fairly diverse tastes, and we decide by consensus, so it can be a little like herding cats, if you know what I mean.
It's our tenth year of operation, and like most small non-profit poetry presses, it's a labor of love (we are entirely volunteer-run). The main benefit, in my experience, is getting to read manuscripts (it's incredibly educational), and then meeting the poets we publish: we host a gala reading event for the winner and finalists at Seattle's Richard Hugo House, as well as produce readings throughout the year for the poets whose poems are chosen for the Pontoon anthology.
I have about seven manuscripts I'd be happy for us to publish; and I need to pare it down to about four or five for tonight's voting. One thing I have learned doing this is that the top group of manuscripts are usually all fairly equally good and worthy of publication; and it is a bit of a "crap shoot" which one gets chosen, depending upon a lot of very subjective factors. I joked with one of the other editors that it feels a little like American Idol. She shot back that it was more like Poetry Survivor.


jenni said...

hey Peter, if you don't mind and have the time, would you post something about what was the deciding factor/s between one manuscript and another (does it come down to a handful of poems that are weak in one manuscript, or poems that don't 'fit', or something else...) anyways, it would really help me out, as you know i've been working on my chap for over a year. hope you are having a wonderful day!

Peter said...

Jenni: Every year is different. And it is too close to talk about this year's finalists (not fair to them or the other editors). But, in general, over the years it often has come down to deciding between a manuscript that is memorable and takes risks and pushes the envelope, but is flawed technically; versus a manuscript that is technically beautiful and full of well-crafted poems; but that does not really cover new territory or surprise or take risks (ie risk failing).

It is hard to find a book that succeeds at both: risk vs craft, I guess, in a word.

Also, we tend to like a manuscript that holds together "as a book" i.e. it has a theme or a narrative arc or a particular voice that holds the poems together; that they are cut from the same cloth, so to speak, rather than just a "greatest hits" collection of disparate poems.

Again, this is just my humble opinion; and seems to be how things have played out at Floating Bridge as well.

Best of luck with your chapbook!

jenni said...

Thank you! Very helpful information. Really appreciate it.