The Minstrel of Belmont: Poetry Challenges

Just a quick reminder that The Minstrel of Belmont is on pre-sale now at Finishing Line Press through May 15.

This is a series of blog posts discussing the various poems within the chapbook. Today’s post is about challenge poems, which I’ve talked about before, but I’ll go into more detail here.

Last year, I did two poetry challenges, which I signed up for at about the same time.  I did them back-to-back on purpose.  For years prior to this, I had written kind of piecemeal at a rate of about one poem per month.  That’s not a bad rate, but there were a lot of years of 12 drafts that never got very far either.  What I wanted last year was to “jump-start” my writing to something more like it was in the mid-90’s when I was in graduate school.  The challenges would serve as a structure for that, and it worked.

There are two issues that were the most problematic last summer: subject matter and stamina.  60 days of very intensive poetry writing is difficult.  To come up with 45 drafts, which is what I did, takes a great deal of effort and a lot of days I would stare at the blank notebook page and wonder what went there.  Most of those first drafts felt like slapdash work, MacGyver-ed together on a park bench.  I’d write about anything, a headache, two birds fighting over a crumb, or some care blasting through the intersection.

Towards the end of the second challenge my brain wanted to get into revise mode.  I wanted to get on with it, because revision is where the real fun is.  At this same time, one of the others in my Tupelo Press 30/30 group mentioned she needed to find some chapbook openings and started posting them.  This kind of pushed me more towards revision mode, which made finishing harder because I allowed myself to become distracted as well as tired.

At the end of the challenges, I pulled the poems for Minstrel together.  I revised them as much as I could in a couple of weeks, gave them an order, and sent them off to a few places.  I fully expected the manuscripts to come home.  Hanami, which comes out soon, had been out there for a few years both in full collection and chapbook form.  In fact, in it’s chapbook form, it had been rejected by Finishing Line Press.  I fully expected the same for Minstrel.  After all, when I sent out this new chapbook, Hanami still had not been accepted by Aldrich yet, so my expectations were low.

Needless to say, as I’m getting ready for Minstrel, my opinion on the value of poetry challenges is high.  I did restart my engines, and got a couple of nice acceptance right off the bat, including the chapbook.  I’m doing another one for National Poetry Month.  I know there are a bunch of them this year going on besides the Found Poetry Review’s one, and if you were too late for this year, put it on your calendar for next one.  And Tupelo Press is always looking for new recruits for the 30/30 Project.  Think about it.  Writing poetry is good for your brain.

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