Last month, Marginalia released my first full length collection of poetry Everything Neon, which I describe as, “some poems written either at my desk on 173rd street in NYC, or with the street, my neighbors and my wife in mind.”
Some other people said things too, the first of two reviews are floating around now, Olantangy Review said this, summed up, “Bud Smith is a real person. That may sound simple enough to say or to read, but it’s not, not by a long shot, not when you are talking about an authentic writer. It means everything to someone like me who loves to read modern poetry by people who are still living and breathing. Specifically it means that Bud Smith is an original. He doesn’t sound like someone else or someone imitating someone else. He has a voice and that voice is his alone. That should be enough for you to want to pick up his new book of poems, Everything Neon,but there’s lots more going on than that.”
and Len Kuntz, the author of The Dark Sunshine said this, “Finding poetry this honest and vulnerable, while also being entirely accessible, is a rare thing these days where most poets rely on gimmicks or word play strung together without any sense of cohesion, let alone any kind of narrative arc. Smith’s poetry is like an urban take on what Raymond Carver might have written, spare yet lush, brimming with answers about what it means to be clear-eyed and alert while everything around us spins, entangled.”
I’m humbled to read these reviews. When you put together a manuscript, it’s hard to imagine how it will be received when it plops on the desk of a reviewer. I was thinking about that, the end result, the moment when the book is out, and what happens after that. But to a lot of writers I talk to, thinking about “how the hell do I put together a collection of poems/short stories/flash?”
I thought I’d write a summary of how the project, Everything Neon came together. Because maybe it’ll be a help to someone who is trying to do their own project.
The idea of putting together a collection of my poetry wasn’t my own. In all fairness, it was suggested by the publisher of the book, Matt Guerruckey, the publisher of the website Drunk Monkeys and the press Marginalia Publishing. “You ever think about putting together a book of your poems?”
I split my writing time three ways: novel, short story, poetry. When one thing isn’t working, I turn to one of the others. It’s a good way for me to keep myself busy and erring in the direction of staying creative.
In the past, such as with my collection of short stories, Or Something Like That, I knew what I wanted to do, at that time it was “gather some stories together that reads like Seinfeld on acid.”
I had a clear goal, a style I was aiming for, an idea. The same happened with my novel Tollbooth, I knew I wanted to expand on what I thought was ‘the mundane life of a tollbooth operator, being pulled apart by wild cosmic horses.”
Sometimes conception of a project doesn’t need to be clear at all. I recommend everybody to throw far less caution into the wind, and go fucking nuts instead.
For Everything Neon, I had been already writing a lot of poetry about NYC. After the seed to collect the poems into a narrative arc, with characters and setting, was planted, I decided to collect the poems together as organically as I could.
The lynch pins for the collection, if you ask me, are the poem “In My Building” and “You Can Remain Anonymous”
In My Building is a look at the place where I live, a pre-war walk up on 173rd street and the people that share it with me. You Can Remain Anonymous is a look at the street/neighborhood beyond the building.
As I looked at the initial drafts of the poems, put together in a Word file, I tried to pick out the poems that did not completely fit the themes, which were: city living, me and my wife being love birds, domestication, apartment dwelling, finding a way to get away from the steal and glass and into the ocean, etc.
As I cut poems from the draft, it gave me a glimpse of what I wanted to flesh out in further poems. Both creating and cutting, simultaneous.
Before I started working with the publisher of the collection on edits/rewrites, I made a ‘dummy copy’ of the book, and mailed out five paperback copies to writers who I respect that had agreed to give the manuscript an initial read and give me two things.
A: the five poems (out of about 70) that the reader liked least and would potentially cut.
B: the five poems (out of about 70) that the reader thought stood out strongest in the collection.
From their notes, I cut additional poems accordingly. From their notes, I saw a clearer thread of where the poems could go to make a stronger book.
I like to think of this phase as “connecting the dots”
It’s usually my favorite part of a project. Whether I can actively get advice from beta reader peeps, or if I’m going it alone, and acting on my own intuition. I love connecting reoccurring themes, characters, places, events, outcomes.
4. Edits with the Publisher
I took the final draft of this new manuscript “dots connected” in two separate directions. I did some readings to see how audiences reacted to the poems, and I sent the word file to Marginalia. At this point, Robert Vaughan and Heather Dorn both got involved as content and copy editors. They cut apart the poems, offered guidance on syntax, punctuation and general composition. It was like a master course on ‘writing poetry’
I learned a vast amount by working closely with editors to put my collection together. These new discoveries, glimpses into my own work and what it is, will only help in the beginning stages of future work.
I am thankful for good editors. They are invaluable.
5. Layout and Design
The copy edited manuscript now went over to the book designer. Countless emails bounced back and forth between myself and Marginalia’s designer. With each pass through the layout of the interior of the book, the poems tightened up. The writing improved. We took our time. I was able to take the time I needed to add the detail I wanted.
Again, here was an opportunity to learn about book design, layout, presentation, the ins and outs of fine tuning. Wow.
Okay! The book is finalized. The release date is off in the distance. Now it’s time for Advanced Review Copies. Whether or not you are going to seek actual reviews from websites, newspapers, etc. You should definitely send out some advanced review copies in order to get blurbs for the back of the book.
I’m always looking for places to review my work and I always make sure I have books on hand. Do the same. Most importantly, enjoy all of this, the putting a book out stuff, don’t let it make you crazy.