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Friday, February 25, 2011

Dzanc You Very Much

A few years ago I sent a poetry manuscript around to a number of contests and open reading periods, and was a finalist or semi-finalist in about a third of the places I had submitted to. But I didn't find a publisher. One of the contest judges sent me a note saying that I had the strongest poems in their contest, but the overall quality of my manuscript was uneven. The results seemed to indicate that I was close to having a solid manuscript, but I was at a loss as to how to make that leap. Living in Japan, being sort of isolated, and not having a critique group to help me, I wasn't sure what to do.

I decided to cut the manuscript in half, and keep only the strongest of the poems. Then I added in a cycle of 30 poems that I had been working on during the year my manuscript had made the rounds. But I wasn't sure if the new cycle made my manuscript better or worse.

Serendipitiously, a writer in an online writing support group I belong to mentioned the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions. I was immediately intrigued because Dzanc Books has published a few poets and short story writers I hugely admire, in particular Stefi Weisburd (under the Black Lawrence Press Imprint), Terese Svoboda, and Shellie Zacharia (under the Keyhold Press Imprint).

The Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions, hereafter denoted DCWS, were offered online at the incredible rate of $50 for 4 hours of critiquing by a writer of one's choice. The reason they are able to offer such an insanely low price for this valuable service is that the writers donate their time, and the revenue generated goes into Dzanc's literary program. It's a situation in which everyone wins! (By the way, 1-hour and 2-hour sessions are also available for $20 and $30 respectively.)

So I looked at the list of poets participating in the DCWS, and while I found two whose work I loved, I immediately knew I wanted the advice of the uber-talented Michele Battiste, a poet who weaves math and science into many of her poems, something I have a tendency to do as well. Check out Michele's blog here.(The other poet who caught my eye was Brent Goodman, in case you were wondering.)

So Michele Battiste gave me four hours of acute attention, lots of line edits, an overarching view of what she thought I was doing in my series, and a request to see poems more since she hadn't used up all of my 4 hours yet, despite the detailed nature of her help. The experience was absolutely invaluable for me, especially living in the poetry hinterlands as I do.

So when I sent my manuscript out again, I had no trouble finding a publisher, and when withdrawing it from the other places I had sent it to, I was told that it had made it to the finals in a number of cases and even had been selected as a winner in a contest the very morning I withdrew it from consideration.

All of this absolutely came to be due to the fine critiquing of Michele Battiste under the auspices of the DCWS, which I cannot recommend enough.

If you've had a critique online or via email or snail mail, with a poet or writer you don't personally know, I'd love to hear your experience.

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