We asked former Dorset Prize Winners to share their tips on “Making Your Dorset Manuscript.” Here, Joshua Corey, 2008 Dorset Prize Winner and author of “Severance Songs“ (Tupelo Press, 2011), shares his advice:
Here’s my tip for producing a prize-worthy manuscript: DON’T GIVE UP. By the time I got around to sending the manuscript of Severance Songs to Tupelo, it had already been rejected by more than two dozen presses. Each time I got the book back I would tinker with it, add poems, take away poems, reorder them, and tear my hair out wondering what magical combination of unrhymed sonnets would unlock the key to publishing what I felt in my heart to be some of the strongest work I had done to that date. Finally, after one more round of submissions and rejections, I was fed up.
I held a council of war with three of my closest poet friends, who tore up the manuscript in search of weaknesses and proposed yet another new arrangement of the poems. I sat there scribbling furiously, nodding at each suggestion: yes! I could superimpose a narrative on the sequence! Sure! I could cut the first poem. I could cut the first ten poems! I could change the title! I went home and I cut and I pasted until I was thoroughly sick of the whole damn thing. I could barely remember the original impulse behind the work–to use the form of the sonnet to explore the possibilities of pastoral love in the post-9/11 age. Maybe it was time to give up and move on.
A few days later I got the call from Tupelo that Ilya Kaminsky had selected my manuscript–the pre-war council version–for the Dorset Prize. Well!
Advice is valuable, but patience is more valuable. Don’t. Give. Up!
Joshua Corey is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Barons (Omnidawn Publishing, 2014), and a novel, Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014) With G.C. Waldrep he co-edited The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press, 2012), an anthology of innovative nature poems. He is an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College, where he co-directs Lake Forest College Press / & NOW Books.