I was recently speaking with my thesis advisor, Michael Robins, when he mentioned that it is common for manuscripts to end where the next book picks up. I hadn’t really given that much thought until a few weeks ago when I accepted a teaching position in China.
My thesis is currently titled Soon-Soon Monsoon, which feels to adequately capture the anxiety of the impending future and its uncertainty. It also deals with the uncertainty and anxiety I had for the future, while I was traveling in China. My manuscripts final section currently concludes with a long poem that is a series of “snap shots” from my first trip in China. They paint a gloomy landscape, often describing the land as “resembling a nuclear winter.”
Gùgōng: [ forbidden city ]
near the entrance
a long LED screen projects the morning’s
thick as ever
When I left China for the first time, I said I would need to go back and rediscover the beauty, if one can ever claim to discover beauty. However, if I could truly plan ahead for a manuscript, it is perhaps the next step of my poetic career—to explore the parts of China I missed the first time around.
However, you are probably more interested in hearing what it is like to put together a manuscript of poems, which is an awesome, frightening, and incredibly daunting experience.
The first thing to distinguish is there are many different techniques and approaches, and each is unique to the individual poet and their advisor. The great thing is you get to select your advisor from a list of the amazing faculty, and Columbia College Chicago is really great about making sure you are paired with an advisor that best suits your poetic needs.
On top of that, every poet is writing/editing their thesis differently. For instance, a classmate of mine just bought an enormous poster board, like too large to take on the train large, and she’s posted all of her poems to the board, where she can now edit and order them.
My experience with the thesis has been a little different. I began the program thinking I knew what I would write. I was writing surrealist poems inspired by an “old man” trailer park persona. Yes, I agree, very bizarre. Eventually, this faded and I would work on other side projects.
I was writing advertisement poems, which were purely appropriated text. I even wrote fairy-tale poems about a young prince in a forest full of magic. The prince was often plagued by talking Zebras. Again totally bizarre, but I enjoyed exploring the relationship between fairytale, myth, surrealism, and the poem.
It wasn’t until Winter break that I truly cracked down on my thesis. I took it through eight different versions, whether it was drastic form change, removal of a section, or even writing an entirely different section.
Now, I’ve attached a table of contents, and I am working on editing and fine tuning the poems at the individual level. To be honest, I am obsessed, and the once-feared thesis, is now something I enjoy immensely.
My advice is to not stress over thesis, although this is perhaps inevitable. However, everyone who graduates from CCC will leave here with a completed manuscript. The process at Columbia College Chicago is set up so that poets organically find their own voice, and by the second year have discovered something new. My year has completely diverse styles, and all of our manuscripts are striving to accomplish something original, which is amazing and dare I say, rare for MFA programs.
There are a million things to talk about when it comes to the thesis, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. So, if you are reading this and have questions, please feel free to send me an email! I would love to talk!