It started as a poem.
Anjanette Delgado MFA ’12 was taking the final course needed to graduate from the MFA Creative Writing program at FIU and was assigned to write a poem by none other than famed poet and FIU professor Campbell McGrath.
She penned Heartbreak Nation, and although she received an “A” for it, McGrath suggested she rework the piece using her background in fiction and journalism to make it “something else.” Exactly what that “something else” was, Delgado had no idea.
Looking for guidance, Delgado submitted her manuscript for review during the FIU Writers Conference last month. The annual gathering brings together FIU creative writing faculty and other top writers to lead workshops and give priceless advice to aspiring authors.
Delgado was hoping to find a way to describe “Heartbreak Nation,” so that she could move past the writing and editing stage and possibly get it published. Her piece did not a fit a traditional mold, and that likely was holding her back. Intended to be a prose poem—a poem that uses ordinary grammatical structure as opposed to rhyme—it also contained an array of literary devices.
“It had a piece of a poem, it had some lyric stanzas,” Delgado says. “It had quotes, a lot of pop culture.”
For some time, Delgado questioned whether she actually had something worthy of publication or just a mess. She tore it apart several times trying to make it work. And even though she received positive reviews at a literary event at which she read aloud to an audience, Delgado still wasn’t satisfied. By the time, then, that Delgado finally sat down for her review with author and FIU Professor Julie Wade, she truly didn’t know what to do with her work: turn it into a traditional story, rewrite it as a traditional poem—or simply throw in the towel.
“Writers are looking for any feedback that allows them to know their work has been carefully considered and that offers specific strategies they can use for revision,” said Wade, who met individually with writers during the conference to go over their work. In Delgado’s case, Wade carefully examined the poem and even learned something about her before offering any suggestions. The biggest help, Delgado says, was that Wade understood the nature of her work.
“Julie felt that in its purest form, it already was a lyric essay and it could go forth like that,” Delgado said. The essence of a lyric essay is taking different elements—lyrics, quotes, fiction and non-fiction parts—and meshing them together in a sort of literary collage. Finally, Delgado had a way to describe “Heartbreak Nation.”
Finding a genre in which to fit one’s work might sound like a constraint, but Professor Lynne Barrett agrees that it is a necessary part of a writer’s experience.
“Understanding the nature of the work you are writing is essential to revision. People often need to go further to understanding the specific type of work they are aiming for and the audience they want to reach,” Barrett said.
Although already a published author—her first novel, The Heartbreak Pill, came out in 2008 and she is currently working on her second, The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho—Delgado says she benefitted greatly from the review and felt as though she had finally come to understand the piece and even her own writing style.
“Julie read the piece, but she also found out a little about me so she could put it in context. She read my notes about where this work had come from and its entire history. Then she read the work and tried to understand it. She dove into her own knowledge of writing as a teacher and a writer and she named it,” Delgado said.
“She gave me an avenue and a way to look at my writing in a different way,” Delgado said. Another huge relief: Wade helped her put to rest the tinkering with Heartbreak Nation. The manuscript will go out shortly to a number of literary magazines with the hopes of seeing it published.