Assembling a Poetry Collection
Below are some notes I took in North Carolina about assembling a poetry manuscript. Most of these ideas came from the following essay: "Dynamic Design: The Structure of Books of Poems
" by Natasha Saje, The Iowa Review, Fall 2005. Mary Biddinger
: Thanks for pointing me to this essay a few months ago.Ways to Organize a Poetry Collection
· A narrative arc/sequence
· Autobiographical: narrative of a speaker or the poet’s life
· Mood arc/feeling arc: order for contrasting mood or feeling from one poem to the next
· How one poem ends and the next begins
· The space in between the poems becomes part of the sequence
· Groups 3 or 4 poems together because they have a common theme or subject matter
· Organize by the order in which they were written: as poet grows & changes, so do the poems
· Establish what are the 3 to 6 main themes, make a pile of poems for each theme, order manuscript by picking one poem from each pile and thereby weave the themes throughout the book
· Pay special attention to the first and last few poems
· Picking possible first and last poems for the collection can illuminate possible ways to organize the poems in between
· First poem usually a shorter poem, an appetizer
· Beginning of a book tells the reader a great deal about what will follow: welcoming gestures, strategies, getting the reader’s attention, creating mystery or anticipation, introducing themes
· Begin book with a prayer or invocation
· Start book with an Ars Poetica
· Start book with a poem about another art form
· Start book with a poem about language
· First poem heralds the theme of the collection, something I’m setting out to prove
· Last poem in a book underscores the book’s meaning emphatically
· Whatever tone the book adopts, the last poem must conclude
· Some books use a period of time as a container
· Some books return to some aspect of the opening gestures as a way of creating wholeness in the book, a “bookends” approach
· Balance and contrast
· Dynamic energy
· Breathing space/white space
· Dialogue between intent & serendipity or tension & inevitability
· A reductive process: omit poems that don’t get along well with others. The chosen poems form some sort of association, fit together organically or adhere.
· Book should have distinct openings and closings
· Use the conventions of film: jump cuts, flashbacks, develop a character, panoramic, extreme close-ups
· Move from the specific to the general or the general to the specific. Microscope to telescope or telescope to microscope. Ex: Personal/family concerns material to globalizing these concerns
· By place
· The way the end of one poem slides into or contradicts with the beginning of the next creates an associational order. Transitions of: sequence, time, comparison, contrast, example, cause & effect, place, concession, summary, repetition
· Abecedaraius: poems arranged alphabetically by title
· Poem groupings/divisions by them, form, tone, subject, place
· Can title poem groupings/divisions but does the section title highlight something that might be overlooked or needs to be added? Dividing a book into sections should make the experience more artful, not merely more clear.Poetry Manuscript Organization Questions
· How does the book carry itself?
· How does the book move the reader?
· How does the organization provide a richer, more “writerly” experience for the reader?
· What about “contexture”? The contextuality provided for each poem by the larger frame within which it is placed, the intertextuality among poems so placed, an the resultant texture of resonance and meaning?
· How does the collection make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text?
· Experience readers want poems to make them work harder, equating the worth with bliss. How does the collection do that?
· What is the book’s trajectory? How does the ending connect to the beginning?
· Does the book click shut, hang in the air, dissolve, fly away?
· Include explanatory/bibliographic notes in manuscript? Poets who trust their readers make their book’s structure a partnership, and invitation to find bliss.
· Book organization: Author interpretation, author intentions. Ex: Plath’s organization of Ariel to emphasize outrage at Hughes’ infidelity versus Hughes’ organization emphasizing madness.