Thursday, May 16, 2019

Advice for Ordering a Poetry Manuscript

Ordering poems in a collection can be a fun, sometimes maddening, and ultimately satisfying stage of the literary process. Here are my suggestions for the journey:

Tack poems up on the wall like a detective from the 1950's. See what unfolds and where connections are made.

Lay poems out on the living room floor, rearranging according to where different poems gravitate.

Write titles of poems on index cards and mindfully arrange them in order.

Be brutal in your consideration of which poems to include, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Consider the emotional layering of your order. An expert example of emotional pacing is Jack Gilbert's poetry collection The Great Fires.

If you believe a certain creative approach is appropriate then work to understand why it will elevate your poems collectively and be able to articulate your reasoning.

Sketch out a visual map of the poems. Use colors to distinguish between tones, subject matter, or other differentiating aspects. Somber poems, for example, could be written in aquamarine; while lustful poems could be penned in scarlet.  

If you feel like you're drowning in the efforts to order your poems, set them aside and return after time has revised your perspective.