Friday, January 21, 2011

Blog Request: Compiling a Poetry Manuscript, Part 1 of Many...

R. suggested this for a blog topic:

I'd love to read a post about the process of compiling a poetry manuscript (like when to know to use sections, how to order the poems, what to exclude, etc).

Since this is a topic I could blog pages on, I'll be breaking this subject up over the next couple months, blogging about it then returning to it.

One book I'd definitely recommend for anyone wanting to read more on this and get their advice and ideas from not just me, but quite a few poets, I'd suggest this book:  Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems  edited by Susan Grimm.  

The book is 112 pages with 11 essays by individual poets on how to put together a book of poems.  I read this book quite a while ago, but I do remember finding it quite informative and enjoyed getting personal takes on how to create a poetry manuscript.


To be quite honest, I always remember Marvin Bell saying when asked, "How should I order my manuscript?" -- You can throw all your poems up in the air and pick them up, that's one way...

He was making the point that there is no one way or one right way to order and organize your manuscript.  And I also believe that.

My biggest advice to the poet organizing his/her manuscript is to know why you do everything you do.  

If you put poem about robins after a poem about gravestones, understand why it's there.  If you have sections, know why you have sections.  If you've alphabetized your poems, know why you've alphabetized them.  If you don't have sections, know why you don't have sections.

I believe a book of poems needs to be deliberate, created and crafted.  It's not just your best poems in whatever order, there should be reasons for the order, reasons for the poems chosen, reasons for each part of your book.

Someone said once that the published book is the final poem, and it's something I believe in.  

Of course, I'm someone who likes organization and believes it's important and believes the book is the final poem.  Maybe you don't.  Just know why you are doing the things you do.  If you put a poem after another poem because you don't really care about order, that's fine, just understand that and know that in the end, it will affect your reader (maybe in a good way, maybe not).  But in the end, you need to be the one who is happy with your manuscript and to understand why you are making the choices you are when you are creating it.  

I was thinking about an image I saw recently of a Buddha and underneath it were the words, "Inquire Within."  I think much of that applies to poetry, creating a manuscript and art-- the poet in you knows the answers.  I'll give you some suggestions over the next couple months, but ultimately, only you know what is best.


More about compiling a manuscript in future posts...

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