The day I wrote about my troubles reading my poetry aloud I mentioned that I was putting together a poetry manuscript and blogger Mareymercy recommended I read Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, edited by Susan Grimm. What a fabulous recommendation. The book is a collection of essays by various poets about “ordering” a poetry manuscript.
Here are 10 things I learned about ordering my book:
1. Most poets agree that the living room floor is one of the most important elements of working on a manuscript. This is where the poet spreads out all her poems and looks at them haphazardly, searching for aha moments, such as noticing that one poem contains the word “shrink” and another mentions “diminish” and recognizing a theme.
2. Sometimes placing two poems about the same subject far apart in the book can be more effective than placing them next to each other. The second time around creates pleasure in the reader when he recalls the earlier moment (Beckian Fritz Goldberg)
3. A book of lyrical poems, put together in a certain way, can create a subtle narrative.
4. Sometimes even famous poets submit their manuscripts to contests year after year until they win or place.
5. As the poet puts his collection together, he might discover poems he has not yet written (Maggie Anderson).
6. Consider starting small or internal or personal and moving toward the “public” as the book moves toward its ending.
7. Some poets have been very lucky. Others have made mistakes with their manuscripts and still been successful.
8. The decision to divide the book into sections is . . . confusing.
9. Titles are so much more important than they seem. Sections may be titled or just numbered. But live with a title for a while and see if it’s working. If the manuscript gets rejected, try a new title. If it still is rejected, re-order the poems.
10. The whole process is intuitive and mystical. There is science behind it. Do I contradict myself? (Walt Whitman–no, he doesn’t have an essay in the book).