10 Things I Learned about Ordering My Poems

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).

15 Comments

Filed under Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

15 responses to “10 Things I Learned about Ordering My Poems

  1. jeannieunbottled

    All very interesting. I’m not a poet, but someday I might try to “order” my essays. All that you say about ordering poetry also makes sense when ordering essays.

    Some of my essays might be ordered by their narrative voices. I’m not always the entire “me” when I write an essay.Often I’m just a piece of me.

    • Luanne

      As I was writing that post I was wondering if it would be the same for essays. Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t quite the same, but I couldn’t figure out WHY! So maybe I was wrong.
      As far as CNF being “a piece of me”–I feel that the narrator in CNF is always a piece of me. Never the whole package. That would be overwhelming ;).

  2. To section or not to section: that is the question. Confusing indeed! One of the benefits and drawbacks of today’s technology (two-edged sword, that) is being able to slap together mockups and pass them around to your friends for feedback. Though this seldom results in further clarity, it feels awfully productive. Thanks for the book recommendation and your notes!

    • Luanne

      I’m not sure about sending around to friends for feedback because I am always spinning my wheels waiting for a consensus of approval that will never come. Does it work for you? Thanks for reading, Jennifer.

      • I guess it would largely depend on the people you choose to bounce the ideas off. If there are too many, or if they don’t tend to give useful feedback, the exercise will only muddy the waters. But it *seems* like such a good idea, and the ability to do it poses a great temptation. I’m still trying to figure out what works and why, and I’ve met with rather mixed success so far.

  3. It sounds as though you learned a lot from this book, Luanne. I think #1 applies to all writers…I love spreading stuff on the floor. 🙂

  4. Oh yay! I am glad that book helped! It certainly helped me put my ms together…now I just need to submit the thing. It was an interesting read as well as very helpful for me so I’m glad it was useful for you too 🙂

  5. This was so helpful, Luanne. One time, many moons ago, I showed my poetry book (hand written in a blank journal) to one of my sisters. Her honesty was what I needed. I learned that my writing was so personal that it left the reader confused. I don’t know how to explain it at this foggy-brain moment, but I made some changes to almost all of them, so my reader could understand them.I made them more accessible, and it worked!
    Thank you,
    Patti

  6. Interesting, sometimes I compose my own poem and this insight is wonderful..

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