Poetry roundup

November 23rd, 2012

(Posting this a day later than usual, because I figure nobody’s paying attention on Thanksgiving. Probably nobody’s paying attention the day after Thanksgiving, either, but there’s a better chance at least.)

I printed out a first draft of my chapbook manuscript earlier this month, and although both the manuscript as a whole and several individual poems within the manuscript need a great deal of work before I can send this thing anywhere, I have reached the point where I am starting to think about it as a manuscript as opposed to a pile of poems I’ve been working on. Compiling and ordering a manuscript introduces a whole new set of questions regarding structure, order and intent than writing what I flippantly call “one-off” poems does, so I’ve been reading up on how to think about ordering a collection. Here’s a sample of what I’ve found:

My manuscript is probably at the right stage to take some of this advice in this post, “It’s 2 a.m. Do you know what your manuscript is doing?” by poet Kelli Russell Agodon (Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room). She’s got a great list of things to think about once you’ve got the majority of the creative work done and are ready to turn that pile of poems into something more coherent. Like, if somebody asked you what your collection is about, could you tell them? How many sentences would it take for you to explain it? It’s the question she put in the title of her post: what is your manuscript doing?

Over at the This Frenzy blog, Elliott batTzedek takes a look at some of the possible theoretical approaches to ordering a collection in her “Notes on the Syntax of the Book

Once you’re ready to really impose structure on that pile of poems, read “On Making the Poetry Manuscript” by Jeffrey Levine (adapted from his essay “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Poetry Manuscript” which originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of AWP Job List). The conversation and advice continues in the comments section, so be sure to read those as well.

More thoughts about order and structure from Kelli Russell Agodon here (part 1), here (part 2, Order), here (part 3, Sections Yes or No?), and here (part 4, The Final Revisions). Poet January Gill O’Neil (Underlife) also blogged about ordering her manuscript here. Again, advice and suggestions continue in the comments section so keep reading.

The book Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, edited by Susan Grimm, came up on both those blogs. I have only just begun to poke around in it, since I have only just gathered a pile of poems into something resembling a manuscript, but this collection of thoughts about ordering a manuscript from eleven different contributors offers a wealth of ways to think about how to go about this. Perhaps too many ways.

April Ossmann offers some thoughts on the process from an editor’s point of view in this 2011 Poets & Writers article “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript.”

And as you can see, if you just google “thoughts on how to order a poetry manuscript” you’ll have a wealth of options to choose from. Feel free to add thoughts and suggestions in the comments.


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