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Monthly Archives: April 2016
(By Christina Anne Taylor)
We’re all familiar with the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and the same can be said for the way in which poets order their poems within manuscripts for poetry collections. My personal preference resembles, by theme, a bag of trail mix, which I’ll explain in a minute. Firstly, a few common approaches:
- Alphabetically by title
- Chronologically by date of creation
These alleviate the soon-to-be-published poet of wringing hands over which poems are favorites and where to put favorites and so forth; however, it’s my personal opinion that the flow of content is most important, and one of the greatest threats to a collection of poems is redundancy.
As Kathleen Raine said, there are those who pen about a different subject with each poem, and there are those who know their favorite themes and pen about the same subjects over and over again. With the former, the voice, the lexicon, the overall structure can be consistent throughout the book without boring readers; but with the latter, the bag needs to be shaken up a bit. Here’s how I do it:
Say you have four recurring themes: love, nature, children’s poems, and miscellaneous poems.
- Create a table with the themes as headings.
- Go down your list of poems and place the letter “L” (for love), “N” (for nature), etc., as it applies beside each poem.
- Go back to the table and place a tick-mark under each heading as you scan down your list of poems.
- Count the complete number of poems, and count the number of tick-marks beneath each heading.
- Do a bit of percentage math. (We’ll keep it simple.) Say you have 80 poems total: 20 are love poems, 40 are nature poems, 10 are poems for children, and 10 are essentially “miscellaneous.” You can see that nature poems are half of your collection, love poems are a quarter, and the other quarter is divided among maternal and miscellaneous poems.
- Create an ordering pattern that coincides with math results. The above would result most logically as proceeding through the book as follows: nature, love, nature, children, nature, love, nature, miscellaneous; repeat throughout the collection.
What to do about which poem to place where? We know that if you use all of your best poems at the beginning of the book, it begins to fall flat mid-way through. Likewise, it’s foolish to save your best for the end, because then you’ve lost the reader before even getting to the good stuff. With that in mind…
- Get another sheet of paper with three columns titled: beginning, middle, and end.
- Place your BEST poem of the most prominent theme as the first poem, your best poem within the second theme as the second poem, etc., at the top of the “beginning” column.
- Hopefully “second-best” is excellent as well. Go to the end and structure the last few poems of your book with the “second-bests” in theme-order. Draw a line through each poem title as you work them in.
- Now jump to the middle with the best of what remains, and then work your way down the list of poems and take turns adding to the beginning, middle, and end columns until all poems are accounted for.
- Paste the three sections together.
Now you have a logical order by theme. Order your manuscript accordingly, and then give it a thoughtful read. Look for the following possibilities of that dreaded redundancy (variety being “the spice of life” and all).
- You might notice overuse of certain words too close together, such as “passion” or “morning.” Choose a few substitutes (minding syllables, feet, alliteration and all else as much as possible). “Morning” can be “dawn” or “day-spring” or “sunrise.” Spice it up a bit. The thesaurus is a wonderful tool!
- You might find certain styles too close together, such as three sonnets in a row when there are only five in the collection. Swap and trade if necessary.
- There might be too many shorter poems to the left with long poems to the right. It’s my personal opinion that it’s best to have longer poems on the left. Not only does it look right but it feels right.
Try this: Read a poem while holding it in your left hand and looking to the left. Read it again from the right hand and look to the right (or if on screen, simply turn your head and read from the peripheries). You’ll notice something that’s very telling about our neuro-wiring. You probably absorb more “deeply” what you see to the left! I do.
After you’ve gotten redundancy in check, read the collection again and continue relocating and refining until the end result is a feeling of something fresh and new with each “bite”: a peanut, a raisin, an M&M, a peanut, a raisin, an M&M. It’s time-consuming, but you deserve to let each subject or quality juxtapose against its neighbor to keep things spicy, and your readers are worth it, too.
(Christina Anne Taylor is the publisher, editor, and graphic designer at Middle Island Press.)
We’re happy to have received word of a review of Big City Nighttime Stories (ISBN 978-0-6926-12682) in the Winter-Spring 2016 edition of The Rockford Review, published by the Rockford Writer’s Guild. The reviewer is editor Connie Kunst.
Big City Nighttime Stories (Middle Island Press, 103 pages, $16) by Gene McCormick is a collection of poetry available on Amazon or directly through the author. Email: email@example.com for more information or mail check/money order for $16 to PO Box 51, Wayne, IL 60184.
Gene McCormick captures the “ugh” moments of places and people a little too well. I’ll just say it: his writing makes me uncomfortable. What is he going to unveil next? What dysfunction is he going to uncover? What underdog is he going to reveal? He’s unpredictable. I’ll just say it: his writing is fascinating. In this collection, we are reintroduced to “Ed” who is a regular in McCormick’s poetry. Ed sleeps with prostitutes, drinks too much, has a terrible diet, and regularly judges others, but I like the guy anyway. Sure, Ed is a loner and goes to all the dark places, but he does it all so colorfully. Ed and all of McCormick’s poems make for delightfully dark reading.
Thank You, Connie, from Middle Island Press!