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How to put together a poetry manuscript, part 2

Unlike visual artists or sculptors, poets don’t often talk about the way individual pieces fit into the whole of their work.  Maybe the reason some poets hesitate to talk about this process is because, like writing a poem, they are following the instincts of their inner voice. Maybe their process is too close to them to place into words.

Fortunately, in Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems (Imagination, No. 11), edited by Susan Grimm, there now exists a collection of essays by poets who’ve done just that–put together their own books of poetry and survived.

All of the essays were invaluable in helping me order my own storm. I liked Liz Rosenberg’s advice, “I try to start a book with what I think of as a beautiful poem, and to end with a powerful philosophical poem. I think we do begin with beauty and end with wisdom….” I also liked Jeff Gundy’s idea of ending a collection of poetry with a poem that offers some “intimation of hope, some glimpse of shelter and safety in this dangerous world.” He includes the poem that ends his most recent book of poems, Deerflies, as an example.

These essays not only gave me excellent advice for putting together my own manuscript but also gave me things to consider as I move forward in my life as a poet. Some of the questions that came to me as I was reading: What direction am I moving in my life? Where am I physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Where do I want to be in a year? In five years? How will my poetry reflect my goals or transformation? Is there an area of study that I’m interested in that could appear in my poetry as an ongoing theme?

As poets and writers, the most important thing we can do is to ask questions. It’s part of our process and helps us order our storms. What questions do you ask yourself as a poet or writer? Please share in the comments below.

If you’d like to read more about what I’m learning as I put together my first book of poetry, please read my previous post.

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