While working on a new manuscript, working title "Medicine Wheel," I came across this excellent articleApril Ossmann is the author of Anxious Music (Four Way Books, 2007), an independent editor, and former executive director of Alice James Books.
I have about 80 pages of poems, and it is incoherent, a set of poems, with a variety of themes, tones, and forms. No, I did not start with a clear project in mind, but rather gathered these as they came over the last few years. 2/3 of the poems have been published in Ezines or journals. That has not helped in this process!
My first sort was for quality--some pieces never gelled, some are just lame. My next sort was for tone. I have some protest pieces that are sardonic, hot peppery poems that relate to particular political/personal issues. These are in a pile waiting to go in their own book, or not. So how to make order of chaos? I have no firm answers, but this advice has been very helpful, from “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order YourPoetry Manuscript" by April Ossmann in Poets & Writers: The Practical Writer (March/April 2011). Some MS orders she recommends are: “. . . creating a narrative line or arc (regardless of whether the poetry is narrative) and grouping or interweaving themes to create a sense of evolution or growth, proceeding toward a conclusion—not resolution. Another strategy is a lyric ordering, in which each poem is linked to the previous one, repeating a word, image, subject, or theme. This sometimes provides a continuation, sometimes a contrast or argument. Other times I follow one or several emotionally charged poems with one that provides comic or other relief; sometimes I work to vary (or interweave) the poetic styles, individual poem length, pace, tone, or emotion. Some orders build toward a narrative, emotional, or evolutionary climax or conclusion (a “Western ending”) and some end deliberately unresolved or ambiguous (an “Eastern ending”). . . .” Do check out the entire article for much invaluable wisdom.
So far I have five thematic piles: history/landscape; generative process; language; bestiaries; visual points of view. Now I might reshuffle and try a "faux narrative." Thank you April Ossmann! Onward!