Monday, June 6, 2016

April Ossmann Explains Organization of a Poetry MS from Poets & Writers Archives

While working on a new manuscript, working title "Medicine Wheel," I came across this excellent article
by Aprill Ossmann. April 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!