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Monday, September 25, 2006

Good Advice on Manuscript Ordering

Usually I try to order the poems to emphasize contrasting mood or feeling (psychological, emotional, etc.) from one poem to the next. I listen closely to how a poem ends, and to how the next poem begins, how one follows the other that way. Mood arc or feeling arc, rather than narrative arc. In this way (in theory anyway) the space in between the poems becomes part of the sequence.

Occasionally I've grouped three or four poems together because they've had some common theme or subject matter -- in a recent book, there are four poems I grouped that all came out of a visit to Oklahoma, for example.

In a couple of my books, I ordered the poems more or less in the sequence in which I wrote them, or finished them -- more or less, though I did change the original sequence in one or two places.

As I write poems, I tend to think of writing a cohesive manuscript, not just isolated poems. I normally have several manuscripts in progress at once, and when I write a poem, I'll usually have a strong sense of which of the manuscripts it belongs in. Occasionally I'll write one that doesn't seem to fit clearly, that's off on its own tangent, and that might become the beginning of a new manuscript.

A useful way I've found to practice ordering poems is to pick some poems by other poets that I like a lot -- maybe 12 or 15 poems by as many poets -- and pretend I'm editing an anthology. It's a way of practicing what to listen for, without having anything heavy invested in it emotionally (at least relatively speaking).

Lyle Daggett

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