I first met Katrina Vandenberg at the Arkansas Literary Festival several years ago. She was a visiting writer at the U of A and had come down to read from her beautiful book Atlas. Today, I've been reading her article "Putting Your Poetry in Order," which appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Poets & Writers. Using the mix tape as her model, Vandenberg runs through a series of 11 points to keep in mind when trying to order a manuscript. Each point includes a song title, of course.
As I'm about to set out to do just this kind of arranging with my second book, tentatively titled Glacial Elegies, the article couldn't have come at a better time. Perhaps the best piece of advice from Vandenberg is to avoid grouping poems that are too similar. This is a weakness of mine. I think I find comfort in lining up all the poems about a certain subject...as if they are protected in some way. I suppose I need to start thinking like a reader and not a writer when looking at the manuscript as a whole. What will make the groupings exciting? What will make them boring? Many readers do not read poetry books from beginning to end. Is there any way to anticipate the leaps?
The other item that stands out in the article is the reminder that the spaces between the poems are important, too. One of my favorite undergraduate professors opened my eyes to the white space on the page as a vital element in the poem itself, and now Vandenberg reminds me that in the collection, the white spaces become places of echoes and reflections that can intensify the relationships between the poems. Finally, close to the end of the article, comes this quote about a poetry collection: "It's a poem made from all of your poems."
As I begin to order and re-order the poems for the next book, I'll keep all of these things in mind. Thanks, Katrina!