Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Order Important?

It seems to me poets are continually faced with the problem of order. Once the poems are done we keep having to cluster and recluster when we submit them. Should we send a range of work in those 3 to 5 poems? Should we send related poems, poems from a series, poems with the same voice, poems in the same format? Which poem should be placed on top?

If we're giving a reading we have to decide which poems to read and in what order. And there are further complications here. Some poems read aloud better than others. Some are surefire crowd pleasers--accessible enough, complicated enough, deep but with some self-deprecating humor.

When we're putting a book together, we have to consider the reader in a different way. We have to think about how people read. If it's a novel, mostly I'd say they begin at the beginning and continue through to the end, unless it's a bad mystery, and we skip all the middle and just read who-done-it. I know when I read The New Yorker, I almost always start in the back--those briefer pieces easing me into its intellectual waters. When reading the newspaper, people will habitually attack it in a certain way--comics first, horoscopes, sports, editorials. What about a volume of poems?

Some poets say they don't really think about the order of their poems as they're fitted into a book. They claim readers just dip into a book of poetry--gulp, gulp--so worrying about order is unnecessary. What would be important for those who approach the book as the insect does a flower--hover, land, buzz around some more, hover, land--is that the poem they land on is a good poem--something that will attract, maybe even entrance the gadabout reader, so they'll make another pass at the pages.

But I think the unconcerned poet is missing an opportunity. I doubt they'd be satisfied with a hodgepodge of work stuck together like a ball of used masking tape. Perhaps their manipulation of poems occurs in a more wordless, subconscious state--a kind of literary feng-shui. If a book of poems is looked at as a deliberate sequence, however, meant to be read in a particular order, then the effect on the reader can be cumulative.


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  2. This is also a pretty useful article on how to think about your collection:

  3. Commented at Clevelandpoetics: