November 4, 2018

Natasha Tretheway

Natasha Tretheway served as U.S. Poet Laureate. In this video, filmed at her writing studio, she describes how poetry has allowed for the expression of her own personal layers of history, place and tragedy, and how truth and healing can come from the creative act.

November 1, 2018

Organizing a Poetry Manuscript

How do you organize a collection of poems into a book?  Lately, I've been intrigued by the idea of treating the collection as an essay.  My last book, Night Train Red Dust, reflects portraits of people on the Iron Range, the workers, union organizers, immigrants, and women who created the rich culture and left a legacy of progressivism and active citizenship.  This collection had poems all connected by place.

The answer to the question of organization is unique to every poet. In Poets & Writers, "Thinking Like an Editor," April Ossman says:
...I reread the poems, listing each one’s themes and subjects, as well as noting repeated words or images. We all repeat ourselves, but some of us do so more obsessively than others, and that can be a strength or a weakness—or both. Next, I separate the poems into piles based on theme or subject, count the number of pages in each pile and note how many of the strongest poems landed in each, and use that information as one of multiple guides to a successful ordering strategy.
Poet Albert Rios published a list of strategies, including links of colors or smell, spiral structures, and last line/first line dialogues. See his suggestions at 

Here's a recent article and interview of four successful poets talking about organizing their work:

One of the poets in this article, A.E. Stallings, says,
In my three previous collections (Archaic Smile, Hapax, and Olives), I employed the convention, and convenience, of sections to organize them. Conventions are conventions for a reason; I don’t write programmatic books, and it’s a way of making little arcs while suggesting a bigger one. But it wasn’t going to work for Like. This book was longer, shaggier, it contained longer poems and cycles. I wanted to try something different.
If you haven't yet read her work, I suggest buying every volume. She's a master at her craft, and all these poets have valuable insight to this most challenging task.