How Do You Put Together a Manuscript?

So it's the middle of the month and here's what I've done so far:

To-Do List (revised)

This weekend
Write three poems. Done

Week 2
Start to revise and reorder poems for manuscript. In process
Read a book of poetry that I bought from the Dodge Festival. I'm reading Ross Gay's first book of poems, Against Which. It's phenomenal.

Week 3
Attend one poetry reading locally.
Write one poem. In process
Work on manuscript.
Mail poems to two journals (new addition)

Week 4 (end of month)
Hand off manuscript to fellow poets for critique.
Write one poem.
Mail poems to two journals.

With that housekeeping out of the way, I could use your advice. I'm seeking help on how to put together a collection of poems.

When I first arranged my manuscript years ago, I put my poems together chronologically because it made sense at the time. Since I've been blogging and writing more poems, I've had to move away from that. At this point, I see three major sections: public, universal poems; poems about my childhood; and motherhood poems. I have about 60 poems to work with.

Any suggestions/tips/do's and don'ts on how to arrange a manuscript collection would be greatly appreciated. And if you have never put together a manuscript, tell me what you like to see when you read a book of poems. As a reader, what do you enjoy about reading a book. Do you notice the structure? Do you like themes? What don't you like? Tell me everything!

Thanks, in advance.


bb said…
i'm trying to do the same for the pamphlet - and that's only twenty poems!

i'm working with the poem that i want to end with, and working back from that. when i read a collection i like to see the leap made between the first and last poems presented.

i also like to see circling between themes, creeping deeper an deeeper into different themes every time it is revisted, and also a well thought out rhythm between longer and shorter poems.

any help - or am i being too literal minded?
January said…
That's exactly what I'm looking for. Thanks!

What you call a pamphet, we call chapbooks, which is a collection of about 20-32 pages.

Has it been difficult to put together your pamphet?
bostonerin said…
I also like to see a progression/connection between the first and last pieces in a collection. One thing I look for as a reader are themes connected to the title of the whole collection--how do these different peices work to support a larger idea?
Bug said…
Very cool January! You are getting SO much done! I'm very impressed. As a reader, I like themes. But then again I'm not much of a poetry reader (don't shoot me!) so take that with a grain of salt.
January said…
Bug, in a short story collection, does the idea of a theme apply?
jim said…
I'm struggling with the same thing. Sometimes I put together themes, but then I panic and wonder if the poems are too similar. Other times I throw all the poems down the stairs and pick them up and decide that is the proper order.

Truth is -- when I read a book of poetry, I just pick it up and turn to a page. I rarely will sit down with a book of poems and read it from page one through the end. But I might just be odd.

I think it is (despite what I just wrote) inportant to include something very strong and appropriate for the first poem in a manuscript -- and for the last poem too. Bookends.
Catherine said…
I took part in a group which did a collection - we each had about a dozen poems in our own individual sections so it was almost like five chapbooks in one. We selected the poems we wanted first, then tried to put them in order. It was mostly by instinct - what "goes together"?
Mine started with the sonnet I posted for Poetry Thursday last week, which was about my daughter, then went back in time through my poems inspired by genealogy and gradually forward in time - a couple about more recent history, and a couple of poems about relationships now, ending with a slightly lighter one which included mention of couples among other things . But I had to leave out one of my favourites, because it just didn't fit in with the others. I think it's too jarring to go directly from something quite serious to something humourous.
I agree with Jim about bookends.
If I was doing a longer book by myself, I would probably divide it into about three sections - there can be a discontinuity between sections but I like some sort of continuity and development between poems in each section.
I woudn't have a clue how to arrange mine chronologically. Before my hard drive died I could have looked at the date on the file. Since then, I have only a hazy idea of when some of the poems were written. They all have the date of import from the backup on them.
twitches said…
I have no idea how to compile a manuscript. I've tried it on my own; if I were going to really put one together I'd have to get outside help, because I have no clue.

So there's your completely useless comment for the day. Enjoy!
January said…
T, I'm definitely having outside help (you know who you are--Erin!).

Erin, I like to see a progression, too. But I try Jim's method and throw my poems down the stairs to create an order!

Jim, I have to admit, when I read a book of poems I like to jump around until I find something that peaks my interest.

Catherine, seems like bookends are a common theme here. Thanks for sharing your process.

When I first arranged my poems chronologically, I started with poems about my youth until my present. Most of my poems go back at least 10 years.

Maybe I should put together my three sections as if I was putting together a chapbook. Hmmm...
nike said…
I think your idea is great . Put together in 3 sections that way , there is a commom theme for each subject !
Bug said…
Sorry, I'm just getting back to this post now. But themes can be important in short story collections. My understanding is that theme collections are easier to sell, for what that's worth.
chiefbiscuit said…
I am not very good at arrranging an ms. I had help with the first one - a Uni lecturer at first and then the editor of the publishers arranged it how she thought it should go. I could only agree!
And for my second book (with publishers as I speak) one of the editors there is rearranging what I arranged anyway - so maybe in the end it doesn't really matter cos it will be re-arranged anyway?
But what I tended to do was go by instinct - what poem felt right to go first, then what felt right o follow. (I do get myself in a bit of a muddle however.) It's a good idea to arrange them bu subject - e.g everyday life, family, landscape ...
jim said…
I did get some rather cold, practical advice once about frontloading your manuscript with the very best poems. You can always re-arrange the order later.

I've never taken that advice, which was given to me with my first book manuscript. First, it seemed more than a little arbritary, and then it seemed odd to figure out by what basis to judge the "best" poems--by their previous publication?

For me, it's about the conversation the poems have with one another, as they sit side by side. Sometimes that necessitates the inclusion of what is indeed a marginal poem, one not likely to get published, but it says the absolutely right thing between these two other poems. Sometimes it's what bb says, too, just about the rhythms, movements, vortices that a particular combination creates. But I like to think of the book MS really as a single, breathing thing, a really big poem.

Of course, about my own reading habits, I do jump around with a book of poetry, much like what Jim describes above.
January said…
Jim: Great advice! Marginal poems can be the glue that holds a manucript together--those poems help make transitions to the bigger pieces.

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