Less than a year ago I thought it was done. I thought I had a 2nd poetry manuscript and with great though occasionally nagging conviction I submitted it. The "nagging" in nagging conviction is hard to fathom – it has depths, some of which are reasonable while others are meaningless.
And thus the great art of discernment, one-half the price of being an artist. So okay. More new poems got written or completed since last year’s book, some quite strong. I decided to reassemble the manuscript, to add in poems and attempt the ruthless discard. And re-ORDER the poems.
Determining the order of poems in a manuscript is not an act of discernment (which is an art), though remains a bit of a mystery, and there is no perfection. The amount of attention a poet pays to her manuscript adds to its strength, mystique, believability, readability, desirability, saleability, poetry, and poem-companionability. The more attention paid to the sequencing or ordering of the poems, the more comfortable each poem is with its place in the collection. The more respect each poem has for its neighbors.
Poems like poets have egos. They like to be read, heard, appreciated. Yes, there are shy poets who don't like to read their work aloud but I haven't met one who didn't want her/his work read on the page. Poems exist. Existence demands some level of attention. Even rocks in the desert sense fulfillment when a lizard scurryies to rest in their shadow.
Like a knight I believed in the rightness of my kills, my deletions. More important than believing I was right, was knowing by way of the internal nag that a poem didn't belong in the book because it couldn't stand up to the others. It made me sad, but also proud of the others, so strong and noble.
After I made a few changes to the doc., I printed it out and put it in a federal express cardboard-like envelope I kept in my bag. Since I am working a 40-hour job I didn't have lots of time to take a look, but I peeked some ,took it out for perusal once or twice. I choose and I reordered a bit. I demystified various of my false beliefs that in books to come some of my themes might take precedence and so I should hold onto poems for that future time. Truth is, I don't know what's to come. I do know that holding a poem because of what MIGHT happen doesn't make sense. It's like holding back in fiction, not letting a character take action when the character wants to.
Then I just googled how to order a poetry manuscript (in different iterations). I read different perspectives about creating sections in the book, headings, or just going arbitrary--throwing the pages in the air (well, that's what I suggested I’d do, on Facebook). Last week, at his reading, I asked George Guida how important was the order of poems.
"Very," he said. I believed him. I also believed him when he added, "at least to the poet."
Another week, more thinking, ordering (or not), adding, deleting. The weekend came. I made piles of the poems. I think I'll hold back on the content of the piles (except for one, which was, no go). Finished, I felt the moment. Looked at the poems in their golden groupings. I decided that as a reader of my manuscript, a reader who is easily bored, I would appreciate a little surprise.
And so I organized the poems variously, placing a poem from one pile, one grouping, next to a poem from another pile, a different grouping. I realized that my themes can carry from grouping to grouping. Yes, I considered each poem as I ordered. I looked at what I had, page by page. Left my apartment for my Tai Chi lesson in the East Village, a manicure, a to-go meal. Then I sat with the stack and reordered the Word document. Which took several hours and involved, inevitably, more deliberation.
Somewhere along the line, last night when I was being social or in dreams, I remembered two poems I hadn't included. Added them in. Edited one. (Oh, all along the way, poems--definitely not all but some, especially the unpublished poems--get a little editing, PRN as the docs say.)
So now I have a poetry manuscript. I will print it out, consider. And I will be mailing hard copy and emailing the document to a friend for a "if you see something say something" edit. It's not over. But all of us, Sarah Sarai and her x# of poems (oh be surprised later) are coalescing, like clouds of joy.
image from Manuscripts in the Kandilli Observatory (astronomy, mathematics and geography of the Arab world), courtesy of Turkish Airlines