Poets often produce a collection of their works later in life, so when some of my poetry went out of print, I decided to do the same.
Selecting then arranging poems can be a challenge, but establishing guidelines for those choices will help. For example:
- Look for poems in various forms, tones,patterns, and style to keep the collection interesting.
- Choose subject matter that matters to readers, so they will relate and connect.
- If the poems come from several poetry books or chapbooks, their book titles can be used to divide the collection followed by poems from each previously published manuscript.
- Sections can also be divided by topical interest. For instance, A Gathering of Poems separated poems by the books in which they originally appeared then ended with “New Poems.” However, categories such as “nature poems,” “people poems,” or “poems of faith” could have worked too.
To show you what I mean by the above suggestions, I’ll identify the section and type of form used for the poem that follows. My hope is to help your work and, yes, introduce you to A Gathering of Poems.
[This free verse poem begins the book and the first section which comes from my first poetry book, Living in the Nature Poem – no longer in print as, sadly, the publisher closed up shop.]
Sleeping with the Universe
Beyond the action of creation
lies a great repose. You can
see this in a wildflower – the
closing of petals in tight lashes
against a lidded night – or in the
breaths between a burst of bird-
song: this lull unknown to highly
cultivated peoples, places, plants.
You can see it today in the falling
away, overnight, of leaves from
the live oak, exposing an amazing
maze of boles, terminal buds, and
holes for nesting in the dark. You
can see this in the gardenia – its
leaves cold-snapped into crackling
paper curled to protect the tender
growth – or in the dust flecks
resting on the pocked marble-top
table or in the hush of the porch
rocker or in the sag of a telephone
wire or in the pulsating of a star.
All attest to this universal need
known to artists, children, poets,
who, poised in mystery, must
watch and wait and wonder.
[Also from Living in the Nature Poem, this traditional poem – based on a personal experience – has four verses of four-beat quartrains – I.e. four lines per verse.]
Down Kinney Town
Feet bare, the girls came up today,
and Mama gave them ouch grown shoes
that once belonged to me or Kay,
but, oh, I longed to give them too.
Two girls they were: soiled blonde, unkempt –
not like Mama's girls who shone
in new sewn clothes and often dreamt
of finer galaxies than home.
With clean hands bare, could I, a child,
share much with girls from a small shack, wild?
But one said, "Come," so I went down –
down the tangled path to Kinney Town.
Theirs was adventure I could play.
A cold potato rationed me –
eyeless, grown in soil, unbent. They
gave that last leftover. Free.
Then home I went with backward look.
[Again from Living in the Nature Poem, this piece was my first published prose poem aka paragraph poem.]
I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I
can shut the door you bolted on the other side.
Keeping out weather is one thing, raccoons
another, although I know there's nothing below
the kitchen sink they might find appealing –
blackened banana peels, coffee grounds, and
those eggshells I keep on breaking as I walk.
[This last example from Living in the Nature Poem presents a haiku with a traditional pattern of 5/7/5 syllables per line. More important is a light touch and reference to a season of the year.]
With Coffee at a Sidewalk Cafe
Almond slivers, pear
slices with a bit of Brie –
Spring! Taste buds blossom.
[The second section of A Gathering of Poems comes from my second book of poems, Outside Eden, which begins with the title poem that gave the book its name.]
Away from the flaming torches,
everything grows dark.
Does God never
want me near?
I turn back to look,
but angels loom,
and sparks drip from wings
as though they’re bleeding.
I hear a lion roar.
Is this called fear?
I do not know what I can eat now –
every berried bite a potential toxin,
waiting to take hold.
I don’t know where or when to sleep,
but I drop down, exhausted,
hoping the serpent
won’t coil around my ear.
[Gathering poems from my next book, Faces in a Crowd, brought this free verse to mind as an example of an impressionistic free verse involving readers and relying on brevity.]
You’re starting to catch on,
starting to regain your balance,
starting to gain some insight
into what you see, when
and it all begins.
[Poems from Lost in Faith include this traditional sonnet with 14 lines, end-line rhymes, word plays, and a shift in focus or resolution at the end.]
Attention To Detail: Sonnet on Straightening My
Son's Room When He'd Grown Up and Away
Fallen into dust, the plastic people lost few parts
throughout his years of play. I'm proud of my son's
command over this company of miniature warriors:
a helicopter pilot, a Navy Seal, and tiny soldiers
sealed in skins akin to a small green grenade.
But now, a hundred scattered pieces have made
this battle dangerous to endure – cannons
to the right of me, torpedoes to the left, guns,
bombs, and the wing of a shot-down plane. I watch
to see if anything will move again. A shadow
flares on the floor as I troop to retrieve each
camouflaged piece ready to be dismissed now.
Part of me resists this final mission: To release
these fatigues of childhood, honorably, at ease.
[Also from Lost in Faith is the turning of a Bible parable into poem.]
Going Mile Two
And Jesus said:
If anyone wants to sue
your socks off and take away your tunic too, then hand over
your coat, your cloak, your robe, your cape, your fake fur,
and definitely that denim jacket with tarnished silver studs.
Who knows? Eventually they might realize they did not get
your angora collar.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two
and while you’re walking together on The Way, give them
whatever else they ask, and don’t turn away from the one
who wants to borrow, borrow from you. Who knows which
tomorrow will bring a cloak of sorrow or remind you of your
own dire neediness?
[The final section of A Gathering of Poems brings new poems, including this piece that arose after revisiting the Bible story of the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus. That not only encouraged me to internalize scripture as though I were there, the resulting poem symbolizes the road through Lent, leading to the joy of Easter.]
On the road
Jesus and I
not minding the muck
on our hands or
the pebbles pressing
into our palms.
We felt unfettered,
no one could ever
kill us again.
Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020