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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Getting poems together for a poetry book

As a freelance writer in almost every genre for many years, I often get ideas for a book then spend an afternoon, writing an outline for a nonfiction book or synopsis for a novel. This process keeps each book on track, gives a map of sorts to follow if interruptions intervene, and guides the actual writing. After finishing a chapter or two and adding those pages and a cover sheet to the outline or synopsis, I also have a book proposal package to mail to an editor who might be interested. Happily, many were.

With poetry however, none of that worked – at least, not for me. For one thing, ideas for poems on a single theme or topic almost never come to me, whereas full-blown poems often do.

Ever since grade-school days of penciling poems in a Blue Horse Notebook, I have lived with poems as close companions, whom I eventually let go into journals, anthologies, or e-zines. But every time I tried to pick poems for a book, they dispersed like dandelion fluff, and I didn’t know how or where to get them back together in one place. Besides, selecting poems felt like choosing favorites and hurting feelings among left-out friends! So I’d drop the effort and go on to a project as easy as A-B-C. After a while, the clear-cut path of A to Z entries resulted in my researching and writing a couple of life-health encyclopedias!

While my poems sat around like proverbial potatoes on a sofa, blue horses fled into parts unknown, and word processing software replaced my notebooks. I set up a computer file with each poem typed on its own page along with the date of its arrival, but the file became too cumbersome to find poems ready to be sent to editors. The poems needed some kind of labels to indicate themes found after the fact (usually when revising) – for example, Faith, Humor, Communication, Bible, Marriage, Children, Social Comment, or other frequently occurring motif.

By the time I stumbled across the website for Hiraeth Press, “Nature” had become a key word. Online I’d learned that the editors had begun Written River, a literary journal as environmentally-friendly as I am! Since they were assembling their first winter issue, I sent 5 unpublished poems on a wintry theme, and they accepted two. With that submission, I also inquired about their interest in a collection of my nature poems, and yes, they would like to see more.

This time I had a definite goal, definite theme, and definite interest of a traditional publisher whose work I admired and who seemed to like mine too!

Using the Search Document feature in Word, I easily found every poem I had labeled as “Nature.” I then copied and pasted each poem into a new file for the book and began to tweak, sort, and arrange poems before sending the complete manuscript to the editors. However, how I went about tweaking, sorting, and arranging poems will take us another step into the book-publishing process with another story for another time -- soon. Until then, I hope you take a peek at the "First look at Living in the Nature Poem."


© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.



  1. Hi my friend! I enjoy your writing and sharing it with us!

  2. Always a wealth of information, knowledge and encouragement that resonates from you. Thanks for sharing Mary.