the great poem sort of 2012

little groups

Last week I wrote about having wide open spaces in the new house — the perfect place for a poem sort. Although I had planned to go over with a tall stack of poems to spread out and wander through, I quickly realized that it would take me the better part of a day to locate, print (when necessary), and organize the actual documents. Instead I wrote titles out on index cards and sorted those. I also put color coded check marks on each card to denote the theme and/or subject matter of each poem. Many cards had several check marks, of course.

The first step after labeling all the cards was to group like with like. So, for example, all the Mail Order Bride Poems went in one little pile, all the motherhood poems in another, all the illness poems in another, etc.

Then I started moving the cards into what poets call an “arc of meaning” — an arrangement that capitalizes on themes and connections throughout the many poems. It may tell a story, or it may evoke a sense of something (emotion, idea), or it may do both. I ended up with four strands of poems weaving in and out of one another.

I learned a lot from my poem sort. While I knew there were plenty of motherhood, illness, and Mail Order Bride poems in my files, I didn’t realize there were several “survival guide” poems, several poems in the tradition of old tales, and several poems having to do with maps/navigation. This gives me some new ideas for how to move forward with what I have so far. It also sent me to the library to do some more reading on themes of survival and navigation (well, I haven’t actually done the reading yet, but I checked out a big stack of books). I also learned that I have more-than-several poems with the word “girl” in the title. So I’m going to be doing some thinking about girls — the concept of girl, the word, etc.

Know what else I learned? I learned that I have too many poems. Too many poems for what, you may ask? Just plain old too many. Too many to keep working on before sending out, etc. So I culled about 30 cards out of the mix — these will go in the abandoned poem file. Not that they were all terrible poems, just that they weren’t as necessary as the rest. That’s kind of a hard decision to make, or was for me — to say goodbye to a poem. But I did it.

All in all I’m very glad I did my poem sort. The next time I do one, the cards will be spread over counters, tables, the living room rug and the hallway. I will be yelling down the hall, DON’T.TOUCH.THOSE.PAPERS! I will be having to move several of the piles so that we can have dinner. No matter, I’m used to it. But it was awesome to work in a wide open space just this once.

And now, Reader, my attention must shift. Moving day is less than two weeks away. I’m taking this week off from writing — or maybe mostly off from writing– and I’ll probably be at the blog a bit less over the next few weeks, too, until we are moved and functional (notice I didn’t say unpacked, just functional) in the new house.

Happy Monday and thanks, as always, for reading.

6 thoughts on “the great poem sort of 2012

    • As you might imagine, I get much more excited about sorting poems than I do about sorting….. other stuff 🙂

  1. Thank you for sharing this process. I have been thinking about culling my enormous lists of poems, and being able to “retire” or “say goodbye” to poems is something I need to be able to do. I like your idea of giving each poem a system of themes/categories in order to look for patterns. Thank you again for your thoughtful posts, especially during your busy time of moving! You inspire me…

    • I love the idea of the “retired” poems! I think I’ll rename my Abandoned file to Retired. A retired poem has done it’s work. It has put in its time. And now it deserves some leisure in the file cabinet. Thanks for reading!

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