Thursday, November 3, 2011

Putting Together a Poetry Collection

On Putting Together a Poetry Anthology

Well, it's finally happened. The Poetic Muselings' anthology, "Lifelines," is going live. It will be available on Amazon.com on Nov. 11, and our website, poetic-muselings.net, is online. It's been a long road, one that has given me a new appreciation for what it takes to put together a collection of poetry, especially an anthology composed of poetry from six very different poets.

When we all started meeting to share our poetry, back in 2008, we didn't do it with anything particular in mind -- certainly not with the idea of putting together an anthology. Still, over the course of the next year or so, we wrote poems and shared them with each other.

Eventually we decided to try to put together an anthology. We decided on a them of the Muses -- yes, the Greek ones, and yes, you're right, that didn't end up being the theme we used. But we started out that way. We wrote our poems, selected 12 each, attributed each of them to a muse, came together to pick six each.

We did it using Google Documents. My contribution to the cause was as chief techie, and I set us up with a shared space on Google Documents where we could all work together. The poems were visible to all of us, and any of us could comment on them. Changes made by one were visible to all. This made putting together our collection possible. If we'd had to rely on exchanging email, well, we'd still be sending poems back and forth.

When the time came to choose the poems for our collection, I made a spread sheet where we could each select our favorites of our own and everyone else's poems. We picked the top six for each of us. This was a surprisingly straightforward, hassle-free process. After we "voted," it was clear which poems we were going to include.

Then we started putting the collection together. We divided it by muse. We produced a draft version.

It didn't work, so we came back together to figure out what to do instead.

Why didn't it work? Good question. It simply didn't have the overlying narrative arc that is the key, in my opinion, to a really good poetry collection, one that leads the reader from poem to poem, much in the way that reading a bookfrom start to finish creates a story in the reader's mind.

So we met again, in our chatroom, to try to figure out what to do. Mary Jensen volunteered to take a look and the poems and see what she could come up with.

All I can say is that Mary was inspired, and wrote our theme poem, the poem we used to divide our anthology into sections, sections that corresponded to stages in our lives. And it worked.

So now the anthology is about to "go live." It's been three years since the day that Lisa Gentile couldn't connect to the internet, leaving moderator Michele Graf to organize a spontaneous chat. A collection of poetry is more than the sum of its parts. It is the cumulative effect of each poem, one after the other, leading the reader from one to the other to create a unified whole. Without the unifying principle we have a stack of paper. With it we have an anthology.

8 comments:

  1. Fascinating description of a joint project. Sounds like Google Docs is a great way to collaborate!

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  2. I agree with Nancy, great example of team work / joint project.

    Is there any chance of someone else finding your work on Google Docs and having it compromised?

    And, congratulations!

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

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  3. Karen, Google documents is well-protected. You need a gmail account, and then the owner can add others to either edit or just as readers. Or you can send someone a copy. But that's their business, they back up their data, and they do their best to insure that hackers can't compromise it.

    Nothing is certain -- look what happened to data when the world trade center blew up -- but I'm confident that the data is well protected.

    I'm a computer software engineer by profession, and I've seen more than my share of data disasters. I went to google documents because I use more than one computer, and because that way the burden 0f backup would be on them.

    I have a large collection of personally experienced data disaster horror stories {grimace}. Recently I had one laptop die completely and another two with hard drive failures. In my experience, losing data through something like this is far more likely than having it hacked.

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  4. I found this most interesting as an analysis of a very ambitious project. So many things I would not have thought of all going together to make an anthology truly successful.
    I always thought anthologies would be relatively easy...never again. I thoroughly enjoyed this and it makes me look forward to the anthology.
    Congratulations and all best wishes for its success.

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  5. Oh, interesting that this blog should be posted today! Magdalena Ball and I are in the poetry book mode. In fact, Maggie is conducting a poll on her review site about what theme we should choose for our next chapbook. Won't you help? Go to www.compulsivereader.com. The poll is on the home page, the right column! (-:
    Best,
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Excited about the new second edition (Expanded! Updated!) Frugal Book Promoter, www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo

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  6. Carolyn, I voted. Anyone else reading this, do go check it out and vote as well.

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  7. Another fine example as to what women can do with talent and determination!

    All the best,
    Donna
    Award-winning Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

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  8. Margaret, Lifelines is such an amazing anthology, and the process by which you muse gals pulled it together is one which I believe will inspire others. The notion of an overlying narrative arc is an important one and one which many anthologies lack. Looking at the superb transformation of the Lifelines collection from its early days to the polished professional version now is a lesson in the power of editing, collaboration and the role of a narrative arc. Congratulations!

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