The process of compiling poetry collections, or anthologies, as they are known in the writing world, can be an overwhelming task for a young or new writer. I know the challenges that accompany this task because I have arranged several poetry anthologies over the course of the past 15 years. This article will serve as a guide to the young and new writers out there in order to help overcome the initial hurdles in compiling an interesting and comprehensive poetry anthology.
The first steps of developing an anthology, the importance of theme selection, common mistakes, and proper format will all be detailed in this guide for young and new writers. The most common questions I had during the process will be answered and I will provide some other tips as well.
The initial steps for young or new writers in order to develop a cohesive anthology to give as a gift to your parents or another relative is to make sure you have enough of your own original material. I have very frequently seen anthologies put together that have a few original poems and then are supplemented with work from the classic poets.
This type of an approach has a few problems: it can seem too thin in content, it can read like a reprint of a classic poetry book, and it can disrupt the continuity and flow of the whole collection. I also must add, even though it may seem obvious, that if you are developing an anthology that does not entirely consist of your own original content, then you must take all the proper steps to credit the original poet.
If you plan to submit a collection of poetry for publication, I suggest that it should not contain any unoriginal work, such as quoting an entire poem by Walt Whitman. It will most likely get rejected, even if you take the appropriate steps to cite the source material. I also want to touch on excerpts, if you take short pieces or excerpts of a poem; that in some collections is permissible.
However, you must obtain the proper permissions or citations to use the material. The most frequent use of the excerpt is to introduce a completely original work of your own poetry. So please keep all that in mind as you begin the process of gathering a collection of poetry together. I personally never liked excerpting from other work, even the classics; I prefer to use my own material.
Theme Selection – A critical step
The selection of the theme for your poetry anthology is critical. The theme is central to how most poets will select the poems they want included in the anthology. The theme also could serve as the inspiration for completely new works of poetry that you develop specifically for that collection.
In my personal experience, I have done both, I have developed anthologies based on all new material and I have also compiled anthologies with some new and some older poems that fit the theme of the collection. That is very important though, any older poems you use must fit the theme of the anthology.
The theme of the anthology also will set the selection process for the title of the entire anthology. I have come up with some creative titles in the past, and some other titles which looking back, could have been stronger. The title really sets the tone for the anthology, and I usually also write a poem within the collection that is based on the main title of the collection.
Some common themes are: nature, love, seasons (winter, summer), family, sports, school, or hobbies. I have dabbled with a few of these common theme categories in my experience. The theme of love is a good one if you are writing the anthology as a gift for a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or significant other.
The nature theme is also one where you have many different directions you can take the collection, so that can be liberating. However, it must have some sort of direction to be successful and to have strong continuity.
The proper format for the anthology is to have the following elements present:
Title, introduction, main poems, and epilogue
Now, it is also permissible after the main poems to include either a work of prose or a short story of about 300 to 500 words, and then finish with the epilogue.
The introduction, as obvious as it might sound, must present the anthology and explain the title and theme selection. In my experience, I explain the background behind my selection of the title, and then I usually provide an explanation of the poems and why they were selected.
The main poetry section must have order, flow, and continuity. In my experience I usually start with a very short but intense poem and then use the longer poems such as sonnets or long rhyming verse poems in the middle of the anthology.
I often will break up the intensity by inserting some funny poems or lighter poems that tie in with the theme of the collection. Then, I usually save the poem I think best sums up the thought process behind the anthology for the end.
I have also on many occasions used a short story in the anthology. I have given it as a gift to my wife or relative, and in those cases I feel like the short story can explain the entire idea behind an anthology without the constraints of the poetic form used. It is totally optional though, and does not work well for other writers I know.
Some common mistakes in creating a poetry anthology are: continuity lapses, drift from theme, poor overall flow, and an ending that lacks punch or emotion.
The continuity is very important: think of the poems all working together to tell a story. In a story you have a beginning, middle, and end. The continuity of the anthology is the same concept, the poems all need to build toward the end of the collection where the ideas presented will be resolved.
The drift from the theme is a very common mistake in young or new writers in putting together an anthology. Once a commitment to a theme is made, then the creative process must flow from that theme. The poems must all relate to that theme in some capacity. I have read anthologies that tie the theme back to very abstract concepts, but it still relates to the theme.
In the beginning, new writers can drift from the theme and include some other poems they have done which they feel are better than the work they can put in the collection. Please resist the urge to do that and stick with the theme.
Poor flow is another common mistake of a young or new writer in developing poetry collections. This happens for much of the same way the drift from theme occurs. The poor flow is usually caused by a writer not having enough original work to develop a well rounded anthology. I suggest creating all new material if you must, but the flow of the anthology is very important to the reader, and if you are attempting to publish, it is critical.
The final mistake that is very prevalent in the creation of poetry anthologies is an ending that lacks “punch” or emotion. I know this full well because I have made this mistake in an early anthology that was a gift for my wife.
When I was recently pouring through my old material looking for some ideas, I found the notes, the outline, and the storyboard for the collection. I saw that my ending was really flat compared to the rest of the anthology.
The ending poem or if you end on a work of short prose or a short story type of “flash fiction” piece, it must create emotion for the reader or provide what I call “punch”. The lack of a strong ending will leave the reader wanting more, or leave the reader feeling flat, which is not the goal of any good poet. Any good poet or writer wants the reader to be blown away, wants to leave the reader inspired. The rest of my early anthology to my wife was my own work and it was pretty strong and emotionally charged, but the end was flat, and that is what I remember about that piece of work.
Know Your Audience
In summing up the article, it is important to know your audience. I wrote earlier that if you are developing an anthology of poetry to send to a publisher, you must research that publisher. If you are writing it for a friend or relative, know their preferences for how they comprehend information.
It is important to have a very strong and well written, yet concise introduction. That will set the tone for the rest of the anthology, and if it is not done well, it could be all the editor will read before discarding your work.
The sequence of the poems must also be correct, that is crucial to the success of developing an anthology. I mentioned earlier if the sequence or the flow is off balance then the reader will know, and the anthology will not be as well received as you would have intended it to be initially.
Finally, a good solid epilogue is a nice way to tie everything together. I have used the epilogue and have seen it done by other poets where they explain where their lives are now in contrast to when they wrote the collection. That may be relevant material to the reader to understand the full creative picture. The epilogue can also be used to reinforce the overall theme of the collection and to tie together any loose ends that may be left.
I wish all the young and new writers and poets out there the best of luck as you collectively tackle the task of assembling an anthology. It is my sincere hope that this article will guide you through the process to a successful finished product.