I’m putting together a collection of poems for publication. Years ago at a reading I heard poet Pattiann Rogers say that putting poems in a linear book format always feels limited and arbitrary, because to her, every poem in a collection leads to every other poem. She would prefer to organize poems in a way that was somehow circular, or spherical. I concur. I rarely read a poetry book straight through, but prefer to enter anywhere, and hop around the pages.
Still, a book is a book. We have to find an order to the poems in order to publish. This new book is a collection of over a hundred poems, written over twenty-five years or so. Tipping my (actual) hat to the spherical, I decided to trust in divining as a way to allow chaos to assist in the process. I put the poem titles in a hat, mixed well, and began drawing poems one by one.
My dining table took part in an unforeseen way—as the poems emerged I placed them on the table in a column, one poem under the last. My table is split down the middle, so I began the first column at the split and after about twenty-three poems I had to start a new column. I ended up with five columns of twenty-three poems each.
I studied the layout, considering the poems in each column. With that complex set of perceptions and memories we call intuition, I began to see that there was a certain rough harmony among the poems of each column. I took a stab at naming the five tones. That gave me five section names.
I moved a few poems around among and within columns to bring the harmonies closer. It was so easy. A couple of hours and I’m ready to lay out the book. I know play is the basis of creativity; I’ve been engaging such methods all my life. And yet I’m still amazed every time a new twist on the game draws down a fascinating result. I could not have imagined this divine order using the feeble crutch of reason. I don’t entirely understand it, but that’s what I like most about it.
Art and Practice
Don Freas is an artist, writer, and poet in Olympia, Washington.