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The Art of Curating A Collection of Poems Into A Book

Submitted by Editor2 on 13 November 2023

By Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan

Robert Frost in so many words popularly suggested that if there are ‘x’ number of poems in a book, the book itself is a poem. He thus implies that when organising a poetry manuscript, the primary aim should be to output nothing less than a coherent work of art. With this notion in mind, every poet aiming to produce a poetry book should have this question on their mind, ‘what is the book about?’ By answering this question, the poet is already confronted with the task of putting together varieties of poems that revolve around a central theme, a particular feature, or a style that interconnects all of them, depending on how he/she chooses to dig into answering the question.

Subjectively, I believe that putting together poems written over the same creative window into the same manuscript is a great approach towards curating a cohesive poetry book. My assertion stems from the fact that poems written over the same creative window, tend to share a great level of similarity which may be noticed in the poet’s voice, or style of delivery. Beyond this period, the poet might have outgrown such style or voice, and may therefore, sound a little bit different. However, this is not to suggest that one has to sit and write a number of poems within a specific time frame to be able to make a poetry book. Gathering the poems written over the time when a poet’s creative strategy shows some level of consistency is the way to go, and this creative window may span through a year, or even more than, but being able to point the span of this consistency will help in capping the window. Every poem written by a poet is a way they communicate to the world what they think a poem is. On a clearer observation, a poet can easily fish out the poems they’ve wittingly or unconsciously written to propel a certain narrative, or aesthetics. This group of poems are capable of constituting a cohesive book.

In addition, while organising these poems into a book, attention should be paid to how these poems communicate with each other, and what sort of relationships are noticeable among them; this can be achieved by taking time to go through the poems over and over again while dedicating acute attention to it. To order the poems in the manuscript, one has to eliminate every sense of bias which may arise from one’s inclination towards the poems that have been published by widely read magazines and journals. Personally, I believe that the poet’s prettiest works always have a hard time finding a befitting home for publication, hence, why the history of publications should never be the metric from which the ordering of the poems in the book is made. In this regard, the poet should ensure that the first poem in the book is bold enough to open into the narrative the book promises.

Depending on the size of the book you wish to achieve, endeavour to keep it simple; less is more. 20 to 30 pages for chapbook, 50 0r more for full length manuscript. Title your book, ensure it captures the idea of the collection. Proofread it, seek editorial support from your creative circle, or even beyond if you can afford the service. With this, you should be able to fix places that need corrections, and your poetry book should be ready for readership.




Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan (he/him/his) is a speculative writer of Izzi, Abakaliki ancestry; a finalist for the SPFA Rhysling Award, a nominee for the Forward Prize, a data science techie and a medical laboratory scientist. He was the winner of the 2021 Write About Now’s Cookout Literary Prize. He has works at Strange Horizon, Nightmare Mag, Augur Mag, Filednotes Journal, Kernel Magazine, Mizna, and elsewhere. He tweets @wordpottersul1.