Putting together a poetry manuscript can be a challenge because there are so many options. Jeffrey Levine, Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press, has written an extensive list of 27 tips for creating a manuscript, and these apply to both chapbooks and full-length collections. He asserts that there is an art to making a manuscript. I’ll link to his full article and post just a few of his tips here. I’m in the process of creating a full-length manuscript having published one other collection. What surprised me the most is his assertion that you should put what speaks to you in the book, and pay no attention to which poems have been published (and where), and which poems not.
3) When ordering poems in your manuscript, pay no attention to which poems have been published (and where), and which poems not.
5) Make sure the poems that begin your collection establish the voice and credibility of the manuscript.
11) Less is more. Keep your manuscript in the area of 48-64 pages – show your reader that you’ve done the important work of weeding and pruning.
12) Beware the frontispiece poem (that poem of yours that you might have elected to place before your numbered pages or before your table of contents). This practice draws far too much attention to a single poem and, in my experience, the selected poem more often than not (80% of the time?) wilts beneath the bright lights. Apply this same cautionary note to the first poem in your manuscript, whether or not you’ve isolated it as a frontispiece.
26) Be judicious about epigraphs—they’re just so much hardware unless a poem clearly addresses or plays off of the epigraph in some intrinsic and transformative way.
The comments section of the article is also worth reading for more responses from Mr. Levine.
For me, one of the most subtle aspects in this process is the arranging of poems so that they speak to one another. Like poems can be placed together or spread throughout the manuscript. Finding a way to maximize the energy and impact is key. I’ll finish with a summary from one of my writing professors, Nancy Eimers. “First or second or third person point of view, lyric or narrative, linear or nonlinear, autobiographical or historical, or a mingling of these within poems—these are things you can arrange so that they become not a cacophony but a conversation.”