Wednesday, November 07, 2007


As I was considering how best to start organizing the poems I've written this year into a coherent collection, I realized that I first needed to better understand what I had to work with. I could easily keep in mind my most (and least) successful drafts, but the remainder -- those that still needed work, but were promising -- were a blur. Likewise, I tended to forget about some of the older poems I'd written, which were eclipsed by newer drafts that retained the shine of recent experience.

I decided the easiest way to take stock of what I had written and determine where I needed to focus my energies in the weeks to come was to catalog my drafts systematically. I created a simple spreadsheet with the names of all my poems in one column and a kind of status rating in another. Then I spent about an hour and a half on Monday briefly reviewing each poem and assigning it a rating of 1-5 (1 being, "this poem is technically finished but deeply, embarrassingly flawed;" 5 being, "ready for publication and possibly fame and fortune"). I expected that most poems would earn 3's and that very few would earn 1's or 5's.

It was unscientific, to say the least, but if nothing else it gave me a sense of how the collection was shaping up. Curious about the results? Here you go.

Out of 74 total drafts:
  • 9 got 5's -- all have been submitted to journals at one point or another
  • 23 got 4's -- I consider these solid poems that just need a little more work
  • 23 got 3's -- these strike me as good starts that require reshaping
  • 15 got 2's -- wow, I really wrote a poem about shopping for housewares?
  • 4 got 1's -- let's not talk about these anymore
An interesting if somewhat odd exercise. What I intend to do now is focus on the 4's and then do another screen of the 3's to figure out which of them really deserve further work. I'm also considering adding a third column to this spreadsheet that would provide an assessment of each poem's potential fit with the larger theme I have in mind for the collection; that way I could further triage which poems get my attention and which do not. In the end, I'm hoping to emerge with at least 40 poems that would rank as 5's. With 74 drafts right now, it's not looking so good for the 1's and 2's (seriously, housewares?).


C. Carter said...

I think Billy Collins would slice out all of your poems about death (unless they were titled "Poem about Death") and recommend only the housewares poem. But that's just Mr. Collins.

Is this the system you're asking your readers to use as well when they review a batch?

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