Ankh’s 2019 interview with me:
Ankh’s on his latest book
Q1: How did you decide on the order of the poems in your book?
This is a great question, Paul. It took a lot of doing, particularly for a full collection, and for one this size, and because I’d never done this before.
At the start, I had no idea how I was going to approach it – or even what exactly I was looking at in terms of this manuscript, because its history was quite chaotic. I’d put it aside for over a year, apart from intermittently adding new poems that seemed to fit. So I began by printing out the whole thing as it then was. I used startlingly-coloured paper tags stuck to the pages to identify overarching/recurring themes, and cheated a bit by using my strange flavour of synaesthesia, to also identify the poems by their colour-feel in my brain. That’s about emotional resonance, the musical key of their language, their shape, their weight, all sorts of things that probably wouldn’t connect them to anyone but me, but that process gave me threads to follow. At that stage I also loosely coded the manuscript into what I believed might be three different books.
I’d had the idea for the sections based on the parts of the fountain before Femme Salvé approached me, and had drawn up a sheet of words, sensations, feelings, themes, keys, and colours that belonged to each of the sections, which really helped me start to sort the poems in earnest. I gave that sheet to Amanda McLeod once she had the very first messy draft of the manuscript, and she did a great deal of work on ordering the poems based around those key ideas. She used a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard with poem titles and shifted them around visually, which sort of matched my own process, but writ large. She also followed some of the same threads from poem to poem, picking up matching words, themes, or complimentary ideas within lines across poems. It helped that Amanda is frankly a wizard at this part, and we agreed that because of the sections and those threads this could work very well as one book, that it didn’t need to become three more obviously-themed chapbooks.
Once we were generally happy with the poems and the way they fit within sections, I was hugely fortunate to work with Eli Horan, who has done this for numerous books, in video sessions over several weeks. We swapped some newer poems in, removed quite a few more, and carefully followed each thread to retain continuity while we did all that. We also looked, at that stage, at following a bit of a voyage in the sections, but using more emotional chiaroscuro than anything as solid as plot. Thinking about how the reader, if they did happen to read continuously (though I don’t believe many people do for a full collection) would need to have a softer sort of rest/breath after a piece that demanded a lot of them, like islands to land on for a while when the sea has been a bit rough. We also carefully evaluated the beginning and end poems in each section for their feel as opening or closing windows illuminating the intent of the section, and changed quite a few of these.
I think you could probably do this forever and still not feel it was complete, because it is absolutely not a science or formula, a lot of it is intuition. I shifted one very key poem the night before this book went to first proof print, it always sounded a little discord in my head where it was, and I couldn’t truly explain why, but I’m glad I did.
The shorter answer is that ordering isn’t that dissimilar to following the intuitions that tell me one word fits better than another when writing a poem, or that one line follows another. It’s the same kind of lateral leaping after threads, but the scale of it meant I was very grateful to have the editors’ expertise on my side. Without them the task would have felt so monumental I may never have felt able to complete it.
Where to find a copy: https://femmesalvebooks.net/the-water-engine-by-ankh-spice/