Arranging the Poems in an Issue

I don’t know what other editors do, but I pay special attention to the order of the poems in an issue. For the past handful of issues I try to open with a poem that is spiritual in some way–invoking the holy in nature with reverence. I try to end with an apocalyptic poem, one that signals the potential downfall of the planet–or some special part of it that would make living on it less of a wonder. It’s not that I seek out poems with such content to fill these spaces; it’s just that, every issue, there turns out to be at least one reverent poem and one semi-apocalyptic poem. The poems also tend to break down into themes or topics (poems about animals, about trees, about human relationships, etc.) and so I group these together as well as try to find hinges between the topics. Sometimes these are merely a second poem by the same author; other times it is an image or a phrase that provides the hinge.

For example, in issue #19, the two poems about gardens (“The End of the Garden” by Kathleen Kirk and “The Shade Garden” by Gabriel Welsch) are followed by one titled “Persephone to Hades” (by Jules Green) and then by Ralph Culver’s “Prelude” (which is set in winter) and “False Spring” (by Don Thompson). This latter poem mentions birds, and the next poem by Linda King is “a bird will rest its feet only in flight.” This poem mentions “cloud promises,” which leads to the next poem by Caitlin Rice, titled “The Clouds All Fall to Earth.” And so on.

I was happy to see that Kathleen Kirk noticed this and commented upon it in a recent letter:

What a wonderful set of poems [in issue #19], and I admire your careful arrangement of them, and how they beckon to each other across the pages. I was of course delighted with Megan Roberts “Blackberries” poem, and I hope she enjoys the blackberries in mine. I love how Gabriel Welsch’s “Shade Garden” is opposite my garden poem. The issue is full of close observation of nature and evokes powerful emotions, deep thought, and all kinds of reverence. I love how the issue opens and closes with poems that kneel down. Wow.

I have to say that the coincidence of the first and last poem invoking kneeling was not one that I noticed nor intended. I won’t take credit for doing that intentionally, though it makes for a sweet wholeness. The poems in these two positions fulfill the functions I described above; in each, kneeling has a different purpose. In the opening poem, for example, the kneeling is out of reverence: “to stand/as if this were a throne/or the fragment of an Annunciation,/to bend, to kneel down, to pray” (“Loss,” E.G. Burrows). In the closing poem, the kneeling is forced by the Gods, to help us recognize our arrogance: “The gods have stood up and told you to kneel./And you kneel.” (“Hubris” by Misha Becker).