Preparing to write the sequence

Outline each section of your sequence in your journal. If you rough out the poem first, you'll save time by identifying weak spots and eliminating or adding parts as needed. Finally, with overview of the sequence, you can move or rearrange parts to enhance theme or add clout to message.

For example, in a six-part villanelle sequence (a combination of symbolic and dramatic groupings), I researched passages in the Bible relating to trees in general and the fig tree in particular. I found several citations, choosing ones with a theme of betrayal. This indicated how many parts my sequence would contain. I decided to tell the poems in voices: my own, Peter's and Judas's. Although I knew the citations, the theme, the voices and number of parts to make the sequence, I still needed to ascertain the particular order of poems and how each one would contribute to the whole.

Now the outline came in handy. Here's an abbreviated version from my journal:

1. Hunger and the Fig Tree

Citation: "Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf,

Jesus went to find out if it had any fruit." Action'. He curses the tree and it withers. Voice: Peter as witness. Theme/Epiphany: Innocence and betrayal.

2. Fate and the Fig Tree

Citation: "He remembered and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!' " Action: Show of power. Voice: Peter as witness.

Theme/Epiphany: Warning: "Don't Betray Me."

3. Fate and the Tree

Citation: "And Judas cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself."

Action: Judas hangs himself on a redbud tree.

Voice: Spirit of Judas.

Theme/Epiphany: Betrayal and remorse.

4. Judas at the Table

Citation: "Jesus dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas. At that instant, Satan entered him."

Action: An argument at the table.

Voice: Judas as witness.

Theme I Epiphany: Betrayal as challenge.

5. Fate or Fulfillment

Citation: "For it is by your words you will be justified and by your words condemned." Action: Contemplation of family tree. Voice: Narrator.

Theme I Epiphany: Betrayal since Eden.

6. Faith and the Fig Tree

Citation: "Look at the fig tree and all trees. . . . Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Action: Apocalypse. Voice: Narrator.

Theme/Epiphany: Words are eternal, a kind of ars poetica.

Each description above filled a page in my journal. Now that I could visualize the poems clearly, I could shuffle and rearrange those pages and assemble the poems in the best order. As it happened, I switched outlines (3) and (4) so Judas betrays before he hangs himself, changed the citation in (3) to a more compassionate psalm, made outline (5) the first poem in the sequence, and left (6) as the last because of its apocalyptic overtones.

In sum, the process of preparing the sequence involved:

1. Choosing a topic (Biblical trees) that suited the form.

2. Choosing citations similar in theme, unifying the poem and indicating how many parts or sections would be involved.

3. Outlining each poem to envision its place in the sequence.

4. Arranging outlines for added unity and momentum.

The hard part done, I could compose my sequence.

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