The Sequence

A sequence is a poem in parts — as few as two or as many as the muse can muster. Other names include suite, series, cycle, and numbered or sectioned poem. More importantly, a sequence is made up of individual poems that can stand alone but, when grouped together under one title, become a greater work.

There are dozens of ways to explain how a sequence should function, but I like this one best by poet-teacher Sharon Klander, whose verse we read in the chapter on nature poetry: "When a student asks me why and when a poem should be divided into sections, I begin by comparing the decision to that of whether to use a semicolon or a period between two sentences. In this analogy, two sentences divided by a period represent two independent poems that perhaps share a subject; even though content is related" —e.g., two poems about divorce — "they are each self-contained and benefit from white space on the page holding them in on all sides. A sentence divided by a semicolon, however, can be split grammatically into two separate sentences, and yet still benefits by being connected. This, of course, corresponds to the poem divided into sections" —e.g., two opposing viewpoints about divorce — "wherein each section can stand alone if it weren't for the depth, richness or the tension gained by the proximity of part to part."

Typically, novice poets divide a long work into parts because they admire how it appears on the page. So designed, a sequence becomes an ornament rather than an element of craft: Either its parts cannot stand alone or, when grouped, they fail to constitute a better poem.

To illustrate these pitfalls, let's analyze different versions of one of my sequence poems, a lyric in two parts:

0 0

Post a comment