Writing the sequence

Once you have broken the sequence into its respective parts, compose each as you would a regular poem. The problem now, however, is that the typical poet normally writes good, bad and mediocre poems, and each part of a sequence has to be good ... or the chain will have a weak link. It is one thing to eliminate a weak link during the outlining phase and another to do so after a part has been composed. After you invest so much time composing a sequence, you might be tempted to leave in a weak poem or section that (a) cannot stand alone, (b) doesn't play off other parts or (c) fails to serve the entire work.

Consequences can be immense. One defective part of a sequence can ruin the entire effort, confusing readers so they lose interest and stop reading after a certain point. When this happens, all those weeks of preparation and composition are wasted. Think of each part in a sequence as gears of a car engine. One defective gear can bring the entire vehicle to a grinding halt.

Thus, after you compose your sequence, determine whether any part can be eliminated without affecting unity or theme. If it can, you may not need the part. (The more concise you make the sequence, the more efficiently it will convey its message or truth.) Then determine whether all the parts are equally strong. If not, improve the weak link(s) until each contributes substantially to the poem. After you rewrite any part of a sequence, evaluate that part again; if it still seems weaker than other parts, keep improving it until you are satisfied with the new part and the entire sequence.

Let's preview successful sequences in the mini anthology:

• "Here and Back," by Sharon Klander. The title, she says, "does not suggest 'Here' in the first section and 'Back' in the second; rather, they represent two enlarged moments from the 'Here,' or the present, which recall the 'Back,' or the past."

• "Three Ways to Tell a Story," by Laurel Speer, whose verse we read in chapter one. Speer says her sequence evolved after a friend told her a childhood experience. "In the different versions she gave me over the years, I was struck by how selection of particular details could skew the story in one direction or another. For me, the most important detail was her father's devastating observation that ends the poem. Everything in the sequence of stories leads up to that moment and those words."

Finally, this is the last anthology in the text. We've covered a lot of art and craft in our journey. In the final brief chapter, I'll discuss the revision process and try to put your poetic experience into perspective.

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