the larger poem

Over the past six months, I’ve been thinking on a theme for my next book. Keeping Me Still was constructed in the way of most first collections of poetry—I took my best poems, found the common threads, and wove it together into the whole, the “larger poem” (the entire book as a poem in itself). 

I’ve played around with different ideas—a book about the funeral home director’s daughter (I’ve written several poems on her), a book about Sarah and Abraham, one on Anne Bradstreet, one where every poem is derived from a title of a hymn. nothing has stuck. Though I love the idea of approaching the book in the manner of a novelist—writing it as a whole, on a common subject—I don’t seem to work that way. 

I’ve read so many collections that I love that Do work that way—Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions by Maurice Manning—and I have always had this secret longing to be a novelist. 

So I’m wondering now if it is that my writing process—so sporadic, rushed, squeezed into my life as a wife and mother and teacher—doesn’t work with that kind of book and that I should just abandon thinking along those lines, or if it is that I haven’t found the right topic yet.
Either way, a poetry book is written poem-by-poem.  I’m not sure if it truly matters for me to have a “topic” and theme for the next book chosen before the next time to sit down to write, or if I choose it a year from now, looking  at the (hopefully by then) dozen or so poems I’ve written since Keeping Me Still. 

What are your thoughts, dear readers, on thematic poetry books verses “mixed tape” poetry books? Which do you prefer reading, if you do read poetry?


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