Yesterday, I took a nap under a quilt that I made several years ago. I decided to leave it spread out across the bed for the evening. "That quilt is one of the most beautiful things I've ever made with my own two hands," I said to my husband. That started me thinking about whether or not that statement is true, the origin of the quilt, and the other creative projects which engage me.
I made the quilt because I had so many leftover pieces of fabric from other projects. I cut out long strips because I like sewing long seams, so much of the quilt is composed of foot long strips which are 3-5 inches wide. I decided early on to sew 5 strips together and then to work on a different batch of strips (perhaps later today or tomorrow, I'll post a picture--you can have fun seeing if it's what you visualized when you read my words, but I'm not sure I want to know how accurate my descriptive writing was in this paragraph).
When you look at the quilt, it looks planned. All the colors go together. You might think that I planned it all out from the beginning, but I didn't. I had certain colors in mind as I bought more fabric to go with the project, but I didn't have a firm plan. I didn't say, "This blue will go here, and this purple here, and I'll put this piece way over here away from them." Later, I laid the patches of 5 strips across my living room floor and moved this patch here and that patch there until I had the most pleasing pattern possible. And then began the long work of stitching them together. And then the long work of quilting.
Assembling a book of poems is much the same. We write individual poems, and often, most of us don't have a plan for a final book. Those of us who have been academically trained may sense themes and images that emerge, and maybe our academic training means we'll sense that earlier--or maybe it gets in the way.
Most people I've read about assemble a book of poems much the same way I assembled my quilt: they put poems beside each other and see how they interact. They move poems around until they have sections of the book that work best.
Like a quilter, we often don't understand the scope of the project when we begin to write our poems. We stitch our words together, and then we quilt our books together, and hopefully, at some point, we can look back and say, "How did I do that?" Hopefully we will be amazed by the beauty of our work, by the mystical strangeness that could have only come out of our heads and hands.