Well, it's done I finally pressed send on my third collection and now, hopefully, it is in the hands/in tray of my editor. I just hope she likes it.
One of the hardest things about putting together a poetry collection is whittling it down to a manageable size. I got mine down from well over a hundred pages to just under ninety - but I know it will have to get even smaller.
The process goes something like this:
Print out all poems and decide which are strong enough to go in the collection.
Look at what themes are emerging and group poems according to theme.
Decide if you want sections and what order they will be in (this can change later).
Order poems within their sections and think about how sections link together - is it a logical progression, does the end poem of one section link to the first poem of the next one.
Section order may be somewhat led my your strongest poems - you want your strongest poems first and last. Also think about how you want the reader to feel when they finish the collection. I always like to put a positive poem last.
Take anything out that feels like filler or poems that are doing a similar thing to each other - you are bound to have some of these - writers often explore the same ideas over and over. I don't necessarily mean poems on the same theme but poems that have a similar feel or message - pick the strongest.
If you can get someone to read it and give you their impressions. If you can afford a mentor I would highly recommend it. People we workshop with regularly tend to be less critical because they already know our work - I like to (if I can) get someone to read it who hasn't read/workshopped the poems as I have been writing them. Having an outside reader can be vital. They can pick up if the order doesn't make sense or isn't working. With my first two collections I had funding for a mentor and she helped me make some really tough editorial decisions - changing order, taking out poems (and writing more to replace them) and crucially putting a strong sequence first - I had been a little scared of doing that for some reason. With the collection I just sent off, a friend read through it and flagged up a problem with the order of the final section which we were then able to fix.
Don't be afraid to take stuff out and write more.
Don't feel that everything that has been published has to go in. Similarly not all your best poems have to go in. A collection is not your greatest hits - it should work coherently. I have a sequence of poems that is really strong but it just hasn't fitted with my last book or this one.