Categorising poetry

This arose out of a discussion on Facebook about keeping records of poems written. I keep my poem texts in annual directories, going back to the 1980s. So I know which poems I wrote in 1996, 2009 or whenever. I also have an Excel spreadsheet, with worksheets for individual years, with columns for date finished, year published, where published and so on. Someone asked about subjects, and it got me thinking about indexing my poems so I can retrieve them, because as you will appreciate, it’s easy to lose track of what a poem was about when it was written 15 years ago.

There are many ways of approaching poem indexing:  my friends at the Scottish Poetry do a splendid job of indexing their collections, but I’m thinking about personal retrieval.  I could use form as one facet, if I were to make a rigorous facet analysis as my library training might indicate, but frankly most would be in the free verse facet, with a few haiku, renga, ghazal and sonnet forms. What’s more useful is a list of categories; a typology of poems. So I went through the spreadsheet for a single year (2008) and for the 40-odd finished poems from that year. I came up with the following categories:

travel
love
nature
humorous
‘imagist’ (can’t think of an alternative term)
scientific
religious
philosophical
personal
historical
celebratory
political

Some of these overlap, sometimes within a single poem, but it’s already been a useful exercise. I now know, for that year anyway, what types of poems I was writing, and in what proportion. In fact travel and nature were the largest categories, with 11 and 8 poems respectively.

At the next level down I’ve got the subjects, and there’s a far greater variety of those terms as they become really specific. So within ‘travel’ I’ve got Lithuania, China, Tibet, France, Germany and Assynt.  Within ‘nature’ I’ve got birds, plants, walking, gardens and others. The most difficult category for me is the one I’ve called ‘imagist’. These are mainly mood pieces, when I try to evoke emotions through images, real and surreal. I don’t know how else to typify them.

I don’t know where this is going to take me. Am I going to go through all my finished poems the same way? That’s a daunting task, and I don’t have time at the moment to do it, but I may come back to it.

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About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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3 Responses to Categorising poetry

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    It’s an interesting project. I have been tempted in the past to do something to organise my poems—probably an Access database—where I could apply filters easily but the time involved in such an endeavour has always put me off. At the moment I have my big red binder which contains all my adult poems (from #453 to #1060)—the juvenilia is in hard-backed school notebooks—and then all the adult poem have been saved as single text files under their respective numbers unless there is special formatting and I have copies on four different computer plus a copy in the cloud. I found you little list interesting. After all these years I could provide an example of each but not many political or celebratory poems and, off the top of my head, I can’t think of one vaguely scientific poem. Maybe one day I’ll organise them better but for the moment the current system will have to do.

  2. Gordon Mason says:

    I think you’re probably entering a Pandora’s minefield here, Colin. Once you get further through the poems you’ll get different sets/subsets springing to mind and double entry bookkeeping when poems fit into more than one set.

    Good luck to your patience – it will be worth it in the end. I’ve done this type of project in another subject.

  3. sunnydunny says:

    I’m coming round to the view that it will need a database. I’ll set up an Open Office db, but it won’t be this month.

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