TO AN extent shared by few other kinds of literature, factual or imaginative, poetry is shaped both in its initial conception and in printing within the material form of a book. As, line by line, stanza by stanza, a poem is gradually formed into an ordered sequence, so the gathering of poems into a volume also demands choices of order and hierarchy, a sequence that by its various groupings will require balancing acts of compromise and tension among its various groupings. A volume of poems implies, and indeed presents in a formal physical shape to its readers, a series of works whose textual existence and nature is created anew by their placing and physical associations, page by page through a volume.
It will be obvious that this conjunction of literary inspiration and response to the means of publication is inescapable in collections of shorter poems--poems usually written over several years and often in different forms. Long poems such as Paradise Lost, Pope's Dunciad, and Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage--each filling one or more volumes, with their own narrative or other structures--demand no decisions in their published sequence other than those developed by the pen on the paper in the process of composition. Similarly, sequences such as Shakespeare's sonnets or Tennyson's In Memoriam introduce their own order quite independently. But for all, whether poem or collection of poems, the conventions of the physical book and of book design dictate the essentials of the containing vessel.
From title page to final colophon the book is at once a constraint and a form to be exploited. Dedication, preface, and table of contents offer