Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Difficult Second Collection

I am working on my second poetry collection. I have been working on it for what seems like a long time. Writing poems is not the problem for me, I have pretty regular flurries of writing. The hardest part, for me, is putting the collection together - deciding what order to put the poems in, where the gaps are, what to leave out.

The trouble is that it is hard to always be objective about your own writing. I think that I am fairly objective when editing. I am good at taking on board criticism and responding accordingly. I am actually a pretty rigorous editor of my own work - I edit and re-edit. I am always tweaking right up until publication. But viewing the poems as a body of work that work together as single beast is quite another thing. I had a few nights away earlier in the year to try and get to grips with it. I ordered the poems, then I re-ordered them, and then I ordered them again. Then I gave up and started writing. By the third day (when it was almost time to go home) I had started writing a sequence. I think that the sequence is going to be important to the collection, but I haven't had the mental space to get much further with it at home.

One of the things that happens if I am away on my own is that I get into a creative rhythm. It takes a few days to hit it - usually around three. I have to do a lot of reading and a lot of mediocre writing, then suddenly I hit my stride and I am away. When I was writing my first collection I had a week away in Wells-next-the-sea. I thought I had gone there to work on ordering the collection. What happened instead was that I wrote one of the major sequences in the book. It is rare that I write proper sequences at home. I don't have the time or the mental space that it needs. I don't have a designated workspace. I have work and demands and noisy neighbours and all the day to day stuff that I am able to put aside temporarily when I am away.

I have applied for an Arts Council grant - one of the things I have asked for is time away to write.


Tim Love said...

I'd say that ordering should be the least of your concerns. There are far better ways to use your valuable time. Use "The Rattle Bag" or "The Zoo of the New" as models, or just go with your first attempt and let the editor tweak to their heart's content. Seeing old poems in new surroundings might help you see them afresh and modify them, though agonising over ordering could just be your subconscious's way of telling you that it's too early to send the manuscript off.

Twist-or-stick seems to me a bigger concern. Do you continue the style(s) that made the 1st book succeed, or are you going to surprise people?

"The trouble is that it is hard to always be objective about your own writing. ... The hardest part, for me, is deciding what to leave out" - Because I can't be objective about my writing, I fall back on the judgement of magazine editors, tending to leave out unpublished pieces. If a poem get published in a mag that publishes (say) 3% of submissions, the poem must be doing something right?

Julia said...

Well yes - and that is material for a whole other blog post. My new collection is much grittier than my first and it is a worry. Will it be as good or better than the first. Will people who liked the first not like it because it isn't the same? etc.

I think that the value of order is not to be underestimated though. You need your strongest poems first and last, but also the poems can work together and riff off of each other and that can make the reading experience more rewarding.

Pascale Petit gave me some good advice which was that just because a poem has already been published doesn't mean it has to go in the collection. Sometimes published poems are not strong enough or just do not fit. I agree though, deciding what to leave out is the hardest part.

liz Barnard said...

Blimey, no wonder you don't have the the mental space to write at home - look how many books you've read: 161 in nine months! That's practically a full-time job!

Julia said...

To be fair mostly they are poetry books and they are relatively quick to read.