Thursday, 3 June 2021

Putting Together a Poetry Collection

 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.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Books read in 2020

139) Broken Greek - Pete Paphides (non fiction)
138) The Discomfort of Evening - Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
137) How to Wash a Heart - Bhanu Kapil (poetry)
136) Postcolonial Love Poem - Natalie Diaz (poetry)
135) Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (non fiction)
134) Princess Anne - Katharine L. Oldmeadow (fiction, re read)
133) The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark (fiction)
132) Perrault's Fairy Tales - Charles Perrault (fiction, short stories, re read)
131) Barn 8 - Deb Olin Unferth (fiction)
130) My Darling from the Lions - Rachel Long (poetry)
129) Day Four - Sarah Lotz (fiction)
128) The Shooting Gallery - Carrie Etter (poetry)
127) Lost at the Fair - W. Perring (fiction, picture book, re read)
126) Mock orange - Anne Osbourn (poetry)
125) The Bears' Picnic - Stan and Jan Berenstain (fiction, picture book, re read)
124) Bunnikin's Picnic Party - A.J Macgregor (fiction, picture book, re read)
123) My Name is Why - Lemn Sissay (non fiction)
122) Wild Persistence - Katrina Naomi (poetry)
121) Intimates - Helen Farrish (poetry)
120) Because a Woman's Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean - Sugar Magnolia Wilson (poetry)
119) Shine, Darling - Ella Frears (poetry)
118) Witches, Warriors, Workers - eds Fran Lock and Jane Burn (poetry)
117) The Carrying - Ada Limon (poetry)
116) In the Lateness of the World - Carolyn Forché (poetry)
115) Instructions for My Imposter - Kathleen McGookey (poetry)
114) Solar Cruise - Claire Crowther (poetry)
113) When the Trees Fall - Jane Clarke (poetry)
112) Vixen - Rosie Garland (fiction)
111) Scion - Sue Rose (poetry)
110) Lament - Briony Bax (poetry)
109) Murder in the Dark - Margaret Atwood (fiction, short stories)
108) One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake - Tua Forsstrom (poetry)
107) Be With - Forrest Gander (poetry)
106) Love And/Or the Storm - Jonny Wiles (poetry)
105) Dressing for the Afterlife - Maria Taylor (poetry)
104) The Faithful Look Away - Melissa Lee-Houghton (fiction)
103) The Enchanted Wood - Enid Blyton (fiction, re read)
102) Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me - Kate Clanchy (non fiction)
101) More Than You Were - Christina Thatcher (poetry)
100) The Shaking City - Cath Drake (poetry)
99) Bombs On Aunt Dainty - Judith Kerr (non fiction)
98) I Hate and I Love - Catullus (poetry)
97) Between the Stops - Sandi Toksvig (non fiction)
96) The Rose Metal Field Guide to Prose Poetry (poetry)
95) Feck Perfuction - James Victore (non fiction)
94) Love Minus Love - Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
93) Tiger Girl - Pascale Petit (poetry)
92) Just Ask the Universe - Michael Samuels (non fiction)
91) I love the Bones of You - Christopher Eccleston (non fiction)
90) My Thoughts Exactly - Lily Allen (non fiction)
89) Rendang - Will Harris (poetry)
88) After Fame - Sam Riviere (poetry)
87) Interior With Sudden Joy - Brenda Shaughnessy (poetry)
86) Night Wanderers - C.J. Flood (fiction)
85) Where Were You Robert? - Hans Magnus Enzensberger (fiction)
84) The River's Song - Jacqueline Bishop (fiction)
83) Amy and Isabelle - Elizabeth Strout (fiction)
82) Cloudstreet - Tim Winton (fiction)
81) Antisemetic for Homesickness - Romalyn Ante (poetry)
80) Primers Volume Five (poetry)
79) A Better Me - Gary Barlow (non fiction)
78) A Fold in the River - Philip Gross (poetry)
77) Little Kings - Peter Kahn (poetry)
76) The Nerve of It - Lynn Emanuel (poetry)
75) Monica's Overcoat of Flesh - Geraldine Clarkson (poetry)
74) Magnolia, 木蘭 - Nina Mingya Powles (poetry)
73) Face It - Debbie Harry (non fiction)
72) Unlocked - Sue Butler (poetry)
71) The Remedies - Katharine Towers (poetry)
70) The Artist's Daughter - Kimiko Hahn (poetry)
69) Flood - Clare Shaw (poetry)
68) Remember, Body - C.P. Cavafy (poetry)
67) The Little Book of Passage - Franca Mancinelli (poetry)
66) A Portable Paradise - Roger Robinson (poetry)
65) The Air Year - Caroline Bird (poetry, re read)
64) Call and Response - Rachel Spence (poetry)
63) On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong (fiction)
62) I'm OK, I'm Pig - Kim Hyesoon (poetry, re read)
61) Lasagne - Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
60) Memories of the Future - Siri Hustvedt (fiction)
59) Luxe - Amy Key (poetry, re read)
58) Why? And Other Questions - Robin Houghton (poetry)
57) Litany of a cardiologist - Denise Bundred (poetry)
56) Apple, Fallen - Olga Dermott-Bond (poetry)
55) About Leaving - Ian Glass
54) Tenter - Susie Campbell (poetry)
53) Body, Remember - Wes Lee (poetry)
52) Fruitcake - Selima Hill (poetry)
51) Shine, Darling - Ella Frears (poetry)
50) Sanatorium - Abi Plamer (poetry)
49) The Games - Harry Josephine Giles (poetry)
48) Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods - Tishani Doshi (poetry)
47) Plainwater - Anne Carson (essay/poetry)
46) Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel (fiction)
45) Letters Home - Jennifer Wong (poetry)
44) Bones on Ice - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
43) Homie - Danez Smith (poetry)
42) Boys in Trees - Carly Simon (non fiction)
41) I'm Stupid, But I'm Not That Stupid - Selima Hill (poetry)
40) Green Migraine - Michael Dickman (poetry, re read)
39) Deluge - Charlotte Ansell (poetry)
38) Footnotes to Water - Zöe Skoulding (poetry)
37) This Is How We Lost Each Other - Karese Burrows (poetry)
36) Split - Juana Adcock (poetry)
35) Don't Try This at Home - Angela Readman (short stories)
34) Much Left Unsaid - Finola Scott (poetry)
33) Milk Tooth - Martha Sprackland (poetry)
32) and what if we were all allowed to disappear - Tania Hershman (poetry)
31) When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities - Chen Chen (poetry)
30) Hinge - Alycia Pirmohamed (poetry)
29) Haverscroft - S. A. Harris (fiction)
28) A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor - John Berger (non fiction)
27) Beautiful Place - Amanthi Harris (fiction)
26) My Shrink is Pregnant - Katie Griffiths (poetry)
25) Anything is Possible - Elizabeth Strout (fiction)
24) Hash - Torgny Lindgren (fiction)
23) My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout (short stories)
22) Silent Years - Alasdair Paterson (poetry)
21) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë (fiction)
20) Coming Through Slaughter - Michael Ondaatje (poetry/fiction)
19) Horse-man - Em Strang (poetry)
18) Basic Nest Architecture - Polly Atkin (poetry)
17) Apple Water - Raine Geoghegan (poetry)
16) In Nearby Bushes - Kei Miller (poetry)
15) Finished Creatures (issue 2) - edited by Jan heritage (poetry)
14) If All the World and Love Were Young - Stephen Sexton (poetry)
13) That Lonsesome Valley - Melissa Lee houghton (fiction)
12) Truth Street - David Cain (poetry)
11) Wings made from the muscle of a river - Neil Richards (poetry)
10) Significant Other - Isabel Galleymore (poetry)
9) Isn't Forever - Amy Key (poetry)
8) Cuckoo - Nichola Deane (poetry)
7) The Aesthetics of Breath - Charles G Lauder Jr (poetry)
6) Interference Effects - Claire Dyer (poetry)
5) Nine Inches - Tom Perrotta (short stories)
4) Smoothie - Claudia Toutoungi (poetry)
3) Devoured - Anna Mackmin (fiction)
2) Tigress - Jessica Mookherjee (poetry)
1) sad boy/detective - Sam Sax (poetry)

First Draft of New Collection

I am working on my third collection, or what I should say is that I am struggling with my third collection. I have cut the poems down by two thirds. I have put them in an order that I like and makes some kind of sense to me but I still have way to many. At the moment I have 117 A4 pages which is way to many.

I thought it might be helpful to go back and look at what Threat looked like at this stage in the process. The second draft of Threat looks nothing like the finished article. The order is different and I counted thirty-six poems that didn't make the final cut - THIRTY-SIX! This is reassuring but also a bit daunting. There are some big decisions to be made. With my last book I was lucky enough to have funding for some mentoring but I don't have that luxury this time. I need to really interrogate each poem to make sure it is earning its keep, to check that I don't have several poems that are doing or saying the same thing. It is exciting. It is scary. It is exciting and scary!