August 2018


I’m currently trying to put together that difficult second collection. Whether I can interest a press in it is at present an irrelevant question, as it’s something of a struggle to compile the collection itself.

I’ve published in magazines, anthologies and so on around 250 poems. Many of them went into the first collection, and some into the pamphlet, but there’s still a goodly resource to work from. How to whittle it down to around 60 that would make a decent publication?

Then there’s the hitherto unpublished pile, many of whom are languishing somewhere on various editors’ untidy desks, amongst hundreds of similar hopefuls. I literally can’t count these, as my sense of which of them are “worthy” and which are not changes every time I review them, so the numbers also change. But there’s a substantial number – roughly speaking, a collection’s worth is currently under consideration. Should I pick the best of these for the new volume, or do I keep these circulating until they hit a publication, and only collect those already published?

Should the new collection be simply the best poems I have available, irrespective of tone, subject, form etc, or should I be looking for some sorts of unity or relationship between sets of poems, and work out from them? Or are there sets of poems which should be kept separate and published with their own identities? For example, I’ve quite a few humorous poems, quite a few intense war poems, quite a few poems about my family – and so on. Perhaps these should be discrete sections of the larger book.

Then, how should the book be structured? If there are separate sections, with their own coherence, what should the relationships between them? And their order? And the order of poems within them?

In the first collection it was relatively easy. I identified all the poems I felt were most successful, excluding those which were essentially glib or amusing. I chose the poem to be encountered first as setting the “flavour” of the book, then the second which logically followed from that, and, in this way, gradually building a “flow” of successive poems, until the end, where a small section of war poems was to sit (these forming a set, and being the most “testing” of the poems), and then the final poem, the title poem, which acted as a kind of “closing bracket” (if none of this makes any sense, maybe read the book and see if that makes sense).

Then, of course, there’s the business of what might persuade a press to be interested. Thematic coherence sells pamphlets, but will it work for a collection, and don’t different presses tend to favour certain kinds of poem (e.g. nature poems or politically motivated poems)?

So what are my working decisions? Most of the poems will be already published, but supported by those unpublished poems which fit best around them. There will be three sections, two of which are quite clear in my head, and one of which has a pretty clear sequence. I think those poems intended merely as humorous will be left out, but I’ll keep some of the slighter ones to provide a counter-balance to the darker poems, of which (it seems) there’ll be a fair number in this collection. But I don’t know how to label these sections, and I don’t yet have a concept for the book. What I have is three sets of poems I want to publish together, but no clear sense of what, if anything, I can use to unify them.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Well, a post, anyway.

 

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This blog is sporadic because I am. The days when I used to write, endlessly, remorselessly, as if it was what I was created for, seem to have passed. And the consequence? Shelf after shelf of notebooks half-filled with half-baked ideas.

I’m currently working through them – again, sporadically – trying to weed out the notes, drafts, ideas, fragments that might be worth preserving in some sense. The rest will go to recycling. Thinking about the maths of it, I’ve been writing since I was six and, whilst I’ve come up for air now and then, it’s been a pretty constant addiction. So I’ve probably produced not thousands, but millions of words , if I include every student note, every class design, every piece of course content, every draft novel, every poem, every play, every outline, every plan for a treasure hunt, every fantasy world, every letter, every email and, of course, very blog post.

Just as an example, I’d claim to have drafted (drafted, that is) at least ten novels: Spiders in the Bath, Snake, Coloquintida,  Bone Dreams, Mordred’s Tooth, Only Night, Exspelling the Dragon, Touch, Drift, How to Kill Francesca Twice. These are those that come to mind. There are probably others. If each of those is around 70,000 words, that’s 700,000 to start with. Add something around – what shall I say? – 1200 poems at maybe 50 words a poem and 20 or so stories at around 1500 words. Add a PhD dissertation, which I wrote twice, at about 80-90,000 words each time. That brings us close to the first million without any trouble. And they’re just the obvious tip of the iceberg. What about all my academic papers and books (I think there’s about 100 of the former and 10 of the latter)?

What I’m sitting here wondering is: what is all this worth? Is it all merely the outpouring of ego? Or is there something worthwhile within this heap of dogeared scribble? If you scan the CV, it looks like a life of success. But if you consider what has happened to those words and, more importantly, what has happened because of those words, that document seems to fade away.

My plan, with the time that remains to me, is to use my retirement to prune this mound of half-finished projects down to the few pieces which might have value. That is: publish all the poems which seem to work, finish any (or all?) the novels which seem to have something going for them. I think there are at least three which might please a few (not very discerning?) readers, if I can find the energy to bring them to the place they need to be.

Whether this is merely that same ego finding a way to gratify itself sideways, as it were, or whether there are things I might still be able to put out in the world that are, considered a little dispassionately, worth the world browsing, I’m not in a position to judge, of course.