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Then there’s the hitherto unpublished pile, many of whom are languishing somewhere on various editors’ untidy desks, amongst hundreds of similar hopefuls.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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