Thursday, April 24, 2008

Towards a first collection

The Poetry Trust, who I've been doing some work with lately, run a course called "Towards a First Collection", which if I ever did go on a poetry course, might be the one I went on. I suppose I don't want a course to get me to write poetry, since I seem to write poetry without ever having been on a course (in ebbs and flows, but it always returns); yet something about structuring these "single things" into a something coherent is a challenge that I'm not sure a poet should do on their own. I'm perhaps of the Whitman school, where my "selected poems" should be revised every year or so as "the leaves of grass" were, rather than the formal stricture of the slim volume. The latter has never really appealed, though I'd perhaps like to be a good enough poet to write these curiously static works; static in the sense that often the gap between completion of a manuscript and publication is closer to forever than not. Since we mostly read poems in the singular - or as a career summary - the poet is more akin to the pop band than the serious artist, more Girls Aloud, Blur or Madness than Portishead or Pink Floyd. I like picking up slim volumes, old and new, to see poems in their original context - it can make an old poem seem unfamiliar again. So, I'm in the process of putting together a "first collection" or a "selected poems" via the print-on-demand publishers and wonder when it became such an immense job to do so. Every poem requires something... some reformatting perhaps, even - heaven forbid! - a small revision - or a slight change to the title, or nothing at all, other than its placing next to the poem before and after. I'm being vaguely chronological, but even that has its downsides, something to do with balance - a series of similarly styled poems can suddenly dominate - and what of those lovely little one offs (the between album songs, the b-sides, the for-the-soundtrack moment), how to squeeze them in without squeezing them out. There are, I guess two types of collection - the one that narrows, the one that widens. A first collection should probably be the first of these, a selected the second. This is both and neither. It could take some months.

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