Generally speaking, 2016 has been denounced as a rubbish year all round. The world lost a veritable cohort of famous people (I’ll miss Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne the most), the UK voted to leave the EU and Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election. Not great, I’ll agree. But for me personally, 2016 was excellent. My children started school, we enjoyed happy family holidays and continued to count our blessings that we seized the chance to move to Portishead when the opportunity presented itself four years ago.
As a writer, meanwhile, I enjoyed some landmark moments. My pamphlet came out, some of my poems appeared in a lot of the magazines I targeted when I first started submitting, and I began to enjoy giving readings of my work.
But I don’t want to spend this post trawling through publication credits – I want to talk about what happens next. Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking through my work to decide which poems to include in my first full collection. It’s taken a while, and I’m still not completely sure of the final line-up, but I think I’m getting there.
A couple of days ago, I started trying to put the 60-odd poems into some kind of order, and that, my friends, is the tricky part:
- Do you just paste them all into a Word document in any old order and hope the reader doesn’t mind too much?
- Do you follow a similar principle as you might when deciding on the running order of a music mixtape, carefully leading the reader along a thematic thread, possibly writing new poems where gaps are identified?
- Do you pick half a dozen or so poems which you consider to be the pillars (or tent poles!) of the collection and then space them reasonably evenly throughout?
- Do you create sections or chapters which might be numbered or titled, where poems on a similar theme can be grouped?
- Should there be an overall subject – in other words, is it possible that some poems might not “fit”?
- Do you include poems from your pamphlet?
- What proportion of the poems should be unpublished?
And to tell you the truth, I really don’t know, but fortunately I’m in touch with plenty of people who have a pretty good idea what works (and what doesn’t), so I’m hoping some of them can help. I think in many ways I am coming to my first collection the same way that most “new” poets do – the material has been written over a period of three or four years at different times without any real overarching sense that it would someday form a book. Sometimes the poems came from prompts (especially 52) or they fluttered into my mind while I was doing the washing up or driving to work – all in isolation and all jumping up and down to be written.
One general consensus appears to be that it works best if you lay A4 hard copies of all of the poems you’re considering across a table or floor. That particular method worked pretty well for my pamphlet, but then again I only had to order 20 poems, which I could just about fit on our dining table – what on earth do you do if you’ve got 60 of the blighters to sort through? And four-year-old twins?
Oddly enough, I’m pretty much decided on the image I want to use for the cover, which I saw recently at an exhibition by local artists. The photographer in question is happy for me to use it as long as he gets a credit – he doesn’t even want to be paid. And I think I know what the title of the book will be, so that and the cover image being in place is quite helpful when deciding what to include.
During the period that I’m working on the manuscript, I’ve decided not to submit work anywhere, although there are a few poems which have been out for consideration since last year. I want to be able to concentrate on editing and shaping the new book rather than feeling under pressure because I haven’t sent anything out for a while, trying to juggle which poems are available or checking my emails every 30 seconds for replies (although I’ll probably still do the last of these through sheer force of habit)!
I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of January to get to the point where the manuscript can be shown to fellow poets – what with having to find time to edit Clear Poetry (as well as all of other demands on my time outside of work), I’ll struggle to focus on completing this without some kind of self-imposed end date.
Anyway, I’m enjoying the process at the moment and it’s something I would recommend other poets to try if they haven’t already as it certainly forces you to look more closely at your work – for example, I seem to have written a lot of poems about old people and death! It’s also interesting to compare poems from 2013 and 2014, when I was really just beginning to write, with more recent work. I’m very glad I’ve kept absolutely everything – some poems I almost scrapped after writing the first draft have glimmers which make me think they might be worth saving!
I hope to be able to blog at a later date with news of my progress.
Best of luck to you and your family in 2017, Ben. I look forward to hearing how you get on in future posts.
Good luck with it all, Ben. I’m currently struggling with the same challenge but with a pile of 600+ to wrestle into shape!
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Thanks Hilary. 600+? Wow! Happy hunting.
Nice one, Ben. I’m in a similar position and would love to know the answers to some of those questions you raise ; the pamphlet into collection thing, how to spread the best, for instance. I look forward to any answers you find and write about.
Cheers, Neil. I don’t think there are right or wrong answers but the work itself will shape whichever way I elect to go! I have just worked out that I need to write one poem which will hopefully draw it all together somehow…no pressure then!
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