I’m assembling a manuscript for a new book of poems. This ongoing process began almost unconsciously when I sent off the final manuscript of ‘The Sun Bathers’ in 2013. That’s when I started to put poems, or drafts of poems, together into a document entitled 1 Book.
Every piece I’m looking at has been revised: some many times, others not so much. One was left over from the last book. Some are two years old and one is two months old – a mere babe, but included at the moment because it fits, and I hope, strengthens a sequence.
There are several published poems that I’ve left out because I’m not really fond of them. And I think I should be very fond of all these poems if I’m expecting them to make a good book that a reader can also be fond of, although I’m aware one can never be sure which pieces will strike a chord with whom.
There’s a poem that isn’t in the current version of the book due to the fact that, although it’s had the endorsement of being published by the editor of a good magazine and memorably (as these things are) complemented by a member of the audience at the magazine’s launch, for some reason I just don’t love it. Better to delay submission of a manuscript than include work you don’t love.
I’ve also left out poems I’m fond of because they are probably not good enough. The poem has to please me first, but that can’t be enough. It must also have other qualities which I won’t try to put my finger on tonight.
There is usually at least one poem that you know is weaker than the rest. I suppose a good test to see if you want to include this poem might be to ask ‘ If this was my only poem, would I be happy for it to represent me?’ Another question might be ‘would it embarrass me to read it to an audience’. I’d try to answer the second question on the basis of quality, not content, since I imagine we all have poems that are too personal to speak to strangers, although I might be wrong.
Poems have come and gone from the file. Several pieces I thought were finished have recently been re-written, a few on the basis of feedback I received a while ago, some of which I refuted at the time. Time. That’s what this process takes. Lots of it.
I’ve been told, more that once, that I’m a prolific writer and I feel fortunate to have enough work to consider getting a book into shape just two years after the last collection. Having said that, two years might be considered to be quite a long relationship, and it’s certainly been an intimate, joyful, intense, and frustrating one. I’ve been besotted, fallen out with, struggled to like, taken for granted and come to accept the foibles of this body of work during that period.
I’m happy with my last book and today, at least, I’m quietly confident that this will be a book I will also be pleased to live with for the rest of my life. When I’ve done all I feel I can, I’ll send the manuscript off. If it is accepted for publication then other parties – editor, publisher – will enter the relationship and I guess my book and I will have to consider someone else’s opinion and adjust. It won’t be just us any more, together, alone, day after day, night after night.