Monday, July 17, 2017

Letting It All Fan Out --- First Steps in a 5th Book

Will this grow-up to be a book?
Truth is, this isn't the first time. In the last seventeen years I have put four other poetry collections together. And each time it feels completely new. The pages in this photograph are for my fifth book, one I've been working on for three years. I am ready for it to be done --- and yet. As tough as it is to put a first book together, I know the fifth is even tougher.

I've talked about this phenomena with several poet friends. Why does organizing a book become more difficult each time, shouldn't it get easier with more experience? Maybe so. Perhaps what changes is the idea that creating a book of poems "should" be understood now, "should" be easier to create a scaffold for 50-60 poems. But creating a book doesn't get easier. Our expectations shift and now what we write and publish should be somehow "better," "stronger," more "necessary."

At this point, perhaps this book is over cooked, I want every poem placed just right, every title evocative,  each section matching perfectly with the last. If I worked on this book another five years, I don't think that would happen. Ordering poems, creating sections, changing titles --- for me, it has to be intuitive. One day one order works and the next day, not so much.

So what to do? Today I did a great deal of pruning. I took 10 poems out and felt lighter, happier! When I work as an editor on other writers' projects, I tell them that no one ever misses that one "extra" poem. But if I left only the very strongest work, I might have less than a chapbook! W.H. Auden was known for wanting to take out huge chunks of his life work when his editor came out with a "Collected Work." Auden would revise and then re-revise work that had already been published in books. I understand him all too well.

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