Monday, 5 February 2018

Bringing Together a Poetry Collection

I am one poem away from finishing my Scottish poetry collection. So close, but that last poem is resisting being completed. While I ponder how to bring this final poem to culmination, I've started looking at my collection as a whole in preparation to sending it to a publisher. 

This collection has gone through a myriad of transformations. It's currently titled Version 3, but it has changed form many times. I've recently amended the title but I've also changed its focus over the years. The earliest back-up I've found from 2005 only bears a slight resemblence to its current version. 

It's always been centered around my Scottish poems, but originally there was also a side theme of looking at art. I have a large amount of poems that connect to an artwork, either my reaction to it or an imagining from it. Most of the art was found in Scottish museums or were by Scottish artists, so I felt there was a connection, but I eventually decided it was too tenuous. 

Then as I had more and more Finnish poems to work with the collection became half-Scotland and then the transition to Finland and a longing for Scotland. The Finnish poems began to take on a life of their own, so now the collection is just about Scotland. I finished a longer series - well, almost, that one stubborn poem is from this series, so had enough for a full collection. It feels more complete to me now, no side themes or splitting of the focus. 

When you finally have enough poems for a collection (and that point is purely up to you) there's the question of how to order it. My mentor from last year suggested looking at breaking the poems into themed groups and using quotes, section titles or something similar to bring them together. I did play with the idea for a while. There are obvious groupings within the collection, but I didn't like the idea of putting them together in chunks or following a pattern in the placement. I also considered adding the poems chronologically as the collection covers my 17 years of living in Scotland from a single student to a mother of 2. This felt a bit better, but the flow wasn't obvious to someone outside my head. 

I decided to meld the two ideas together. The poems flow semi-chronologically but have a thematic sense throughout; a few city poems, followed by nature poems together, then a relationship poem or 2. There are no sections, I want a natural movement from one poem to the next, some image, subject matter or linguistic thread carrying them along. 

I figure all this out by printing the whole thing out and laying them on my living room rug, all 70 plus pages. The kids find it hilarious when I do this and yes, I have done it more than once. There's something about crouching down, walking among the poems that helps me see how they work together. I don't get that same feeling on a computer screen. It has an organic feel like walking through a garden I have spent years cultivating. It's also easier to physically move poems about until I get the right feel, rather than cutting and pasting and risking losing a stanza or a footnote or a whole poem. I'll probably do this one more time once I have the complete set. 

There's still the fine editing to do. As I've said previously I reexamine and edit every poem as I send it out for submissions, but once they are published I don't look at them again until I reach this stage. Many of the poems were published years ago and I'll want to tidy them up, but I also like to edit the collection as a whole. Sometimes I become fixated on a certain word or image, but decide it might be better to find a few replacements or conversely play up the word even more through poem placement. Sometimes my preferences and writing style have changed or I want to bring them closer together for more cohesion. I have looked back on my first collection and realise I would do a lot of things differently now though it felt right 10 years ago. I'll also look at basic things like grammar, layout, fact checking, etc. 

I'm also in the process of writing a synopsis for the collection. With novels, potential agents and publishers usually require a synopsis to sell the book to them. It can be anywhere between 200 words and 2 pages. I've also had a publisher request a chapter by chapter summary - that was hell to write. I also like to have a short synopsis of my poetry collection to bring the different themes into focus quickly for the publisher. It's basically a sales technique, but it's worth having a good one to sell your collection. Most publishers ask for just a few sample poems before requesting the whole collection, so this is my chance to make sure my message gets across.  

Most of the above I can do while this final straggler is simmering in the background. I'm hoping to get this project ready to serve up in the next few months. I'm still writing poems for the Finnish collection so I have a nice balance of work to do between them and the novel. To be honest, I need more hours in the day.

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