All together now

I’m again mulling over a collection of poems and discussing with Trusted Advisor just how to make it work. Trusted Advisor said, “Hm. I’m having a hard time finding a thread through all of these poems.” Then she paused and said, “But maybe that’s okay.” Even though I’ve been hearing for several years now that the themed collection craze is over, it’s mostly what I’ve encountered — actual or suggested narratives easing our story-seeking minds through pages of poems. But I seem to have fairly disparate poems here, and is that okay? I have poems that may lead a reader to perceive a narrative, but ultimately that anticipation will be stymied. Or do I seek to establish some kind of thread, even if it’s somewhat manufactured? If it’s just continuity of the kind of imagery I use, is that enough? A bunch of poems referencing rivers, e.g., or rocks? Or is that tiresome? Do I need to be able to answer the question: What is this collection “about”? I think the tricky thing with an unthemed collection, perhaps more so than one that carries the reader along a narrative or otherwise stepping-stoned path, is that every poem has to be killer. Wherever the reader encounters the collection has to be dynamite. Yikes. On the other hand, I’ve encountered two collections recently in which I tried to dip here and there into the collection, only to find the poems kept me out. It wasn’t until I started from page 1 and read on through that I realized what the poems were up to, that I “got” that this was a narrative situation at work. So should there be a label on a poetry collection — “Start Here” or “Enter Willy-Nilly”?

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3 thoughts on “All together now

  1. I want to be able to jump in anywhere and always assume I can. I don’t make that assumption with a novel, but these are poems, not chapters. My expectation is that poems stand on their own, but I do understand that the artist often wants to alter or destroy expectations. Go with your gut, woman!

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    • That’s usually what I do too, when I encounter a book of poems. So it was a bit of a revelation when I was about to turn away from those two collections but decided to give them both one more try (in my ongoing campaign to be a more patient reader…) by starting at the beginning. Read and learn, I guess.

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  2. It seems this conversation is an extension of other conversations we’ve had over the months or years. The conversation starts with someone saying that they never read a book of poetry from cover to cover, but open in the middle and flip forward and back watching for some word or title to engage the eye.
    I often participate in this roving reading method. Then I question if I’m doing either the poet or the work justice by such a cursory review. In the end, I think, if several poems engage for whatever reason, then the whole book will ultimately be consumed in several gulps.

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