20 July 2008

Poetry is like fashion: one day you’re in, the next you’re out

I’m not talking here about poets in the poetry scene, though that may also be the case, I’m talking about individual poems in my collection My Iron Spine, which is finally ready for publication (I think).

Since I first assembled the collection, I’ve slowly been removing poems. Generally I think things can be improved by stripping back, and so, after reflection and feedback, I’ve taken out about six or seven poems.

The last decision was yesterday. After some feedback, I’d come to suspect that the middle section (which contains biographical poems, many of them quite long) might be too long. As you might expect, I want to try to make it the best book I can, so I had a good look at that section, and considered which poems I could bear to cut. After more discussion, I narrowed it down to one five-page poem, and then agonised for a few days.

The poem is called ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’, and is in the voices of Mary Shelly, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster from Frankenstein. I see it as a kind of triptych of voices – they take turns to speak, often about similar things, echoing each other. So it’s kind of about the themes from the novel, and interlinking them with themes from Mary’s own life – and kind of seeing the other two as aspect of her. I’m very fond of it, but have always felt slightly unsure about it.

Last week I wavered back and forth about keeping it in, taking it out. I think it’s pretty good, it belongs there, versus it’s long, I could rework it a bit to make it better (especially after Steve read it and suggested something about Victor’s relationship with his father), it’s kind of in the wrong place anyway (I’m trying to keep it away from another, short, poem about Mary Shelly).

Yesterday morning, while checking my proofs against the originals, (yes, it is very late in the process!) I looked at the poem before ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’, and the poem after, and realised they work well next to each other – the ‘envious light’ of ‘Marie Curie’, is echoed in the first lines of ‘Elizabeth Siddal’: ‘His light/hits the side of my face’.

And so it was decided; ‘The Happiness of Mary Shelly’ is out. I hope to find another home for her in the future – perhaps in a series of poems about fiction and fictional characters (I already have a couple about Mina Harker from Dracula – she’s so cool!).

And now My Iron Spine is one step closer to publication!


Benedict Reid said...

That is late in the piece. But, it shows that you're taking the process seriously.
Have you considered putting any new poems in?

I was trying to find a quote about Victor Hugo (who I believe rewrote everything once he saw the proofs) but instead I stumbled across the following about Honore De Balzac


Hardly anything that he had written seemed to suit him when he saw it in print. He changed and kept changing, obliterating what he disliked, writing in new sentences, revising others, and adding whole pages in the margins, until perhaps he had practically made a new book. This process was repeated several times; and how expensive it was may be judged from the fact that his bill for "author’s proof corrections” was sometimes more than the publishers had agreed to pay him for the completed volume.

Helen Rickerby said...

That's such a cool quote! I do understand that. I have been doing a little bit of that, but fortunately we aren't paying a typesetter to make the changes - the advantages of small-presses.

I hadn't thought of adding any in lately, because I've kind of moved on to other things poetically, but after I'd just finished assembling the manuscript and had handed a copy over to my first reader, I did write another poem and added it in. It was 'Partying with Katherine Mansfield' I think.

One thing I do, which I don't know if many other poets do, is I revise poems that have previously been published in literary journals. (Do you do that? Let me know.) I think that once they're published in the book I'll leave them alone. But I think it was Yeats who revised his previously published poems when editing his Selected Poems.

Anonymous said...

Exciting to be one step closer! SOunds like it will be really well thought out. I still fiddle with poems even after they've been published :)

the daily screenwriter said...

Hmmm... Mary Shelley... Mina Harker... Emily Bronte... little Red Riding Hood... you told me you didn't like the gothic once - or am I quoting you out of context?

Those are some of my very favourite gothic writers/characters, I hasten to add.

Re the removal of poetry - I'm all for ruthless paring back to enhance the whole. In screenwriting it's called 'killing your darlings'. Or did that begin as a prose term? Either way - I'm all for it.