People talk about second books being difficult, or indeed the second of any creative endeavour, as in the well-used phrase ‘difficult second album.’ The first book is meant to be the breakthrough one, the one you’ve wanted to write all your life. Writers usually have a number of unpublished manuscripts before the first published book. Nevertheless, the first published book is the big deal and then…then the second is the crashing through every floor in the building until you reach the lobby on your behind. That’s the stereotype, anyway.
My first book of poetry was published almost two years ago. I’ve got some distance now and can see what’s wrong about it and even a few things I still like. Can also see, with a trace of wistfulness, the type of poems I probably wouldn’t write anymore. It so happened that I was chatting to my publisher Jane Commane, at Nine Arches Press, and the subject of the second collection came up. We talked about what type of time scale I was working towards. The year 2016 was mentioned. It all felt very strange thinking about the ‘new’ book, like planning for a new child. The first book came out in July 2012, but the manuscript was more or less agreed on with editing still needing to be done around the January of that year. Therefore I’d wrapped up the contents of the book in my head at the beginning of 2012, but still had a little way to go. Around that time I wrote very little new stuff which was actually any good. The book took up a lot of time and my attention. I was experimenting though and that has its place, but there are many files on my computer which are poem graveyards, poems which escaped me, didn’t make any sense or I simply lost interest in them. They remind me a bit of the ‘Stillborn’ poem by Sylvia Plath:
These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.
They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.
They were loved, but they never came through. I came across these pieces when I was putting together lists of possible poems for a future collection. It’s very odd how you can spend ages writing, revising and editing and then strike through over a pamphlet’s (or maybe much more) worth of work. I pity the editors to whom I sent some of this poetry!
Even if I've had breaks from writing I've tried not to have breaks from reading poetry. I usually have a book on the go. Reviewing helps, blogging now and then - keeps the ink flowing!
The next issue for me is a sensitive one. Do I work towards a themed collection or do I go random? Random has often been my middle name over the last few years. A themed collection is not one that I would immediately aim for. I’ve tried pursuing this and it’s nose-dived. I read Carrie Etter saying that it wasn't until much further down the line she found the imperative to write a themed collection. I haven't got a theme, but there's a working title now and a sort of concept. This sounds like a 'concept album' moment, but it may well change.
One of the reviewers of the first book made an interesting point and that was why weren't the poems grouped? If I don’t go for themed I might continue writing and just put the pieces into groups. I am still writing about similar things, but as a poet friend says that doesn't matter, just ‘furrow deeper.’ But then, these groups!? They are so different! One group is poems about my own heritage and background, one is poems which have nothing in common apart from their own eccentricity, some are the big topics, love, loss and so on and some are just well, they are just. How do you tie all the threads together? This bothers me much more than it ever did with the first book.