Saturday, 16 January 2010

Weeks like these will happen to you (2)

I promised some more updates on what this week was like for me, and it's nearly over now, so it's probably about time I did that. From my vantage point here at the arse-end of Saturday morning, it doesn't actually seem like I did a lot this week, but the major achievement, the thing that really came to a head, was that I finally finished editing and sorting out the manuscript for what will now be the second collection.

The impetus for this was the Grievous Prize, which my fellow poet Sarah Coles informed me about on Facebook after I ranted, recently, about my annoyance when looking at the web pages of publishers who claim to be producing 'edgy, contemporary, risk-taking etc' stuff but whose lists are endless parades of photogenic cis caucasian Oxford graduates. That was not a night I'm proud of: not because I said things I shouldn't, though I probably haven't done myself any favours in some parts of the poetry community by calling some publishing houses on their BS, but more because my emotional reaction to this overwhelming onslaught of the Stepford Bards was to metaphorically curl up in the corner and whimper. To be fair, it was an onslaught: every tastefully shot picture of a fruity post-graduate cis girl, or neatly-coiffed young man looking deep in rimless spectacles, every sentence containing the phrase 'read literature at Oxford and went on to study creative writing at UEA', every little logroll-quote from another similarly clubbable poet, and, most of all, every bland, vacuous, and completely unengaging poem to which all these things were appended, was like a punch in the gut.

So yeah, it's fair to say I threw myself a little pity party. Thanks to everyone who chipped in with their thoughts and replies, esecially the many, many poets and writers whose work I admire who've talked about the same thing. And a very big thank you to Sarah, for posting the link to the prize, which gave me something to shoot for. Even if the manuscript turns out not to be what they're looking for, working towards this competition, and its deadline, gave me the impetus to pull together the poems I've been working on lately, along with a bunch of older work on the same themes, into what I think is the strongest selection of work I've done yet. Flicking through it, it becomes clear why I had to cancel All Haste is from the Devil: if I hadn't done that, if I hadn't forced myself to write more honestly, to throw out all the posturing and the parody of myself that I'd become, if I hadn't came to the conclusion that I had to write about what I feel instead of what I thought people would accept, I'd never have written this.

And I'm not saying this is a better collection, I'm not saying it'll blow people away, just that it had to be written. Sometimes, the writing dictates what you do, and you only realise it's dictating after the fact. It's only when the poem's been written that you realise you had to do certain things so you could write it. And that's the feeling I have now, as I look at this collection.

The Grievous Prize manuscripts are submitted anonymously, so I'm afraid I can't tell you the title until I know if they want to publish it. I'm hoping they will, because there aren't enough poetry publishers doing stuff that genuinely takes risks, and it would be nice to be associated with some who are. But even if it turns out not to be what they're looking for, and whether I have to edit it or not, I now have the shape of the collection. Hopefully, in whatever form it finally gets published, you'll get to read it and see for yourself why it had to turn out this way.

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