A couple of weeks ago I put all the poems I’d been working towards for the new collection together – the good, the bad and the ugly. I scythed a few out, teased a couple of others in, and decided that, as a first draft, it was just about done. Then my dad died and I ended up writing a few poems about him, about loss, about the strangeness of death. They tie in well with the rest of the collection and feel like a good fit.
There is no one size fits all approach when you’re putting a collection together. Even to the same poet the process may change between collections. When I Think of My Body as a Horse took years to write. The poems in that collection were mainly natural, organic poems that were written in powerful emotional splurges, and then crafted, fettled and edited to where I wanted them to be. They were the blood-let poems of grief, poems that needed to be written. That collection took years to write, and the whole thing was redrafted and redrafted until it was saying what I needed it to say. With the new collection I decided right at the outset that I wanted to write poems that explored a particular theme, and took time (thanks in part to a Society of Authors work in progress grant) to research and explore and write. This way of writing didn’t feel natural to me initially, but I persisted, and I ended up producing work that pushed me out of my own comfort zone. I challenged myself with this collection, and I feel it’s paid off. The latest poems, the poems about my dad’s death; which have come from a more organic, natural place, I feel are as good as the poems in which I felt challenged as a writer in terms of style, content, function. What do I take from that? It’s good to push out of your comfort zone, it enriches you as a writer, it builds your skills, your ‘tool box’ and it allows you to reach further, evolve, grow as a writer. But there is nothing wrong with being a writer who feels happiest working in well worn groove of writing. This has been a collection that has helped me to grow as a writer and I am pleased with that. One thing that seems to be a part of my process no matter how I write is that I have a set amount of pages of poetry in mind and once I reach that number (60 in this case) I feel much more relaxed and can then start curating, removing and adding poems. It gives wriggle room. Putting a collection together is a long process, a years long process. I know that once this collection goes to the publisher I shall have time to change and adapt it still, if I need to, before it makes it to the final stages.
My mind has now shuffled things about so that the non fiction book is my priority writing project and edits to the poetry collection are now to be done on weekends and in spare mornings and afternoons. I’m awaiting some feedback on the collection that will help me to edit it, but I’m ready now to start moving away from the collection and to start to sink into the body of my Ghost Lake book and get really stuck in. Next week will be about research I can do from my desk, and around some teaching and of course around the inevitable grief of losing a parent, helping to organise a funeral and supporting family. My dad had some interesting ideas about how and where he wanted to be buried and we are trying our best to do right by him, but it is a bit complicated. We’re hoping this week that all the legal queries will be resolved and we can pin a date for the funeral. This morning I went to see my mum at my parent’s house and we took a stroll around the grounds. We walked past the scarecrow in my dad’s veg patch, which sits wearing his coat and his trousers, watching us. We stood in the polly tunnel and ate grapes off the vine. We walked through a flood of hungry chickens into the field behind the house where my dad has planted oak and ash and hazel trees, through the apple trees and pear trees laden with fruit, down to the nature pond, through the lattice of a hazel walkway, to the little swing bench where my mum and dad used to sit. We are taking joy in what he has left behind, but it is also quite heart breaking. He is everywhere – his tools are still by the fence where he was chopping back the blackberry bushes, his spade is still stood in the soil where he rooted up the potatoes he had for his dinner the day before the operation. A pile of weeds sits by the pond waiting for him to chuck them in the compost. There is three winter’s worth of chopped wood in the shed, with his axe still in the last log. It is as if he has been called to somewhere else, has just put his tools down and left. My little mum and my lovely brother are starting to tidy stuff away, are getting some of the weeds up before they become a nuisance, are planning how she’ll cope with what is, essentially, a small holding, on her own. I always quite fancied an allotment, and maybe this is a sign from the universe for me to get on and work with my brother to keep it going. Or maybe some things, some projects just come to a natural end, like the poetry collection, perhaps it has reached the point of being useful, perhaps that place, that area is a project that has said what it needed to say, and a new project is waiting to be started.
I am dreading the finality of the funeral, but also looking forward to the beyond point, to what happens next, to working to remember this complex, life-filled man, in death. I have written him into the poetry collection, and he’s embedded in the non-fiction book, and that makes me happy. I just wish I had had a bit more time with him. But I guess we are always wishing we had more time with the people we love. It’s never quite enough, no matter when they die.
Until next time