Selecting a Selected

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Last Year in Paradise, my first book of poetry, was published by Fiddlehead Poetry Books (Fredericton, NB) in 1977. I am once more re-reading Last Year in Paradise  in search of some early poems to include in the Selected Poems that I am putting together.

As I leaf through the pages, the words of T. S. Eliot come to my mind: “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure /  because one has only learned to get the better of words /  for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it.”

So: how do I select from poems that no longer say what I want them to say or that are expressed in a way that I am no longer disposed to use? I keep struggling with these ideas. Are my selections signposts along the way of my poetic development? Do they say ‘this is what I was, where I came from’? Or should I re-write, revise, and bring thoughts and poems up to date to fit in with my current way of thinking and expressing?

The first poem in the book illustrates this quandary in metaphoric fashion.

Renovating

The carpenter swings
His bell-faced claw hammer
The closet’s gyproc sides
Tremble
Shiver into dust

Each splintered layer
Reveals
The closet’s secret skeleton

Memories
Spill out flood in
Shake grinning skulls
Like jacks of this box-room

Released from sloughed skins
We stand knee-deep
In a debris of recollections

As I re-read this poem, the scene comes back to me in vivid detail. An old closet cluttered the small room downstairs in our first house, an old army home. We needed more floor space, not another small room. As we tore the closet down, different layers of wall-paper showed up and we found ourselves knee-deep in memories of other times, other places, other renovations.

As I re-read, I also remember working with my first editor, Fred Cogswell. I recall the typed manuscripts going in to his office and the pencilled suggestions and corrections coming back out. What I no longer remember is how much of this poem was actually mine and how much was his. Re-reading it, I find I have no desire to re-write it, to resurrect those memories that the poem preserves. But I do feel an urgent need to trim the poem, to weed it as if it were a flower-bed. I notice repetitions, a doubling of statements, an excess of adjectives … I would like to suggest more with less words. The poem needs minor readjustments. As I rethink, I come up with the following.

Renovating

The carpenter swings
his hammer
The closet’s gyproc sides
shiver into dust

Each splintered layer
reveals the closet’s
secret skeleton

Memories spill out
shake grinning skulls
jacks in this box-room

Released from sloughed skins
we stand knee-deep
in a debris of recollections

I find this sharper, less cluttered, and perhaps a good poem with which to begin my Selected Poems. I need a title for the Selection and will share some thoughts on that later. A Debris of Recollections springs to mind as a first possibility, but there are many other possibilities. In the meantime, I will begin a new journey on this blog and along the way I will read, re-read, commentate, and occasionally re-write the poems that I select.

I invite you to accompany me on this journey. I look forward to any conversations we may start and any comments you may care to make along the way.

19 thoughts on “Selecting a Selected

  1. Very wise words, Kevin. Thank you. As I said to Jane, there are many early poems that I am leaving untouched as they capture a single moment in time that is now both untouchable and irreplaceable. However, there are also a few that represent ideas that are still with me. These are the ones that I am reviewing and occasionally rewriting. I often think of my poems as verbal photographs. In the same way that the old photos cannot be retaken, so many of the old poems cannot be rewritten. Others, a few, a very few, can still be worked on because the ideas (like renovation) are still with me. I love the concept of Young Roger, Older Roger, and (I’ll add) Very Old Roger … That is a true gift, Kevin and one that I will cherish as I limp from Older to Very Old!

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  2. Hi Roger, allison here.

    About your process. Here is a passage related to what i think your musings accomplish, lifted from this week’s New York Times Magazine, written by an excellent journalist: “It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake, and to the extent that an artist’s work is frustrating or difficult or awful, you could say this allows greater opportunity to try to meet it. I am not saying there is no room for discriminating taste and judgment, just that there is also, i think, this other portal through which to experience creative work and to access a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion.”—July 17, 2016, Wil S Hylton in The NYT Magazine in an article on Chuck Close, American portraitist. In some ways this blog of yours allows readers to access the interior impulse–in you, but maybe also in ourselves. In any case, it is good to have the discussion, thanks!

    When it comes to selected work. Well, the poems are already out there, living their lives. The independent editor is looking to see what story they have for the reader, looking for the best among those poems to tell that story, which ranges over decades of poetic energy. The author “might” want his/her current lens to have precedence, and may not be aware of his/her biases. “What is best for the reader?” is the crucial question.

    Merci, mon ami!
    @

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    • Great post, allison, and very, very encouraging and comforting. It gives me much food for thought. The selected as I have it now, has few changes from the earlier texts, more a cleaning up (typos, spelling, lack of clarity etc) than a rewriting. I think I will keep it that way. However, the continuing discussion on the revision process is something that I will continue, precisely because it focuses upon points that concern us all as writers. Above all, as I said to Chuck, I have (at least!) five manuscripts on which I am currently working. This whole discussion allows me to refocus my energies on what I do and don’t need to revise within the current work, It also allows me to think very clearly about HOW to do it. Also, and I will blog this to, I need a break between manuscripts to gain distance from the original emotions. More about that in my next blog. Thanks for being here.

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    • Thank you, Jane. I notice that I am skipping a great many poems in my re-reading. They are where I left them and I will not, cannot change them — this is in partial response to Kevin’s very wise comment below — as they mark a time and a moment that I cannot re-visit, nor would I want to. Renovation was different though and Renovation is continuous, unlike some of the other moments plucked from time.

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  3. 1. Instead of A Debris of Recollections or whatever, why not just Debris? 2. You asked yourself whether you should/could revisit poems with an eye toward adjusting them, and answered yourself by performing a commendable job of revising a good poem. Keep it up. I am a big fan of fixing errors from the past, (as long as you do not live there!) 3. Will this exercise provide you more gratification than starting new ones that may or may not be so important to you?

    I’m excited for you and this adventure. Your friend Chuck On Jul 19, 2016 10:46 AM, “rogermoorepoetdotcom” wrote:

    > rogermoorepoet posted: ” Last Year in Paradise, my first book of poetry, > was published by Fiddlehead Poetry Books (Fredericton, NB) in 1977. I am > once more re-reading Last Year in Paradise in search of some early poems > to include in the Selected Poems that I am putting togethe” >

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    • Thank you for your thoughts here, Chuck. I am actually running several parallel patterns. Echoes … and Waiting … and Bistro … are the newer works with which I am still very much engaged. The Selected … is an ongoing work that I am now opening up yet again. I am also looking at the short stories Nobody’s Child … and a rewrite of the first novel People of the Mist … So: multi-tasking is here, as it always has been. At the same time, there are some new works coming through: fast fiction and poetry. Scattered as always, but a steady accumulation in spite of it. Quite simply, Bistro and Waiting and Echoes and the Selected are (almost) ready for publication … I just don’t feel confident enough to send them out just yet, though all four could easily go to press tomorrow … they are that advanced.

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  4. Interesting post, Roger. There is value in showing poetry as a snapshot in time (if only to avoid endless revisionism), but I have to say I agree with your edits – they make the poem much tighter.

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    • 40 years ago I was so attracted by that “bell-faced claw hammer” … now I see it as so much clutter. I look forward to more revisionism … are we writers or re-writers? A little bit of both, Al, but I am sure I will have some things to say about automatic writing and surrealism as I move on down the line.

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    • Thanks, Tanya. I look forward to your company. The Selected Poems is finished, save for selections from recent books, but I have the feeling that this run over past material will turn up different poems at different times. My current title for the selected is Scars at Elbow and Foot … but there is room for manoeuvre. It’s a funny feeling, looking back nearly forty years, and seeing myself in a distorting mirror.

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      • That distorting mirror called perspective changes everything. There is an awesome privilege in being able to look back over your works many years later, I think. So many great writers never live that long…

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    • It is indeed, Meg, and I am looking forward to it myself. I wasn’t sure which project to choose, but this one came to me overnight and so I started it. I think the commentaries and the re-writs combined will be very interesting. I hope so anyway.

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      • I’m sure they will be! I reexamine my old notebooks full of angst ridden teenage poetry once in a while. And while most of it is cringe worthy, it is a reminder of all those aches and growing pains!

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      • The young Roger who was once you is you no more. The work you see is his and helped him to traverse the ages of experience he had to accumulate to become what you now are. You may have to ask Young Roger if he’d like his work preserved. If that proves difficult, perhaps you could imagine the Roger you will become appears on your doorstep. What if Older Roger asked you today to change an original work you just created because he saw it was sloppy and didn’t appeal to his sense of clarity and beauty – would you want him to?

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