This is the first time this has ever happened to me (that I’ve been aware of, anyway!) – having to write one piece to get to another; the second not being able to exist without the process of the first – yet the first is not necessary in the way the second is.
I’ve known that the next poem in my sequence was going to be about reading; exactly what I was going to use the poem format to say I wasn’t quite sure, but that’s what note exploration is for! After lots of thinking and note-making, I knew I had to strike a balance between a relatable experience for everyone and the unique angle that makes it my poem, not a run-of-the-mill piece. I kept writing and rewriting the same lines, so I went with the flow, even though I suspected it wouldn’t say everything about the topic of reading that I wanted to cover. After redrafting and editing, The Reader’s Refrain came alive...and though I thought it was ok, I wasn’t sure it was good enough. I wasn’t sure it would earn its place in the sequence; it seemed pedestrian and, well, average.
So I got to thinking about the sequence as a whole, and the running order of the poems. I could be terribly boring and predictable and present them in the chronological order they were written; or I could arrange them by rise and fall of emotion or action; or find a fitting flow of ending line to beginning line. Which poem to pick for the opening, then? Beginning with the reading poem had seemed right for a while (well before I’d begin work on it, actually!) – a reader reading a poem about reading is cyclical and pleasing to me. I wanted something short but intriguing; striking but not too poetry-elitist; Deb-unique but identifiable to most people...and then it hit me.
I hadn’t written it yet.
And just like that, Book Ends came to me. Much shorter and yet broader in scope than The Reader’s Refrain, Book Ends is the poem I want to begin my sequence with: it’s unique enough to stand out but covers a topic that many of us experience; it experiments with punctuation to make its point but its meaning is still clear; and it is short and snappy enough to grab the actual reader and make them want to turn the page to the next poem.
Yet it wouldn’t have existed without the writing of The Reader’s Refrain first – because I wouldn’t have got out all the thoughts and words that were in my mind, limiting me to one angle and a simple coverage. I wanted to talk about the things that are in The Reader’s Refrain...but what I arrived at through writing it was better; more philosophical and extensive.
To start with, I wondered whether to include both poems in the sequence, to begin with Book Ends and fold The Reader’s Refrain between two other, more thrilling poems. Then I decided to discard The Reader’s Refrain completely. Thankfully, before I tore the pages up or consigned them to a never-to-be-opened-again file, I realised that The Reader’s Refrain didn’t have to be in the sequence and yet also didn’t have to be lost. It could be a stand-alone poem, like Arson or Resuscitation, just written at the same time as the sequence. (This may seem terribly obvious to you – and me, now that I’m typing it! – but when you’re in the midst of a particular piece, it’s hard to see beyond that and realise that what you’ve written could have a place outside of where it has come from; that it can be something else.)
Sequence-wise, then, Book Ends will begin it...and the last poem to write is now before me, which is the one about my first desk. Thoughts have been had, notes made – but my thesaurus needs consulting to build up my word bank, beginning lines need beginning (whether they’ll end up in the eventual poem is another matter!), and the point of the poem, what it is trying to say, needs to be honed. The Reader’s Refrain will take its place in my portfolio of work...and the running order of the sequence-complete is still percolating through my brain. If you have any thoughts about how to structure a collection, please let me know – all thoughts are welcome!