The ego of it, right?
Well, with that in mind, I’ve recently released 2006 : 2016.
In this collection, I’ve tried to cobble together 116 or so pages of poetry that I can still look at without chuckling at myself (or worse :D).
There’s also a few pieces in here that might have been previously published individually but which never made it into a collection, something small for longtime readers — otherwise you’ll find a range of free verse, haiku, haibun and senryu spanning the collections pollen and the storm right up to VI.
* * *
When I started sifting through notebooks, old files and the individual collections themselves, I thought I was taking a final step in book-ending my time as a poet. My fiction was selling and I was finding it harder to commit time to poetry, since I had a couple of ongoing series-length fiction works to keep me busy and which readers seemed keen for.
But the more I looked through my old stuff, even the rubbish, the more I missed poetry.
It wasn’t like returning to an old ‘mistress’ or any of those sorts of cliches, it was more like the cliche of returning to a neglected part of me.
Despite the frustration I’d always feel whenever I struggled with a poem, the way I always fought myself over ‘using language poetically’ while still keeping hold of the idea that poetry was ‘an act of communication that actually needed readers’, I was excited to return to poetry because that struggle was also fun. (I was so excited that I did two things, I started writing poetry again and I sought out two poets from Oz whose work I loved and offered to publish their collections, but more on that in another post!).
Now, writing poetry might seem like a rather unspectacular thing for a poet to do. Utterly regular, really.
But it wasn’t regular for me at the start of 2017, and hadn’t been for a long time. I remember looking at my bio on my website one day and asking myself, am I still a poet if I don’t even write poetry anymore? (‘Ex-poet’ doesn’t look as snappy, huh?).
The act of writing poetry had become ‘irregular’ because I’d stopped writing poetry a couple of years ago. I mean, I still tried here and there, but I went from writing anywhere from 2–5 poems most nights to 20 aborted pieces a month, and then to about 5 finished pieces for an entire year.
And I know why, but it took me a long time to figure it out.
Part of it was the fiction — that was taking off in late 2014 and it was fun, I was giving it a proper shot. But the other part of my poetry-drought came from a crash in confidence; I’d totally lost it when it came to verse.
A few years ago, one of my mentors let me down (and the poetry community here in Australia, and overseas too) in a pretty significant way and I hadn’t realised until this year, while putting together 2006 : 2016, just how deeply his mistakes had impacted me.
I’d tied too much of my self-belief to his support.
Once the depth of his plagiarism became clear, aside from the disillusionment I felt, I realised that if he thought I was good and yet he turned out to be dishonest, how could I trust his opinion of my work?
And so I slowly stopped, just kinda gave up on poetry. Stopped writing, stopped sending it in to comps and mags, stopped reading it, stopped looking for it.
And like I said above, I now see it was stupid of me to tie my confidence up that way. I should have been stronger.
But thankfully, putting this ‘least worst of’ together reminded me that I had improved over the years. When I looked at stuff from 2006 and compared it my most recent work, I saw the change. And it reminded me that once upon a time, I’d push through all kinds of flat spots, all kinds of rejections, and just keep writing. My stubbornness would fuel me; I wanted to get better and for a while I think I did get better each year.
Back in Feb, I collected all the poetry I could find and announced what would “probably be my last poetry collection” rather dramatically, I guess. It seemed the right choice at the time, since my heart wasn’t in poetry anymore— not wholly — but now it strikes me as almost childish. And I’ve since realised that poetry really is Hotel California (and that’s okay too).
Now, I’m happy to say that I’m ready to push myself once more in 2018 and there’s gonna be fiction and poetry this time 🙂