A song with a rock in it

by pollyrowena

It is ten days until the official publication date for my first collection, Basic Nest Architecture. 

As a taster, I’ve put together a playlist on soundcloud of six poems from the book: three new recordings and three I made for The Lonely Crowd last Spring.

The other playlist I have made for Basic Nest Architecture is a list of songs: one for each of the poems. I started this last year to help me think about what absolutely needed to be included and what might be let go out of the collection as we shrunk it down to fit. One thing I found curious is that the choices for most of the poems were really obvious (to me: but I have a rolling playlist in my head at most times anyway and some of the poems are named after or quote songs) except for the poems which deal explicitly with hospital experiences. I have odd rules about my themed playlists: I have to make them from songs I already have, no buying songs that are missing from my collection to fill the gap. So my questions is this: do I not have the right songs, or do they not exist?

When I’ve fixed on my favoured version of that playlist I’ll put the song list up here. At the moment, like most things, it’s still a little in flux.

The version of ‘Strength in Winter’ in the book is slightly different to the version on soundcloud. The long lines were falling off the right edge of the page, and I had to do a last minute re-write, being careful that it didn’t spill over onto a second page. The line-length was a problem with The Lonely Crowd too, but then a two-page solution seemed best. This means the version of ‘Strength in Winter’ in Basic Nest Architecture is the third published version, as it started life in the third Beautiful Dragons anthology Heavenly Bodies. 

‘Strength in Winter’ is not the only poem in the book that exists in several versions. I like the idea of this in a way that probably really annoys some people.¹ I wrote a little about this idea in notes I wrote for The Lonely Crowd. In classes I often use a poem by Erin Mouré from her 1988 collection Furious called ‘Three Versions’ to discuss editing, and the choices we make when we edit our work. Particularly to think about what seemingly un-politicised ideas about style have to do with larger ideological constructs. What are we calling on when we’re asking a poem to be ‘tighter’, ‘more succinct’, to be ‘clearer’ or less obtuse, or to cut anything that isn’t entirely necessary.² What is necessary in a poem? ‘Three Versions’ has an epigraph from another writer, Gail Scott: ‘why do you have to choose/a definitive version?’ This is a question that troubles me a lot, especially when tacked to the question of the versions: how you tell ‘if the poet has written with/or without discipline’.

What does discipline in a poem mean? How does it relate to the other images of the poem: the bird with its ‘wings beaten shut’; its ‘chest eaten/sucked in’?

I come back again and again to this poem, to its unanswerable questions about what a poem is and needs.

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  1. Though it might seem contrary, I disapprove of writers editing much much earlier work later in their careers when eg. putting together a ‘selected’. Retrospectives need to acknowledge the decisions of that earlier time and earlier writer. If the work is being entirely repurposed, that’s probably different. But we shouldn’t always dismiss the impulses of our younger selves, just because we think we’re wiser, older. Yes, Wm. Wordsworth, I’m looking at you, as usual.
  2. Once an editorial email asked me to cut whatever ‘isn’t entirely necessary’ from the poem in question, only a typo meant they actually asked me to cut what ‘is entirely necessary’. I think about this a lot too.