Monday, 20 May 2013

A long way to fall?

It's finally happened. After years of submissions to magazines and competitions, many rejection letters, occasional acceptances, and the odd envious glance at my younger, better looking, more successful friends in the poetry business, I finally have a book of poetry to my name.

It's been a rapid journey from acceptance to print – 3 months to correct the manuscript of A Long Way to Fall, gather in endorsements, and get the finalised version printed and bound. But that's not to say that the process of producing the book has been a rapid one. My initial query to the publishers was submitted a year ago. That was after half a dozen years putting together prototype versions of the collection, trialling different combinations of poems to try to find a harmonious whole. Then there's the time it took to produce the poems themselves – seventeen years since I first started writing poetry. It has taken about as long to create my debut collection as it takes to mature the most famous expression of my favourite Ardbeg single malt. As one who believes that poetry and whisky have a lot in common, I'm not altogether displeased by the comparison.

As it happens, there aren't any poems in A Long Way to Fall which date back quite that far. The oldest poem in the collection was written in 1999, though it has undergone a few changes since then. The newest pieces? Mere months old – babies by comparison.

The collection might never have seen the light of day were it not for the support of a select group of fellow poets. Two of them – Ann Heath and Tanya Nightingale – are still without a debut collection to their name: a serious deficiency that I hope the poetry world will remedy soon, because the best of their writing is amongst the best poetry I've read anywhere, ever. Ann and Tanya were in on the story right from the start. Not only did they offer some invaluable critique of individual poems, but they helped enormously in the selection and ordering of material. It is thanks to their insight that I was able to figure out the eventual shape of the collection, the sequence and flow of the poems, and – crucially – which poems to put in, and which to leave out.

Just over half of my 50-odd previously published poems made it into the collection. So what about the poems that weren't included? Some of them were immature pieces. They got picked up by editors in my early days, when I submitted a great mass of work all over the place. It was a great encouragement to get these accepted for publication, and I'm proud to have them on my CV. But if I'm honest, I probably wouldn't write these poems the same way if I were writing them now.

Other poems were left out, not because I was unhappy with them, but because they didn't gel with the overall feel of the collection. I decided with some sadness that I wasn't able to include my first ever competition-winning poem, Joni Melts Wax in a Saucepan. It isn't rubbish – the cheque it earned me back in 2004 testifies to that – but its style and voice are very different from the rest of the material in the collection. Joni is light-hearted, satirical, and really a much 'fluffier' poem than anything else in the collection. It may well belong in a future compilation, though, one with a slightly different mood to it.

The remainder of the poems in the collection are hitherto unpublished. They include a whole set of more recent poems which really created the distinctive 'voice' of the collection. They dictated the ebb and flow of material, the pace and style of poems which went together, the vital balance between lighter and more serious material. Once these were included, the other poems fell into place.

The process of getting A Long Way to Fall into print has been a voyage of discovery. At times I've felt like the seafaring character who appears in several of the poems: adrift on uncharted seas, never quite sure where I'll end up. But the book is here now. Finally, I am a Proper Published Poet. And here, I'm beginning to discover, is where the journey really begins.

A Long Way to Fall is available now from Lapwing Publications (email, price £10. ISBN 978-1-909252-40-0.

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