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Seer of ghosts & weaver of stories

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December Blogging Meme Topic #4:
How do you go about structuring a poetry collection? Do you think about it analytically or do you let the poems come together in a subconscious way?

The approach varies from collection to collection. Lost Books, my first one, was compiled in 2006; in that instance, I was literally pulling all poetry I'd written from about 2004 up until that point that seemed like it might suit the purpose. Over the next few years of shopping it around to publishers (in the form of a query letter and sample), poems were removed and added as I wrote newer, stronger work that was, of course, being published on a piece-by-piece basis in magazines. Lost Books got three or four show-us-more type bites from a couple of US publishers and a couple of UK publishers early in the process, but it didn't find a home until Flipped Eye Publishing accepted it in early 2008. In the interim, I'd compiled a chapbook, Devil's Road Down, which was published by Maverick Duck Press in 2009.

All of my work seems to deal with these themes in one way or another: bodies of water, dreams, ghosts, history, legends, literature, memories, regrets, storytelling, and travel. Given this pool of persistent imagery, I've found that compiling my work in the years since almost becomes an act of blocking it chronologically (what did I write next that was strongest, and where do the boundaries of this particular assemblage fall?) If Lost Books and Devil's Road Down are about leaving the US behind in 2005, only to find that the sadness and stories I'd been telling at the time had followed me, then Wanderlust is about realizing I had at least found a place (the UK) I could exist without feeling like a fish out of water. My newest collection, The Dishonesty of Dreams, might be a study in madness in the opposite direction; from late 2011 through early 2012, I was forced to come back to a country that no longer feels like home. That grief is so great that I'm still trying to find words for it, and the pieces in DoD look hard at the harsh truths dreams tell us by lying. They're also about being other people, because being other people is the only escape mechanism I have left. Then again, the editorial team at Flipped Eye might have put it more succinctly than I can:

Where [the author] explored consequences in her first collection, 'Lost Books' (2010), here [in 'The Dishonesty of Dreams'] she engages the liminal, the reality that exists at the borders of a lived life; the fables we choose to build upon, the lies we tell ourselves to make our dreams true.

The trouble is, though, that I'm not sure it's possible to make dreams true.

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I'm not sure it's possible to make dreams true

I think I agree with you there. It's more like we have to make our true become our dreams.

Dreams have a way of receding from us one we've come close. Like rainbows.

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My partner and I chose to adopt children about 8 years ago and it has been much MUCH more difficult than we anticipated (we had fostered previously for several years). So this parenting is not the parenting I dreamed of, but I have to make this reality as enjoyable as I thought the "dream" would be.

Well, some people can't even make the choice to try for their dream, so there's that.

But usually even when you do - like you get into the college you wanted, you get the job you wanted, you find the partner you wanted - and then you find your dream has moved on! You graduate from college, your job that was fun isn't anymore, you and your partner have hit rough times... You keep coming up with new dreams.

I don't think I can add anything intelligent to this exchange. Lacking a bit of hope right now on the finding-employment-I-can-ultimately-live-with front at the moment, I'll do my best to hope you're both right!

This is a wonderful response, and very interesting too - thank you. ♥

Your work does have a strong, cohesive feel to it. The dreams, the hauntings... I really loved DoD by the way: I just finished it this week. It was so gorgeous, and sad, and I could really see how your grief about losing the UK came across in the collection. (I'll have to do a review soon.)

It's my belief that DoD represents my strongest collection of work to date, and I hope that this will be reflected somewhere out there in the world. Where, however, remains to be seen. My fingers are crossed.

Wishing you the best of luck with it. ♥

This was so, so interesting to read. It's interesting how you can see poetry reflecting particular periods in your life through consistent themes. I'm not sure I could say the same in quite such a coherent way. Sure there are themes and even stylistic choices that repeat, and I can see some progression but the overall narrative doesn't feel as strong. For me, putting together a collection (as I occasionally toy with the idea) involves dithering between whether to stick to a narrowish theme or show diversity. Anyway, I've rambled, but this was such a thought-provoking read. Also, a convenient place with links to your publications which I really ought to treat myself to :D

In the process of putting together a collection, I'd say try to do a bit of both insofar as you're able: both pay attention to trends in your work and also do your best to show a range of stylistic prowess at the same time :)

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