The difficult second album.
If, like me, you don’t get your first collection published ‘til you are fifty years old, then you have a whole lot of life to go into it, plenty of grist to the mill, as it were. But then your second collection is (usually) needed sometime soon after, and maybe not a whole lot will have changed or happened in your life to give you much new material. Especially as some poets only write/finely craft a handful of poems per year. It’s fine and dandy if you aspire to write dainty erudite poetry collections about exotic locations you often visit, or poems about trees, or plants, or cats, but if you want to write about life you surely have to have some life to write about?
What if you’ve said everything in the first collection, what if you’ve, ‘shot your bolt’, what can you say now that’s interesting or urgent? That’s the difficulty of the ‘second album.’
I’m fortunate in two ways: firstly I’ve had seven whole years elapse since my first collection (Jewel, Salmon Poetry 2012). Secondly, I feel just as angry, just as left out, just as hungry for change, just as violently committed to writing poems, as I did at the start. I just can’t stop writing, I have no choice in the matter, rabid poems keep knocking at the door (at night, always at night) and won’t go away ‘til I let them in and give them a cup of tea and a biscuit to calm them down. The only difficulty is tethering them long enough to whittle them down to a book sized amount. In short, the actual writing of the difficult second album hasn’t proved difficult at all!
Well that’s great, isn’t it? Happy days! Full steam ahead, all plain sailing. Er, no.
Unfortunately, though the writing of a book should be the mountain climbed (or tumbled down in my case), the real graft happens a million miles away from the words. You may have the best collection in the world but no one is going to read it, mainly because nobody reads poetry, but partly because unless you network like a glad-handing dervish on amphetamines, nobody will even hear of your book, let alone buy it and/or read it/review it/ promote it/ write an article for The Irish Times about it.
So how do you network?
Well, entering the poetry world is not for the faint of heart. I’ve had merrier times on rain sodden deep winter building sites with irate gap toothed hairy arsed builders trying to kill me with various steel-based implements. You’ll need the hide of a rhino to take on the lit world, so if you haven’t got one, you’d better grow one quick. My advice is, sacrifice a chicken at midnight, drink its blood and solemnly swear to the gods of poetry that you’ll work your newly acquired hard- nosed desire to succeed like it’s a mighty muscle, then pump it nightly in front of the mirror and inflate your ego like it’s a hot air balloon and finally when you’re almost frothing at the mouth with ambition you’ll be ready to attend events seven nights a week.
Go for it! Do your homework, find the right people to introduce yourself to , schmooze them in particular, but tell everyone, like EVERYONE, how great they are, no matter who they are (next week they could be ‘somebody’), never complain about anything or anybody, always turn up, show up, never ever dare to point out unfairness or favouritism/cronyism/cabals, simply continuously support and smile. Whatever you say, don’t say anything even vaguely negative, everything is wonderful, you are delighted to meet them and to read/share their gorgeous books/articles/reviews/selfies/festivals/readings/workshops. Oh, and attend as many of the latter as you possibly can, the more expensive the better.
Be the personification of the joys of spring as you follow the leaders of the pack on Facebook (slightly passe) and especially Twitter (de rigeur) like they are dogs on heat. Like everything they say, re-tweet ‘til your fingers bleed, share their posts like they are heavenly spun gold.
Wow! And that’s it?
Well, not quite, you can write the best book ever, slavishly follow the guidelines for sycophancy and general unctuous grovelling, BUT if you are not the right social class, shape, size, age, colour, gender, then generally you can forget it.
So why bother?
That’s a good question, being a bit mad, helps. As does cyclical bouts of egregious self-belief and crippling insecurity catalysing then shaping various raw ingredients of internal paradoxes. Add in a smidge of dogged commitment a pinch masochism and cook at 180 degrees for twenty minutes.
Make sure everything is dead before you serve it.
I don’t enjoy my writing at all, but a bit like a fork stuck in your eye, I certainly feel all the better for getting it out. And like the fork, I dread to think what would happen if it stayed in.
Basically, writing poetry is often a thankless task, sometimes a pointless one. Even if you do crack the clique, there’s not much glory, let alone money, even at the very top of this particular hill of beans. So, unless you really enjoy it or simply must do it, or are mad, then don’t. But if you do, (and secretly I really hope you do) then whatever happens, never let the bastards grind you down.
(c) Peadar O’Donoghue
Order your copy of The Death of Poetry here.