Last week, I read a blog article by George Szirtes in which he finds a second-hand poetry collection, published in 1993, by Charles Boyle, and enjoys reading it on the train. In the comments section, Charles Boyle appears and mentions that, only the day before, he had written an article on why he hadn’t written any poems for a decade. I went to his blog and read the article and also a follow-up article on the same theme. I found these articles very moving. Boyle himself points out, rightly I think, that there is no mystique about any of this, but it’s the very lack of mystique that makes this paragraph count for something:
I wasn’t good enough. I wanted to get a new tone and a new range of material into the work, and I didn’t have the technique, the ability. Writing more of what I’d already written, variations on poems already in print, was pointless – firstly because there was no thrill in this, secondly because it wasn’t as if this was an income-generating activity that I needed to sustain to keep myself in cigarettes.
Well, I don’t know. Some good writers are their own fiercest critics and underestimate the quality of their own work compared to that of others. But perhaps, too, adding to the millions of poems already published may feel pointless unless you feel you really have something singular and groundbreaking to add to the mix.
Many poets churn out the same kind of poems collection after collection for years – some for decades! – and it doesn’t seem to bother them. They become a brand, and readers know exactly what to expect before they open a page. But other poets are more restless and shift with every collection, often not publishing with the same frequency and regularity as the brand-poets. They need the thrill of moving on, and the thrill of simply filling a blank sheet of paper with yet-another-poem in their well-honed style isn’t enough.
As readers, do you look forward to your favourite poets churning out a new collection with ‘more of the same’? Or do you prefer them to progress, to get “a new tone and new range of material” into their work?