Thursday, June 2, 2011

Old Work, New Work, and How to Create a Set List

Years ago, I went to see REM when they toured to support Monster.  This was the tour where they warned fans that they wouldn't be playing much from their early years.

I enjoyed the concert immensely, but I did wonder if every time Michael Stipe pens a song, he pauses and asks himself, "Do I still want to be playing this song 20 years from now?"

Or does he just feel lucky that people will keep shelling out money to hear whichever songs they most want to hear?

I've wondered the same thing with poets.  I've noticed that the only poem of Carolyn Forche's that I ever see in anthologies for students is "The Colonel."  I've wondered if she ever says, "You know, I wrote that almost 40 years ago.  I've written good poems since."

Or is she thrilled to have her poem still appear in anthologies?

I have the issue of old work and new work on the brain because of a post I wrote on Voice Alpha.  On Tuesday, I wrote a post about creating a set list for your poetry reading, and this morning, I wrote a post about creating a set list if you you have more than one book.

I realize some of you might be saying, "More than one book?!!  I should be so lucky."  With persistence, you likely will be.

Those of us who are more prolific with our rough drafts will also have to consider when to give up on finding a home for older poems.  We might even have to consider when to take manuscripts out of circulation.  I don't have easy answers.  When so much depends on the preferences of one editor, and editors come and go, I tend to keep poems and manuscripts in circulation until I feel like they no longer represent my current literary interests.

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