How many poems constitutes “a lot” of poems?
Sometime last year I began trying to wrangle my poems into some kind of order, all my poems. All.
This was a fairly simple task up to the year 2011. In the final months of 2008, as previously stated at one time or another, I burned a bunch of my work. I was a person who saved every scrap of anything I wrote because there might be even one line in it worth pulling out and polishing up. I managed somehow to retain a handwritten “table of contents” of every poem I’d ever written up to that time. Some of those poems are gone forever, others I’ve been able to reconstruct from memory. Yes, from memory. It’s an odd thing to find one’s self re-writing a poem originally written at age sixteen, completely from having memorized it at the time, so many, many, years after the fact. Everything through 2010, a year in which I seem not to have written anything, I can put into some kind of order pretty easily, because I already have at one time or another. Then came the internet. There are some poems that I’ve lost to the internet forever. They were on some webpage of mine or another and I didn’t back them up, didn’t write them down, who knows what all. Then for some reason, I started keeping multiple notebooks at one time, like why would I even do that to myself? But not only that, I’d just flip open the notebook to whatever page was blank and write on it, no chronology, no organization, just writing things down. I’ve had a bit of trouble deciphering some of my own cryptography as a result. Then I was printing out single pages of poems composed on the computer or online. Thus, the need to get some organization happening. I am finding poems everywhere. How many poems is “a lot” of poems?
My best guess is that I’ve written about one thousand poems in the last thirty-eight years of actually trying to write poetry. That’s an average of about two poems a month. In reality, there were entire years where I wrote nothing or next to nothing. It appears I wrote only one poem in 1989, not much of anything from 1999 to 2002, and so on. It looks like I probably have copies of about seven hundred of the thousand, published and unpublished. ( I have published four books of poetry thus far.) I’m not saying that’s seven hundred good, publishable, poems, just how many total. Some of them aren’t any good at all, and some of them, I’ve no idea what I was trying to write or get at. Others seem devoid of what I know to be my natural rhythm and voice, my own personal song stylings, if you will. But those poems are important too, developmentally. Those poems mean I was trying something new. And that isn’t including pieces of prose, or poetic paragraphs, philosophical musings. And, I’m still writing new poems.
I don’t know if that’s technically, officially, a lot of poems to have written, but it feels like it is. Whatever else I ever do, or don’t, write, poetry is my first love, my last love, my forever and always. When I finished writing that last collection of stories, what I was feeling was “I’ve got to get back to my poems.” Of all that I write, it is my poetry that matters the most and is the most meaningful to me, and fulfilling for me as a writer. I started out as only a poetess, only. And I am, at heart, still only a poetess.
I’ll tell you this, and if you’re a writer too perhaps you will find this helpful, perhaps not; the chaos, havoc, and calamity, ushered in creatively with the internet is one thing, a lot of great stuff has come with that, and I gave myself over to the disorganization of it in just trying to keep up with how fast the ideas were happening, but, it is tough not to wish that I’d kept up with my organizational principles, developed over many years of writing. I’m having to re-establish those good habits now. I’m having to reel it back in, now I’m having to wrangle it all back from the clutches of technology. I’m saying, if you have a system in place for yourself that works for you, stick with it. It will take me at least the rest of this year to finish getting things organized again and get back to one notebook at a time. ( And one small notebook for when out and about to transcribe from upon returning home. I wouldn’t ever take my main notebook anywhere to be lost, but that’s just me.) I also endorse the practice of keeping every scribbled scrap, and keeping it organized so that it doesn’t awaken you at two in the morning with, “That was a brilliant line! Where did I write it down…?”