The Death of the Collection?

I have been ruminating over the fact that this year and next year seems to be the year of the anthology. I love anthologies, they give you a snapshot of the industry and your peers. They are also wonderful launches too as you are never alone as most of the poets show up, even if only for the nibbles and drink. Therefore, you are normally guaranteed an audience. More importantly you get to meet people you’ve never met before, some you haven’t seen in a long time and a few that you can’t remember why you don’t see them anymore until they get a few drinks in them, and then you recall why you changed your telephone number.

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That aside, I have been in some cracking anthologies this year, including Lung Jazz and The Robin Hood Book. Next year, I have a few poems in Sculpted and Versions of the North: Contemporary Yorkshire Poetry. It seems to me that anthologies offer the reader and poet a real opportunity that collections don’t. It provides you with a feeling of community, a selection of voices and there is something in them for everyone. Whereas the collection is one voice, and can often work with one theme and that is something that is incredibly hard to sell for a publisher and poet. What do you do if readers simply don’t like your collection? You can’t afford to piss off poetry readers, there are so few of them that will actually put their hands in their pocket to buy something. That by the way isn’t just in poetry, it is the state of many live events for literature. The simple fact is that once you’ve read aloud, many just won’t buy. I wonder if something could be done about this, like pay per view, poem per view, buy a collection and we’ll read, if you don’t buy, we don’t speak. That though could come back to bite us, as a world in which poets and writers keep their traps shut may be applauded by the minority. Yet, there is a sense that the collection is becoming stagnant, that anthologies and chapbooks/pamphlets are picking up the slack. Something small, something unique is easy to sell, likewise something with many voices will make a noise and will sell. It is the sheer force of the shout that drives the anthology, you don’t like poetry? Screw you, read this. You don’t like this poem? Screw you, turn the page and read another one. You like this poem? Great, buy the fucking collection. You’d prefer the anthology? Not surprised. You teach? Teach this anthology, something for every kid. For many of us, we come to the world of poetry through the anthology. It is something that is comforting, warming and has driven British poetry for decades. It is something we reach for, the anthology has something for us all, be it an anthology of love poems, mourning poems, wedding poems or the 101 best poems. We have seen them all. They come around. They keep us alive. They put us with our peers. They are a snapshot whereas the collection is just one layer that builds up a life’s work that will become a poet. That may be something that the average reader can’t buy into.

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