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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The value of a 'New & Selected' collection

As Geoff Page wrote in The Australian this weekend ('New and selected Australian poetry'), the 'New & Selected' poetry collection always presents the interesting question of how to order the pieces - whether to order them chronologically (oldest to newest) or by topic, etc.  Will the reader prefer to read the poet's story from the beginning, or do they want to start with the latest exciting chapter?

Page says award-winning poet Jane Williams got it right in Days Like These: New and Selected 1998-2013 (IP, 2013).  She ordered her poems in straight chronological order, beginning with her first collection.  Take a look at this great review in the article:

'Days Like These: New and selected 1998-2013' by award-winning poet Jane Williams

"Days Like These, Jane Williams's 'New & Selected' has a rather different trajectory. Twenty-three years younger than [Rae Desmond] Jones, Williams did not publish her first book until 1998. A relatively late-starter needs to make up for lost time and a well-edited New & Selected is often a good way to consolidate a reputation. Thus Williams's straight chronological ordering here serves her well.

Williams' first collection, Outside Temple Boundaries (1998), from which she has retained only eight poems, shows, in comparison with more recent work, a certain tentativeness of manner and a poet a little subdued by her influences.

From The Last Tourist (2006) onwards, however, Williams is the mature artist with a style very much her own (though her preference for minimal punctuation is widely shared these days).

Williams also has an unfailingly personal slant on her subject matter, along with a talent for evoking character and situation in a short space. In poems such as 'Thirst', 'The Begging Bowl' and 'To the Burglar Boys' Williams's concerns are often not unlike those of Jones, namely the almost-accidental by-blows of an otherwise prosperous society.

There is also, however, a welcome degree of humour in Williams's work, and an unapologetic celebration of life, most notably in 'Ag Borradh', dedicated to a man
"back from the coma
which held (him) like worry
back from the fog ...
... back to bud and to blossom ...
... called back to the world
and its quivering song
praise the light we grow into
the dark we grow from".
This balancing of light and dark is a mark of Williams's maturity as a technically versatile and forceful poet."

- Geoff Page, The Australian

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