I was one of a group of readers last week, celebrating the Poetry Festival at the Café de la Mairie, Place St Sulpice, where I met another writer for a glass of cold Sancerre (it was a hot day, the café is not air-conditioned) a couple afternoons ago. He is publishing a poetry collection in the fall in New Zealand; we discussed revision, especially up-to-the-finish-line revisions, always a little dicey, in part because one wants the book to be perfect, in part because one tends to make last-minute changes and then regret them, when it’s too late. I’d been thinking about unity of tone in a collection: what makes for unity of tone, and whether it is desirable. So maybe the question is how to have a ‘harmonious’ (whatever that is) range of tones, as in Heaney, Ashbery, Milosz or Larkin (even): poignant, funny, erotic…
I like miscellanies, collections you can open and read anywhere. In the best of these, of course, the writer’s ‘voice’ (another broad concept that needs defining) is the unifying element—and perhaps the small links, a phrase, a word, that lead from one poem to the next, or the poem that signals a change in thematic material, autobiographical to erotic, say. Putting a book together is like hanging paintings for a show. Sometimes you can get away with throwing a Braque into the middle of Picasso…you couldn’t throw a Matisse in though. Where is this analogy leading me? Strong personalities make strong books?
It is raining this morning in Paris. The zinc roofs shine, the pigeons coo on their ledges (and sometimes on my kitchen porch, landing on my oranger du mexique and breaking the branches). We have tried children’s windmills, skewers, forks, old CDs, but still they come. Ten years ago I was charmed by a pigeon raising a brood there. No longer. It is amazing what they find to build with in the streets of this ungreen city: a few twigs, bits of somewhat flexible wire, hairpins.
The rain has stopped. The zinc roofs have dried. A class of schoolchildren with a teacher in front and a teacher behind chatter on their way to the swimming pool. A car, looking for a parking place. Pigeons cooing.