Note: The Version Series

If you are wondering why I am writing so many numbered versions of the same form of poem, the real answer is that I organically came to the conclusion it would be a productive way to get some good poems. But then I came up with the following retrospective rationalisation.

I heard a poet* say something to the effect that when they want to write a collection, they just write 170 poems and choose 60. And it made me think. If you want to write n good poems, you just have to write xn poems, where x would change depending on your poetic quotient. So if you want to write a collection of, say, 100 poems, and your poetic quotient is 3, then you should write 300 poems, and then scrape off the impurities, leaving 100 great poems. The poetic quotient of the quoted poet is 170/60, or 2.83. Pretty low, I would think. A lower quotient is more consistently successful, and a zen master poet would have a quotient of 1, where every poem they write comes out pure and beautifully successful, regardless of the style.

So thought I would try writing xn poems. But to arrive at an accurate result I would have to limit other factors – a set form would remove a lot of variables. The form that emerged with the idea was a poem of six stanzas, each of four eight syllable lines. Each titled by a version number. ‘V’s from one through to either 100, or 364, or whatever, depending on when I decide to stop. Then I will end up with n poems, and I will have an indication of my poetic quotient.**

The idea is to use a set form as a poetic diary, recording something for each day, or every other day, so I get a range of styles, moods, material, inspirations, etcetera. That’s the real interest in this for me I think. To see how my use of the form changes. The first few were taking a lot of inspiration from the style of Ben Lerner, and I have changed already to a more colloquial and referential style.

*I think from Alice Oswald or Anne Carson, I can’t seem to find it now.

**This is all tongue in cheek as I don’t really think such a thing is accurate or even helpful, just a productive idea. I don’t think anyone in history has had a poetic quotient of 1, though it would be a nice mythic characteristic. Poems don’t drop off the tongue like gold bricks, they are filigreed (etymology: thread-and-grained) to make a whole after the fact. And I fully intend to go back and rework them as I go, as I always do. But that won’t change which poems I feel to be the greater successes, if my experience is anything to go by. But then which poems I think are successes doesn’t often correlate with what other people feel are the successes. On top of that our poetic quotient would change from day to day, moment to moment – I rarely write every day, and some days I write several poems I consider to be successes. The best poems in the world could be written by the poets with the highest quotients. The whole idea is just meant to have some sort of illocutionary force. To accomplish something creative.

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