“There are two ways for a poet to be professional which first collections tend to throw into relief. The first is the orthodox career, in which, having acquired the necessary awards (and, increasingly, degree), then having wooed the correct mentor, residency and publisher, a debut volume appears — its voice already assured, its technique established, its unique subject matter clearly delineated. None of these are easily come by, especially at an appropriate level to make it worth acquiring them in the first place.
But the second involves a still-harder apprenticeship, following the obstinate, labyrinthine path that learning craft takes through such markers of esteem and our individual experience. Along this route concepts like ‘voice’ or ‘muse’ fall under perpetual critique and suffer challenging reform. Here the poem itself often has to be sufficient reward, one glimpse of theme must function as sustenance for years, and publication may be no more than an interim report, rather than a career-defining goal.
Our society encourages new writers towards the first challenge, while their instincts tend them toward the second. On the one hand the triumphant first steps of Eliot or Auden; on the other the initial sketches of Pound or Morgan. Publishers, in the business of second-guessing posterity, prefer the former; the media, too, is always drawn to the simpler narratives. “ (W.N. Herbert)
That sentence, “Our society encourages new writers towards the first challenge, while their instincts tend them toward the second,” is spot on, isn’t it? Or is ‘encourages’ too mild a word?