are many milestones in a poet’s career: their first poem; their
first collection; their first prize or award nomination. Tim
Seibles is no stranger to these firsts, but now he is coming up on a new
milestone: the “new and selected” collection.
Etruscan Press has had the privilege of working with Seibles on his two previous collections, One Turn Around the Sun (2017) and Fast Animal (2012). Now, we collaborate again on Voodoo Libretto: New and Selected Poems, which will be released in January 2022.
To reach the place where you can craft a new and selected collection,
you must first learn the ins and outs of putting a collection together.
Since his first collection, Body Moves, Seibles has had time to hone this skill.
“It takes me on average about five years between books, sometimes a
little more,” says Seibles. “I am just writing poems. I love to write so
I am just writing, but usually in any particular period, certain kinds
of themes are going to emerge whether you’re intending them to or not.
Your mind is in a particular place, so the poems may begin to talk to
each other.” He says it isn’t until the third year in his process that
he begins to see the narrative arc taking shape.
In other forms like fiction or memoir, a narrative arc is expected, and
needed to make the reader feel they are going somewhere. It is no
different for a poetry collection. There has to be a road for the reader
to travel, with different pit stops along the way.
When I asked him how his process has changed over the course of his
career, Seibles said, “When I put together a collection of poems these
days, I have a clearer sense of how a book of poems can have an implied
narrative arc. While each section of the book may have somewhat
different emphases, I think more deliberately about how each section
speaks to the others. It’s important that there be real variety in the
poems—tonally, subject-wise, lengthwise, and formally—but there must
also be a felt sense of wholeness in the book, a sense of continuous
flow. I believe I’m more capable of establishing that in a collection
To make poems written in a certain time period with a similar theme
harmonize is already difficult, but Seibles has now stepped into an even
taller order. Now the question becomes how will he take the poems
across all of his collections and still manage to find the narrative in
it all? As the times change from day to day, year to year, and decade to
decade, so do we as individuals and still, there is no better
documentation tool to record the changes in our lives than the written
Voodoo Libretto: New and Selected Poems will not only show us
Tim Seibles in a specific time and place but will give readers a glimpse
into the evolution of Seibles as a whole. As for him, crafting this new
collection has allowed him to look back on his career of writing and
gain new insights to his own evolution.
With the success Seibles has seen, even he admits it can be easy to
overlook his own progress. “As artists, we are rarely able to perceive
our own growth. Generally speaking, we are just doin’ it,
trying to make the best poems, stories, paintings, etc. that we can.
Putting a New and Selected together has definitely made me see the
previous collections in a new light. It has allowed me to see aspects of
my own development that I could not have seen as I worked on each book
separately. For example, I recognized that, book by book, I was becoming
more sophisticated and more varied in terms of the strategies I
employed to make poems.” Of all the insights he says he gained from
revisiting his previous work, he highlighted that going through 40 years
of poetry has affirmed the love he has for poetry and for writing
poems—the innumerable possibilities that sitting with a blank page
Voodoo Libretto will truly be a celebration of the love
Seibles has for poetry as well as all he has given and gained from the
craft. Seibles hopes as readers flip from Body Moves to One Turn Around the Sun and
beyond, that “each book represented in the selected poems would
represent the arc of that book, and as a whole, the entire collection
would show a steady deepening of his own understanding of composition,
language, and his life and how it connects to other lives.”
Link to interview with Tim Seibles about making a book of poems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofJhqZQNrg8
Seibles was born in Philadelphia in 1955. He has received fellowships
from both the Provincetown Fine Arts Center and The National Endowment
for the Arts. His collection, Fast Animal, was a
finalist for the 2012 National Book Award and winner of the Theodore
Roethke Memorial Prize for Poetry. His poems have appeared in numerous
literary journals including Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Renaissance Noire, Rattle, Shenandoah, Callaloo, New Letters, Poetry, and The Massachusetts Review.
He spent a year as Poet in Residence at Bucknell University and he
recently completed a two-year stint as Poet Laureate of Virginia.
Wayne Benson is a poet and graduate assistant with Etruscan Press. He is
currently pursuing his M.F.A. with the Maslow Family Graduate Program
in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. Benson is also the poetry
editor at River and South Review.