I've just come across a piece advertising a reading by Lee Harwood, in Hove, to mark the launch of his Selected Poems, from Shearsman. Apart from cursing the fact that Hove is halfway across the country (admittedly, living slap bang in the middle of England, that's true of an awful lot of places), it set me thinking.
Two or three years ago I bought Harwood's Collected Poems, also from Shearsman, and enjoyed it hugely. I've gone back to it again and again (in fact, it's my current bedside reading). But several poets and readers have mentioned, in the past, that they much prefer the idea of a Selected to a Collected, the latter symbolically writing an emphatic full stop to the poet's career. Of course, they're often brought out after the poet is dead, but that brings its own problems, not least the fact that they can be packed with juvenilia or poems that the writer would rather had remained consigned to obscurity.
Selecteds, on the other hand, allow the poet to weed out work that he or she would rather they weren't associated with anymore, for whatever reason, and might be thought to provide a truer picture of the poet. They're a good way to spark interest in the poet's individual volumes. The slight problem is that, inevitably, there'll be occasions when they don't include work that the reader only discovers, much later, tucked away in those individual collections. I've had that happen a few times, often with Faber and Faber Selecteds, and as I say, it's probably inevitable.
On the whole, though, my preference would usually be for Selecteds, for the reasons suggested. I wouldn't, as I say, be without that Harwood Collected, nor would I swap my gargantuan Ted Hughes Collected for a slimmer volume. So I guess it comes down to the individual poet. Some need to be read in their entirety because their poetry depends on that much wider context, others simply because you like them so much.
But anyway, I'd be interested to know what anyone else thinks...
* As regards that reading, if you're in or around Hove, this Friday, November 7th, at 6.30pm, it's £6, and is at the Old Market, Upper Market Street, Hove. Ticket price includes free glass of wine and a reduction on books purchased, and is available from City Books, 23 Western Road, Hove, tel: 01273 725 306.