Whenever I become fixated on a particular album, particularly a ‘classic’ by an artist I haven’t previously been familiar with, I want to find every other song that the artist wrote and/or recorded during that time period to a) imagine what an alternative version of that album might’ve sounded like, and b) to get a glimpse into the creative process for that album.
Box sets and anniversary edition reissues are useful in this respect. Over the past few years, The Smashing Pumpkins have reissued their initial run of albums as lavish multi-disc expanded editions, each with b-sides, outtakes, and demo versions. I was a fan of their 90s output so I know many of those albums intimately, but these reissues provide additional context for the original album—we get to hear what interested frontman Billy Corgan as he was writing and recording songs for each album. We also get contemporaneous versions of songs that were eventually included on future albums.
I’ve always seen poetry collections like album cycles with ‘singles’ (poems first published in journals) and outtakes (poems that for whatever reason never see the light of day). One of the ‘outtakes’ from Super Model Minority is a poem called ‘Now’, which I started drafting in early 2018 around the time of the publication of my second collection HE’S SO MASC. The poem is a response to the overwhelming number of mass shootings that have taken place in the past few years.
Although the poem’s structure and form was pretty much set from that first draft, its content shifted every time I heard about another incident in the media, whether abroad or—more shockingly—at home. The poem became my real-time response to these horrendous events as well as a vessel to contain the pain and anger that each headline stirred in me.
An early version of ‘Now’ was selected for publication by a journal a couple of years ago. However, for various reasons, production on the journal stalled and the poem remained unpublished until… well, now. Despite the poem’s troubled publication journey, I always anticipated that it would be a shoo-in for Super Model Minority. In early versions of the manuscript for the book, ‘Now’ was the final poem of section one of the book, which groups the staunch polemic poems together. It almost made it to the finish line, but was cut in the final cull.
I considered ‘Now’ to be one of the key poems in Super Model Minority because it encapsulated many of its themes. Perhaps this is what led it to be cut from the manuscript—once we started making those really tough calls about what was in or out it started to read too much like one of those tidy ‘here is what this book is about’ poems that often over-explain things to the reader.
During the manuscript’s culling process, my publisher, Sam Elworthy, said that I could always hold on to the offcuts for a future book. There’s a part of me that knows this probably won’t happen to the poems that didn’t make it into Super Model Minority. I don’t know what my next book will be about, but I see its development taking place in its own creative universe.
On a related note, early versions of the Super Model Minority manuscript included poems that had been previously published as early as 2006 but hadn’t made it into either of my first two books. Although they fit the theme and vibe of the book, they were among the first to be cut when I started dropping poems. Maybe one day they’ll end up in a selected or collected poems volume; for now, they are the b-sides and rarities that a reader might stumble across when flicking through an old journal or in some dusty corner of the internet.
Although it didn’t ultimately make the cut, ‘Now’ remains an important part of the Super Model Minority story because without it I may not have followed its emotional lead and written the title poem or ‘The Magician’, which was another response to the Christchurch mosque attacks and other shootings. The world of every book is always more expansive than what’s contained between its two covers. Sometimes the poems that don’t make it into a collection say a lot about the author’s intent and creative practice. I’ve always been interested in knowing how poets make decisions about what they leave in and take out.
Right now, I’m in the exploratory phase of starting a new collection—I’m reading widely and allowing myself to follow any and all ideas. Some of the poems I’ve written since finalising Super Model Minority are a continuation of its themes; others veer wildly away in both content and tone. It’s exciting to be entering a new creative era of possibilities—who knows what will make the cut when it’s time to assemble book number four?