Monday, 17 June 2013

1) When is a Poem Finished and 2) Is it any good?

Sestina Production, mid 1960s
Hello again. How many times have you heard someone say, 'oh here's something I wrote last night?' Having been to many readings and being a 'social networker' in my case it's heard it quite a lot. I'd say that most poets drafted assiduously, cutting, re-shaping, re-ordering until they've either got something good or something which has been so heavily edited that the goodness has been sucked out of it. It's become a mouthful of over-chewed Hubba Bubba. Paul Valery said 'a poem' is never 'finished', only 'abandoned.' I'd agree but also say there's such a thing as an optimum draft.  Knowing when this is can be difficult, especially if you keep tinkering with the piece. 'Ah, but the competition deadline is tomorrow, who cares! They won't notice!' This probably isn't a good way to think about it. They will notice. It's easy to think you've written something brilliant, but give it a little rest in your notebook or hard drive. Things take time.

I haven't written much of late, but I'm hanging on waiting for something to happen. A poem takes as long as it takes, sometimes this is 3 hours and sometimes this has been 18 months. Most of the time I draft something for a little while, feel my eyes hurt, lose the will, abandon it for a while and then go back. Not all the time though. As I pursue this poetry thing more and more I am sure there will be many 'abandoned' drafts at the back of drawers that might come in for more editing at a later date. Some people, who are either very skilled or fibbing will say, 'oh I can write poems that come to me very nearly complete.' Maybe. Even so, you'd still need a bit of time to figure out if it was any good or not.

Don't force yourself to write if it's not working, STEP AWAY from the poem, go out, take a walk, clean a window, skip. Don't force it. I know I've sent off things too early and that's part of the learning curve I suppose. At least when you send something out it can stop you tinkering, and when it comes back your eyes and brain may be able to deal with it afresh. Here's Helena Nelson:

Fast or slow, it’s hard to see a poem properly when you’re close to it. They need a little time and emotional distance. Although fresh rolls are the only rolls worth eating, this analogy doesn’t work for la poé not send out fresh poems. Put them in a drawer. Read them again when you can read them like a reader, not a poet. Then see how the little bastards shape up.

Helena's full post can be found here. Read it. It's very interesting.

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