Poem 55 is a poem that went through some growing pains. A lesson I think all poets need to know:
Poem 55 had the opportunity to see a review from a visiting JMU-grad poet on his book tour. His advice was simple, and mirrored the advice I had recieved in class all semester: Cut the top
but then upon his second reading he paused and said: Nevermind. I Like It. I don’t know what I would do.
Everyone felt that way. Even me. The top was highly figurative, it had little grounding imagery and leaned on lots and lots of tired metaphors and similies. The trouble was cutting something that on most second reads, the reader felt was important to the poem.
But what’s important, if it needs more attention than most readers are willing to promise. The sad truth about reading is that most people don’t have a second read. If it doesn’t have a first-read-stick, then be honest, does it work?
I love the first part, but when I finally made the needed cut the poem grew into its own. I could find a good title for it and make some small adjustments that were hard to see in the blaring distraction of the first section.
To be fair, the first part has some good pith (pith being the thoughtful stuff that makes poems wonderful) and so there’s no reason not to cut it up and use it somewhere else.
I had tried a variety of presentations in order to keep the top: Italics, crossed-out text, parenthesis, small and hard to read words that showed something came before. They were no good. There was no good way to present bad information. So don’t. Let yourself delete it!
Poems are only as good as their weakest link. Like everything else, they depend on all parts being equally strong. When a line of a poem or a whole section is not good enough, the poem suffers as a whole. Don’t save bad lines. Delete them, let yourself overcome the lesser parts of your writing, and see the real revisions and changes the poem needs to be great. By keeping the section for as long as I did, I missed more sophisticated changes and had trouble making a title. I thought this poem was about grief, but it was really about my dad. Had I been afraid of change I would have missed out on some serious wisdom. Don’t be afraid, take back your poem!