15 July 2008

Some poems are better than others.

About a month and a half ago, I wrote two poems that were good ones. They came really easily, didn't require too much editing, and made me very happy. As punishment, the universe has since then plagued me with duds. They're okay. There are a few good lines. Some slightly comical moments. But they're not even good enough to be B-sides.

My bff and first reader has suggested cannibalizing some of these duds to make a Frankenstein. I've done that in the past, and it worked. But which ones to tear apart, and where to stitch the legs on?

I guess we couldn't have real knockout, powerhouse poems without writing the occasional unfocused, meandering poem with a shower curtain and lawn sprinklers in it. But it's hard knowing how to value work that isn't right on (not to mention the poems that are right on, but that always get passed up by editors, who sometimes like the duds better).

So I pose this question: what is your relationship with your lesser poems? Where do you house them? Do you get out the defibrillator and try to shock them back to life? Do they end up being your best poems after all? Do they wind up in the poetry shithouse?

I keep promising that the next poem I write will be an important one. Hopefully it will not be about moustaches.

12 comments:

Jay Robinson said...

Most of the poems I write (and this is probably true for many) are those lesser poems. The way I try to think about the poems that aren't so good, once I'm finished writing it, is that at least I'm now one poem closer to writing the next important one. Or so I hope anyway.....

Keith said...

I've been finishing drafts like lightning and throwing them in the cellar until at least a month later. Kind of like brewing beer. Have to make sure it's ready to drink, or it's going to be flat maybe too sweet.

I've done the Frankenstein thing once, and I think it worked. But usually if I used pieces from other poems it's because I couldn't get it out of my head and it was accidental.

Then again, I usually have a poem in my head for maybe months before I start writing. I usually don't just start with an image and go... though I'd like to be able to do that sometime...

P. J. said...

Frankensteining can be easy and (more importanly) fun, if you don't go into with the expectation that you need to stitch together a masterpiece. Think of as playing with a 1000 piece puzzle made of words, involving and brainy with the finished product in there somewhere before you even get started.

Nin Andrews said...

I'm often amazed by how much better my lesser poems do than the ones I think are my best. I keep them around for a long time, either way, because sometimes there is just one change that makes them sing . . . And I don't see it at first. A year or two later even, I suddenly know just what to do. Often it seems so obvious . . .

Jordan said...

Keep 'em all. They may turn out to have something later (years later).

Best always to go with the ones that do the most for the most people, but! most people may be wrong about which ones turn out to be the best.

Of course, you have to have a place to keep them. And if they're on a computer, probably best to save extra copies as .txt files.

Margaret Bashaar said...

Personally, I would love to read a poem about moustaches. I haven't read a good moustache poem in -- well -- ever, but I imagine that they could be quite comical.

When it comes to my dud poems I put them away and a month or so later try to decide if there is any hope for them. If I believe there is I try to beat them into something resembling a good poem, if I either A) fail at that (an all-too-common occurrence) or B) decide there is no hope at this time, they seem to get banished to my filing cabinet in the kitchen, waiting, perhaps, for another chance months and months later.

It's not the most economical process, but it works for me.

I don't usually Frankenstein unless I'm doing it with multiple sessions of free-writing that seem to go together.

Martha Silano said...

I love these questions you ask about the lesser poems, Mary. Most of the time my little failures go to a dead poem file, and then that file eventually goes into a box which in turn goes down to the basement. Once a poem gets into the basement, it's over. I mean, until I retire . . . or the kids are in college. Ain't no time for sniffing around in the basement (aka shit house). BUT, luckily they stick around on my computer in my poetry folder, and sometimes when I have time I look around for something to revise. I don't usually frankenstein-ize. Instead I either go: ooh, this IS really bad, OR (in the best cases) know exactly have to fix/end the poem. David Wagoner told me never to throw out anything, but sometimes I do. And I've accidentally lost quite a few poems, too, but never ones I really thought needed to be out there in the world.

newzoopoet said...

I generally scan the crap for good lines and keep just a file of those snippets for use later. It's hit or miss, but when it hits it's a great feeling.

jessica said...

With most of my instant coffee poems, I do one thing that really helps me: read it for one last time, throw it away, walk to my desk and try to re-write it, from memory. Most of the time it becomes something a little closer to cappuccino. :) And I haven't said hi in awhile. Hi! And a million congrats on ASiP.

Carol Mac said...

Ooooh, I'm with Margaret on the moustache poem. Maybe even have Robert Goulet appear somewhere in it. hahaha
I sometimes have to toss the poem, rip it up, burn it, delete the file, make it go away. Then, if it haunts me, I'll try to create a new poem in its honor. This process is called the if-you-really-love-it-set-it-free (or something like that).

Valerie Loveland said...

I have never successfully Frankensteined a poem, but it is pretty fun to try. I don't do anything with my bad poems usually because I often make them worse when I try fixing them.

Amy Sparks said...

Mary! Great discussion. Often I know a poem is a dud before I'm done writing. I find these scraps here and there, but don't rely on them. I like to write fast and all at once--then edit. I don't trust the slow burn.