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Old 10-01-2017, 05:44 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 3,184
Default A Poor Thing

Hi folks,

We were talking in a comment thread about our feelings toward our own poems. I said mine often give me a kind of incredulous happiness: I can't believe the words, the lines, the stanzas, came from me. Partly I think this reflects coming to poetry late. That incredulity is a key part of my pleasure in reading over what I've written, and I think makes me enjoy my own work more than almost anyone else's. It's a harder feeling to get with other people's work, I think, since that sits on the page already fashioned, but I get it quite often, here and there, on the Sphere, and then in reading say Yeats, or Heaney, or Dante, or Shakespeare. How is that moment humanly possible, I think. It seems like a divine afflatus.
So I can't take credit for this thread idea, it's not mine. I think I can say that Mark McDonnell suggested it, though of course the above reaction is purely mine. I'd be interested in others' thoughts and feelings.


Oh, of course sometimes for me, my poetry seems clumsy and pedestrian. But the feeling of amazement keeps me going, and I think can complicate revision. It makes others' eyes key.

Last edited by John Isbell; 10-01-2017 at 05:53 AM.
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Old 10-01-2017, 09:14 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,280

Interesting topic John!

I'd say emotions regarding my work go in cycle goes something like:
  • I become obsessed with and idea (structural, thematic, a line, etc.);
  • If I finish the poem in that sitting, I love it and thing it's the best thing ever, sometimes it's a weekend thing full of frantic revisions, and I'll consider that "one sitting";
  • If I'm smart enough to sit on it, I edit it a month later (or longer), share it on the 'Sphere, and hone it, and usually feel pretty good about it. Sometimes I take revisions and sit on it even longer before returning to "finish" it in a different mindset (I'm an inveterate tinkerer);
  • After sharing it, I'll send it out. Except for a select few pieces, I've pretty much moved on mentally and what I once thought was among my best work is now rubbish
  • Sometimes I find a respect for it long after, when it ceases to be "mine," in the sense that the "me" who made it has long moved past the "me" of now.
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Old 10-01-2017, 10:03 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 14,086

I read my poems from two perspectives. First, the personal perspective that makes me very happy if I feel that a piece of who I am and how I think has somehow managed to take on a form of existence that does not depend upon my biological existence in the world. Next, the critical perspective that gives me no benefit of the doubt for being me, but assesses the poem through the eyes of a reader who doesn't know me or care whether a piece of who I am is preserved. Some of my own poems can delight me when I read with a tilt toward the personal perspective, but the same poem can disgust or disappoint me when I read with a tilt toward the critical perspective. The goal, of course, is to write something that satisfies both perspectives, since neither one without the other is worth a damn.
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Old 10-01-2017, 10:44 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 3,184

Both the creative process and the revision process fascinate me.
Rereading - which starts at once - a fair share of my words or lines seem to me to come from outside me, hence my surprise at them: a thing I love, more I think than anything else, in poems by others. But as for what you, Roger, call "the critical perspective that gives me no benefit of the doubt for being me", I wish I had more of that! A lot of my own rereading is just removing obviously clumsy moments - feminine endings, one-syllable enjambments. Sometimes I'll revise for sense. I endlessly revise looking for such ugliness, but there's no substitute for good eyes on someone else, hence my love for the Eratosphere, both comment threads like this and crits.
I've published, but almost exclusively critical work. Publishing changes how my stuff looks to me, and helps me to let go.

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Old 10-01-2017, 11:55 AM
Michael Ferris's Avatar
Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: a foothill of the Catskills
Posts: 846

Yes, great topic, John.

I always let what Iíve written sit for a few days or weeks or months, and then revisit it. At least half gets deleted, in toto, and probably more should. I edit and tweak what remains. When something really works (and Iím conscious of it), I have a sense of surprise and marvel. And pleasure, of course. Thereís something in the composition of real poetry that eludes or exceeds rational analysis, I think: we call it the Muse, or inspiration, because we canít explain it. I suspect the same thing occurs in the other arts.
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