Poetry essay: What goes into a poem isn’t seen

When a poet presents a finished poem, in many cases the poem wasn’t written that way.  As the poet worked on the poem, changes were made.  Lines were changed.  Words were changed.  Form elements were modified.  The poem took shape as the poet worked on it.  How it looked at different stages, might have been quite different than how it looked when finished.

This idea raises some issues for poets as they present their work.

First, a poet should understand that those who read their poetry might not perceive the amount of work that went into it.

When a person reads a wonderful sounding stanza of poetry for example, they don’t know if it was just written that way, or if it went through multiple variations.  This is something a poet should keep in mind when they present their work.

A poet wants their poetry to be appreciated, but they should understand that many readers won’t appreciate the work that goes into it, because they don’t understand the work that goes into it.

Second, sometimes a poet can remember what a poem was like at different stages.  A poet knows what words they changed, what lines were removed, and so forth.  This can sometimes influence the poet’s perception of their own work.  The poet knows what it was, and so they see how it is, differently.

Third, in addition to a poet perceiving their work differently from a reader, a poet might actually remember parts of poem that are no longer there, and understand those parts as part of the work.

For example, if a poet had a poem where a flower dies, and when working on the poem they at first explicitly state this, but then later they remove the statement, the poet might remember this line and understand the poem differently than a reader might.  A reader, not reading the line, might, for example, think the flower only wilted.

Fourth, as a poem develops it might improve.  The first rendition of it might not be as good as the last.  When a poet presents their work, they are presenting a refined product, and not a raw one.

This can have an effect on how people perceive the poet’s poetry.  People might think the poet comes up with the work simply as it is presented.  They might not understand that there were preceding drafts.

This idea can sometimes create a sense of disillusionment for readers if they ever watch a poet create a poem.  They may have thought that the work was created effortlessly and be disappointed when they find out it isn’t.  It would almost be like a person watching a great artist draw and the person seeing the artist erase.  They may have never considered that the artist made changes or mistakes.

 

When a poet creates a poem, work goes into it that isn’t normally seen.  A poet should be aware of this idea and how it impacts the perception of their work.

As an interesting exercise, a poet might record their work on a poem, for example be using a computer program that records what is on their screen.  It might interesting for a poet to present the development of a poem, in addition to its final form.  This would give readers a better insight into the poet’s work.

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