The new poem

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The poem and I are best friends. For ever.

We hold hands in public and spend every spare minute with each other. We are in love. We have already set the date and are planning a large family.

A week, maybe two, later we are no longer speaking. Something I said, something the poem said (I can’t remember). It is over, finished.

The poem goes into the drawer, with all the other failures, where no one will ever read it.

Months later (let’s say it’s spring) the poem makes an appearance. It was not invited, but here it is, out of the drawer, flapping around in daylight gasping for breath on the deck of my desk.

We are past the point of niceties, so we skip the introductions. This is life and death.

Something about line 3 is catching my eye, the possibility that this is where the poem in fact begins its true impetus into the thing that it wants to say, if it might be permitted. If I may be so kind.

So we spend time together, the poem and I, bringing that reality into being. It is not cosy, like before. It feels dogged, like walking up a hill with no summit.

It goes back into the drawer, of course. Another failure, still failing, like all the other failures, published and not. There will not be much hope for it.

Months later (another season), the poem is to be found attached to the back of another poem, My New Favourite, somewhere on the corner of my desk. It has no right to be here. It is gatecrashing the party and it knows it. I notice its body language, humble, slightly hunched, the way it averts my eyes while knowing it has my full attention.

I begin chopping at the poem. Big slices, whole stanzas, favourite passages. The odd thing is the poem seems to be enjoying it! The more I slash at it, the more the poem looks like it wanted to all along.

I can’t say I am impressed. I am not even sure it is a poem. I am not even sure I like it.

Months later (between seasons) I put the poem into an envelope. The Best New Poetry have sent some poems back so I am sending them out again the same morning to Super New Poetry Near You. The batch contains Definitely The Best Poem I Have Written, two poems I hate, this new one, and something that took five minutes.

I hear nothing for months. But you know what’s coming. They take the five minute poem, and one of the ones I hate. They say they really like the new poem but it is not for them. (I wonder what is ‘for’ ‘them’.)

Off the new poem goes again, with one quick word change, to Really Great Poetry. I don’t even think about it. Three weeks later they say they will take it, just like that, no questions asked. ‘It jumped out at us,’ they say. ‘Please keep sending.’

15 comments

  1. Meg Cox

    Thank you, as usual. Even since I read this 10 minutes ago I have opened my drawer, taken out all my new poems and put them on the kitchen table. There are rather a lot.

    Like

  2. Rebecca Gethin

    poor little poems…some of my rejects don’t even make it out of their handwritten skin and stay shut inside the closed pages of a notebook, let alone get into typed pyjamas and into a drawer.

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  3. Brian Ings

    A really enjoyable account of what it is to parent a poem, AW! I am sure you must have read, and cherished, R S Thomas’s ‘Letter to a young poet’, which is a very sobering account of the same process. If, by some unlikely oversight, this poem has escaped your attention, I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough! Thanks again for a most engaging read!

    Like

  4. Nell Nelson

    So good to know that you also send to Super New Poetry Near You. I thought I was the only one. But my drawer is stuffed fulI. I need new drawers. . . .

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  5. Jo Bell

    Well, you see, as a person who is not good at commitment, I tend to fall madly in lust with the New Poem and have a passionate affair with it. In the morning I send it off somewhere with a glint in my eye, and sometimes never see it again, which is fine. But occasionally I meet it months later, and am rather startled by its attractiveness, and we have a quick roll in the hay again and something good comes of it. All between consenting adults, you understand.

    Like

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