When Good Poems Go Bad

I’ve been working on this poem that just isn’t going well.   Going well?  Try, not going at all.

Well, let me back up.  As I said in my last post, this poem, called “The Art of Loss,” was to be the bridge poem between the real and the imaginary in this chapbook collection I’m trying to get together for a contest with a deadline on the 15th.  All of the poems in this collection have something to do with animals.

The speaker is addressing an artist whose beautiful, jungle art, populated with jaguars and orangutans, has been replaced with abstract, muddy-colored images that the speaker doesn’t understand.  And the artist herself is mute in the poem, with the exception of producing these images that are so contrary to her earlier works.

What I was trying to do was comment on how the loss of imagination affects artists, how something as personal and communicative as art can suddenly become unknowable, how, as I said in an e-mail to Bob, “the painting of things becomes the painting of no things.”  But in what I’ve written so far, it has become the “poem of no things.”  

It’s just not working.  I’m on revision 12, and I can’t seem to do anything to make it better.  Each time I work on it, it’s gets progressively worse–almost as muddy as the paintings that the artist does.  And it’s a pity, because I really liked the early drafts of the poem–or at least, I thought there was a good kernal of poetry in it.  After I gave it to Bob and he commented on it, I realized that it’s basically crap and I should just abandon it.  Maybe it’s one of those things I’ll come back to in 5 years and have some amazing epiphany about it.  But it’s frustrating because I REALLY needed this poem to work now.

Now, I’ll have to choose something else to replace it, which wouldn’t be as big a deal except for the pesky fact that the title of the collection came from a line in “The Art of Loss.”  So now I’m title-less, as well as a poem short.  

Maybe the real problem is that the collection desperately needs focus, and I thought this poem could provide it.   I don’t know.  I’m just really disheartened.

And, while I’m at it, I’m disheartened about the fact that I keep sending these various chapbooks out and no one wants them.  (Got another rejection today.)  Maybe my poems are just bad.  I’ve said to Karen and Bob both that none of my poems go together–they don’t resonate with each other or speak to each other or do any of the things that collections are supposed to do.  

I’m just really, really disheartened today.

4 thoughts on “When Good Poems Go Bad

  1. Hey you, you haven’t even run that poem past the whole group yet. Bring the first draft and the last. And “The painting of things becomes the painting of no things” is a line that has resonance and might well tie that poem together. And you also know that not publishing a chapbook doesn’t mean there are 20 poems the reader doesn’t like. Also, don’t make “that face” when we ask to see a chapbook as a whole. Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.

  2. Bob, I don’t think I should bring it to the group. I think maybe I should just leave it alone. I don’t think it can be fixed.

    And I do too think that a rejected chapbook means there were 20 poems the reader didn’t like.

    And as for that face… well, it’s childish, and I know it, and maybe I should just say “Yes, sure, I’ll bring my chapbook in,” and then just not do it because I “accidentally forgot.”


  3. Of course, the chap could still be called The Art of Loss without a referencing poem or line inside. I did that with After the Poison. I also don’t feel a chapbook necessarily needs an “arc” that some poets want for a full collection. Maybe you’re so hung up on this one poem that you are missing all the threads from other pieces that do hold the manuscript together.

  4. I don’t have any additional advice except, hang in there! It could be that the extra expectations you’re placing on this one poem are what’s holding you back — sometimes too much plotting out hog-ties the muse. Be kind to yourself!

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