Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Development Of Poems

What becomes of all those poems we start? Ideas that seem great at one point and then the bottom sort of drops out of everything and we turn the page and move on. I have many of those. Some I've scribbled over as if to add my insult to the effort or mark them for death.

In the forward to Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes writes, "By the time of her death on 11 February 1963, Sylvia Plath had written a large bulk of poetry. To my knowledge, she never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn't get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity."

Considering Hughes' words against the backdrop of the book he wrote the forward for, it is worth noting that Collected Poems is the total sum of Plath's 224 poetic works between 1956 and her death in 1963. Plus some fifty poems selected from her pre-1956 writings. It is also significant to note that this book was a Pulitizer Prize winner.

If the assessment by Ted Hughes is correct, that Sylvia Plath did not waste away her work, but endeavored to craft each piece into something she was satisfied with, she did so quite well by literary standards of her time.

I wonder how many like myself have pages, or perhaps volumes of scraped work. Speaking for myself, I often subscribe to the parctice of not wanting to force something to work. I'm not suggesting that is a bad attitude to take, but I wonder how many times I really bail out on something without truly exhausting possibilities. I think I may be hearing muffled voices of some of those old ideas calling from the pages of writing journals I've put aside.

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