I think that the most challenging part of the workshop for me, thus far, is attempting to keep the poetry train rolling when I have so much love for one poem at a time. I don’t know if anyone else experiences their poetry in this way, but I always want to edit a poem to perfection before I start on a new one. I feel as if I’ve left that particular poem in the dust if I start something new, and my brain just doesn’t want to move forward to new content. If it’s a poem I’m proud of, I want to spend forever fixing minor issues with tenses, syntax, etc. However, I’ve noticed more and more that I can accept a poem that isn’t perfect.
While it’s human nature to move toward perfection, I’m more comfortable now leaving a poem to fend for itself and grow into something new over time. I can flit from idea to idea and not feel as if my poems are suffering for it. I can come back to a poem with a new perspective and still respect it for the ideas I was wrestling with at the time it was written. I don’t necessarily believe that poetry can be perfect, though many great poems come close. That, for me, is the power of words and the ways in which they mean different things for people over time. A once innocuous word can gain special significance through one singular event, and that essence can be unique to just that person. The poem is like a journey toward that word that attempts to acquaint the reader with the particular feelings and events the speaker associates with that word.
For example, plenty of people associate fall with apple cider and the smell of baking pies. However, a small group of people may associate fall with the day they first experienced fear at the top of a jungle gym, or the crunching of leaves under loud boots as they come toward you from behind. Those associations don’t really hold true for everyone, but I think that the job of poetry is to lead the reader to that association through words. If a poem is a good one, it can bring the speaker and the reader to the same feelings about a word or a time or a place.
That’s what I try to do with my poems, and hearing back from other poets in workshop helps me figure out if my poetry is leading my readers to that same conclusion. Even if the general “feeling” someone gets from one of my poems is in line with my goal, I consider it a success, but I will always want to make sure every reader can come out of my poems associating say, skin with both the sensual and the savage. It is a struggle to bring words to the table which mean the same thing for a lot of people while also allowing the words to gain complexity.