Picture it: you submit a poem to a literary journal of any sort, knowing full well the risk of rejection. Months go by, seasons pass, and you slowly forget that you sent anything at all, imagining your submission in a yellowing pile of slush on the top left corner of some big shot editor’s desk. Then, you receive an email that begins with “Congratulations!” and you nearly spit up your soy latte.
The poem, however, once you revisit it, doesn’t seem very…well…good anymore. You wrote it almost a year ago, and there are so many things you’d change now as a more “sophisticated” and “learned” writer. The present (and possibly unrightfully pretentious) you scoffs at faulty line breaks and turns up their nose at questionable word choices, yearning to violently stab a red pen through the computer screen and go nuts before this thing ends up in the hands of unsuspecting strangers. It feels like the poetic equivalent of sending out a link to your seventh grade MySpace page to everyone you know.
Okay, maybe I exaggerate (as all poets do), but really…just this week, I faced this exact situation. Elated as I am to share my work, I suddenly feel like it’s not even mine anymore after months separated from this specific piece.
After our discussion in class about publication and readership, and after receiving the “Congratulations!” email later that night, I was faced with the burning question: as we grow in our craft and in our lives in general, how does that change the way we look at things written in the past? I especially wonder about poets who publish whole collections and look back on them months or even years later…do they still find immense value in their past work? Can they appreciate something they’d written at 20 years old when they are old and gray? Do they laugh at themselves? Do they cut themselves some slack?
At least for me, I know I have an odd relationship with past work and I wonder if this is a universal feeling or if I’m just being pretentious. Let me know your thoughts on this!