when to stop

magnolia blossom

I’ve been looking through old files searching for poems that might be suitable to submit to a couple of competitions, as well as for a couple of projects that involve music, about which I will probably write at length at a later date.

Often, I have found numerous versions of the same poem and it isn’t always clear which is the latest, nor which is the best.

Sometimes there are radical differences in form or approach to the same subject matter; occasionally, there’s a change in point of view; but frequently the changes between versions are minimal, like two blossoms from the same plant.

magnolia blossom

Continuing with that idea, I can see an early draft holding the potential of an unopen bud; then the petals begin to unfurl and the poem begins to take shape.

But the “latest” versions are not necessarily the “best”: too much attention – too much sun, wind or rain in the case of the flowers – can actually push the poem beyond its ideal form: the flower begins to decay; the poem becomes too contrived or artificial or simply lacks the freshness of the original.

magnolia blossom

Using the tenuous connection of “magnolia” as an excuse, I’ll close with lines from a poem called Accountability, which has undergone many, many changes in the nearly ten years since I started to write it.

I think these fragments are taken from the most recent version. Whether it’s the best is definitely debatable.

In the spread sheet lies our truth: the do-them-later calculations
don’t add up; the formulaic quilt and guilt equate to equanimity,
[…]
In the spread sheet lies are cushioned, crouching, couched in rows
of rows, the calumny of columns; borrow one and chase the missing sense
across the land of pain and counterpane.
[…]
In the spread sheet lies are truth. Even with our hard sums left undone,
it’s not impossible to make the grade, and so my free-range thoughts
are called to heel, reclaimed and house-trained, till domesticated
grandiflora bloom in the shade of our magnolia love.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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