Is a Poem Ever Finished?

Is a poem ever finished blog

I was having a clear up of the poetry den this week when I came across an old journal of my poetry. This was a collection of poems I had written between 1987 and 1989.

At the time I was working as a police officer in London and part of a unit dealing with major crime and disorder. The work was, at times, dangerous and handling high levels of stress and pressure was commonplace.

Writing these poems was a release valve, a time out to relax and get some thoughts and emotions down on paper. In 1989 I felt these poems were worthy of Shakespearian adoration. For whatever reason they never got any further than the bottom drawer.

Over twenty-five years later it was strange experience reading them again.
The Shakespearian delusions were shattered but, on reflection, I realised I had a number of useful drafts that could be moulded into pieces of poetry.

This made me think, is a poem ever finished?

Writing a poem is a snapshot in time. A photo of our thoughts, feelings and emotions in that moment.

We draft, re-draft, ponder, spend days mulling over changing a full stop into a comma.

The poem goes away and when we reacquaint ourselves with it, something has changed. Our lives are different; we are no longer the same people in that same moment.

If Sir John Betjeman was alive today would he change the words and tone of his poem Slough?

Would Wordsworth wake up in a sweat and re-write Daffodils?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

32 Comments

I suppose you could expand this to: “Is art ever finished?”. I wonder how many many artists, musicians and writers would maybe change their works some years on… Poetry is interesting though, because as you say it’s an emotional snapshot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going back and rebuilding a piece though; in fact, I’d be interested to see you share an older piece you’ve changed, and then share the original so we can see the growth  I think that’d be a good post one day and a true testament to how far your ability has come! 

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    Thank you for the insightful comment Shaun. I am beginning to think of each piece of poetry as the next draft. As you say, it must be the same for any artist. I also think that how we are as poets is linked to our individual personalities. Thanks again for reading and taking time out to share your thoughts.

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I enjoyed the anecdotes. I am intrigued on how it feels to read the poetry you write 25 years after. (That made me whisper a prayer that 25 years after, my blog is still alive and kicking so i can read what i wrote. :D)
I agree with you. Written works are somehow snapshots of a writer’s life. They are not necessarily non-fiction. Just like what we discussed before, a poem/a written piece contains a part of its writer, always.
As to your question, I think a poem will be finished only when its creator said so. 🙂

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Oh… I love this insightful post, D. I love the questions that you posed? What if all those great poets could have a chance to re-write what they written? It may sound selfish but I wouldn’t want them to change such. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is beautiful as it is. And, no matter how tragic it is, I wouldn’t want to read Lord Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon any other way. ❤

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    I agree Maria. Some poetry should stay the same forever. I think from the poets perspective the question may be do we ever reach or accept perfection? There is always an internal battle saying the work could always be changed, but that may be a personality thing. I appreciate you dropping by and your valuable input to the conversation 🙂

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      Agreed, D. I believe our perspectives vary from time to time- as we grow as a person and as a writer. What we’ve felt and believed before may not be the case today, vice versa.

      No problem, D. I enjoy conversations like this. I get to learn a lot. SO thank you. 🙂

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      I’m pleased you enjoy the Wednesday rambles. Your views and comments are an important part of the conversations. Thank you Maria. 🙂

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I’m able to abandon some, but others seem to require work, even years after they’ve been published. I’ll see a word that isn’t quite right, or the rhythm in one stanza might not roll off the tongue properly, and I feel compelled to revise. Crazy, but there it is…

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    What you explain, so eloquently, Robert is maybe in the makeup of all artists. The search for perfection is what drives them and makes them better at what they do. Thank you for taking the time out to visit and comment. It is appreciated.

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Wow, you were reading my post as I was reading yours! Very thought provoking post. Love it! Poems probably only end when we do.😉

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Ha, ha! Yes, you are welcome. 😀

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Knowing when something is finished is probably one of the most unappreciated skills whether it’s music, art, or writing. The great landscape painter Constable was famous for always reworking his paintings to the point that he would be invited to dinner by one of his patrons, see one of his own paintings on the wall and at the end of the evening take it home with him to do some more work on it!

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    I never thought of it that way Martin. For me poems are never finished. When I am sick of the sight of them and want to move on to something else they get put in the done box. I think it is a personality thing :). I love the Constable story. Thank you for reading and your valuable comments.

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This is exactly what it is to be writing. Feeling. Approximation. Schizoid reconsideration. Better (hopefully) approximation. And if the gods are with you, finally, something approaching the truth but never quite as glorious as you envisioned. Hence, your next effort.

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    Thank you for the thought provoking response. Transferring thoughts to words is a lifetime skill. Will we ever master it? I appreciate you taking the time to visit, read and comment.

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Never….A poetry literally never ends…it just pause…. because of our thoughts….it really never ends…keep writing… Keep sharing….we’d love to read them…. thanks

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Such an interesting and thought provoking question?
Something I have never considered in quite that way. Some poems for me have remained open to revision and review but not too many. Haven’t thought about why some do and others don’t. Probably more about me and my relationship to the words and feelings and what I am or was trying to “capture”.

It is like painting with words. Sometimes less is more and the hardest thing is to know when to stop and to – Let It Go!

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    I agree. I know there is varying advice about how long you should leave a poem before coming back to it and re-drafting. I read somewhere that you should leave it six months. In my view that could suggest you may be writing a new poem. Thanks for visiting and adding your insightful views to the conversation.

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Yes, I love your work! It is insightful, inspirational and motivating me to write more – by choice. So glad you chose your current path!

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