Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Is it a minipoem or first line?


In the previous post “Poetry Revision:Less can bring more to a poem,” we read “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound, who originally addressed his Parisian subject in a long poem he didn’t particularly like. After letting those lines sit for many months, he condensed thirty into three, creating an exquisite minipoem that almost everyone loves. (I do so much, it prefaces my poetry book Faces in a Crowd.)

So here’s the question: 

How do we know the size and shape of a poem? 

or

How do we identify our lines as a minipoem complete in itself or as the first line of a longer piece?

Sometimes we can’t tell! Sometimes we might need to toss the poem aside for days, months, or years, and later come back with a fresh eye and clear feelings about whether we even like the poem or not.

This week, for instance, the following lines came to me:

 

When I’m gone
will you walk alone
in the rain?

 

As you see from the line-breaks, I initially heard those lines as a minipoem, and I liked the thought, the image, and the echoes of sound apparent from the start.

But then, I started wondering? Is that poem finished? Has it said all it needed to say? And so, I started playing with the lines a bit more with these results:

 

When I’m gone will you walk alone in the rain?

Will you retrace our steps again, or wander home,
hoping for the comfort of a warm fire and a shawl?

Is this all our memories will ever own –
a slow walk in the rain?


That version is okay, but I’m not sure what it’s saying. More important, I don’t love it. So I tried again:

 

When I’m gone
will you walk alone in the rain?

Will you retrace our steps again,
or wander home,
hoping for the comfort
of a warm fire and a shawl?

Is this all our memories
will own – a slow walk in the rain
heading nowhere we’ve not known?


That version says more, but it doesn’t particularly resonate with my life and experiences. So now I’m wondering if it resonates more with readers? 

What do you think – first version, last, the one in between, or something else entirely?

I'm honestly interested in your response. Do you see, though, how there’s no “right answer” to such questions we face as poets and readers? I suspect some of you will connect more with the last version of my example, even though I don’t. My preference remains with those first lines that came to me as my husband and I pondered taking a walk in the rain – until it thundered!

 

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020

 

 

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