Plastic Surgery on Poems: When Does Tinkering Just Make You Look Just Weird

So earlier I reblogged a post “What Common Rejections From Publisher Really Mean.” It’s a good blog post and you should read it. But it also got me thinking about something I’ve mentioned before–parsing out your work based upon quality. This is something that I’ve thought about for a while.

Part of it is production. Fiction is different from poetry here because a poem does takes less time on average to produce than a short story. An average sized poem can be drafted in somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes. This doesn’t mean that this is your actual draft. It’s easier to write a poem, discarded, and be completely re-written than a 3000 – 5000 word story, which would take several hours to write. An average poem might need the same energy to draft and revise, but on average, I find it takes less time. So, I might be able to produced maybe 8 to 10 stories or essays max in a year if I set my mind to it, but to produce the same number of poems over the same period is easier. To equal the work (primarily in time) I would have to produce a poem at about four times that rate. In other words, in a year, I can produce a lot of work. Some will never see the light of day. A few will be good. Most are okay, meaning I like them and think they have a pretty good shot at being published.

I could, of course, only send out only the ones I think are good. I could keep my portfolio down to maybe about a dozen or so poems built up over several years. Or I could have a portfolio of four or five dozen poems built much quicker with some poems being the very best and others being solid poems.

The trick here is that some of the solid could squeak into the great group with a ton of work. Some, but not many. Would this be the best use of my time? The “correct” answer is to say “yes.” But time has taught me that that isn’t always so. I’ve at time, spent years working on one poem over and over and the benefit to the poem has been minimal. At the same time, I’ve done this and destroyed the poem. One poem that was published last year and is in Hanami, “Canyons,” is the second version because the original was pretty much tinkered to death. The idea was sound. The poem was sound. But it resembled that actor who’s had just a bit too much work done on him. So the question is, if there’s something not perfect about it, how much should I work on it? How long until I let it out into the world or should I just kill it? These are important questions. What do you think?

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