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Poets are constantly crippled, creatively. It's the way it works. You write a line and, just now, right now, it seems like it's the best line in the world to date. It's a shiny, beautiful line, a thought, an image so remarkably profound that you are in awe of yourself, or (if you are a seasoned poet) in awe of that angelic being which sits on high in your mind and occasionally drops little scraps of poetic manna into your head. Now, you only need to write a poem around it.

And fail.

Because the poem takes over, sprouts a million legs and scurries in directions you had no real intention of it going – and now the Wondrous Line of Glory and Poetic Win doesn't fit. You have to either change it or take it out and save it for another poem. Or make it a haiku-like short poem on its own, so all those other words don't assault it again. If you're an experienced poet, you'll probably just store it in a .txt file or on a post-it note somewhere and lament it until you're old and nothing matters any more.

Or you take the poem and break all of its legs, and put it into forced labour to serve this tiny god of a phrase or line, which it does unwillingly and badly and the poem is just shite as a result, and you go sour on the idea and scrap it, or worse – post it up as your latest bit of genius and consider all criticism of its glory a kind of drooling madness that people really ought to be cured of.

It's really important, as a poet, to take the approach of the closed fist VS. the open hand. It's an old Buddhist thing, grasshopper, which goes something like this:

"If your hand is closed tightly around one coin, it is not open to receive a fortune. If the hand is always open, everything will fall out of it. Be flexible. Open and close your hand, as necessary."

Or, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch so aptly put it: "Murder your darlings."

Clinging for your life to these bits of brilliance you write and so admire, or to the one style of poetry you feel 'fits' you, is to kneecap yourself creatively. I see it in a great many inexperienced poets (and not at all infrequently in better ones and worse, in myself) and it can become a vast stumbling-block in one's progress as a writer.

This is not to say that those styles, ideas, lines and phrases that we so adore and are excited about need be thrown out for creative poison – I don't believe we must literally "murder" our darlings. What I mean is: be flexible. Let go of your genius, try something daring. Hold a beginner's mind, let yourself see that your Emperor of a poem is wearing no clothes (except, perhaps one shiny and incongruous silk scarf).

It can be crushing to admit that your style doesn't suit your idea, that your image doesn't gel, that your phrase is out-of-place – that all the elements of your shiny, new poem simply are not working together as they should to make it the Very Good poem it ought to be and – in your head – is (albeit, sadly, nowhere else). It can be depressing. It hurts, sometimes a lot.

That's why the majority of poets are terribly emo, and why they're all so arrogant on the outside— we criticise ourselves so often and so thoroughly, it's like twenty lashes to hear someone else say it. The arrogance is really prophylactic against the pain we feel in our freshly-salted wounds.

But all the very best poets (aside from being dismal masochists) know that they have to get past that very damaging and limiting layer of self-protection and grow creatively, by letting go of all their rigid habits, and ideas, and opinions. Not all at once (that's a ticket to a padded room, if ever I heard of one) but as they come up, possibly over and over, in increments, one at a time.

It's not easy, and may lead to bouts of depressive mania in which one is likely to delete all former work as tedious rubbish and then drink a bottle of absinthe while listening to Muse and weeping into a hanky.

Then, when you sober up, if you're smart, you scrabble to recover the files or sticky-tape together all those torn pages, get over yourself a little and get back to work with the intent of learning why the poem isn't working, and admit that maybe all those people pointing out the faults of the piece are not evil bastards trying to destroy your poetic soul but are right, and trying to be helpful, and really you knew, deep down, anyway, that it wasn't working. But perhaps something can be salvaged.

Or perhaps not. I recently went on a rampage of reading through five years' worth of poems and have not laughed (nor snivelled) quite so much in ages as looking at my early poems through the eyes of hindsight. What utter rubbish they are! And worse— how I once defended them, coddled them, clung to them, my precious baby darlings, the apples of my creative eye. And now I am, myself, one of those horrid people who see, and poke sharp sticks at, all their flaws. It's tragic. It's hilarious.

There comes that point where you realise that in order to fix your poor, kneecapped poem perhaps you ought to take a few weeks (months, years) to study the mechanics of sonics, meter, enjambment and so on, and read tons more poetry written by Very Successful poets so you can see how they made their poems work. And then rewrite the thing, from scratch if necessary. Or simply leave it for dead and move along to the next effort.

It's what I call "the hard work of poetry" – precisely because that's what it is. You are not perfect and never will be, and neither will your work be, so accept that— and view every piece you write as a tiny, tiny, stepping-stone to somewhere better, and nothing more.

You'll be a happier (and better) poet for it. Hopefully.


Hanky?
There's some things one just has to get off one's chest.

Published in The Missing Slate Issue 4, Fall 2011

Much thanks to ~Elmara for that opportunity.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2010-06-26
Of The Hard Work of Poetry, the suggester notes: "=salshep's words will resonate deeply with just about every poet who reads this masterful piece on the perspective time gives you on your writing and what a long journey improving and progressing in poetry really is." ( Suggested by Elmara and Featured by GaioumonBatou )
:iconpoetzzz:
poetzzz Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
Yes...I have one of those...

"When the river failed, I was asleep and the birds breaking to air made no sound."

I think those angels are pranksters.
Reply
:icondelta7xx:
delta7Xx Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2015
You... Just described in detail my experience as a writer and poet. Perhaps the only difference is that I openly accept and encourage creative critisim of my work. So long as it does not have to do with grammar. And yet... Practically every word describes me in some small way, and even the minor inaccuracies have a tragic irony to them as I used to fit most of those as well.
Its nice to see another writer successfully put to words what it means to be a writer, even if its more focused on poetry. I do have quite a few, mostly forgotten phrases and lines that never turned into anything worth notice. Most of them probably reside on an old hard drive somewhere.
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:iconscotchrock:
ScotchRock Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
the most perfect poetry is silence I think.

Marquez said that a good writer is best known for what they throw away.

Have you ever burned your poems?
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:iconeatyourcapsaicin:
EatYourCapsaicin Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2013
I really admire your perspective.
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:iconliveandletlove:
Liveandletlove Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Student Writer
Truly incredible, and extremely helpful.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2012
Thanks, glad it was useful. :)
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:iconirienaganjaseed:
irienaganjaseed Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2012
Funny I read this while I was having that very problem and one poem began to branch out into about 15 and I had no way to articulate my frustration until I came across this you put words to the stress in my chest! I like your perspective. Thank You I will start to open and close my hand
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:iconleakygaloshes:
leakygaloshes Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2012  Student Writer
:clap: Magnificent! I love the image of the flexible hand, opening and closing, learning when to hold on to genius and when to let it go.
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:iconsomnomollior:
somnomollior Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012   Writer
Wonderful, liberating and inspiring to read this.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012
Thanks, hun. :)
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:iconaoxor:
Aoxor Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Student General Artist
It's like you stole the words from my frustrated fingertips.
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:iconshadowedacolyte:
ShadowedAcolyte Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2011
Of course, 100% correct. Not that that's surprising at all.
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:iconbhabayagga:
Bhabayagga Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2010  Student Writer
I could not say it better. Much thanks for those words of yours, as they remind me of my own arrogancy and unsatisfaction when it comes to my works. :clap:
Reply
:iconthetaoofchaos:
thetaoofchaos Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2010   Writer
interesting. i sort of always saw much of this process as a natural phenomena of creative growth, the kind that sort of organically happened; i never really stopped down to consider exactly how that growth was to occur. glad to see someone tackle this subject.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2010
Hey, thanks, I'm glad it was a help.
Reply
:iconhell-on-a-stick:
hell-on-a-stick Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2010  Professional Writer
most worthy summary i've read on the topic.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2010
Awwwh. Thankya, Joe. :)
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:iconhell-on-a-stick:
hell-on-a-stick Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2010  Professional Writer
:lol: sentimentality has claimed thee.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2010
Please die now.
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:iconhell-on-a-stick:
hell-on-a-stick Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Professional Writer
:rofl:
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:iconnayada:
Nayada Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2010
Sniff. I'll take that hanky. That was awesome, thank you :)
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2010
Hey, welcomes and thank you right back.
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:iconasylum-girl:
Asylum-Girl Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
your writing style surely did deserve the daily deviation award! no sarcasm i swear.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2010
Haha, I believe you. Thanks very much, appreciated.
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:iconasylum-girl:
Asylum-Girl Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
no problem
Reply
:iconderekprospero:
DerekProspero Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2010
Waiting roadside for assistance and exhausted from the heat,
Somewhat grateful to be spared from the congestion on the street.
Still he's subject to the blanket of a brutal summer drought
Aided only by his breathing which he fears might soon give out.
Drops of anxious perspiration bleed the wake behind his pen
As he struggles to stay conscious in his four-door writing den.
But it really doesn’t matter what he writes or if it rhymes—
He’s a peasant, not a poet, scratching words to pass the time.
Reply
:iconemanuil-tolev:
emanuil-tolev Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2010
Well, at least now I know I'm not the only one who does that :D.
Reply
:iconatropaean:
Atropaean Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2010
This definitely describes it and is quite poetic in itself. I can really relate to this.
Reply
:iconjustasksomebody:
justasksomebody Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2010
well written and a great blend of facts, insight and compelling editorial - the bit about gettin' properly schooled to figure out why it isn't coming together practically made me giddy.
it twists my guts to advocate "writing exercises" (something about any of them is always excruciating), but they can be a surprisingly good way to bust a rut - whoops my freudian almost slipped.
right on and ride on, writer!
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2010  Professional General Artist
Clinging... to the one style of poetry you feel 'fits' you, is to kneecap yourself creatively. Interesting.

"If your hand is closed tightly around one coin, it is not open to receive a fortune. If the hand is always open, everything will fall out of it. Be flexible. Open and close your hand, as necessary." I agree---a good balance is usually best.
Reply
:iconnunheh:
nunheh Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2010
As I think about it, this is true for painting as well. Perhaps all arts. I think somewhere in their depths some demand perfection in their performance or creation.

They ask that 'deviations' be finished. Mine never are, and never will be, causing some despair and forcing some acceptance.
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:iconcibbwin:
Cibbwin Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Your mix of eloquence and snark amazes me, dear, and you spoke to me fully.

It's a difficult profession, being a poet. It's even difficult to love or respect one, I think. Lord knows how guilty I am of the "OMG GENIUS NOW LET'S WRITE AROUND THIS ONE TINY IDEA!" crime.

I think I'll take that hanky. ;)

P.S.: "Hold a beginner's mind, let yourself see that your Emperor of a poem is wearing no clothes (except, perhaps one shiny and incongruous silk scarf)."

Platinum words, those. Wow.
Reply
:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2010
I may use "eloquent snark" as a job description.

Take the hanky, and a flaming glass of green fairy - and my thanks for kind words.
Reply
:iconcibbwin:
Cibbwin Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Haha, do it!

On your resume you can write "Some guy on dA said I'm an eloquent snark." :D

You are welcome, as always. :)

Absinthe! You are too kind!
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:iconsaintartaud:
saintartaud Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2010  Professional General Artist
Ah, I see, getting a DD so I will comment. Brilliant move!

Anyway, just to reiterate what a few others have said, this wisdom could be applied to nearly any creative writing or art. I have certainly looked through old sketchbooks and though, "ARGH, I sucked ass!" But realizing I wasn't as good as I wanted to be, totally rethinking how I worked, those were the things that helped me improve.

The only difficult part, at least for me, is not getting so caught up w/your critical voice that you lose confidence in moving forward. That's why what you say about never being perfect is so good.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2010
Yeah, that 'perfect' thing really messed me up, in days of yore. Still does, to an extent. That's why I get a lot out of events like NaPo, and PFFA's 7's, it gives me an excuse to loosen up some and just let fly.
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:iconmoonwhisperxxx:
MoonWhisperxxx Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010  Student General Artist
Thanks. Thank you. Gracias. Arigatou. Xie xie.

That was very helpful. You caught a lot of the things that bothered me, and laved away a great deal of anxiety with your beautiful, frank humor. Thanks for the hanky, too. All us poets should read this sometime. It's a bloody masterwork.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
That's okay, you can keep the hanky.

And thanks so much. It means a lot that people got something out of this. Really, that monk deserves most of the credit - what an amazing insight, and so simple.
Reply
:iconl-c-cadillac:
L-C-Cadillac Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010
this is one of the best pieces on writing i have ever read, a topic i have read quite extensively on. thank you!
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
Wow - thank you, a high compliment indeed. :)
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:iconlost-darkness:
lost-darkness Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010
I like the point that you dig into your piece here. :lol: And while I read, I had to think-- "Gee, now if only artists of ALL kinds would read and learn from this, not just poets."

Because you get that kind of coddling/harsh defending from artists of all kinds, not just poets. That palette may never work with that concept; maybe the artist in question really does need to go back over their introductory art notes. Or maybe take it in the first place. :lol:

In other words, this is a great, multi-purpose piece, and I love it.
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed it. And yes, pig-headedness is a human condition, I think =P
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:iconlost-darkness:
lost-darkness Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
I have to agree. Human arrogance is a common trait in all of us. I guess that's what makes humility seem like such a virtue. :)
Reply
:icongreeniepixie019:
GreeniePixie019 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010
I think one f the best things in poetry is when you come up with really interesting you line you go hmmm.. poetic.. then build on it what else are you experiencing do you want to describe the image? or do you just want to build off that funky little line and see what comes of it? did it work? perhaps it needs a little re arranging a different phrasing ^ ^* easier done in poetry than full blown books (theres simply less to edit). that was funny to read! Great advice!
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:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
Thankyou - and I think really that's what those shiny lines we can't place are for - inspiration. Or at least that's what I tell myself. :bucktooth:

I think sometimes we need to grow into them, too.
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:icongreeniepixie019:
GreeniePixie019 Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2010
yes they're inspiration for something more you have to be patient and work with them and pick out the bits and pieces that have a flow and that make sense and rework it think on it some up with more edit it XD
Reply
:iconedward133:
edward133 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010  Student General Artist
This is absolutely, amazingly true! I love you! (Not in a creepy way. But like a role model or something) :hug:

May I have permission to post this on my Facebook if I make sure it's known that you wrote this? This really says a lot to me. And I think it'll will say a lot to some people I know as well..
Reply
:iconsalshep:
salshep Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010
Yeah, sure! I'd be honoured. :)
Reply
:iconedward133:
edward133 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010  Student General Artist
Thank you so much! :hug:
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:icono0amphigory0o:
o0Amphigory0o Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2010
Thank you for this. :D
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