It’s an accepted fact among poets that a poem is never really finished, you just stop working on it. Even once a poem is published, the author can find some flaw within it and want to change it. It’s a lifetime commitment every time you put the pen to paper.
It should also be said that I really, really hate editing. It’s such a grueling process that is the complete opposite of first draft writing. The first draft is usually quick and passionate. Editing is meticulous, boring. It’s work, basically. If I could avoid it the rest of my life, I would. But then I would just be writing for myself, because nothing would ever be good enough to be published.
In my last semester of college, in lieu of one regular class, I signed up for a senior thesis project, which consisted of me working on a poetry portfolio that would be finished by the end of the semester. My advisor ended up being my poetry professor from the semester before, so he was at least somewhat familiar with my work and I was only slightly intimidated (I’m a shy, awkward person if you haven’t gathered that already).
Usually things went the opposite of what I expected. The poems that I had spent hours, days, years, even, on were unfinished and not fitting for the portfolio. The little scribbling I had written about fingernails was perfect and just needed a title. And every time I thanked my advisor for whatever compliment he had just given me, he told me to stop thanking him because I should be more confident in my abilities.
Every session I would usually bring in a new poem and he would read it silently with his glasses on the tip of his nose, and me sitting at the other side of the desk picking at my cuticles. Sometimes his review would be quick, other times we would go over it for the entire session. I brought in one poem that was supposed to be a satirical “last poem” to an ex-boyfriend about how I could never actually stop writing poems about him because those ideas are bound to come up. We literally spent two whole sessions on this poem, and in the end it was a completely different concept.
I came up with an idea for a poem one day when I went over my boyfriend’s house and found a microphone in his bed. This was the exact same time that I was falling head over heels in love with my fiction, and I realized that we were sort of cheating on each other with our passions. So I wrote a poem about the instance, in which I tell him that I’m running away with my story, and unfazed, he asks if I want to hear his new joke.
My advisor loved the poem, except for one thing—the ending. It wasn’t enough that I forget about our infidelities and decide to hear the joke, the joke had to begin at the poem’s ending. So I took my draft home and mulled it over for the next two weeks. I came up with something that I thought was perfect. My boyfriend had this joke about Kid Rock that he refused to retire despite how many times I told him that no one cares about Kid Rock anymore. So I ended the poem with him asking, “want to hear my new joke?” and I respond, “It’s not about Kid Rock, again, is it?”
The new ending was met with dismay by my advisor. “It’s too topical,” he said. Well, ok, that was kind of the point, but you’re the expert. “It should be something classic, like, two guys walk into a bar…” My face was blank, but I was grimacing on the inside. Part of me just wanted him to write the ending, since he had no problem with completely rewriting my other poem. But it was my poem, after all, and I had to decide how to end it.
So I put the poem aside, not satisfied with any concept of an ending. I figured I would work on other poems and eventually come back to it before the semester was over. Only I didn’t. It was always in the back of my mind as I did my editing and organizing. But there was never an ending good enough to do the poem justice. When I turned in my printed and bound copy of my portfolio, the poem wasn’t in it.
I suppose this is the part where you want me to tell you how I finally came up with the perfect ending. Well, I didn’t. It’s almost a year later and the poem is still unfinished. You’d think it would be simple, and sometimes it is, but usually it’s more complicated than you could ever imagine. I know I’ll finish it eventually, but who knows when that will be? Someday, maybe, I’ll buckle down, hold my breath, and edit.