Forgiving the Bad Poem

February 23, 2014

Writers know the best tool for objective critique of work they are attached to is time. A few weeks, months, sometimes even years have to go by before I can look at a piece and say, “this passage doesn’t work,” so I cut away, and it’s painless.

There are poems I’ve loved and thought would always stand up to that scrutiny, but when finally seen though a matured, seasoned eye, make me cringe. Some pieces transform easily into well-crafted, sophisticated poems with a little pruning and tweaking.

And others, I just don’t want to touch.

I’m inclined to lump all my older stuff together as “bad, immature, pretentious,” but I come across poems I feel are strong, for the time in which they were written. I may be encountering works I’m not able to improve simply because I’m just not that skilled a poet. A writer with a keener eye may see where to delete a redundant word or improve a clunky phrase, and may deftly execute those revisions. I’m just not there.

I wonder though, if it is the destiny of some poems, or certain artistic creations of any medium, to remain forever imperfect, and not just slightly off the mark, but really outright bad. I wonder now if I just have to let a bad poem be a bad poem, because that is its purpose.

I, in fact am the personification, the human embodiment of this idea.

Try as I might, and I do make meager attempts at perfection and excellence, I’m thwarted in these endeavors repeatedly. Some people shine, excel, triumph. I’m just happy if I don’t tip over.

I’m flawed, imperfect, a practiced underachiever. But there is some relief in accepting this. I feel peace in surrendering to this very low bar.

So when I come across a poem that doesn’t measure up, but I have no idea how to fix it, I bless the work with the understanding that it’s fulfilled its mission as bad poem, making a mental note to put it in the burn pile before I die.

And sometimes, all I have to do is change the title.