Sunday, 14 January 2007

At the writers' group the other week, one poet suggested to another that they could chop a problematic line from a poem without too much angst, because the line might still come in handy for a poem in the future.

I've heard quite a few writers recommend this tactic. I've tried it myself and – living as I do amongst several kilos of thwarted drafts – I can see how attractive it is. You can get ridiculously emotionally attached to a metaphor/word picture, considering it won't cuddle up to you in the morning.

And it's hard for folk to clip something so dear to them, that perhaps is dragging the rhythm down, or is just too brand-spanking clever to slip into the tone of this/that poem. So it's nice to think your brilliant image might have its fifteen minutes' fame in the future.

The other extreme is the scorched earth policy where folk rigorously chop out particular types of word – all the adjectives have to go, any phrase or image that seems "lazy"... Often folk give the haiku as an example of the ideal – a couple molecules of distilled image and meaning.

But not all poems are haiku. Nor are images and phrases bits of Lego to click into any poem.

So this leaves the poet in an uncomfortable place where a poem "working" is a rare event to which thought and experience and rhythm and personal idiom and image are bespoke.

And in this arid place, sometimes a line starts in your head and your experience crowds up to meet it. At which times a line you saved specially from a previous poem is usually far inferior to the wealth of perfect accidents you are about to be able to select among.


apprentice said...

What is it they say "murder your darlings"?

The way you put it it sounds good advice.

Billicatons said...

I agree with what you say. It seems to me that the remorseless chopping is potentially defeatist ... It's easy enough to say, 'That line doesn't work: cut it'; far harder to *fix* it.

I'd say cutting should be left until one is happy that one has written everything one sought to write -- and has done so to one's satisfaction.

Sure, it makes the cutting harder: but it *should* be hard, I reckon.

You're right, too, about the illusory appeal of 'saving' one's offcuts. Amazing how quickly their bloom fades ...

Paul Squires said...

Hello, Jen. Congratulations on the big prize, most deserved you will receive about one year after you posted this, almost to the day.

Paul Squires said...

Actually two years fater you posted this, time flies.

webaddict said...

hey congrts for the TS Eliot award :)

magi gibson said...

Just heard you read your lovely poem on radio 4. Congratulations on the TS Eliot Prize. I look forward to hearing/reading more from you.

ANNIE said...

Dear Jen

Absolutely topmost of top congrats on winning the TS Eliot. We read together a few years ago at the Poetry Cafe. Remember? I thought you were fantastic.
warmest wishes from
Annie Freud (

David Eugene Webb said...

Just read about you in the Independent during lunch at work...looked you up on line...and think I need to get down to Foyles to buy your book...marvellous stuff!!

Alan Summers said...

Congratulations on winning the T.S. Eliot Prize!

Glad you like haiku too. ;-)

all my best,

With Words

Diogo Vaz Pinto said...

Dear Jen Hadfield,

I would to contact you and I'm wondering if there's an e-mail I could use.

It's about a proposal for translation of a group of your poems for a literary magazine.

Thank you for your attention and congratulations for the recent T. S. Eliot prize.

Tad Richards said...

I call them "parts poems." They're best left alone for a while, so when you come to use the line, you've forgotten the initial impetus for it and have to create a new one.

Tuebrook Tart said...

I want to get in touch about you doing a reading in Liverpool. Do you have an agent? I'm with North End Writers. Sorry about doing it this way....