Why Do You Stay up So Late?

The title of this post is the title of a poem by Don Patterson
from his last collection ‘Rain’ (please see Favourite Poem of the week page).

I was working away on a poem until the early hours last night, shrinking down what
had started out as a sprawling list. It had what I considered to be promising
images and strong opening and ending lines, and so with a focus close to obsession
I started condensing it, drafting and re-drafting.

I know that many poets put their work away for six months and come back with fresh eyes.
This enables them to get some distance from the poem, to see its merits and defects
more clearly, and so re-write with a fresh approach.

I was much too excited to leave this poem alone, adding and discarding images and lines, reordering them, tinkering and adjusting line ends and stanzas, radically cutting in some cases what I had believed only hours before to be the best lines.

So in my desire to see the poem emerge I burnt the midnight oil, breaking through
to some sort of creative crux, pushing myself on, only stopping when I could feel that I may be killing the thing I loved.

Also, I have a busy life with not much time for writing. This morning I have a day off my day job and have been working on the poem again, keeping all my re-drafts on the computer. It seems to be surviving and can now be left alone for a while.

Only a year ago I may have not kept drafts, and I’m sure that I often lost good lines and structures in my haste to rewrite. Lately, I feel as if I may have served some sort of poetic apprenticeship which has made me swifter at identifying when poems are working or not, and that I am working with better practices which can only make things easier. Hopefully I’ll never stop developing as a poet. Its a job for life!

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