Monday, November 8, 2010

Defending Dandelions (Can Older Poems be Saved? Or Should They All be Razed to the Ground?)

Revisiting old poems is something I try not to do very often. It creates a number of problems for me: I notice the immaturity/ triteness/ pretentiousness/ strained qualities of the earlier work, which affects my confidence; and even though I perceive the crappiness, I then find myself stuck in the voice/mode of the earlier work for weeks afterward.

It’s the anxiety of influence, except the influence is of your own younger, stupider self.

Or, sometimes—and worse—the influence of a younger self who was briefly in the poetic zone, and whose momentary energy/vision your current self cannot seem to recapture. It’s a depressing moment to catch yourself trying and failing to write like yourself, especially when the self you’re trying to write like was already mostly trying to write like Philip Larkin.

My few attempts to rescue early poems from their flaws have been largely ineffectual. In my experience, while stories can be retrofitted, most poems cannot. I’m curious whether others have this sense too, or whether you’ve been able to save and use some old trifle—even if it was only a line, an image, an idea?

The first poems I remember writing came in 5th grade, when I wrote one poem about a fox attempting and failing to raid a local farm—“My family must go another night/without a plump and juicy hen/But farmer, tomorrow night beware!/The fox lurks again!”—and another that was my attempt to defend dandelions from what I saw as an unfair hatred by lawn-obsessed suburbanites—“Though some folks call you ‘pesky weed’/Your color never does recede. Dandelion, this poem is true/You're my flower; I love you.”

(I can't believe I'm copping to having written those lines. I can forgive myself for them only by repeating over and over: I was 11. I was 11. I was 11.)

A defense of dandelions, though, is an idea I reconsidered a few months back and decided it had some sort of merit. The problem with the 5th grade version of the idea (excuse me: one of the many problems with the 5th grade version) is that my 11-year-old self was truly, passionately, literally devoted to dandelion defense, rather than realizing that suburbanites hatred for dandelions might be extrapolated into something else—specifically, the understandable-yet-sad devaluation of lovely, everyday things in favor of the rare, the forbidden, and the new.

This poem seeded and floated away.


Sandra said...

A lovely post--and a lovelier still ode (of sorts). Thanks so much for sharing the poem. Ok, BOTH poems, but particularly the latter one!

M. C. Allan said...

Hey Miss Beasley, thanks for dropping by and for the kind words. My top book purchase priority right now is the Best Am Po for this year so I can have your capybara around. It is house trained, yes?

Anonymous said...

i think you showed a lot of promise as an 11-year-old. i'd be proud if my daughter had written them at that age. promise richly fulfilled.
-- mouse

M. C. Allan said...

thanks, Mouse. makes me feel better about not having burned them.