How do you know when a poem is finished?
i guess my answer depends on our scope.
one option: on the scale of one’s whole life, a poem is never finished. you can always take the cookie dough back out of the freezer, in the same way that you can choose to be in a long term relationship as long as you understand that its participants and the relationship itself will continuously shift.
HOWEVER. i am really precious about artifacts. as a medium-sized kid, i would fix spelling errors on toddler-me’s masterpieces, which now makes me shudder. that feels like defacement. now i keep my drafts mild-to-mediumly obsessively. and those poems, the ones who live in drafts evermore, are untouchable (is that the same as finished?) once they’ve been wrung as much as i can wring them within the next, oh, let’s say two months. why?
because on alie ward’s ologies podcast, futurologist rose eveleth said that the way people have predicted the future in the past is most interesting when understood as an exemplification of the era being predicted from. because my petri dish poems (the ones blobbing around in various drafts the way we’ve shelved old sicknesses) are an imprint of a self from a certain point in time. to my mind (right now today), it seems more important to preserve that evidence of prior existence than it does to keep paving over the same road.
being the hypocrite that i am, i did recently tinker with a really old poem (i obviously left the original(s) unperturbed). but i might argue that the new draft is a different poem altogether. or a reboot of a show that no one really asked for.