How do you know when a poem is finished?
I definitely subscribe to the idea that “a work is never completed, only abandoned” (the source of that quote is oft debated, but I go with Paul Valéry since he said it in the 1930s). It’s actually a daunting thought because it means every time I create a new poem I have another “child” to attend to... or to abandon. If that’s true then I have hundreds and hundred of abandoned/untended children waiting in a folder on my computer (I hope that doesn’t sound bad). Some days I feel inspired to go in and try to rescue one or more of them from the well of digital obscurity. This rescue mission happens most often when a call for submissions or another poem I read reminds me of something I’ve written and inspires me to track it down and infuse it with new life.
The submission process has actually been the biggest motivator for me in reclaiming a poem and ushering it to its next stage of life. Hmm, I had never though of poems going through rites of passage before, but that’s kinda what I’m saying. And the process of “submitting,” like a rite of passage, is really a process of surrender for me. Especially when a poem gets picked up to be published I generally find some respite from the “a poem is never complete” idea, because the has to be complete (enough) at that point. The work has reached one stage of completion – at least to the extent that it has resonated with at another person or people, enough that they want to share it too. And once it gets distributed it is beyond my grasp to fiddle with or fuss over anymore – I have to set it down then, surrender, let it be …at least for a little while, until I want give that poem some more life again.